July 12, 2012


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.

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.

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.

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).