Archive for the ‘Scholarship’ Category

Jacob of Serug on the Temptation of Jesus: Two homilies   1 comment

12th-cent. mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Source.

12th-cent. mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice. Source.

A couple of days ago UPS delivered a box with copies of my new book on two homilies by Jacob of Serug. These homilies are on the Temptation of Jesus (Mt 4:1-11, Mk 1:12-13, Lk 4:1-13), and the book, my second contribution (the first is here) to Gorgias Press’ series for Jacob within Texts from Christian Late Antiquity (TeCLA), includes vocalized Syriac text with facing English translation, introduction, and a few notes. As far as I know, neither homily has been translated before, so hopefully, even with some inevitable imperfections in this first translation, they will both now meet with more readers. The introduction has a few words about manuscripts, broader history of the interpretation of the pericopes on the Temptation, and the Syriac vocabulary Jacob uses for fighting, humility, and the devil.

And for your viewing pleasure, in addition to the one above, here is another representation of the encounter between Satan and Jesus, this one from Vind. Pal. 1847, a German Prayer Book dated 1537 (more info here, and on the image here), a copy of which is available through HMML. (Two more related images from Vivarium I would highlight are this one, with the image of the devil smudged, and this one from the Moser Bible, with a very different kind of Satan.)

Temptation of Jesus. Vind. Pal. 1847 (16th cent.) See further here.

Temptation of Jesus. Vind. Pal. 1847, f. 18v. See further here.

Finally, from Walters 539, an Armenian Gospel-book from 1262, here is Jesus post temptation, being ministered to by angels. The text on this page is Mt 4:8b-411.

Walters 539, p. 52.

Walters 539, p. 52.

Recently available resources for Nubian studies   Leave a comment

Well over two years ago I wrote a short post on some Old Nubian resources. Giovanni Ruffini has recently announced more work in general Nubian studies. These, three in number, are:

So, even though the corpus of Old Nubian is comparatively small, it’s exciting to see new work appearing widely available in this and related fields. Go have a look.

De Goeje et al., Al-Ṭabari   Leave a comment

As rightly locating multi-volume sets at and other repositories of scanned books is sometimes maddening, here’s a list of the volumes of the Leiden ed. of Al-Ṭabari, edited by M. de Goeje et al., that I’ve been able to find at

On the History, see EI² 10: 13-14. The continuation, the Ṣila of ʿArīb b. Saʿd al-Qurṭubī, was also edited by De Goeje: Arîb Tabari Continuatus (Brill, 1897) at (There were other continuations, too.) NB De Goeje’s Selections from the Annals of Tabari in (1902) Brill’s Semitic Study Series (

A few words on the Persian adaptation, very important due to its age and manuscript attestation. The Persian adaptation is the work of the Sāmānid vizier Abū ʿAlī Muḥammad al-Balʿamī (EI² 1: 984-985). The Persian text was published in Lucknow 1874, of which I can find no version online, and there have been more recent editions published in Iran (see esp. Daniel’s article). From Persian the text was translated into Turkish. Incidentally, the beginning of a manuscript of the Persian text is at Here are a few resources:

  • Zotenberg’s French translation of the Persian text, Chronique de Abou-Djafar-Moʻhammed-ben-Djarir-ben-Yezid Tabari (1867-1874), is at (vol. 1, 2, 3, 4)
  • Rieu, Cat. Pers. BL, I. 69
  • (briefly) p. xxii of the Intro. volume to the De Goeje’s Leiden ed.
  • G. Lazard, La langue des plus anciens monuments de la prose persane (Paris, 1963), 38-41.
  • E.L. Daniel, “Manuscripts and Editions of Balʿamī’s Tarjamah-i tārīkh-i Ṭabarī,” JRAS (1990): 282-308.
  • Andrew Peacock, Mediaeval Islamic Historiography and Political Legitimacy: Bal’amī’s Tārīkhnāma (Routledge, 2007)
Title page to the Leiden edition.

Title page to the Leiden edition.

Prima Series

I 1879-1881 Barth

II 1881-1882 Barth and Nöldeke

III 1881-1882 Barth and Nöldeke (another at

IV 1890 De Jong and Prym (another at

V 1893 Prym (another at,

VI 1898 Prym (another at

X 1896 Prym

Secunda Series

I 1881-1883 Thorbecke, Fraenkel, and Guidi (another at

II 1883-1885 Guidi (another at

III 1885-1889 Guidi, Müller, and De Goeje

Tertia Series

I 1879-1880 Houtsma and Guyard

II 1881 Guyard and De Goeje

III 1883-1884 Rosen and De Goeje

IV 1890 De Goeje (another at,


1901 Intro., Gloss., etc. (another at

1901 Indices (another at


It’s probable that I’ve missed some of those that are available, and as I find or am informed of others, I’ll update this list.

