Archive for the ‘Arabic manuscripts’ Tag

Ownership note in Arabic for Patr. Yawsep II   1 comment

As an addendum to a previous post in which I shared two ownership notes in Syriac for Patr. Yawsep II, here from the same collection is another ownership note, this time in Arabic, and finely written. Like the others, this one also has a curse on any book-thieves. The manuscript is a Syriac Pentateuch — you can see the end of Deuteronomy in the image — in East Syriac script (CCM 40, dated 1651/2).

CCM 40, f. 203v

CCM 40, f. 203v

This book is the property of Mar Yawsep II, Patriarch of the Chaldeans. Whoever conceals it, he is excommunicated! Amen, yes, amen!

The original manuscript of ʿAbdišoʿ of Nisibis’ Gospel in Rhymed Prose?   2 comments

One of the more interesting texts of Arabic Christian literature that has hitherto escaped a close philological study of the whole is the Gospel text of ʿAbdišoʿ bar Brikhā of Nisibis (d. 1318; see further Childers 2011). The work is interesting especially because of its form: it is a translation (or better, a paraphrase) of Gospel readings together with a general preface and some prologues to the four Gospels individually, but not in bare prose, but rather in saǧʿ, typically called “rhymed prose” in English (see the bibliography below for works touching saǧʿ). In at least four articles, Fr. Samir has focused on this particular work, including an edition and French translation of the prologues (1981) and the same for the general preface (1983). As far as I know, there is no translation of this very interesting, not to mention elegant, prefatory material in English, nor is there a complete edition of ʿAbdišoʿ’s Gospel text itself. Fr. Samir has laid excellent groundwork for this interesting text. My friend Salam Rassi has informed me about the edition from 2007 by Sami Khoury, but unfortunately I have not seen it and have no access to it. It is apparently fully vocalized, a welcome fact.

This work of ʿAbdišoʿ’s deserves to be more fully known by arabists, biblical scholars, and perhaps theologians. Students of Arabic can benefit from the aforementioned vocalized text of the work, if they have access to it; a dedicated lexicon would be an additional help. An English translation at least of the prefatory material if not the whole text would be appreciated by other readers.

NEST AC 11, f. 83v, with Mt 12:1-14

NEST AC 11, f. 83v, with Mt 12:1-14

Fr. Samir (1972: 176) says ten manuscripts (only seven in GCAL) of the work are known, but he does not list them there. Samir 1981 is based on USJBO 431 (341 in the article must be a misprint), NEST AC-11, BnF arabe 204, and Vat. arab. 1354. The first two manuscripts are available for study from HMML. (We might also mention USJBO 432, a kind of revision of ʿAbdišoʿ’s work that has also put the Gospels in their biblical, as opposed to lectionary, order.) But thanks to HMML’s partner, the Centre numérique des manuscrits orientaux (CNMO), there is yet another manuscript of this work available. It is not a manuscript that has been unknown, but it is a manuscript that has for some time been difficult, if not impossible, to access otherwise: Diyarbakır 127 = Macomber 12.37 = (now) CCM 91. For the history of the Chaldean collections of Mardin and Diyarbakır, now joined together, see Scher 1907, Scher 1908, Vosté 1937 (only Syriac), Macomber 1969 (only Syriac), and Macomber N.d. As to this collection, which has a number of important manuscripts across several genres — again, not necessarily unknown, but hardly accessible in recent decades, with even its existence and whereabouts uncertain — about which you will hear more, I hope, in the coming months, it is now being cataloged anew as it presently stands. As to this manuscript itself, Scher (1907: 411-412) rightly notes that we may have here the autograph of ʿAbdišoʿ’s rhymed Gospel, and if not the autograph, an early copy. In any case, it is a very early witness to the work, and no one in the future who works on the text will want to neglect a close study of it.

Following the bibliography below are some images from the manuscript, so that readers may get an idea of the text, and I have included a few transliterated lines so that even readers without Arabic can see some examples of the line-ending rhymes.


(A glance at the index to Sidney H. Griffith’s recently published The Bible in Arabic [Princeton and Oxford, 2013] reveals no references to ʿAbdišoʿ.)

Beeston, A.F.L. 1983. “The Role of Parallelism in Arabic Prose”. In Beesont et al. 1983: 180-185 (esp. 185).

Beeston, A.F.L. et al., eds. 1983. Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period. Cambridge.

Childers, J.W. 2011. “ʿAbdishoʿ bar Brikha”. In GEDSH 3-4.

