Archive for the ‘colophons’ Tag

“The Garšūnī language”   4 comments

My involvement in cataloging Syriac and Arabic manuscripts over the last few years has impressed upon me how often and actively Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean scribes (and presumably, readers) used Garšūnī: it is anything but an isolated occurrence in these collections. This brings to the fore questions of how these scribes and readers thought about Garšūnī. Did they consider it simply a writing system, a certain kind of Arabic, or something else? At least a few specific references to “Garšūnī” in colophons may help us answer them. Scribes sometimes make reference to their transcriptions from Arabic script into Syriac script, and elsewhere a scribe mentions translation “from Garšūnī into Syriac” (CFMM 256, p. 344; after another text in the same manuscript, p. 349, we have in Arabic script “…who transcribed and copied [naqala wa-kataba] from Arabic into Garšūnī”). Such statements show that scribes certainly considered Arabic and Garšūnī distinctly.

While cataloging Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, (SMMJ) № 167 recently, I found in the colophon a reference to Garšūnī unlike any that I’d seen before, in which the scribe refers, not to the Garšūnī “text” or “copy” (nusḫa, as in SMMJ 140, f. 132v), but rather to “the Garšūnī language” (lisān al-garšūnī). Here is an English translation of the relevant part of the colophon, with the images from the manuscript below.

SMMJ 167, ff. 322r-322v

…[God], in whose help this blessed book is finished and completed, the book of Mar Ephrem the Syrian. The means for copying it were not available with us at the monastery, so we found it with a Greek [rūmī] priest from Beit Jala, a friend of ours, and we took it on loan, so that we could read in it. We observed that it was a priceless jewel. It was written in Arabic, so we, the wretched, with his holiness, our revered lord, the honored Muṭrān, Ǧirǧis Mār Grigorios, were interested in transcribing it into the Garšūnī language, so that reading it might be easy for the novice monks, that they might obtain the salvation of their souls.

This was in the year 1882 AD, the 11th of the blessed month of June…

SMMJ 167, f. 322r (bottom)

SMMJ 167, f. 322r (bottom)

SMMJ 167, f. 322v (top)

SMMJ 167, f. 322v (top)

This is the second explicit reference I have found where a Garšūnī text is considered more readable to at least some section of the literate population. In this case, the audience in view is a group of beginning monks, and in the aforementioned manuscript SMMJ 140 the transcription from Arabic into Garšūnī was made “to facilitate the understanding of its contents for every reader.”

UPDATE (June 17, 2014): Thanks to Salam Rassi for help on the phrase ʕalá sabīl al-ʕīra.

Mention of the Chronicon of Šemʕon Šanqlāwāyā in a 16th-cent. colophon   Leave a comment

CCM 89, f. 118r

CCM 89, f. 118r

The image above comes near the end of the long colophon (ff. 116r-118r) of CCM 89 (olim Diyarbakır 19; Macomber 12.35), an Epistle Lectionary in Syriac dated August 1539 (1850 AG; 946 AH), copied in “Gāzartā d-Bēt Zabday, on the Tigris” by a scribe named Darwiš b. Ḥannā b. ʕisā of the aforementioned village. Here is an ET of the text given above, which in the colophon follows mention of a dispute about the times of certain feasts:

Anyone reading the Chronicon made by Rabban Šemʕon Šanqlāwāyā, the teacher of Rabban Yoḥannān bar Zoʕbi, knows these things clearly. Pray for me with the love of our Lord.

Šemʕon Šanqlāwāyā is not among the most well-known Syriac writers, but we do at least know his name from elsewhere (see L. Van Rompay in GEDSH, 374), and the work mentioned here, the Chronicon, survives in more than one manuscript, but only parts of it have been published: in Müller’s 1889 dissertation, together with German translations. The note from the colophon does not tell us anything new either about the author or his work in and of themselves, but it does tell us that the Chronicon was known, respected, and presumably accessible in or around Gāzartā in the sixteenth century, some three centuries after Šemʕon died.