Al-Ṣafadī on the Two Methods of Translation   Leave a comment

In his Classical Heritage in Islam, Franz Rosenthal gives an English translation of what has become a well-known, if too simplistic, presentation of Graeco-Arabic translation technique by Al-Ṣafadī (1297-1363) in his Al-ġayṯ al-musaǧǧam (Cairo ed., 1888, vol. 1, 46.12-25), a commentary on Al-Ṭuġrāʾī’s (1061-1120/1) Lāmiyyat al-ʿaǧam. Since the Cairo edition is not always easily discoverable, and not always easily legible to every Arabic student that might wish to read it, I have re-typeset the passage together with Rosenthal’s ET, prefaced by a short introduction. See the PDF here: al-safadi_on_transl_method.

Franz Rosenthal on Hans Heinrich Schaeder   3 comments

Hinrich Biesterfeldt, ed. “Franz Rosenthal’s Half an Autobiography.” Die Welt des Islams 54 (2014): 34-105.

I’m now reading the hot-off-the-press memoir of Franz Rosenthal, edited by Hinrich Biesterfeldt. I highly recommend it for reasons of interest academic and historical. Here, as only a taste, are some remarks on his teacher Hans Heinrich Schaeder, with whom Rosenthal studied in Berlin.

My principal mentor and shaykh was Hans Heinrich Schaeder, then at the peak of his mental and physical powers, a conscientious and wonderfully inspiring teacher. His official field was Iranian, and I studied Middle Persian and Islamic Persian with him. Initially, he repaired the damage done me by an earlier course in Syriac that was taught by someone incompetent to teach the language. He showed me how to approach Muslim historical texts, how to reconstruct an Oriental religion, Manichaeism, from fragments transmitted in Arabic, and how to use the tools of scholarship properly. Above all, he was the living example of the need for, and the methods of looking at, the large historical picture without ever neglecting the details offered by the sources. He set the subject of my doctoral dissertation for which he prepared my way by his previous instruction in Aramaic. [p. 54]

I’m very happy that this document has appeared, and thanks are due to the editor and the publisher. As far as I’m concerned, one can never have too much personalia to read.

From Peter Boodberg’s “Philologist’s Creed”   2 comments

I’ve recently finished David B. Honey’s Incense at the Altar: Pioneering Sinologists and the Development of Classical Chinese Philology, AOS Series 86 (New Haven: AOS, 2001), which my friend Chuck Häberl pointed out to me a few months ago. The books covers the lives and works of these “pioneering sinologists” from various countries, backgrounds, and temperaments in what was for me a delightful reading experience.

While I’ve not mentioned Chinese here before, the study of Classical Chinese language, literature, and history developed, not surprisingly, along lines partly analogous to the study of other such fields, including the textual matrices and complexes frequently touched on at hmmlorientalia. Among the scholars discussed in Honey’s book is Vladivostok-born Peter Boodberg (1903-1972), and for now I’d just like to quote part of the latter’s “Philologist’s Creed,” which Honey gives in full (pp. 305-306). It’s a testament of Boodberg’s approach to philology (not only Chinese), his “brooding humanism” (Honey, p. 306), penned in a confessional tone (with echoes of the language of Qohelet in one part), and the excerpt given here (and the whole of it) might resonate — even if wryly! — with other students and scholars.

I mind me of all tongues, all tribes, and all nations that labored and wrought all manner of works with their hands, and their minds, and their hearts. And I cast mine yes unto Hind, unto Sinim, and the lands of Gogs and Magogs of the earth, across wilderness, pasture, and field, over mountains, waters, and oceans, to wherever man lived, suffered, and died; to wherever he sinned, and toiled, and sang. I rejoice and I weep over his story and relics, and I praise his glory, and I share his shame.

On readers/chrestomathies: what’s the best kind of arrangement?   10 comments

I have spoken here before of my love of chrestomathies, with which especially earlier decades and centuries were perhaps fuller than more recent times. (I don’t know how old the word “chrestomathia” and its forms in different languages is, but the earliest use in English that the OED gives is only from 1832. We may note that, at least in English, the word has been extended to refer not only to books useful for learning another language, but simply to a collection of passages by a specific author, as in A Mencken Chrestomathy.) Chrestomathies may — and I really do not know — strike hardcore adherents to the latest and greatest advice of foreign language pedagogy as quaint and sorely outdated, my own view is that readers along these lines — text selections, vocabulary, more or less notes on points of grammar — can be of palpable value to students of less commonly taught languages, especially for those studying without regular recourse to a teacher. Since I’m talking about reading texts, I have in mind mainly written language and the preparation of students for reading, but that does not, of course, exclude speaking and hearing: those activities are just not the focus.

