Last year about this time I participated in the North American Syriac Symposium at Duke University, and next week will take place on Malta the eleventh quadrennial international Symposium Syriacum and the ninth Conference on Christian Arabic Studies. I’ll be presenting a paper there on Job of Edessa’s Treatise on Rabies, and in another session I’ll participate in a presentation to give an update on some of HMML’s recent activities in the fields of Syriac and Arabic manuscripts. For anyone who cares, here’s the abstract for the paper on Job of Edessa’s work on rabies:
While the history and sources of the science of human medicine in Arabic and (to a lesser extent) Syriac literature have attracted a reasonable amount of scholarly attention, the same cannot be said for veterinary medicine, almost certainly due to the latter field’s greater paucity of sources. One such source, however — all the more important because there are not many of them — has been known in the west for almost a century now but has never been studied: a Syriac text entitled A Treatise on Rabies by Job (Iyob or Ayyūb) of Edessa (d. ca. 835). This work, which also deals with serpents and scorpions in addition to rabid canines, survives, as far as is known, in three late manuscripts, and it has never been edited or translated. Where the author is known, it is for his much longer and encyclopedic Book of Treasures (ed. and tr. 1935), the only other work of Job’s that survives, though a few other theological, medical, and philosophical titles are known. Both Job and his son Ibrāhīm served as physicians in the Abbasid entourage, and Job is mentioned in Arabic sources, including Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq’s Risālah, as a prolific translator of Galen’s works into Syriac. The work on rabies, an original composition divided into eight sections, deals with, among other things, the propensity of dogs to this affliction, the fear of water experienced by rabid dogs and people with rabies, a comparison of rabies with other animal stings and poisons, and the lethality of a rabid dog’s bite. The object of this paper is to make this interesting and thus far unstudied text better known. After some details on the life and work of Job of Edessa and on the history of veterinary medicine, especially in the Middle East, the subject turns to Job’s text itself by analyzing its contents, outlining the scientific vocabulary, investigating the author’s possible sources, and situating it within the history of science and veterinary medicine.
I’m looking forward to talking with colleagues and friends in Syriac and Arabic studies, and, of course, to seeing Malta, whither I’ve never been.
P.S. The title of this post was chosen with a full nod to Lead Belly’s “Alabama Bound” (my home state)!
Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) manuscript no. 555, copied in 1963-64 by Malki Gülçe for Yuḥanon Dolabani at the Church of Mary in Elâzığ, contains the same texts in the same order as Mingana Syriac 559 (see Mingana’s Catalogue, vol. 1, cols. 1034-1039). This Mingana manuscript—a welcome break from the almost ubiquitous theology, liturgy, and the like—is well-known for containing Job of Edessa’s very interesting Book of Treasures, a facsimile of which was published with an English translation by Mingana himself in 1935. But this is not the only notable text in the manuscript; in addition, there is:
- a series of questions and answers attributed to Alexander Aphrodisias
- selected questions and answers from the books of Galen
- Job of Edessa’s short Treatise on Rabies (on which I have sent a proposal for this summer’s international Symposium Syriacum)
- a brief work attributed to Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq on the fact that there are four elements and not more or less
- a short text on dreams
- a short text on the heart and the brain attributed to a nameless monk
Mingana’s manuscript was copied for him in 1930 on the basis of an exemplar copied in 1532 AG (= 1220/21 CE). Another manuscript, also copied, it seems, from this 13th century manuscript, is Harvard Syr 132 (Goshen-Gottstein’s Catalogue, pp. 90-91).
The Mardin manuscript at the beginning, before the Alexander Aphrodisias text, has the end of a work (only one folio) that I have thus far not identified, a philosophical text that deals (at least in this fragment) with the soul. This work is completely unmentioned by Mingana and Goshen-Gottstein. While the Mardin manuscript is some decades younger than the Mingana or Harvard copies, there is neither clear evidence, nor, as far as I know, even likelihood, considering the time and place of its copying, that it was copied from either of these manuscripts rather than from the thirteenth-century exemplar itself, the colophonic parts of which are included in the Mardin copy, as in Mingana’s (I don’t know about the Harvard manuscript in this regard). Late manuscripts such as the Mardin copy, and even earlier ones, are known sometimes to derive from printed editions, but the only text in this group that has been published is the Book of Treasures, mentioned above. On a quick perusal of this newly identified manuscript, I observed that the text is often not always the same orthographically and lexically as the Mingana copy. Witness, for example, that the second adjective describing Alexander’s questions, both in the title and in the table of contents at the beginning of the volume, is not asyāyē “medical” (as in Mingana’s text), but usyāyē “essential”, which, it bears emphasizing, requires the writing of an extra letter in Syriac.
These questions of textual derivation would be moot if the thirteenth-century exemplar were discovered, and it may yet show up, perhaps even in one of the collections digitized or being digitized by HMML, but for the time being scholars interested in Syriac scientific and philosophical literature will welcome another witness thereto, even one as late as this one.