Book of the Dove

Gregory Bar ‘Ebraya (also seen as Bar Hebraeus, 1226–86) was a Syriac Orthodox bishop and major author in the later Syriac tradition. He wrote prolifically, mostly in Syriac but also in Arabic, on philosophy, theology, spirituality, and history. His works also included commentaries on scripture, devotions, moral treatises, logic, the sciences, poetry, and humorous stories. This manuscript, dated 1360, is an important early witness to his writings. It contains his Ktābā d-yawnā (Book of the dove), which represents Bar Hebraeus’s instructions on how to start and then continue in the monastic life and is an important work of mystical theology. The work also includes a number of his mushata (poems).

Life of Mary

This 16th-century manuscript contains a relatively well preserved copy of Ktāba d-taš’itāh d-qaddištā yāldat alāhā Maryam (Life of Mary) in Syriac, an eastern dialect of Aramaic. The work (in six volumes) was written by Theophilos, the Greek patriarch of Alexandria in 385–412, and copied in 1567–68 by a scribe named Slibona. At the end of this work comes a metrical homily by Jacob of Serugh (died 521) on the death of Mary, the last half of which is missing in this copy. Some corrections and vowel signs have been added by a later hand. A decorative cross and title page begin the work.

Poems (Carmina)

This manuscript, which probably dates from the 16th century, contains Mušḥātā (Poems) by Gregory Bar ‘Ebraya (also seen as Bar Hebraeus, 1226–86), a Syriac Orthodox bishop and a major author in the later Syriac tradition. He wrote prolifically, mostly in Syriac but also in Arabic, on philosophy, theology, spirituality, and history. His works also included commentaries on scripture, devotions, moral treatises, logic, the sciences, and humorous stories. Bar Hebraeus was renowned for his justice, integrity, great learning, and principled leadership. A few recent pages (mostly blank) have been added at the beginning of the manuscript and there is a note to the effect that the manuscript was brought from Edessa (present-day Sanliurfa in southwest Turkey) to Aleppo in 1924. The Syriac Orthodox community in Aleppo is ancient. It was much enlarged, however by an influx of Syriac Christians who fled there during the turmoil of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, particularly by the entire community from Edessa.

The Book of the Interpreter

This 16th-century manuscript is an old copy of the classified Syriac–Garshuni glossary by  Elias of Nisibis (975–1046). Elias was an eastern Syriac scholar and monk, who was later a bishop and from 1008–46 metropolitan of Nisibis in northern Mesopotamia (present-day Nusaybin in southeastern Turkey). He was an important figure in Syriac and Christian Arabic literature and an early grammarian. In addition to this glossary, his literary output included a bilingual (Syriac–Arabic) chronicle, liturgical poetry, and letters. This work is prefaced by Eliya's address to the man for whom he wrote the book. The text is very important for the history of Arabic lexicography, especially among Christians. A great number of topics are covered, including not only Christian themes, but also scientific subjects, particularly medicine. Syriac is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, which was spoken by Christians in the lands between the Roman Empire and the Arabian Sea from the first century to the 12th century. Garshuni came into use when Arabic became the dominant spoken language in the lands of the Fertile Crescent before a written form of the Arabic language had developed. It is still in use among some Syriac Christian congregations.

Conchological Collection

Georg Gottlieb Plato (1710–77) was the son of Johann Christoph Wild from Regensburg, Germany. He gave up the Wild family name and adopted the name of Plato, after his patron, Johann Heinrich Plato, an official of the rank of counselor in Regensburg. Johann Heinrich furthered the education of the younger man, who studied pharmacy and medicine before embarking on a career as a lawyer in Regensburg and later becoming a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Georg Gottlieb Plato’s two-volume illustrated record of his collection of mollusk shells testifies to his interest in natural history, which he pursued in addition to his private studies in history and numismatics. The first volume of the work includes elegant and fine drawings of the conchological collection, crafted on blue paper with great concern for exact representation. The second volume contains a register and a description of the displayed objects in Latin and partly in French and Dutch. The manuscripts were preserved in the city library of Ratisbon before it was permanently closed in 1812. They then were transferred to the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

