British Museum----MSS. from the Egyptian Monasteries. Quarterly Review 77: Nos. 153-4 (Dec. 1845-Mar. 1846) pp.39-69
ART. II.----1. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, on the Theophania, or Divine Manifestation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A Syriac Version edited from an ancient Manuscript recently discovered. By Samuel Lee, D.D., Regius Professor of Hebrew in the University of Cambridge. 8vo. (Printed for the Society for the Publication of Oriental Texts.) 1842.
2. The same. Translated into English with Notes; to which is prefixed a Vindication of the Orthodoxy and Prophetical Views of Eusebius. By Samuel Lee, D.D. 8vo. 1843.
3. The Antient Syriac Version of the Epistles of St. Ignatius to St. Polycarp, the Ephesians, and the Romans; together with Extracts from his Epistles collected from the Writings of Severus of Antioch, Timotheus of Alexandria, and others. Edited, with an English Translation and Notes, by William Cureton, M.A. 8vo. London. 1845.
4. Journal of a Tour through Egypt, the Peninsula of Sinai, and the holy Land in 1838, 1839. Intended solely for private circulation. 2 vols. 8vo. London, 1842.
AMONG the societies lately formed for publishing manuscript works contained in our public libraries, there is none which embraces a sphere so extensive, which aims at promoting so high a class of literature, and which, if adequately supported, promises to afford so valuable an addition to our stock of learning and science, as that under whose auspices Dr. Lee has put forth the volume named at the head of this paper. It is to the East only that we can look for direction in our endeavours to obtain fuller information upon many of the most interesting of subjects. It is hence only that we can hope to draw any additional knowledge concerning the earliest races of mankind, or any help in tracing their descendants among the present nations of the world. In the absence of any written record of events, the only course is to collect the traditions prevalent in those countries, to endeavour to decipher ancient inscriptions, to read the legends of coins, and to trace the connexion and intercourse of peoples by the affinities and intermixtures of language. But no one can qualify himself for such a task otherwise than by studying the present languages and literature of those countries. In vain will he pore over the hieroglyphic or demotic inscriptions and papyri of Egypt who has not grappled with the Coptic: vain will be every endeavour to explain the Pehlevi, and arrow-headed inscriptions at Persepolis, or the legends on the Babylonian bricks and cylinders, unless the inquirer has previously made himself acquainted with the Chaldee or Aramaic, and the modern Persian, and the Zend as preserved in the books of the Parsees. What has been already done for |40 ethnography by the comparison of language since the introduction of the Sanscrit into Europe, shows how much more we may reasonably expect when the different stocks and dialects of oriental tongues shall have been more extensively cultivated.
But not only may we look to the East for fuller means of tracing the history of the earliest races of mankind;----from the same quarter we may also hope to recover much of the science and literature of Greece and Rome, which appears to have perished in the original languages. And still more, even in those authors which have been preserved many obscurities may be cleared up and difficulties explained by comparing them with oriental versions made previously to the time when multiplied transcriptions had introduced many errors into the original text. Aelian, writing in the first half of the third century, mentions that it was reported that the Indians and Persians had translations of the poems of Homer, which they used to sing in their own language. (Var. Hist., lib. xii. c. 48.) And the historian Agathias, in the middle of the sixth century, informs us that the Persian monarch Chosroes was said to be more thoroughly imbued with the writings of Aristotle than even Demosthenes with those of Thucydides, and to be perfectly versed in the works of Plato, which had been translated expressly for his use. (Hist. Justin., lib. ii.) We have also evidence before us that as early as about the end of the seventh century of our era, several works were translated from the Greek into the Arabic. In the eighth and the earlier part of the ninth century, under the Abbassides, this labour of translation is known to have been carried on to a great extent. No expense was spared to procure the works of the learned in every language. Greeks, Syrians, Persians, and Indians met on the banks of the Tigris to give their aid in spreading knowledge and civilization among the Arabs.
