Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Vatican Library catalogues and Syriac

UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: Professor critiques Vatican Library texts (Emily McConville, The Observer). The headline isn't very accurate, since it is the catalogues he is "critiquing" (i.e., correcting), not the texts:
The Vatican library provides invaluable resources for Department of Classics professor Joseph Amar, but in the course of his study, he has worked to correct discrepancies in one of the library’s manuscript catalogs, he said.

Using manuscripts from the first centuries of Christianity, Amar said he studies the writings of early Christian thinkers. Many of the manuscripts he studies reside in the Vatican Library, collected over many centuries and cataloged in the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana, an 18th-century tome that lists the authors of documents, their publication dates and descriptions of their contents, Amar said.

He also studies the Aramaic language and its dialects, which linked Christianity and Judaism and, at times, made them almost indistinguishable.

“In general, it’s about documenting Christianity at a crucial stage in its history, where it’s still very Jewish-looking but hasn’t become entirely the kind of Christianity we recognize today,” Amar said. “It sort of still has one foot in Judaism and one foot in Christianity. This is preserved in these ancient manuscripts because Jews and Christians were using the same language.”

Tucked away near the end of the article is a tidbit that could be quite important:
Amar said the process often leads to new discoveries. For example, scholars believed for centuries that Jacob of Edessa, an influential Biblical scholar, had written a commentary on the Book of Genesis ⎯ but no one could find it. Meanwhile, a catalog contained a misidentified Genesis commentary, Amar said. By comparing that manuscript’s writing and handwriting style with Jacob’s known works, Amar said he was able to correctly attribute the commentary to him.
Finding a lost Syriac commentary on Genesis by Jacob of Edessa sounds like a big deal to me. The only other information given is the photo of Professor Amar, with what looks like a photocopy of the manuscript, with the caption "Classics professor Joseph Amar examines a copy of the commentary of the Book of Genesis by Jacob of Edessa. Amar said he believes this manuscript was published in the third century." Something is garbled there, because Jacob of Edessa was born c. 640. Perhaps he said that the Aramaic dialect Syriac spread from Edessa in the third century?

The text in the photo appears to be written in Syriac script, but I can't make out anything else. Out of curiosity I flagged the article on the Hugoye list and Alison Salveson and Bas ter Har Romeny commented here. Cross-file under "Syriac watch," "Lost book found?" and "Watch this space."