Müller, F. Die Chronologie des Simeon Šanqlâwâjâ. Leipzig, 1889. Available at here.

Picturesque language in an East Syriac colophon   Leave a comment

For some brief Friday fun, here’s part of a colophon that shows a little playful cleverness from a scribe. The manuscript CCM 58 (olim Mardin 7), a New Testament manuscript dated July 2053 AG (= 1742 CE) and copied in Alqosh, has a long colophon, including the following few colorful (literally and figuratively) lines near the end, at the bottom of one page and the top of the next:

CCM 58, f. 227v

CCM 58, f. 227v


CCM 58, f. 228r

That is:

Lord, may the payment of the five twins that have toiled, worked, labored, and planted good seed in a white field with a reed from the forest not be refused, but may they be saved from the fire of Gehenna! Yes, and amen!

The “five twins” are the scribe’s ten fingers, the “good seed” is the writing, the “white field” is the paper, and the “reed” is the pen. At least some of this imagery is not unique to this manuscript. In any case we have a memorable way of thinking about a scribe’s labor.

An 18th-cent. trip to Jerusalem, and a colophon, in East Syriac Garšūnī by ʕabd-al-aḥad of ʕayn tannūr   Leave a comment

The cataloging of the CCM collection (about which see the end of this post) continues to reveal interesting items. Hardly all of the manuscripts currently in the collection were known to Scher, and Macomber only gives very bare mention of the contents of those he saw. There is a lot of East Syriac Garšūnī, which may be of interest to students of Arabic and graphemics, and as for the texts themselves, I hope to share some of my findings here. For today, I mention from CCM 12 a short narrative of a trip to Jerusalem from the the village of ʕayn tannūr (?) beginning in 1707 (in East Syriac Garšūnī); the trip was made by a certain ʕabd-al-aḥad the Priest and Mūsá b. Ibrāhīm the Deacon, and the narrative was written by the former (Rawāḥunā li-l-quds al-šarīf, anā l-ḥaqīr qissīs ʕabdalaḥad wa-šammās mūsá ibn brāhīm [sic]). There are other texts in the codex, and this ʕabd-al-aḥad was the scribe. We thus have the (or at least an) autograph of that work. Here is a colophon, complete with stock colophonic elements and language, at the end of one text (141r), which was apparently penned before the aforementioned journey to Jerusalem:

CCM 12, f. 141r

CCM 12, f. 141r

The finishing of it [the book] occurred on Tuesday, on the 22nd of the blessed month of Ayyār [May], in the year 1705 AD, and this was by the pen of the most wretched of God’s servants, and the most depraved of them, ʕabd-al-aḥad, in name a priest. He has demanded pardon and forgiveness from every brother who is an understanding reader!

A short colophon in East Syriac Garšūnī with reference to Syriac-Arabic translation   1 comment

Across manuscript traditions in many languages, colophons are the place where a scribe (including the translator-scribe) can, among other things, tell something of the origin of the text just then completed, whether that means the manuscript he or she copied from, the person who commissioned the copying, the place of copying, etc. If the text copied is a translation, that is sometimes mentioned, too, as here from a Georgian colophon (S-384, 11th/12th cent.; see W. Djobadze, Materials for the Study of Georgian Monasteries in the Western Environs of Antioch on the Orontes, CSCO 372/Subs. 48 [Louvain, 1976], 24-25, from which this ET is adapted):

ლოცვა ყავთ წმიდანო ღმრთისანო. რომელნიცა მიემთხჳნეთ აღწერილსა ამას წმიდისა გრიგოლ  ნოსელისასა. ცხორებასა დიდისა გრიგოლი საკჳრველთ-მოქმედისასა. რომელი დაიწერა ბერძულისაგან ქართულად მოსწრაფებითა მღდელისა გაბრიელისითა და ჴელითა ყოვლად უღირსისა ეფრემისითა. ხოლო ბრძანებითა ზოგადისა მამისა ჩუენისა. ბერისა საბაჲსითა…

