Lectures On Syriac Manuscripts

  • The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Library
    Archbishop H.E. Dr. Mor Severus Roger, Patriarchal Vicar for Syriac Studies and Director of the Department of Syriac Studies at the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, joins us for an overview of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Library. His Eminence graduated from Mor Aphrem Theological Seminary in Maarat Saydnaya. He received a degree of Bachelor in Theology and Philosophy from the Catholic University in Paris in 2005, a Masters Degree in Theology from University of the Holy Spirit in Kaslik – Lebanon in 2009, and a Ph.D. in Theology with high distinction from the Catholic University in Paris in 2013. In addition to his various teaching roles, Mor Severus is a member of the Church liturgical synodical committee. He has edited and translated several books and published more than 40 academic theological articles. Mor Severus also serves as co-secretary for the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Official International Theological Dialogue with the Anglican Communion.

About the Library: Patriarch Aphrem I (1933-1956) of blessed memory is considered the founder of the modern Patriarchal Library, who established and collected valuable volumes from his own extensive library. After him, Patriarch Yakub III (1957-1980), added to them a considerable number of books, which he bought himself, or were offered to him as gifts. But, the golden age the Patriarchal Library passed through was at the time of Patriarch Zakka I (1980-2014), in which the library contained more than twenty thousand volumes, most of which were in Syriac, Arabic, English, French and Greek, in addition to Malayalam, Turkish, Armenian, Russian, Latin and Italian etc. Currently, His Holiness, Patriarch Aphrem II, is adding to it new books that he gets as gifts, and others bought by the Department of Syriac Studies, initiated by His Holiness, from the budget singled for the Library.

Thus, the Patriarchal Library includes the collections of the past mentioned Patriarchs of the Syriac Orthodox Church, in addition to the library of St. Aphrem Theological Seminary, with its two branches; the old one in Atchaneh, Lebanon and the new one in Ma‘arrat Saydnaya. Nowadays, the present library is located at Mor Aphrem Monastery, the Theological Seminary in Ma‘arrat Saydnaya, Syria. After establishing the Department of Syriac Studies, great efforts were exerted towards enlarging the capacity of the Patriarchal Library, categorizing, cataloguing and computerization.

  • Highlights from a Collection of Syriac Fragments found at the Oriental Institute, Chicago
    Fr. Dr. Iskandar Bcheiry, Metadata Editor at Atla, holds a Ph.D. in Church History from the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome, and another Ph.D. in World Christianity and Global Missions-Christian-Muslim Studies from the Lutheran School of Theology-Chicago. Fr. Dr. Bcheiry has published a collection of books such as: “An Early Christian reaction to Islam: Išū‘yhab III and the Muslim Arabs” (Piscataway, N.J: Gorgias Press, 2019); “Hagiography, History, and Manuscript Culture: Studies in Syriac Christianity” (Kaslik: Lebanon, 2018); “Collection of Historical Documents in Relation with the Syriac Orthodox Community, in the Late Period of the Ottoman Empire” (Piscataway, N.J: Gorgias Press, 2010). Additionally, Fr. Dr. Bcheiry published numerous articles on the history of Syriac Christianity and cataloged several collections of Syriac and Arabic manuscripts. He is also a priest of the Syriac Orthodox Church and serves as a pastor of his community in Chicago since 2006.

Abstract: The story of the find that we are about to discuss goes back to the year 1911, when the Syriac Orthodox monk Afrem Barṣawm (1887-1957), who later became the Patriarch of his Church, (HH Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem I Barsoum) visited the region of Ṭūrʿabdīn in modern southeast Turkey and examined the manuscripts that were preserved in its churches and monasteries. Among the manuscripts that Patriarch Ignatius Barṣawm examined was one from the ninth century, found in the Village of Basibrīnā. This manuscript contained an extensive collection of canons, synodal acts, and historical tracts that were composed between the third and ninth centuries. Because of its extensive content of canonical jurisprudential texts, Patriarch Ignatius Barṣoum referred to this manuscript as: “the book of Canons,” “the canons of Basibrīnā,” or “the Collection of Canons of Basibrīnā.” Unfortunately, during the First World War, this important Syriac Manuscript was lost. Mor Barṣoum described its loss by saying: “the loss of this treasure in the World War before obtaining a copy of it is a great scientific loss.”