Of these translations many still remain. Those of which the originals are extant may often be used with great advantage. We would instance the case of Ptolemy; where the astronomical skill of the Arabs at that period would enable them to correct mistakes in numbers and figures which might altogether escape the notice of Greeks, and where the evidence of their tradition will be most important, because in such cases no critical knowledge of the original language can be of any avail to rectify an error. Of works lost in the original, which have already been restored to us through this channel, we may instance the fifth, sixth, and seventh books of the Conic Sections of Apollonius of Perga, translated into Latin from the Arabic by the Maronite Abraham Ecchellensis; and his work on the Section of the Ratio, made known by the publication of Halley, who, without understanding |41 a word of Arabic, was enabled by his great geometrical skill to state and demonstrate the several propositions from the schemes in the manuscript of the Bodleian.
Versions were also made from the Greek into the Armenian at a very early period, especially of ecclesiastical works. The publication of the Armenian translation of the Chronicon of Eusebius, has been of essential service to history, and has confirmed the criticism of Scaliger respecting the original. The Book of Enoch, first made known to Europe by the translation of the late Archbishop Laurence, shows that something has been already recovered from the Aethiopic: and the Coptic too may yet make us better acquainted with writings hitherto only known to us by the tradition that they once existed.
But it is above all to the Syriac or Aramaic that we may look for the recovery of works lost in the original Greek. This language, which with slight variations prevailed from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, and from the confines of Arabia and Egypt to Armenia, not only possesses a peculiar interest for us as being that used by our Saviour and his disciples, but also as being the vernacular tongue of many writers who hold a high rank in Grecian literature; whose works therefore can hardly be entirely free from some of the idiomatic expressions of their native land. The New Testament is, as we may naturally expect, full of Aramaisms; and one of the Evangelists is believed, not without good grounds, to have written his Gospel in that tongue. The earliest version of the New Testament is undoubtedly the Syriac; and after the Septuagint, that of the Old Testament also. This is not the place to discuss the question as to the period when those versions were made; but better arguments than occidental scholars have hitherto been willing to admit, support the belief of those branches of the Christian Church which first made use of them, that they touch upon Apostolic times. The work of translating from the Greek into the Syrian was certainly commenced very early. We are told by Eusebius in his account of the Martyrdom of Procopius, A..D. 303, that he had been employed in translating from the Greek into Aramaic. This passage does not indeed occur in the Greek text of the Martyrs of Palestine, as it has come down to us, but it is found both in the Syriac and in the ancient Latin version. Indeed the age of the manuscript itself in which the Syriac translation of the Acts of the Martyrs of Palestine and the Theophania of Eusebius, together with the Recognitions of St. Clement and the treatise of Titus of Bostra against the Manicheans, are found, shows that considerable progress in the work of translation from the Greek into Syriac must have been made as early as about A.D. 400. |42
Dr. Lee has given us in one volume the Syriac text of the Theophania, and in another his own version of it into English----with a preface and notes displaying great and varied erudition. But what we propose at present to consider is not the contents of the book, but its external history; the discovery of a very considerable theological treatise by Eusebius, of which only two or three fragments had been known, must excite a desire to learn what circumstances have at length brought it to light, and what reasons we may consequently have to hope for further acquisitions of a similar nature.
About six years ago the Rev. Henry Tattam, of Bedford, made a journey to Egypt, with a view of collecting MSS. serviceable towards an edition of the Scriptures in Coptic. Besides Coptic treasures, he brought back about fifty volumes of Syriac MSS.----some extremely ancient. Dr. Lee says:----
'It was in looking over these manuscripts that I had the extreme pleasure of discovering that of which the following work is a translation.....The manuscript containing our work is very neatly written in the Estrangelo or old Church-hand-writing of the Syrians, on very fine and well-prepared skin. It is of the size of large quarto, each folio measuring about 14½ inches by 11½, and containing three columns, each of the width of 2¼ inches.'