Fahd, T., W.P. Heinrichs, and Afif Ben Abdesselem. 1995. “Sadjʿ”. In Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed.: 732-738.

Graf, Georg. GCAL I 165-166.

Khoury, Sami. 2007. ʿAbdīshōʿ al-Ṣūbāwī. Anājīl ʿAbdīshūʿ al-Ṣūbāwī (d. 1318) al-musajjaʿa. 2 vols. Beirut: CEDRAC, 2007.

Latham, J.D. 1983. “The Beginnings of Arabic Prose Literature: The Epistolary Genre”. In Beeston et al. 1983: 154-179 (esp. 175-176).

Macomber, William F. 1969. “New Finds of Syriac Manuscripts in the Middle East”. ZDMG Suppl. I.2: 473-482 (esp. 479-482).

Macomber, William F. N.d. “A Checklist of the Manuscripts of the Combines Libraries of the Chaldean Cathedrals of Mardin and Diarbekir.” Not published.

Paret, R. 1983. “The Qurʾān — I”. In Beeson et al. 1983: 186-227 (esp. 196-198).

Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1972. “Date de composition de l’évangéliaire rimé de ʿAbdišuʿ”. Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph 47: 175-181.

Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1981. “Les prologues de l’évangéliaire rimé de ʿAbdishuʿ de Nisibe”. Proche-orient chrétien 31: 43-70.

Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1983. “La Préface de l’évangéliaire rimé de ʿAbdishuʿ de Nisibe”. Proche-Orient chrétien 33: 19-33.

Samir, Samir Khalil Samir. 1985. “Une réponse implicite à l’iʿgâz du Coran”. Proche-orient chrétien 35: 225-237.

Scher, Addai. 1907. “Notice sur les manuscrits syriaques et arabes conservés à l’archevêché chaldéen de Diarbékir”. Journal asiatique 10: 331–362, 385–431.

Scher, Addai. 1908. “Notice des mss. syriaques et arabes conservés dans la bibliothèque de l’évêché chaldéen de Mardin”. Revue des bibliothèques 18: 64–95.

El-Tayib, Abdulla. 1983. “Pre-Islamic Poetry”. In Beeston et al. 1983: 27-113 (esp. 33).

Vosté, J.-M. 1937. “Notes sur les manuscrits syriaques de Diyarbékir et autres localités d’Orient”. Le Muséon 50: 345-351.


CCM 91, f. 10r: title

CCM 91, f. 10r: title

“The translation of the sinner ʿAbdišoʿ…; he made the translation into Arabic in the year 699 AH and 1611 AG.” (= 1299/1300 CE; cf. Samir 1972)

CCM 91, f. 11v

CCM 91, f. 11v: from the preface

Lines 6-10 from the page above:

ʔamma baʕdu fa-lammā kāna al-naqlu min luɣatin ilá luɣatin ʔuxrá
min ɣayri ʔifsādin wa-lā tabdīlin li-l-maʕná
wa-lā taxlīṭin li-ǧumali ‘l-kalāmi wa-maqāṭiʕih
wa-lā taḥrīfin li-l-qawli ʕan ʔīrādi mubdiʕih
maʕa muḥāwalati ‘l-faṣāḥati fī ‘l-luɣati ‘l-manqūli ʔilayhā
wa-luzūmi ‘l-šurūṭi ‘l-muʕawwali fī ‘l-ʔiḥāṭati bi-ɣarībi ‘l-luɣatayni ʕalayhā

CCM 91, f. 12r

CCM 91, f. 12r: from the preface

The last five lines on this page:

wa-ʔanā fa-maʕa ‘ʕtirāfī b-quṣūrī wa-ǧalālati ‘l-ʔamr
wa-taḍāʔulī ʕan xawḍi ðā ‘l-ɣamr
fa-ʔinnanī iǧtaðaytu ‘l-šarāʔiṭa ‘l-maðkūrata fī-mā tarǧamtuh
wa-ʔaxraǧtu ʔilá ‘l-arʕabiyyati ‘l-fuṣūla ‘l-muqaddasata ‘l-ʔinǧīliyyata ʕalá mā qaddamtuh
wa-badaʔtu bi-ʔinšāʔi ‘l-muqaddimāti ‘l-θamān
(cont. on 12v: li-kulli mina ‘l-ʔarbaʕati ‘l-rusuli ‘θnatān)