I have gone through seventy-one chrestomathies from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries in several languages (Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, Georgian, Old Persian, Middle Persian, Old English, Middle English, Middle High German, Latin, Greek, Akkadian, Sumerian, Ugaritic, Aramaic dialects, &c.). The data (not absolutely complete) is available in this file: chrestomathy_data. By far the commonest arrangement is to have all the texts of the chrestomathy together, with or without grammatical or historical annotations, and then the glossary separately, and in alphabetical order, at the end of the book (or in another volume). Notable exceptions to this rule are some volumes in Brill’s old Semitic Study Series, Clyde Pharr’s Aeneid reader, and the JACT’s Greek Anthology, which contain a more or less comprehensive running vocabulary either on the page (the last two) or separately from the text (the Brill series). Some chrestomathies have no notes or vocabulary. These can be useful for languages that have hard-to-access texts editions or when the editor wants to include hitherto unpublished texts, but the addition of lexical and grammatical helps would even in those cases add definite value to the work for students.

In addition to these printed chrestomathies, there are some similar electronic publications, such as those at Early Indo-European Online from The University of Texas at Austin, which give a few reading texts for a number of IE languages: the texts are broken down into lines, each word is immediately glossed, and an ET is supplied, with a full separate glossary for each language.

From a Greek reader I have been putting together off and on.

From a Greek reader I have been putting together off and on.

Over the years, I have made chrestomathy texts in various languages, either for myself or for other students, and more are in the works. (Most are unpublished, but here is one for an Arabic text from a few years ago.) I have used different formats for text, notes, and vocabulary, and I’m still not decided on what the best arrangement is.

This little post is not a full disquisition on the subject of chrestomathies. I just want to pose a question about the vocabulary items supplied to a given text in a chrestomathy: should defined words be in the form of a running vocabulary, perhaps on the page facing the text or directly below the text, or should all of the vocabulary be gathered together at the end like a conventional glossary or lexicon? What do you think, dear and learned readers?

Happy birthday to Lord Byron, student of Armenian   Leave a comment

Today is the birthday of Lord Byron (1788-1824), well-known, of course, as an English poet, but less so as a student of Armenian. Many of us know

She walks in beauty like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes

but far fewer know of his efforts to learn Armenian. I first learned of the latter from a quotation at the beginning of Matthias Bedrossian’s New Dictionary, Armenian-English (Venice, 1875-1879, p. x). But we have more evidence, still directly from Byron himself, in the form of the posthumously appearing Lord Byron’s Armenian Exercises and Poetry (Venice, 1870), including letters, translation from Armenian into English (“to exercise himself in the arm. language”, 21), and a selection of Byron’s poetry with Armenian translation. The Armenian-English translations are from an “Armenian history”, something by Nerses Lambronac’i, and 3 Corinthians. The history is not further identified in the text, but it turns out to be that of Movsēs Xorenac’i, book 1, chs. 8-9, save the last two paragraphs, a discovery relatively easy to make thanks to the TITUS text database. The whole volume is beautifully typeset with Armenian and English pages facing each other.

Byron arrived in Venice in 1816 and found himself impressed with the monastery San Lazzaro degli Armeni “which appears to unite all the advantages of the monastic institution, without any of its vices” (4). There he studied Armenian. From a letter of Dec. 5, 1816 (10-13):

By way of divertisement, I am studying daily, at an Armenian monastery, the Armenian language. I found that my mind wanted something craggy to break upon; and this — as the most difficult thing I could discover here for an amusement — I have chosen, to torture me into attention. It is a rich language, however, and would amply repay any one the trouble of learning it. I try, and shall go on; — but I answer for nothing, least of all for my intentions or my success. There are some very curious Mss. in the monastery, as well as books; translations also from Greek originals, now lost, and from Persian and Syriac etc.; besides works of their own people.

And in a letter of the previous day (14-17), he says:

I wrote to you at some length last week, and have little to add, except that I have begun, and am proceeding in a study of the Armenian language, which I acquire, as well as I can, at the Armenian convent, where I go every day to take lessons of a learned friar, and have gained some singular and not useless information with regard to the literature and customs of that oriental people. They have an establishment here — a church and convent of ninety monks, very learned and accomplished men, some of them. They have also a press, and make great efforts for the enlightening of their nation. I find the languages (which is twin, the literal and the vulgar) difficult, but not invincible (at least I hope not). I shall go on. I found it necessary to twist my mind round some severer study, and this, as being the hardest I could devise here, will
be a file for the serpent.