The Professor then translates a note from one of the margins, which states that the transcript was made at Edessa in Mesopotamia, in the year of our Lord 411. The age of the manuscript therefore, according to this note, the veracity of which there is no ground to question, is 1434 years. At first sight, notwithstanding all our readers have heard of the dryness of the Egyptian climate, the date assigned may startle them; but we can assure them that in the collection of upwards of three hundred manuscripts amongst which this was discovered, there are many from the fifth to the thirteenth century as to which there can be no doubt. They are all noted with the year of the era of the Greeks (Seleucidae); some also with that of the Martyrs; others, which are more recent, with that of the Hijrah likewise; and these notices are accompanied by so many particulars as to the scribe himself, as to the convent where each manuscript was transcribed, who was its superior, who its principal officers, who was then bishop of the diocese, and who the supreme patriarch, as to leave no possibility of mistake as to the date. By comparing the style of the handwriting, the nature of the vellum, and other particulars of those manuscripts which are not dated, or in which the note of the year is either erased or lost, with such as still retain the record of the year, we are enabled to decide, with a tolerable degree of certainty, the age even of the manuscripts without a date. There |43 are in the collection one dated manuscript of the fifth and many early in the sixth century, and from comparing Dr. Lee's volume with these, we could not attribute it to a later date than that in which he acquiesces.
The manuscript was purchased by Mr. Tattam from the convent of St. Mary Deipara, in the desert valley of Nitria, situated between 30 and 31 degrees both of latitude and longitude, about 35 miles to the left of the most western branch of the Nile. The name of Nitria belongs properly to the northern part of the valley, where the famous natron lakes are situated; the southern part is more correctly the Valley of Scithis, or Scete, and is also called the Desert or Valley of Macarius, from the convent dedicated to one of the three saints who bore that name. Each of these three appellations may however be applied generally; and Mohammedans commonly call the whole valley Wadi Habib, after one of their own saints, who retired hither about the end of the seventh century.
This valley, most probably from its lonely situation, and possibly also, as Jerome seems to hint, from some fancied virtues of purification in the lakes themselves, in allusion to the passage of Jeremiah (xi. 22), ' For though thou wash thee with nitre,' &c., has been celebrated as the resort of ascetics from the earliest times. About the middle of the second century we read of one Fronto who retired thither with seventy brethren. At the beginning of the fourth century, Ammon, who, although there were ascetics before his day, has generally been reputed the originator of monasticism, withdrew from the world to this spot. The fame of his compulsory marriage, of the resolution of virgin purity which he persuaded his bride to adopt, and his retirement to the desert so soon as the death of his parents left him at liberty, gained for him many followers. But a very few years afterwards, Macarius is said to have instituted the first establishment in that part of the valley which to this day bears his name. To this place Arsenius, the preceptor of Arcadius and Honorius, retired upon the death of Theodosius. The number of ascetics increased, in a short time, to an almost incredible amount. Rufinus, who visited them about the year 372, mentions some fifty convents or tabernacula; and Palladius, who fifteen years later passed twelve months here, reckons the devotees at five thousand. Jerome visited this desert about the same period. From the narratives which these have given, with the accounts of Evagrius and Cassien, we may gather a very accurate knowledge of the manners of these monks at the end of the fourth century. Subsequently we have few materials for their history down to the middle of the seventh, when Egypt was taken by the Arabs. |44
From this period the only information is to be gathered from Arabic writers. The convents and their inmates seem to have been regarded with peculiar interest even by those who had embraced the religion of the Koran. Not only were several immunities granted them upon different occasions, but they even formed a favourite subject of poetry for the Moslem writers of the third and fourth century of the Hijrah. Abu'l-Faraj Al-Ispahani, a celebrated Arabian who died A.D. 967, published the Kitab al-Diarat, or Book of Convents, which contained all the best poems inspired by the aspect of the Christian convents and the habits of their inmates. If any reliance is to be placed upon Al-Makrizi, in his famous work on the History, Antiquities, and Topography of Egypt, Monasticism must have increased most rapidly in about two hundred and fifty years: for he says that after the conquest of Egypt by Amr Ibn Al-A's, seventy thousand monks met him at Teraneh, each with a crook in his hand, to implore that he would grant them a deed of security. To this request the Arab assented. The number seventy thousand seems enormous; but both the manuscripts which we have consulted agree on this point.