CCM 91, f. 14r

CCM 91, f. 14r: first prologue to Mk

CCM 91, f. 19v

CCM 91, f. 19v: rubric and Lk 1

CCM 91, f. 120r

CCM 91, f. 120r: beginning of Jn 14

CCM 91, f. 158r

CCM 91, f. 158r: Lk 19:8-10 (Zacchaeus and Jesus) and the beginning of Mt 13 (Parable of the Sower)

CCM 91, f. 175r

CCM 91, f. 175r: colophon

The colophon essentially repeats the words of the title page (given above), but at the end it adds: “May God be pleased with whoever reads in [this book].” The year at the bottom is unfortunately illegible due to some holes in the paper, but we can see “the beginning of the blessed month Šaʕbān.”

The characteristics of wine for body and soul   1 comment

Well-known are the biblical praises of wine from the Psalter, “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps 104:15, ויין ישׂמח לבב אנוש, καὶ οἶνος εὐφραίνει καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου) and from the line in a parable, where a vine says, “Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?” (Judges 9:13, החדלתי את תירושי המשׂמח אלהים ואנשים, B Μὴ ἀπολείψασα τὸν οἶνόν μου τὸν εὐφραίνοντα θεὸν καὶ ἀνθρώπους, but Α differently, Ἀφεῖσα τὸν οἶνόν μου, τὴν εὐφροσύνην τὴν παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν ἀνθρώπων). I was pleased and surprised recently to find a few lines in Arabic (Garšūnī) from a fifteenth-century Psalter (parallel Syriac and Garšūnī) in the collection of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem (no. 10, dated 1474/5) that list wine’s effects: five for the body and five for the soul. These lines are written at a ninety degree angle to the rest of the text, but they do seem to be in the hand of the scribe who penned the rest of the book. Here is the text, and a translation is below.

Saint Mark's Monastery, Jerusalem, 10, f. 117r

Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, 10, f. 117r

Note that in the second part, three of the five verbs are feminine, but masculine elsewhere.

Five characteristics of wine as they pertain to the body:

  1. Improves digestion [al-haḍm]
  2. Allows [yaḏaru] urine
  3. Improves the skin
  4. Makes the breath pleasant
  5. Intensifies sex [al-bāh]

And five [characteristics of wine] as they pertain to the soul:

  1. Gladdens the soul
  2. Brings hope
  3. Pains the heart
  4. Improves character
  5. Opposes greed

P.S. For some remarks on wine and other alcoholic beverages in Syriac literature, see my paper available here.

An early copy of Ibn Ǧarīr’s Guidebook   Leave a comment

Abū Naṣr Yaḥyá b. Ǧarīr al-Tikrītī was a Syriac Orthodox writer of the eleventh century. As usual, Graf (GCAL II 259-262) provides a good overview of what is known about him and his works, including known manuscripts. Below is indicated his theological work, but in the report on him by Ibn Abī Uṣaibiʿa (ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ, Mueller’s ed. I 327) other titles are mentioned, including the Kitāb al-iḫtiyārāt fī ʿilm al-nuǧūm (The Book of Choices in Astrology).

Ibn al-Ǧarīr’s main theological work is the Guidebook (titled variously in the manuscripts, but in the earlier Mardin copy mentioned below, كتاب مرشد في قواعد الشريعة المسيحية والقوانين السليحية). It has not been published in full yet, but there are several partial editions, and they are listed by Graf (including one chapter by the great William Cureton, here from Google Books, not yet in Graf lists a number of copies of the work in both Arabic and Garšūnī. To this manuscript list we can add two more. CFMM 358 is a 1960 copy of the work with Dolabani as the scribe, but more notable is a much earlier (but undated) manuscript, CFMM 357.

CFMM 357, pp. 29-30: ch. 12, On “Christ came to save us from Satan and from the death of sin”

There are some later replacement pages at the beginning of the codex and there are many blank pages indicating apparent lacunae in the original manuscript, but even with these missing parts, it is nevertheless a potentially very significant witness to this text, which has excited some interest among scholars but hitherto not to the point that a full edition and translation have appeared.