So while we may recite some Byron in English today, we can commemorate him, too, by studying Armenian, and by persevering: “I shall go on,” he says, and “I try, and shall go on; — but I answer for nothing, least of all for my intentions or my success.”

Eastern Christian mss at the 2013 SBL Meeting   Leave a comment

The Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature begins in a few days in Baltimore. This is the third year for the workshop on “Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions”, and in addition to one session that will cover a variety of these language traditions, we are glad to have two joint sessions also with the Syriac literature program unit. The three sessions are:


Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts
Joint Session With: Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts, Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Holiday 2 – Hilton Baltimore

Theme: Studies in Syriac Manuscripts

Adam McCollum, Saint John’s University, Presiding
Liv Ingeborg Lied, MF Norwegian School of Theology and Nils Hallvard Korsvoll, MF Norwegian School of Theology
Enoch, Baruch, and Sesengen Bar Pharanges: An Amulet for Xvarr-Veh-Zad (25 min)
Michael Penn, Mount Holyoke College
Know Thy Enemy: Manuscript Contestations and the Council of Chalcedon (25 min)
Philip Michael Forness, Princeton Theological Seminary
Narrating History through the Bible: A Reading Community for the Codex Ambrosianus (7a1) (25 min)
Jonathan Loopstra, Capital University
Reading in the Margins: Between Gloss and Lemma (25 min)
David A. Michelson, Vanderbilt University
Reading Syriac Anthologies 400-800: A Survey of the Manuscript Evidence (25 min)
Erica C. D. Hunter, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Transmitting Learning from Mesopotamia to China: the Christian Library at Turfan (25 min)


Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts
Joint Session With: Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts, Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 346 – Convention Center

Theme: Studies in Syriac and Arabic Manuscripts

Nathan Gibson, Catholic University of America, Presiding
Dina Boero, University of Southern California
Late Antique Manuscript Production of the Syriac Life of Symeon the Stylite (30 min)
Nicholas Al-Jeloo, University of Sydney
Beasts Building Churches: An Untreated Syriac Recension of the Vita of St. Mammas (30 min)
Sara Schulthess, Université de Lausanne
The Arabic Manuscripts of the Pauline Epistles: The Case of Vaticanus Arabicus 13 (30 min)


Manuscripts from Eastern Christian Traditions
9:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Room: Armistead – Hilton Baltimore

Jeff Childers, Abilene Christian University, Presiding
Anton Pritula, The Hermitage Museum
Persian Christian Manuscripts from Crimea (14th Century) (30 min)
Timothy B. Sailors, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
The Ancient “Acts of Peter” in Oriental Christian Witnesses (30 min)
Peter Cowe, University of California-Los Angeles
Technical, Instructional, and Intercultural Issues Governing the Manuscript Transmission of the Armenian Bible (30 min)
Adam C. McCollum, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John’s University
“I Have Written This Holy Book with My Grossly Sinful Hand”: An Orientation to Georgian Manuscripts through Hagiographic Literature (30 min)

Documentary on the Encyclopaedia Iranica and Prof. Yarshater   Leave a comment

A friend of mine shared this documentary from BBC Persian on Prof. Ehsan Yarshater (b. 1920) and the amazing work of the Encyclopaedia Iranica (online here). It’s in Persian, but English subtitles are available. Knowing the background and looking behind the scenes of major research projects such as this — or the CAD, for another example, volumes of which, like the Encyclopaedia Iranica, have also for some time been freely available online  — is not an opportunity to be missed even by those remotely interested in whatever field the project concerns. In this case, the field is the full breadth of Persian history, languages, literatures, and connections with cultures across a long time period. We can be very grateful that the Encyclopaedia is freely accessible online, rather than hidden behind extortionate tomes in perhaps too distant libraries to multitudes of would-be readers, so interested researchers of all kinds have an ever fruitful resource at their fingertips. But even more than on the Encyclopaedia itself, we get to hear firsthand from a hard-working and experienced scholar. Yarshater mentions his studies many years ago with W.B. Henning and Mary Boyce. I always enjoy seeing scholars’ workspaces, and we have that here, too. We hear him using Persian proverbs and reciting some lines of poetry. In his voice and memories we see an inspiring gentleman. These twenty-five minutes, then, will make for worthy time to anyone interested in Persian culture and intellectual biography.

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