About the end of the seventh century the Khalif imposed a tribute of a dinar each upon all the monks, but they appear to have remained without further molestation during the whole of the eighth century. Shortly after the death of Harun Al-Rashid, at the commencement of the ninth, the Kharigites having seized upon Alexandria, made an excursion also into the Wadi Habib, plundered and burnt the monasteries, and carried away many of the monks for slaves. Such as could escape were scattered abroad into different countries, and many found an asylum in the convents of the Thebaid. With this event the decline of monasticism in Egypt seems to have commenced. We find, however, that under Jacob, the next Patriarch, many of the monks returned to Scete, and some of its convents were rebuilt. In the days of the 52nd Patriarch we are told that they were again in a thriving condition. Under Sanutius, the 55th in succession upon the throne of St. Mark, an order was obtained from the Mohammedan sovereign to liberate their monks from the payment of tribute. The Patriarch, who had been himself formerly steward of the Monastery of Macarius, seized upon this as a favourable opportunity to restore that edifice. He not only completely rebuilt it, but surrounded it with a high wall to protect it against sudden incursions of the Arabs, labouring with his own hands in the work. Elmacin informs us that the Patriarch Gabriel restored some of the convents at the beginning of the tenth century, but does not specify which they were. It seems |45 probable, however, that at this period the Syrian convent of St. Mary Deipara, concerning which we are most interested, was in a flourishing state, as we find that in the year 932 Moses of Tecrit, who was then Abbot, having had occasion to make a journey to Bagdad, brought with him upon his return an accession to the library of not less than two hundred and fifty volumes----among which in all probability was the manuscript containing the Theophania.
About a century after this we have mention also of the library of the Monastery of Macarius. Severus, Bishop of Aschmounin, to whom Renaudot is indebted for most of the facts in his work on the Patriarchs of Alexandria, informs us that he consulted for the compilation of his history various MSS. both in Greek and Coptic, then existing in that library. There is little mention in such books as are accessible to us, of the condition of these monasteries during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. We are told that it was a practice of the Patriarchs of Alexandria to visit the Convent of Macarius immediately after their election, and also that they used to pass the season of Lent there.
According to Al-Makrizi, writing at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the number of monasteries had once amounted to a hundred, but at his time they were reduced to seven. That of St. Macarius was still a fine building, but even its inhabitants few, and the other buildings in a ruinous state.
In later times several Europeans have visited these convents. Gassendi relates, in his Life of Peiresc, that a Capuchin monk named Egidius Lochiensis (Giles de Loche), who had resided seven years in Egypt for the purpose of studying oriental languages, informed Peiresc that there existed in several of the monasteries great quantities of manuscripts, and that he himself had seen in one of them a collection of about eight thousand, volumes, many of great antiquity, some as old as the time of St. Anthony. This monk had doubtless given a somewhat exaggerated statement. The monastery to which he alludes is, in all probability, that of St. Mary of the Syrians, near the Natron Lakes, as from all the accounts which have reached us, this possessed by far the greatest number of books. Vansleb, during his visit to Egypt in the year 1672, had formed the resolution of making an excursion to the Natron Lakes; and, although frustrated in this design, he did visit the convent of St. Anthony in the desert near the Red Sea. We mention this because he was admitted into the library, which was situated, as is generally the case, in the strong tower where all their valuables are kept. This collection, he says, consisted of three or four chests of ancient Coptic and Arabic manuscripts, chiefly church books and |46 books of devotion, some of which seemed to him well worthy of a place even in a royal library. Of the whole number he selected two, one a Coptic and Arabic dictionary and grammar, valued by the monks at thirty crowns, and the other a ritual of the ceremonies of the Coptic church, very carefully transcribed. These he was anxious to obtain; but failed because the monks could not alienate them without incurring the risk of excommunication by the patriarch; and further, which perhaps was the strongest reason, because he was himself but ill furnished with funds.
