Archive for the ‘Dayr al-Za`faran’ Category

Jerome’s Life of Paul the Hermit in Syriac (and a colophon on Dayr al-suryān)   1 comment

In some Christian traditions, today is the commemoration of Jerome, so I thought of a Syriac text connected with Jerome that I cataloged some time ago. In CFMM 261, pp. 3-13, there is Jerome’s Life of Paul the Hermit, the Latin text of which is in PL 23, cols., 17-30 (ET here). See BHO 909-916 for Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, and Gǝʕǝz versions. The Syriac text* has been published in Bedjan’s Acta martyrum et sanctorum 5: 561-572 (here at, and the text also appears in The Book of Paradise (ed. Budge, vol. 2, pp. 242-251; online here). The beginning of the CFMM text is missing, but the identification of the work is sure, not least thanks to the end of the work (see below). I have not closely compared the printed editions with this witness from CFMM, but, unsurprisingly, even a quick look reveals some differences. Only considering the end of the work we see that CFMM 261 has six lines that are absent from the texts of Bedjan and Budge.

*Bedjan’s edition of this text is based on these two manuscripts: Paris syr. 317 (Chabot, “Notice sur les manuscrits syriaques de la Bibliothèque nationale acquis depuis 1874, JA IX, 8 (1896): 264-265; Nau, “Notices des manuscripts syriaques, éthiopiens et mandéens, entrés à la Bibliothèque nationale de Paris depuis l’édition des catalogues,” ROC 16 (1911):  287) and BL add. 12173 (Wright, Cat., pp. 1070-1072).

CFMM 261 (olim Dayr al-Zaʿfarān 116; cf. Dolabani, Dayr al-Zaʿfarān catalog, pt. II, pp. 86-88) has an original part, along with some later additions on pp. 441-464. The original colophon (see below, with translation), coming at the end of quire 22, pp. 439-440, is incomplete and lacks a name and date, while the date of the later part (1757/8) is on p. 464. The original part is perhaps of the 16th century. A careful comparison is necessary, but the contents of CFMM 261 and the list of stories in the colophon are very close to the original contents of BL add. 14732 (Wright, Cat., pp. 1141-1146). As the scribe says in the colophon, he found his exemplar for this manuscript among the Syriac books of Dayr al-Suryān, which ceased to have a major Syriac presence in the early seventeenth century (L. Van Rompay in GEDSH 386-387).

Here are the last two pages of Jerome’s Life of Paul the Hermit in the CFMM manuscript.

CFMM 261, pp. 12-13

CFMM 261, pp. 12-13

And now the colophon, which will be of interest to readers well beyond those concerned especially with Jerome, together with an English translation.

CFMM 261, p. 439

CFMM 261, p. 439

Ended, completed, lined, and concluded are these confused and mixed up lines, altered [for the worse] in every way, inasmuch as I am not a scribe, but for lack of scribes, for necessity, I was compelled to corrupt these pages, because I was sojourning [or in exile] in the d[esert] of Scetis, in our monastery of the Syrians, and when I went up the large tower that is in the holy monastery and saw the Syriac books that were in it, countless and numberless in their quantity, I saw a large book that had stories of all the holy fathers, as for my consolation. So I took it to my cell and was greatly consoled by it. I read the stories, but not all of them, and according to the power that the Lord gave us — me and my spiritual father, the monk and priest Šams al-Dīn — we left the city of Egypt [meṣrēn] and brought with us a few pages [qallil waraqē], and as we read these stories of holy people, at the beginning of the book was written the story of our lady, the Theotokos, Mary, and after that, the story of Paul, the story of Antony, chief of monks,

CFMM 261, p. 440

CFMM 261, p. 440

and all the perfect fathers, one after another according to their times, leaders of monasteries, cells, and deserts. I selected a few of the stories, according to my ability and according to the demand of my spiritual father, and these are the stories that I copied:

