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Bars.aum, Mor Ignatios Aphrem I.
Geschichte der syrischen Wissenschaften und Literatur. Aus d. Arabischen übers. v. G. Toro u. A. Gorgis.
Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz 2012. LII, 506 S., 1 Abb. u. 29 Tab. = Eichstätter Beiträge zum Christlichen Orient, 2. Geb. EUR 78,00. ISBN 978-3-447-06837-6.
Sebastian P. Brock
The important history of Syriac literature, written in Arabic by the learned Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Afrem Bars.aum (1887–1957), had been little known to Western scholars until recently, despite the wealth of information it contains that is not to be found even in Anton Baumstark’s Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (1922), which still remains, after over ninety years, the most authoritative his-tory of Syriac literature.
Though B.’s work was first published in 1943 in Homs (at that time the seat of the Patriarchate), with an expanded second edition published in Aleppo in 1956, it was only in 2000, when an English translation was published (with a revised edition, 2003), that it begin to become better known and appreciated among western scholars, although a certain amount of information based on the Arabic original had earlier featured in R. Macuch’s Geschichte der spät- und neusyrischen Literatur (1976). With this excellent German translation, based on B.’s 2nd edition published in 1956, a yet wider readership, both academic and among the sizeable immigrant Sy-riac communities in western Europe, has now been provided for.
The lasting value of B.’s history of Syriac literature lies in his unrivalled knowledge of Syriac manuscript collections in both Middle Eastern and Western libraries, and it is especially valuable for Syrian Orthodox writers of the Ottoman period, who are not covered by any of the European histories of Syriac literature (not surprisingly, B. did not include authors from the East Syriac tradition). B.’s close familiarity with the manuscript sources of Syriac literature is evident from the footnotes on almost every page. Very recently, in 2008, his present successor on the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Throne, H. H. Moran Mor Ignatius Zaka I ‘Iwas, has taken the highly laudable initiative to publish B.’s catalogue notes of several important Syriac manuscript collections in the Middle East. The three volumes cover: I, the manuscripts of Tur ‘Abdin (SE Turkey); II, those of Deyrulzafaran (Dayro d-Kurkmo), the former seat of the Patriarchate, not far from Mardin; and III, those of Diyarbakir (Omid) and Mardin.
The extensive amount of information given by B. in his notes makes these three volumes a wonderful resource for future research, and their publication is all the more important in that quite a number of the manuscripts described were subsequently destroyed or lost. It might be noted here that the first and second volumes overlap to some extent with similar cataloguing work undertaken by Mor Philoxenos Yuhanan Dolabani (died 1969), former Metropolitan of Mardin. Dolabani’s manuscript notes were reproduced photographically in two volumes edited and published in 1994 by Mor Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim, the present Metropolitan of Aleppo; a third volume covers the manuscripts in the library of St Mark’s Monastery Jerusalem. (Most of the manuscripts formerly at Deyrulzafaran and some of those from Jerusalem are now in the Patriarchal library in the Monastery of St Ephrem at Ma‘arrat Saidnaya.)
B. organised his book in two parts, the first outlining the history of different genres of Syriac literature, and the second providing a listing of authors and their work in chronological sequence. Particularly valuable for liturgical scholars will be the extensive sec-tion (37–92) on liturgical texts. For those who work with Syriac manuscripts, the list of famous scribes, or copyists of manuscripts, will be very helpful; although the manuscripts involved are not identified, the dates are given; accordingly, for the scribes of the fifth to thirteenth centuries, the individual manuscripts can be identified with the help of the ›Tentative checklist of dated Syriac manuscripts up to 1300‹, published in Hugoye, the internet Journal of Syriac Studies 15 (2012), 21–48. Also useful is the list of some eighty monasteries (a full repertory of known monasteries remains very much a desideratum).
Needless to say, after more than half a century, there are sections on topics or on authors where the information given by B. is now in serious need of updating (the same applies to Baumstark’s Geschichte); this is notably the case with the short section on biblical translations, and that on Ephrem. Surprisingly, an important author of the early fifth century, Yohannan of Apameia (John the Solitary), is completely absent from the second part of the book; al-though hardly anything by him had been published by the time of the original edition, it is curious that B. had evidently overlooked the presence of a considerable number of works by him which feature among the Syriac manuscripts in the British Library, a collection with which he was otherwise very familiar.
There are some intriguing differences between this translation (along with the English one) and Dolabani’s Syriac translation of 1967, for Dolabani adds five further names among the fourth and fifth-century writers: Thomais the Deaconess, Basilios bishop of Homs, Philo bishop of Carpasia, Gregory the Solitary of Cyprus, and Xystus. Thomais is the alleged author of the Martyrdom of Febronia, while Basilios must be an error for Eusebius, since Eusebius of Emesa is evidently meant; Philo of Carpasia is the Greek author of a commentary on the Song of Songs, but Dolabani also attributes to him the Syriac Liber Graduum. Gregory of Cyprus, an East Syriac monastic author, is now known to date from the seventh century, and Xystus is none other than Sextus, author of the widespread collection of Sentences (popular too, in Syriac translation).
The retroversion of European names from their Arabic transcription has very occasionally caused problems: thus Le Quien appears as ›Lukian‹ (66) and Andrew of Crete has become ›of Tagrit‹ (72), while in the list of translations of works by Athanasius, ›Epictetus‹ has dropped out as the addressee of one of his important letters (154; the English translation has garbled the name). A few further such understandable blemishes which feature in the English translation have, however, happily been rectified in the German edition.
The translators have in general carried out their task excellently, and the material is set out in a helpful way (which is not always the case in the English translation). They have further enhanced their work by providing in the introduction a valuable Bio-bibliography of B. A full index of names is also given. In the Preface Hubert Kaufhold succinctly draws attention to the wider significance of the work of both the author and of the two translators. The ap-pearance of this translation can be said to mark an important stage in the progress of Syriac studies in Europe, and the translators deserve the gratitude of all who have an interest in Syriac literature.