July 10, 2012

World's Marvels and Substances Book

This text contains sections extracted from the second part of the well-known and highly popular work of cosmography known as ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt, written in the 13th century (7th century AH) by Abū Yaḥyā Zakarīyā al-Qazwīnī. The work begins with a section on the sources and properties of gems and stones, followed by sections on herbs, seeds, nuts and fruits, spices, the body parts of animals, and so forth. It also contains geographical information, for example the names and locations of major bodies of water such as the Mediterranean Sea, and of islands, mountains, and other geographic features. Unlike many other known manuscripts of this work, this manuscript is not illustrated.

July 12, 2012

Book of Theology

Shem’un al-Turani was born in 1670 near Tur Abdin in present-day Turkey. He studied in Tur Abdin and became a monk at the age of twenty. He was appointed maphrian—historically the prelate second to the patriarch in the hierarchy of the Syriac Orthodox Church—in 1710 and took the name Basileios. Maphrian Basileios Shem’un was martyred in 1740. He wrote in verse and prose, and his works are considered important both because he was one of the most-renowned Syriac writers, and because very little of the great body of Syriac literature from the Ottoman period has been published. His Kitāb al-ṯe’ōlōġiyyā (Book of theology) is divided into 12 chapters, each of which is in ten sections. The book was written in Syriac and soon thereafter translated into Garshuni (this term, meaning Arabic written in Syriac script, rather than “Arabic” is specifically used in the manuscripts of the work). The translation is by Athanasius Aslan, bishop of Amid (present-day Diyarbakir, Turkey), and a student of Maphrian Basileios Shem’un. This copy is one of two very early manuscripts of the Garshuni version.

The Weapon of Religion and the Shield of Certainty

Shem’un al-Turani was born in 1670 near Tur Abdin in present-day Turkey. He studied in Tur Abdin and became a monk at the age of twenty. He was appointed maphrian—historically the prelate second to the patriarch in the hierarchy of the Syriac Orthodox Church—in 1710 and took the name Basileios. Maphrian Basileios Shem’un was martyred in 1740. Kitāb silāḥ al-dīn wa-turs al-yaqīn (The weapon of religion and the shield of certainty) contains his polemical treatise in support of Syriac Orthodox doctrine and practice and against those of the Catholics and the Church of the East. Unlike his other major work, Kitāb al-ṯe’ōlōġiyyā (Book of theology), which was written in Syriac and later translated into Garshuni, this work was written in Garshuni (Arabic words in Syriac script). The copy shown here was completed in August 1724 by a scribe named Zakarya.

Selections from the Book of the Holy Hierotheos with Commentary

This manuscript contains commentary on the Ktābā d-Irotē’os (Book of the holy Hierotheos), an early sixth-century theological epic on the hidden mysteries of the Divine, which is attributed to Stephen Bar Sudayli. The commentary is by Gregory Bar ‘Ebraya (also seen as Bar Hebraeus, 1226–86), who was a Syriac Orthodox bishop and a Syrian mystic. Both Bar Sudayli and his book were liable to suspicion in the Orthodox Church. This was because of the work’s associations with Origenism and with Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (both linked to attempts to reconcile Platonism and the Scriptures, beliefs later seen as heretical) and with Evagrius of Pontus, an early church father of great rhetorical gifts who became a monk and ascetic. The book retained its popularity, however, and later commentaries such as this one seemed to underline its closeness to rather than distance from Orthodox thinking. In this manuscript, which is undated but probably was copied as late as the 20th century, section numbers align the text and commentary.

Life of Barsawma

This undated manuscript of Ktāba d-ḥayyāw(y) d-qaddišā mār(y) Barṣawmā (Life of Barsawma) contains a narrative of the miraculous life of Barsawma (died about 492). The manuscript is in Syriac, but this text also is known in Ge'ez, the classical language of Ethiopia. Barsawma is said to have performed about 100 miracles, detailed here, and he was involved in the Christological controversies of the fifth century. A famous monastery near Melitene in present-day Turkey is named after him. The folios of the manuscript are unnumbered, but it is evident that the first quire at the beginning and a few folios at the end are missing. The script around the edges of the page is noticeably flowing.

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.