  1. first, Paul, [the fi]rst and the firstborn of solitaries, ascetics, and mourners,
  2. Paul the simple, the disciple of Anba Antony,
  3. Paul the bishop,
  4. John the priest,
  5. the holy, blessed and exalted martyr Anba Moses the Ethiopian, monk and master among ascetics,
  6. the holy, god-clothed master among ascetics, Anba Paul, concerning his labors and exhaustion,
  7. the holy, god-clothed, and blessed Anba John Kama [ⲕⲁⲙⲉ],
  8. the holy Mary of Egypt [igupṭāyā meṣrāytā],
  9. on the life of the blessed Evagrius,
  10. the holy John, bishop of Tella,
  11. the holy Šāhdōst, catholicos, together with those who were with him,
  12. the blessed Ephrem the teacher and pride of the Syrians,
  13. the holy and blessed Symeon, who was called a fool [Salos] on account of Christ,
  14. John, his spiritual brother,
  15. the martyrdom of the holy Cyprian and Justina, his holy daughter


Here is one resource specifically on Jerome and Syriac, with two more general excellent studies:

Adam Kamesar, Greek Scholarship and The Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim, Oxford Classical Monographs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

Daniel King, “Vir Quadrilinguis? Syriac in Jerome and Jerome in Syriac,” in Andrew Cain and Josef M. Lössl, eds., Jerome of Stridon: His Life, Writings, and Legacy (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 209-223.

Stefan Rebenich, Jerome, The Early Church Fathers (London:  Routledge, 2002).


A Syriac fragment on Job and his wife: Text and translation   1 comment

The manuscript CFMM 144, from the early twentieth century, is almost identical to ZFRN 40, a collection of Syriac mēmrē, especially by later authors, most of whom are not very well known and have been little studied. The CFMM manuscript is distinct, however, in having at the end a mēmrā by Isaiah of Bēt Sbirinā (d. 1425) on Job and his wife. (For a lighthearted review of the biblical tale, see here.) I do not yet know of any other copies of this text. Unfortunately the copy in CFMM 144 is incomplete, but nevertheless I would to share it along with a preliminary English translation. See the document here: isaiah_bet_sbirina_memra_job.

The Mardin (CFMM) manuscripts of Jacob of Sarug   Leave a comment

photoAmong the very many contributions of Arthur Vööbus (born in 1909 in Estonia, died 1988), to Syriac studies, most of which touch manuscripts in some way or other, one of his most thorough and still most valuable is the four-volume Handschriftliche Überlieferung der Mēmrē-Dichtung des Jaʿqōb von Serūg (CSCO 344-345, 421-422/Subs. 39-40, 60-61; Louvain, 1973-1980). Jacob of Sarug (or Serugh; ca. 451-521), a prolific luminary of Syriac literature, is especially known for his numerous metrical homilies (mēmrē), the main published collection of which is that edited by the great Paul Bedjan and exquisitely published by Harrassowitz in a fully vocalized East Syriac font (as in Bedjan’s other editions). Still not all of Jacob’s surviving work has been edited, much less translated, but a translation project into English, the results published by Gorgias Press, is underway and hopefully also readers who do not read Syriac will begin to appreciate this author more (subseries Metrical Homilies of Mar Jacob of Sarug, series Texts from Christian Late Antiquity). There are now 304 records on Jacob in the Syriac bibliography of the Hebrew University; on Jacob generally see Brock in GEDSH, 433-435. The aforementioned  books by Vööbus, indispensable for any close study of Jacob, present most of what is known concerning the manuscripts — those found in the well-known European collections and those in less accessible places in the Middle East — that have copies of Jacob’s works. Here, as in his other articles and books, we are impressed with the breadth of Vööbus’ manuscript experience and his record-keeping that is in such clear evidence. A perusal of the footnotes in almost any of his contributions reveals a mountain of work never published — how often does he refer to this or that piece “sous presse”, “im Druck”, or “in press” that never appeared? — but into these four volumes he poured years of close attention and study, and every student of Syriac literature is thus in his debt.

