Troves of scholarshipThere follows an interesting summary history of the monastery.
For 1,500 years, Deir Al-Surian has had a working library. Active steps are now being taken to conserve this rich heritage, says Jill Kamil
The Coptic monastery known as Deir Al-Surian, or the Monastery of the Syrians, contains more than 3,000 books as well as a vast number of texts in Syriac, Aramaic (the language of Christ), Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic. They date upwards from the fifth century and today, as a result of the revival in Coptic monasticism in recent years, a new generation of educated monks are anxious to safeguard this heritage. Both Syrian and Coptic monks are engaged in their conservation, as well as restoration of the monastery itself.
Collaborating with them on what is known as the Deir Al-Surian Library Project is the Levantine Foundation. The aim is twofold: to salvage old manuscripts which, after surviving a century and a half in a living community, are in danger of being lost, and to conserve the remaining literary inheritance of more than 1,000 Syriac manuscripts for future generations.
The project is moving ahead and members of the conservation team, with the help of volunteers and on a shoe-string budget, are surveying, restoring, cataloguing and storing the Syriac texts in a suitable environment. A digital photographic record of each manuscript will eventually be made to facilitate access for scholars, and appropriate storage for the manuscripts and facilities for visiting scholars is also planned.
Two thoughts. I hope that the digital record of the manuscripts will make its way online in due course. And, as always, I hope that study of these manuscripts will uncover new copies of known and unknow Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Our project is probably too far advanced to take account of such finds, but future More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha projects will be able to include them.