Archive for the ‘Monastery of Mor Gabriel’ Category

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”.

An episode in the Story of Šhemʿon of Qartmin (Syriac and Arabic)   2 comments

Among some manuscripts at the Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, that I have recently cataloged are some that deal with the hagiographic Qartmin trilogy of the stories of Samuel, Simeon, and Gabriel.[1] Some of this material has been published (and even partly translated), but the published texts are not easy to come by. While going through these texts I came across one episode in The Story of Šemʿon (Simeon) in Syriac and in Arabic that, not too short and not too long and of enough entertainment value and philological interest, called for greater readership than it currently has residing in manuscripts. The text, in either or both languages, would be suitable for intermediate, perhaps even beginning, reading courses, and of course anyone interested in hagiography and the history of asceticism, and more generally scholars of Syriac and Arabic, would lose nothing by studying the passage. I stress that the file below is merely a beginning effort, and while I have proofread it, it still should be considered a draft! Here it is:


The ease of making texts available this way — from manuscript to electronic file to the internet in a matter of days, with the option of correction always there — has the potential to change greatly any academic field based on texts, and I hope that more such text presentation will appear. Comments especially on this general prospect are encouraged!

[1] For some history and bibliography see A.N. Palmer, “Gabriel, Monastery of Mor,” in GEDSH, 167-169.

An examination note in French   1 comment

Sometimes the extra bits in a manuscript—such as colophons, marginal notes, ownership notes, etc.—are as interesting, or even more interesting than the distinct text(s) the manuscript contains. While studying manuscripts from Dayr al-Za`farān, the Monastery of Mor Gabriel, the Church of the Forty Martyrs, and elsewhere over the past year and a half, I have especially become enamored of colophons and I have collected several hundred lines of interest for various reasons, not least of which is the multitudinous ways in which scribes might underscore their worthlessness! In notes of various kinds scattered about a manuscript we sometimes run across names we know well.

Here, from the Monastery of Mor Gabriel, is an examination note (in French, not Arabic or Garšūnī!) from a young Afram Barsoum, author of a number of books still used by Syriac scholars[1] and who would later on (1933) become Syriac Orthodox Patriarch.

Mor Gabriel ms 177, p. 819

At the time of this note in Oct 1909, Barsoum, born in 1887, had been a priest about one year, and had been a monk at Dayr al-Za`farān about two years.[2] This thick 18th century manuscript contains part of Bar Bahlul’s Lexicon and Bar `Ebrāyā’s Ktābā d-ṣemḥē.

(These examination notes in the manuscripts I have read are usually Arabic or Garšūnī, with the main verb being naẓartu, but laḥaẓtu also occurs, as in Church of the Forty Martyrs ms 104.)

Notes such as this one, and even more so the lengthier colophons, give us an often unique snapshot of specific people, times, and places, and so they deserve attention alongside the texts they accompany.

[1] Notably his اللؤلؤ المنثور, English’d by Matti Moosa and published by Gorgias Press as The Scattered Pearls: A History of Syriac Literature and Sciences (2004). His History of the Za`faran Monastery and History of Tur Abdin are also very useful.

[2] See further the entry by G. Kiraz on Barsoum in the recently published The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage, ed. S. Brock, A. Butts, G. Kiraz, and L. Van Rompay.

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