The work is a whole, but there are clear divisions in it, and not all of the volumes work the same way. There is, naturally, coverage of preliminary considerations at the beginning of vol. 1, and then he turns in that and the next volume to investigate manuscripts more or less particularly dedicated to preserving Jacob’s works (“Sammlungen”), and some of these are indeed hefty with line after line of that poetic bulk. Vols. 3 and 4 focus more on scattered witnesses to Jacob’s work (“Die zerstreuten Mēmrē”), that is, on manuscripts that are not really collections especially of Jacob, but that have one, two, or a few more mēmrē, amid works by other authors. Vols. 1 and 3 provide brief descriptions of the mss, while vols. 2 and 4 list the contents of the mss, with Syriac titles on the left pages, and the title in German translation on the right pages, but unfortunately he gives no incipits, for which, however, we now have Sebastian Brock’s list in vol. 6 of the augmented Gorgias Press reprint of Bedjan’s edition of Jacob’s mēmrē.

Vööbus’ Handschriftliche Überlieferung (HU), then, is obviously a great store of data for Jacob’s poetic œuvre, but it is not always easy to find the information you’re looking for, something I have discovered both while searching for details on a particular mēmrā and while hunting down the mss of particular collections. Something that can be done for each collection is to make a spreadsheet with the appropriate references in it. In its barest form, with shelfmarks and references to vol. and p. of HU, it would thus be useful for anyone with access to a particular collection, but of course the spreadsheet might be expanded to include date, codicological details, contents, bibliography, etc. A significant number of manuscripts for Jacob are present in Mardin in the collection of the Church of the Forty Martyrs (called CFMM at HMML), a massive collection, parts of which were earlier at nearby Dayr al-Zaʿfarān, and here I have made a simple spreadsheet for CFMM mss that Vööbus refers to. (Not all of CFMM has been cataloged at HMML, but much of it has; all of these Jacob mss are available for study at HMML, and copies may be ordered.) Collections of data like this for mss of Jacob’s works might eventually be brought into an open-access online database searchable by contents, date, collection, etc., but for now we must continue to have recourse to these four volumes of Vööbus’ helpful contribution.

Notwithstanding the attention hitherto given to Jacob’s homilies, there remains much work do be done: as mentioned above, not all of the mēmrē have been published, whether by Bedjan or someone else, and really only Vööbus has looked closely at the surviving mss, so that there is not yet a comprehensive picture of how the mss are related. I can say from my work cataloging and from my work in Bedjan’s edition that a new edition is needed, and the more accessible and clear manuscript data is for Jacob’s works, the better prepared the ground will be for that work.

CFMM 132, f. 16r (modern foliation): the beginning of the mēmrā "On the Beheading of John the Baptist" (cf. Bedjan, III 664-687).

CFMM 132, f. 16r (modern foliation): the beginning of the mēmrā “On the Beheading of John the Baptist” (cf. Bedjan, III 664-687).

Notes by Ignatius Afram Barsoum in a sixteenth-cent. manuscript   Leave a comment

Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem, 135 is dated Feb 1901 AG (= 1590 CE) and contains a copy of Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Candelabrum of the Sanctuary (Mnārat Qudšē). It was copied at Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān by Behnām b. Šemʿon b. Ḥabbib of Arbo. From a much later note immediately after the colophon we learn that this scribe was made metropolitan of Jerusalem in 1901 AG and died in 1925 AG. Who wrote this later note? None other than Ignatius Afram Barsoum (1887-1957; see GEDSH, 62, including a photo). On the following page, there are three more notes by Barsoum, all autobiographical.

Notes by Barsoum at the end of SMMJ 135.

Notes by Barsoum at the end of SMMJ 135.