A Brief Description of Kiev

Maksim Fedorovich Berlinskii was a writer, teacher, and historian, born in 1764 in the village of Nova Sloboda, near Putyvl, in Kursk Oblast, Russia (present-day Sumy Oblast, Ukraine). The son of an Orthodox priest, Berlinskii attended Kiev Theological Seminary (formerly Kyiv-Mohyla Academy), before training at the Saint Petersburg Teachers’ Seminary. In 1788, he began teaching at a secular Kiev gymnasium where he remained for 46 years. During this time, Berlinskii composed numerous books and articles on Ukrainian and Russian history, archaeology, and topography. In 1814, Berlinskii met Minister of Foreign Affairs Count Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev (1754–1826), a historian much interested in Kiev and Ukraine. With Rumyantsev’s financial support, Berlinskii produced Plan drevnego Kieva s obiasneniiami o ego drevnostiakh (Plan of ancient Kiev with explanations of its antiquities) in 1814 and the present work, Kratkoe opisanie Kieva (A brief description of Kiev). Published by the Department of Education in Saint Petersburg in 1820, this work is regarded as the first scholarly history of Kiev, as well the first book-length, detailed description of Kiev’s ancient churches. The text begins with an overview of the history of the city from its beginnings to 1800, followed by descriptions of numerous churches, including Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Saint Vasily Church, the Church of Saint Ilya, Saint Sophia Cathedral, and Saint George Cathedral. A detailed map shows these and other churches, monasteries, and convents, such as the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra and the Convent of Saint Irene; the Dnieper River; and historical sites such as the Golden Gates of Kiev. The work contains two other lithographs.

Gospel Lectionary

This very clearly written Syriac manuscript is a 16th-century Purāš qeryānē d-ṭeṭrā ewangelyon (Gospel lectionary—a book containing the portions of scripture, the lessons, to be read at divine service on particular days). The pages are divided into two columns with 22 lines of text in each. The ink, black for letters and red for titles and diacritical points, has faded very little, so that the writing is in most cases quite crisp. As is common in carefully written west Syriac manuscripts, the main text is in a script called Serto, meaning “line,” which developed in the eighth century. Section titles are in Estrangela, meaning “rounded,” which is the oldest Syriac script, sometimes in blue ink rather than the red just mentioned. Colorful tables with circular ornamentation for the book's readings preface the text, and several other designs and a very ornate title page follow. Syriac is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, which was spoken by Christians in the lands between the Roman Empire and the Arabian Sea from the first century to the 12th century.

Synaxarion

This 18th-century manuscript, dated 1733 in the colophon, is called an Al-Sinkisār (Synaxarion), meaning a collection of brief biographies of the saints, mostly used in the Orthodox Church. The account of the life of a saint is read as a lesson when that saint’s day is celebrated in church. Each day of the year is marked in this synaxarion with red ink, and then follows a brief narrative for the particular saint or saints celebrated that day. The text is Garshuni (Arabic written in Syriac script). Garshuni Arabic is still in use among some Syriac Christian congregations.

Gospel Commentary

This 20th-century manuscript is one of many copies of the Pušāqā d-ewangelyon qaddišā (Gospel commentary) of Dionysius Bar Salibi (died 1171). Born in Melitene in an area that was sometimes under Turkish control, Bar Salibi became an Assyrian metropolitan bishop. The work is notable for containing named citations of previous Syriac authors. Bar Salibi was very highly regarded and his writing included poems, prayers, a treatise against heresy, and Syriac translations of Aristotle's works. Many of Bar Salibi’s works, including his biblical commentaries, survive with a remarkable manuscript witness. This manuscript, written in a very clear and consistent Serto hand, is testimony to the continuing practice and tradition of manuscript production among west Syriac scribes. Serto, meaning “line,” developed in and after the eighth century and became the most-used Syriac script. Syriac is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, which was spoken by Christians in the lands between the Roman Empire and the Arabian Sea from the first century to the 12th century.

Lives of the Saints

This Garshuni (Arabic written in Syriac letters) manuscript of Qisas al-qiddīsīn (Lives of the saints) dates from 1692–93 and was written by a scribe named Murad bin 'Abd Al-Masih. It is a collection of biographical accounts of the saints’ lives and homilies. The authors of these various biographies are, for the most part, anonymous. The text is mostly in two columns, but there are some pages with only one. A number of marginal notes in Garshuni and Arabic script accompany the text. Garshuni came into use when Arabic became the dominant spoken language in the lands of the Fertile Crescent before a written form of the Arabic language had developed. It is still in use among some Syriac Christian congregations.