ARAMAIC WATCH: BYU is publishing a CD of 14,000 pages of Syriac manuscripts from the Vatican museum.
Vatican lets BYU publish old texts
By Tad Walch
Deseret Morning News
PROVO � When their boat capsized in the Nile River, the Vatican monks feverishly dived for the priceless manuscripts they had just obtained from an Egyptian monastery.
Most of the Syriac Christian documents copied by BYU are from a collection the Vatican purchased nearly 300 years ago.
Brigham Young University
One monk died in the accident, but the treasured writings of Ephrem the poet � copied by Assyrian monks in A.D. 522 and 523 � were saved and laid on the shore to dry in the early 18th century sun.
From there, the manuscripts traveled to the bowels of the Vatican Library and nearly 300 years of exile, out of reach of members of the Eastern Christian churches who revere Ephrem � until the Vatican agreed to let teams from Brigham Young University scan 14,000 pages of Syriac Christian writings and publish the color images next month on a DVD.
The texts provide a new window for study of Mesopotamian Christianity, which began when missionaries from Jerusalem or Antioch visited what is now Iraq and converted large numbers of people who spoke Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic.
There's also a press release published on the Hugoye list
A collection of rare Christian manuscripts�some dating to the sixth century�will soon be accessible to scholars worldwide, thanks to a first-time collaboration between Brigham Young University, the Vatican Library and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Working alongside their Vatican colleagues for three years, BYU scholars imaged more than 14,000 pages of text to produce a digital library of 33 important Syriac Christian manuscripts, which will be available on DVD. For Bishop Mar Bawai Soro of the Assyrian Church of the East, access to these texts�which for centuries were out of reach�will help his church members to reconnect with their heritage.
The newly digitized collection includes unpublished works by early Eastern Christian writers such as Jacob of Serugh, Ephrem the poet and Isaac the Syrian. The Chronicle of Edessa, for example, describes life in the city of Edessa beginning in the second century. One oversized 1,000-page manuscript contained 230 separate homilies by different authors.
It's not clear to me whether these are hitherto unpublished works
or just unplublished manuscripts of works already known. I'll try to find out.
Here's another note in Deseret News
on a Syriac hymn in the corpus.
Coincidentally, I am off to our library later this morning to photograph some pages from a nineteenth century facsimile edition of a major Syriac biblical manuscript (Codex Ambrosianus B.21, Milan). Not as exciting as the BYU project, but it's the best I can do at the moment.
LATER: I'm back from my first little photographic expedition. The downloading software is on my other computer at home, so I won't be able to get at the images until tonight. If they came out well, I'll post one or two, probably tomorrow. [UPDATE (2 April): Now see here
UPDATE (2 April): On the Hugoye list
Kristian Heal clarifies the contents of the digitized manuscripts:
All of these manuscripts are known from the catalogues of Assemani, Mai and Lantschoot. Many of the manuscripts have been published, some in critical editions (e.g. all of the Ephrem manuscripts (110, 111, 112, 113), and the Severus manuscripts (140,141)). However, some of the manuscripts contain texts which have not been published before in any format. For example, none of the liturgical texts have been published, though Borgia 60 is the object of a very interesting study by Joseph Marie Sauget (Studi e Testi 326). Among the literary texts included in the manuscripts many have not been published or used in critical editions. These include texts from Vatican Syriac 586, 283, 191, 189 and parts of 92, 93, 114, 117, 147, 151, 161, 252. Of note is Vatican Syriac 117, a collection of homilies by Jacob of Serugh, Isaac of Antioch and Ephrem. Of the 227 individual pieces that are included in the manuscript 60 have not been edited and published before. Of course, in most cases these manuscripts contain just one of a number of surviving witnesses.
It would perhaps be useful to identify a continuum by which to grade our awareness and use of a given manuscript/work:
1. Previously uncataloged/unknown
2. Cataloged manuscript
3. Published in facsimile
4. Users edition (e.g. those of Bedjan) that does not take full account
of all known manuscripts
5. Critical edition that takes into account all known manuscripts
With this publication all of the manuscripts have reached level 3. Many individual works had previously reached 4 or 5, though many have not.
Kristian also has a listing of catalogue numbers and short titles on this Hugoye post
. I am grateful for the additional information. This is an exciting project and both BYU and the Vatican are to be commended for it. For more, see here