In the year 1913 AD I visited the tomb of the savior and I spent two months in our monastery, that of Saint Mark, while I — the weakest of monks and the least of priests, Afram Barsoum of Mosul, alumnus of the Monastery Mār Ḥnānyā [Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān] — was using the old books [there]. Please pray for me!

In the year 1918 AD, on the 20th of Iyyār, I was elected metropolitan of the diocese of Syria, Damascus, Ḥoms, and their environs, and I was named Severius Afram.

In the year 1922 AD I again returned to Jerusalem and I took part in the consecration of the myron with Patriarch Eliya III on the 18th of Ēlul.

Notes like this are important for at least two reasons. First, they remind us that books have had their readers throughout their individual histories, that is, we are usually not the first readers since the time of the author or scribe to examine and study a book; rather, readers make contact with, or meet, books here and there along the way, with ourselves just one node in that continuum, and some of those readers leave their marks, wittingly or not, in the books. Second, these notes are a kind of archival document, in this case for the future patriarch Barsoum and for some goings-on in Syriac Orthodox circles in the first quarter of the twentieth century, and anyone studying the region in this time period might find something of interest here and in similar places. Once again, we see manuscripts as unique objects with unexpected finds!

Continuing manuscript culture   2 comments

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 2.14.46 PMThe word “manuscript” conjures images of monks, quills, parchment, candles, and the like, that is, a mostly pre-modern setting and seemingly antiquated accoutrements, but the advent and proliferation of the printing press was hardly a death knell to writing by hand, neither in the fifteenth century, nor in those following (keyboards, physical or on-screen, notwithstanding). We don’t have to go back as far as some pre-modern period in Europe or elsewhere to find manuscripts (which, remember, simply means anything written by hand) as a notable witness to scholarly, creative, or memorial activity, and we are not talking here only of texts in old (Greek, Sanskrit, etc.) or semi-old (e.g. Middle English, Ottoman Turkish) varieties of language. Consider the “papers” (in French, English, and other contemporary languages) of relatively recent authors, such as James Joyce and others, which are very often handwritten. (Following widespread use of the typewriter, typewritten pages and sometimes even electronically produced documents are sometimes misleadingly referred to as “manuscripts”!) True, these documents are typically not copied and recopied: for that, printing was employed, and sometimes — if the assumed circulation was (or, prior to efforts by publishers such as Barney Rosset of Grove Press, had to be) small — private printing, one catalog of which is here, and which on the first page has the titles Double Acrostic Enigmas, with Poetical Descriptions selected principally from British Poets and Feigned Insanity, how most usually simulated, and how best detected! From Syriac studies we may point to Gottheil’s (age 23 at the time) little book to the right. (Thankfully, many of these privately printed books are now easily available online for a wide audience.)

“Manuscript culture” in the fullest sense refers not to a specific time, place, or language, but to the production and re-production (i.e. copying) of manuscripts. Taken thus, it is certainly most predominant in pre-modern periods, at least in Europe, but in the Middle East and parts of Africa (Ethiopia) — what about China, India, elsewhere? — copying texts has remained, at least in some small circles, a real practice. HMML has copies of very many Gǝʿǝz manuscripts from the 20th century, and likewise for manuscripts in Syriac, Arabic, and Garšūnī. Just from Mardin, and just in Syriac, HMML has copies of more than 80 manuscripts from the 20th century. The 1960s, it seems, were a relatively active period, with some large manuscripts copied then. As my colleague Wayne Torborg pointed out, someone may have been copying the words of Genesis in Syriac while, perhaps unbeknownst to them, those words in English were being recited from Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, 1968! While these late manuscripts may often — but hardly always! — be of limited value as textual witnesses, in terms of the manuscript as a physical product and in terms of examples of scribal activity, their worth is not at all negligible, not even to mention their colophons and readers’ notes, which are eminently unique. Also, I have talked before about the probable importance of reading handwriting (i.e. manuscripts) and practicing handwriting (copying manuscripts) in language learning (see here and here), and in the second place I pointed to certain nineteenth- and twentieth-century orientalists who seemingly used manuscript copying to good effect. So at least some manuscript copying was going on also among European scholars.