Pray, holy men of God, those of you who come upon this Life of the great Gregory the Wonder-worker, written by Gregory of Nyssa, translated from Greek into Georgian thanks to the eagerness of the priest Gabriel and by the hand of the unworthy Ep’rem at the command of our common father, the monk Saba…

As a similar example in Arabic (Garšūnī), below is a simple colophon that comes at the end of a treatise attributed to John Chrysostom (“On the Departed, That it is not Appropriate to be Overly Sad about them”) in the manuscript Chaldean Cathedral of Mardin (CCM), 13, f. 120. The language is Arabic, but written in East Syriac script; for those who may not be familiar with the latter, I have transcribed it into Arabic letters and I have also given an English translation.

CCM 13, f. 120r

CCM 13, f. 120r

واذكروا الكاتب الحقير مطران بسيليوس في صلواتكم لكي يُنْجى من عذاب المَطْهَر لانّه نَقَلَهم من السرياني للعربي في سنة الف وسبعمائة وتاسع عشر لميلاد سيدنا يسوع المسيح له المجد والتسبيح الى ابد الآبدين  آمين

Remember in your prayers the poor scribe, Muṭrān Basilios, that he might be delivered from the torment of purgatory, because he translated these [texts] from Syriac into Arabic in the year 1719 of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and praise forever and ever. Amen.

A self-deprecating scribe, one among many   Leave a comment

Lately I have been cataloging a group of manuscripts from Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, that have homiletic contents, especially the mēmrē of Jacob of Serug, including some that are hitherto unpublished. One of these manuscripts is SMMJ 162, from the late 19th or early 20th century. I don’t mention it here so much for the texts the scribe penned into it, but rather for a little colophon left at the end of Jacob’s Mēmrā on Love (cf. Bedjan, vol. 1, 606-627), f. 181r:

SMMJ 162, f. 181r

SMMJ 162, f. 181r

Pray for the sinner who has written [it], a fool, lazy, slothful, deceitful, a liar, wretched, stupid, blind of understanding, with no knowledge of these things, [nor] more than these things, but pray for me for our Lord’s sake!

Almost from the beginning of my time cataloging at HMML, I have been collecting excerpts of scribal notes and colophons that I found interesting for some reason or other, one such reason being the extreme self-loathing and self-deprecation that scribes not uncommonly trumpet. The cases in which scribes go on and on with adjectives or substantives of negative sentiment can elicit almost a humorous reaction, but scribes who do this do give their readers some semantically related vocabulary examples all in one spot!

NB: If interested, see my short article in Illuminations, Spring 2012, pp. 4-6, available here, for a popular presentation on colophons.

A simple colophon in Gǝʿǝz   Leave a comment

I have often enough here referred to colophons in Syriac and Arabic, but here is a simple example of one in Gǝʿǝz, from The Beheading of John the Baptist in EMML 2514 (written in the 1380s CE), f. 43r.

EMML 2514, f. 43r

EMML 2514, f. 43r

In English:

Finished is the Combat [gädl] of the holy and elect John. May his prayer and blessing protect us forever and ever, amen!

May Christ have mercy in the kingdom of heaven on the one who has copied it, the one who has commissioned its copying, the one who has read it, and the one who has heard its words, through the prayer of the holy virgin, Mary, John the Baptist, and all the saints and martyrs, forever and ever, amen.

The operative vocabulary here is:

  • täfäṣṣämä to be completed
  • ṣäafä to write
  • aṣḥafä to have someone write
  • anbäbä to read
  • sämʿa to hear

And, as usual, there is a wish that this or that saint’s prayer (ṣälot) and blessing (bäräkät) protect (ʿaqäbä) the scribe, etc.

A typological study of colophons in eastern Christian manuscripts from all the languages has, as far as I know, yet to be written, but it would be a worthwhile topic of investigation.

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