More Sindbad in Garšūnī   3 comments

A few months ago I highlighted on this blog an acephalous copy of The Seven Voyages of Sindbad in Garšūnī from a manuscript in Aleppo. I have recently found in my continuing cataloging of the manuscripts of the Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, another copy, but very significant is the fact that this recent copy is complete, including the beginning! Here is the start of the work:

CFMM 306, ff. 65v-66r

The complete text is on ff. 65v-109r (foliation supplied by me, as the pagination is inconsistent) and the rest of the manuscript consists of hagiographic or legendary texts (including more Aḥiqar). I failed to mention in the previous post on this work that there are also two Garšūnī copies of it in the Mingana collection:

  • Mingana Syr. 146, ff. 45-65 (Cat., vol. 1, col. 328). The beginning is missing. It is worth pointing out that Mingana 146 also contains a rather obscure story called “The Persian King and his Ten Viziers,” another copy of which follows the Sindbad story in the Mardin manuscript; Mingana gives no incipit, but the title matches the Mardin copy exactly.The rest of the Mingana manuscript, perhaps from around 1700, contains, incidentally, very many hagiographic and legendary stories also known in the Forty Martyrs collection.
  • Mingana Syr. 463, ff. 79r-121v (Cat., vol. 1, col. 828). The manuscript is dated May 2130 AG and 1234 AH (= 1819 CE). Mingana again gives no incipit, but the title of the rubric matches the Mardin copy above exactly.

So this makes four (at least partial) copies of Sindbad in Garšūnī, and there are almost certainly more in HMML’s hitherto uncataloged manuscripts, if not elsewhere. I stress that all four of these copies are not incorporated into the Alf Layla wa-Layla “cycle” (right word?), but isolated and copied with saints’ lives and other stories. There is literary and textual investigation to be done here, but it will have to wait for another day.

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.

Ḥasan Pāšā’s commentary on Aḥmad b. ʿAlī b. Masʿūd’s Marāḥ al-arwāḥ   Leave a comment

The lion’s share of cataloging work I do at HMML is by means of high-quality digital images, the result of partnerships HMML maintains with the institutions and individuals that own the physical manuscripts themselves. HMML and Saint’ John’s University do, however, have a (physical) manuscript collection of their own, including Latin, French, Arabic, and Gǝʿǝz books (and scrolls). I’d like to share one such manuscript now, Or. A 11.

(Short) title of the book on front end-paper

This is a seventeenth-century copy of a commentary (šarḥ) on the important Arabic grammatical — specifically morphology (taṣrīf) — work by Aḥmad b. ʿAlī b. Masʿūd (probably fourteenth century), which has the title Marāḥ al-arwāḥ (The Resting Place of Spirits). Ibn Masʿūd’s book itself has been published together with an introduction, English translation, and commentary not long ago (2001) by J. Åkesson. As she mentions in her introduction, Ibn Masʿūd’s work was the object of more than one commentary, but that of Ḥasan Pāšā b. ʿAlāʾa ‘l-Dīn al-Aswad al-Niksārī (late fourteenth century), called Al-mifrāḥ fī šarḥ marāḥ al-arwāḥ (The Joy-giver, A Commentary on the Resting Place of Spirits), has the claim of earliest. This particular copy is the work of a scribe named Muṣṭafá b. Isḥāq, completed 25 Ṣafar 1079 AH (= 4 August, 1668 CE).

Final folio, with colophon

There are a few other manuscript copies of Ḥasan Pāšā’s commentary, including Wien A.F. 206 (no. 204 in Flügel’s catalog, vol. 1), which is available on microfilm at HMML. I do not know that there is a printed edition of it, but I will gladly learn to know that there is.

Some folios near the beginning

Some water damage can be seen in this image, and it is present on many folios, but very mild, the text thus still legible. The script is pleasant and mostly clear. As can be seen in this excerpt, the commentator cites the text commented upon, or at least the beginning of it, with the rubric qawluhu and then proceeds to offer his own remarks.

If the study of ancient and medieval grammatical works in any language (Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Hebrew, etc.) is an arcane and perhaps abstruse field, then inspecting commentaries on those works is even more so, but let this little notice serve at least as a gentle indication and reminder that such texts exist and that they are worth studying.


GAL II 21; GALS II 14 (the commentary is mentioned in the section on the Marāḥ)

Joyce Åkesson, Arabic Morphology and Phonology: Based on the Marāḥ Al-arwāḥ by Aḥmad B. ʻAlī B. Masʻūd (Leiden, 2001). Rev. by W. Smyth of her earlier edition of pt. 1 (the strong verb) in JAOS 112 (1992): 711-712.

Kees Versteegh, Landmarks in Linguistic Thought III: The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, Routledge History of Linguistic Thought (London and New York, 1997).

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