CFMM 550, dated 1945: Ibn Sīnā's Al-Išārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt in Garšūnī with Bar ʿEbrāyā's Syriac tr.

CFMM 550, dated 1945: Ibn Sīnā’s Al-Išārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt in Garšūnī with Bar ʿEbrāyā’s Syriac tr.

MGMT 81, dated 1968: Dionysios bar Ṣalibi's Commentaries on the Old Testament

MGMT 81, dated 1968: Dionysios bar Ṣalibi’s Commentaries on the Old Testament

Within this context and this definition of “manuscript culture”, I would like to highlight a very recently copied manuscript from the latest batch of files from Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem. I had seen manuscripts with notes written in Syriac dated as late as 2008, and a very interesting manuscript that I doubt I shall ever forget is a collection of three saints’ lives copied into a 1993 calendar book (ZFRN 385), but based on a manuscript on parchment from 1496 AG (= 1184/5 CE)!

ZFRN 385, here the end of the Story of Mar Awgen.

ZFRN 385, here the end of the Story of Mar Awgen.

As unique as that manuscript is, the great lateness of the Jerusalem manuscript (SMMJ 475) is also startlingly memorable. It has the date in three places, all from the present year, the last one being July 26, 2012! Copied by the monk, Shemun Can, at Saint Mark’s, it is a collection of Syriac poetry, mostly by later authors (but one by Jacob of Serugh and one by Ephrem), along with a few hymns in Garšūnī and the Lawij (in Kurdish with Syriac letters) of Basilios Šemʿon al-Ṭūrānī. The manuscript’s colophons are all in a style not unlike those written centuries before, and they, together with the manuscript as a whole, a physical, textual object, remind us well that manuscript culture, at least in some quarters, is alive and well.

SMMJ 475, p. 34, the beginning of Yaʿqob ʿUrdnsāyā, "On Himself".

SMMJ 475, p. 34, the beginning of Yaʿqob ʿUrdnsāyā, “On Himself”.

The Vorlage of Harvard Syriac 91   Leave a comment

Alphonse Mingana, at the end of his famous article (see bibliography below) touching on those passages of the Qurʾān that show up in Dionysius bar Ṣalibi‘s (d. 1171) Response to the Arabs, briefly mentions the manuscript that is now known as Harvard Syriac 91 (then 4019; see Goshen-Gottstein, p. 74):

While the above pages were in the press, the authorities of Harvard University — to whom I here take the liberty to tender my sincerest thanks — were so kind as to place at my disposal, through the intermediary of my friend Dr. Rendel Harris, a manuscript described as “Harvard University Semitic Museum No, 4019,” and containing all the controversial works of Barsalibi mentioned by Baumstark in his Geschichte der Syrischen Literatur (p.297). This MS. formerly belonged to Dr. R. Harris in whose collection it was numbered 83. On fol. 47b we are informed that it was transcribed in Mardin, Saturday, 14th March, 1898, by the priest Gabriel, from a MS. dated 1813 of the Greeks (A.D. 1502) and written in the monastery of Mar Abel and Mar Abraham, near Midyad, in Tur ʿAbdin.

I came today in my cataloging work to the manuscript Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin (CFMM) 350, a large book in clear Serṭo that has the same polemical treatises of Bar Ṣalibi (Against the Arabs, Against the Jews, Against the Nestorians, Against the Chalcedonians, Against the Armenians), and I was happy to light upon a colophon at the end of memra 2 of the aforementioned treatise (p. 92, image below). The first few lines read as follows:

Let the reader pray for ʿAz(iz) — the miserable, the sinful, the weak monk, “Son of the Cross” [bar ṣlibā], monk of Midyat, from Ṭur ʿAbdin — who has copied [this book] in the Monastery of Mar Abel and Mar Abraham, the teacher of Barṣawmā, that is near the ble(ssed) city of Midyat, in the year 1813 AG, at the beginning of the month of Ēlul [September] on the memorial [lege dukrānēh] of Mar Malke of Clysma.