However, during his examination of the Syriac manuscripts collection found in the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago, Dr. Bcheiry came across a collection of Syriac fragments on parchment, written in the middle of the ninth century. This collection of fragments belonged to the same manuscript based on the size of the leaves, type of the parchment, and the matching physical marks that appear on the leaves, such as the wear, tears, cuts, wrinkling, discoloring, and holes. What’s more, the contents of the six leaves are unique and mentioned by Patriarch Igantius Barṣoum as being found only in the lost manuscript of the “Canons of Basibrīnā.” The scribal and marginal notes found in the margins of the texts are also the same as those mentioned by Mor Barṣoum. The incomplete fragmentary texts that were transcribed by Patriarch Ignatius Barṣoum from the manuscript of “Canons of Basibrīnā” exactly match the remaining parts of the same texts found in the Syriac parchment leaves of the Oriental Institute Museum-Chicago. The aim of Dr. Bcheiry’s presentation is to shed light on the contents of these fragments, and to highlight their importance to the history of Syriac Christianity, especially between the sixth and ninth centuries at a time when the religious and cultural identity of the non-Chalcedonian Syriac church of Antioch was in a stage of progress. This progress occurred within a historical framework that was marked by the decline of Byzantine influence and the establishment of Arab Muslim rule.

  • Syriac Liturgical Manuscripts and Fragments
    Dr. Ephrem Aboud Ishac has a BA in English literature and an MA in general theology from St Vladimir’s Theological Seminary, New York, USA, and a PhD in Syriac Liturgy from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Lebanon. He served at the secretary of Mor Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim, the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo in absentia. He is a visiting researcher at Université Catholique de Louvain la Neuve in Louvain, Belgium, St John’s University, Collegeville, USA, Beth Mardutho Syriac Studies Center, New Jersey, USA, and to Karl Franzens Universität, Graz, Austria, where he started a Postdoctoral research on Syriac Liturgical Anaphoras in 2013, which was followed by the project “Syriac Anaphoras: Editions According to Manuscripts” in 2014. Dr. Ishac has been teaching liturgy in the MA programme of Syriac Theology at Salzburg University since 2015, focusing on critical issues in the current Syriac liturgical practice and discussing an academic vision for a possible liturgical reform. He is a contributor to the Syriac Anaphoras database at the Vestigia Research Centre, Graz University, and to Sedra Syriac Lexicographical database at Beth Mardutho, New Jersey. Since November 2017 he serves as a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at FSCIRE Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna (Italy).

Abstract: Syriac manuscripts and fragments are fascinating especially the liturgical ones, where it is often possible to discover new findings, concerning their textual content and historical context. Sometimes even some unexpected social media posts can help us to learn about the destiny of liturgical manuscripts, especially in times of wars. In fact, because of a miniature posted on Facebook by H. E. Mor Severus Roger Akhrass, I was able to re-discover the fate of a former lectionary manuscript: Zafaran N. 12.

Perhaps what makes also these liturgical manuscripts remarkable is the continuing use during prayers (until nowadays in several Syriac churches!), so when you open them you can even smell the incense and touch the wax used during prayers (perhaps since centuries ago), a phenomenon which invites the readers/or researchers to be moved to the past, especially while reading many colophons and marginal notes, requesting to pray for the scribes or for those who used the same liturgical manuscripts a long time ago.

In the Syriac liturgical manuscripts, there are also many unique historical notes that documented the life of the Syriac communities who used to gather around the church as the centre of their community life. So, we notice lengthy notes on certain lectionaries, which can tell us about the social history of the Syriac Church, in addition to many canons, Synodical Acts, and many other important documents. As expected, the daily use of the liturgical manuscripts has caused damage to those manuscripts, which resulted that many liturgical fragments had ended up at a later stage to be added to other manuscripts (as if they were recycled) and even to be used for binding other manuscripts (not necessarily liturgical).

Personally, I have been trying to identify many liturgical fragments, and luckily, I could reach some successful results. This inspection work of identifying some scattered puzzles of Syriac liturgical manuscripts and fragments is not only an academic duty to re-discover new materials, but for me, it is also a spiritual experience, since every time I find and identify one of those fragments, I remember the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son; thus, I experience somehow the joy of that shepherd, that woman and that father in the gospel (Luck 15): saying with them “Rejoice with me; for I have found my lost…fragment!”

  • Church Archives: The Importance of Preserving Documents and Scraps of Paper
    Dr. George A. Kiraz is the founder and director of Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute, the Editor-in-Chief of Gorgias Press, and a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He earned an MSt degree in Syriac Studies from the University of Oxford (1991) and an M.Phil. and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (1992, 1996). He has published extensively in the fields of computational linguistics and Syriac Studies. Dr. Kiraz has been a strong supporter of the intersection of Digital Humanities and Syriac Studies; proposing back as early as the 90s for the digitization of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal archives. In addition to his research and publishing responsibilities, Dr. George also serves as a Shamosho Evengeloyo (Deacon) in the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, and sits on a number of Patriarchal committees.

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