(See Fiey, Saints syriaques, no. 282, where one of Mar Malke’s commemoration days is given as Sept. 1.) The colophon continues with a notice of some clerical happenings of the place and time not relevant to the present focus, but those interested in early 16th-century ecclesiastical history in Ṭur ʿAbdin will probably find some things of interest and value. There are several more colophons in the manuscript (pp. 287, 307, 591, 665, 781-782), the later ones having the date 1814 AG.

CFMM 350, p. 92

It appears, then, that the manuscript before us is the one on the basis of which Harris’s late 19th-century copy, now Harv. Syr. 91, was made, and indeed a cursory look at the readings of the Harvard copy as reported by Amar confirm the fact. The manuscript was formerly at nearby Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān, as evidenced by the still present bookplate at the beginning of the codex, and Dolabani lists its contents in his catalog (olim no. 98, see pt. I, pp. 376-397). The manuscript itself has hardly been widely accessible in recent years, and Dolabani’s catalog (in Syriac), itself formerly not commonly available (but reprinted by Gorgias Press) and even where available not so usable as might be hoped for due to faults in the printing process and Dolabani’s sometimes unclear handwriting, and although the indefatigable Vööbus, of course, knew the Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān/Church of the Forty Martyrs collection well, he does not (as far as I know) make much (or any?) notice of this important manuscript. It has, however, not been wholly unknown. In the introduction to his edition of the Response to the Arabs, Joseph Amar has the following to say: “A further manuscript, Mardin Syriac 350 (unfoliated), which contains one-sentence summaries of the contents of each chapter of the treatise, has also been consulted in the preparation of this edition” (vi-vii). This statement calls for a few remarks. It must be made clear that the manuscript does have those one-sentence summaries, but this is merely the beginning of the book: the remainder of it consists of the full treatises themselves, along with some related works by other authors. The reference to this copy in his introduction is distinct from the other five manuscripts he used for his edition in that those each have a siglum, while the Mardin manuscript does not, and the latter seems to have been used in the edition much less indeed than the other manuscripts listed. He does not say how he consulted this copy (on-site in Mardin, photographs, microfilm?). The manuscript is indeed unfoliated, as he says, but at least when it was photographed by HMML in 2007, it was paginated with eastern Arabic numerals.

How CFMM 350 is related to the other witnesses to Bar Ṣalibi’s polemical treatises will require closer comparison, but it will at least displace Harv. Syr. 91 in that list, since it is the Vorlage, and its antiquity is nothing to ignore, the only older witness (only of the Response to the Arabs, not the other treatises) being Vat. Syr. 96 (Dec 1664 AG = 1352 [1325 in Amar’s ed. is an error]; Assem. Cat., p. 523), and that copy is incomplete. In terms of its text as well as some apparently contemporaneous marginal notes, CFMM 350 deserves close inspection by anyone interested in Bar Ṣalibi’s polemical treatises.

CFMM 350, p. 97, showing Qurʾān 2:31-32 in Syriac, with commentary (cf. Amar, ed. pp. 114, 116 = tr. pp. 107, 109)


Amar, Joseph P. Dionysius bar Ṣalībī, A Response to the Arabs. CSCO 614615 = SS 238-239. Louvain, 2005.

Assemani, S.E. and Assemani J.S. Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae Codicum Manuscriptorum Catalogus. I.2. Rome, 1778.

Brock, S.P. “Dionysios bar Ṣalibi.” In GEDSH, 126-127. Piscataway, 2011.

Dolabani, Yuhanna. Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in Zaʿfaran Monastery. Dar Mardin Press, 1994; reprint, Piscataway, 2009.

Goshen-Gottstein, Moshe H. Syriac Manuscripts in the Harvard College Library: A Catalogue. Harvard Semitic Studies 23. Missoula, 1979.

Mingana, Alphonse. “An Ancient Syriac Translation of the Kur’ân Exhibiting New Verses and Variants.” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 9 (1925): 188-235. (available as text, not PDF, here)

ADDENDUM: Barsoum (Scattered Pearls, p. 438, with n. 1) mentions CFMM 350 under the name Zaʿfaran 5 (cf. p. 428, nn. 2, 4, p. 439, n. 2).

Another upside down name: Emperor Justin   8 comments

I have before given some examples of writing a name upside down as a kind of curse (cf. here). This is most often done with the name of Satan, but also for those considered heretics. We know the practice from Syriac, but also from Arabic, at least in Garšūnī. (I wonder about other language traditions, Christian and otherwise; I will be glad to hear of examples from other manuscript traditions that have escaped me.) The image below is from CFMM 301, an early 20th-cent. manuscript (completed at Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān on Aug. 19, 1912) with some hagiographic works and the Tale of Aḥiqar, this part from a version of the Story of Mor Gabriel (pp. 82-150 of the manuscript).

CFMM 301, p. 92

Here is a transliteration (with vowels added, of course) and translation:

wa-māta Anasṭūs al-malik al-muʾmin allaḏī banā al-haykal wa-kāna mawtuhu sana 829 y[ūnānīya] allāh yunīḥu nafsahu wa-yanfaʿunā bi-ṣalātihi amīn. wa-baʿdahu Yūsṭānīnūs al-kāfir bi-l-masīḥ wa-tabaʿa sūnudūs al-muḫālifīn wa-ḍṭahad al-muʾminīn wa-aḏalla al-masīḥīyīn ǧiddan

Anastasius, the believing emperor, who had built the sanctuary, died; his death was in the year 829 Anno Graecorum [= 518 CE]. May God grant rest to his soul and benefit us with his prayer! After him [came] Yūsṭānīnūs, the denier of Christ, and he followed the synod of the transgressors [i.e. the Council of Chalcedon], oppressed the believers and greatly degraded the Christians.


  • haykal I have rendered “sanctuary.” This probably refers to the church and prayer hall commissioned by Anastasius in 512.
  • allāh yunīḥu nafsahu is a calque of Syriac alāhā nniḥ napšēh.
  • (i)ḍṭahad must be the correct reading, despite the dot in the ṭet.

The first emperor mentioned here is Anastasius I, not a supporter of Chalcedon and not unfriendly to the adherents of Miaphysite doctrine. The second emperor referred to, whose name is written inverted, is either 1) Justin, who, in fact, followed Anastasius, or 2) Justinian, who followed Justin. The form of the name as written here looks more like that of the latter than of the former, but neither supported the Miaphysites and might be unexpectedly cursed by graphic inversion, while Anastasius is blessed. (Incidentally the name of Satan is not written upside down in this text!) On the next folio after this one, the expulsions of Severus, Philoxenus, Anthimus, and Theodosius are mentioned, and at least some of them were deposed before Justinian’s rule began in 527, but others closer to or in 536.


The ins and outs of the Council of Chalcedon and its aftermath are covered in any good volume that treats Late Antiquity and church history in the fifth and sixth centuries. For other topics in play here, note the following:
Aydin, Eliyo. Das Leben des heiligen Gabriel. The Life of Saint Gabriel. Tašʿitā d-qaddišā Mār(y) Gabriʾel. Bar Hebraeus Verlag, 2009. [Vocalized Syriac text, GT, and ET.]
Hunt, Lucy-Anne. “Eastern Christian Iconographic and Architectural Traditions: Oriental Orthodox,” in Ken Parry, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. Oxford, 2007. 388-419 (esp. 390).
Palmer, A.N. “Gabriel, Monastery of Mor,” in GEDSH, 167-169.

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