Six or seven years later the monks of Nitria were visited by our own countryman, Robert Huntington, then chaplain at Aleppo, and afterwards successively provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and bishop of Raphoe, whose fine collection of Oriental manuscripts now forms part of the priceless treasures in the Bodleian. During his residence of eleven years in the East he had availed himself of every opportunity to enrich his stock; but the book which of all others he was most anxious to procure, as appears from his letters, published by Dr. Thomas Smith in the year 1704, was the Syriac version of the epistles of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. The Ignatian controversy was then at its height. The immortal work of Bishop Pearson was published about two years after Huntington had left England, and much interest was felt for the discovery of the Syriac version; to the existence of which Archbishop Usher had drawn attention in the preface to his edition of the Epistles of Polycarp and Ignatius. It was principally from his anxiety for this Syriac version that he undertook his journey into Egypt in the year 1678 or 1679, and proceeded across the desert to the Natron Lakes. He seems to have entertained considerable expectations of finding the epistles of Ignatius here; but in this hope he was disappointed: although the Syriac version of three of these epistles, and two copies of that to Polycarp, existed at that time in the Syrian monastery of St. Mary Deipara, as will be seen in the sequel. The Syrian monks doubtless did not admit Huntington into their library, as the only book which he mentions was an Old Testament in the Estrangelo character. In the convent of St. Macarius he states that he saw a large volume of St. Chrysostom in Coptic, on vellum, an immense volume containing his commentary on St. Matthew in Arabic, and a Coptic Lectionary for the whole year in four large volumes. In the monastery called El-Baramous, which at that time was inhabited by twenty-five monks and a superior, he makes mention of no other books than a copy of the New Testament in Coptic and Arabic. He does not speak of any manuscripts in the convent |47 of Amba Bishoi, which he says was at that time in a less ruinous condition than either of the other three; he speaks, however, of the still famous tamarind-tree. The tradition is that St. Ephraem, out of pious anxiety to see St. Pisoes, or Pisaus, now corrupted into Bishoi, the fame of whose sanctity had travelled as far as Edessa, undertook the long and weary journey from the confines of Armenia to the desert of Nitria. This zeal was rewarded by a miracle. Upon his arrival he hastened to the cell of St. Pisoes and stuck his staff in the sand before the door as he entered. The staff immediately struck root and sprouted, and eventually grew up into that fine and beautiful tamarind-tree which the monks then showed, and we believe still show, as a living record of the visit of St. Ephraem. Huntington was informed that the number of convents had once amounted to three hundred and sixty-six. How many books he found is not mentioned; but we find that he sent to England, to Dr. Marshall, who was then preparing an edition of the New Testament in Coptic, a copy of the Evangelists in that language, which he obtained from one of these monasteries.
The next of whose visit any account has reached us is Gabriel Eva, a monk of the order of St. Anthony, and abbot of St. Maura in Mount Lebanon. After a journey through Egypt, he had been sent on a mission to Rome by Stephen, the Maronite patriarch of Antioch \ and the account he gave of the Nitrian convents was received with much interest by Clement XI. The Pope was anxious to transfer from the desert to the Vatican a collection of manuscripts rendered precious and venerable by their extreme antiquity, and probably containing an unexplored mine of theological learning. It happened that Elias Assemani, the cousin of the famous Joseph Simon Assemani, had been sent by Stephen of Antioch, upon business to Rome, and having already accomplished the object of his journey, was at that moment on the point of returning to Syria. No person could be better qualified to undertake the mission to the desert of Nitria, and Gabriel Eva accordingly recommended him to the Pope. Furnished with letters to the Coptic patriarch, he left Rome in the spring of 1707, and was graciously received at Cairo. He arrived at the monastery of the Syrians about the end of June; the introduction of the patriarch procuring for him a good reception. The urbanity of his manners, his perfect knowledge of their habits and language, soon gained him the good-will of the monks, and at length they admitted him into their library: this he found a sort of cave or cellar, filled with Arabic, Syriac, and Coptic manuscripts, heaped together in the greatest disorder, and falling to pieces through age and want of attention. |48 A little examination satisfied him of their value, and he began to entertain great hopes of being able to persuade the good monks to part with books which they were utterly unable to read. But frightened, perhaps, by the anathemas, denounced in almost every volume by its donor, against all those who should be in any way instrumental in alienating it----suspicious by nature, and ready to suppose that what a stranger was eager to get hold of must contain some treasure----they turned a deaf ear to his request for the sale of the whole collection, and only with very great difficulty were they induced to part with about forty manuscripts. These being transported across the desert to the Nile, Elias Assemani set out, accompanied by one of the monks, to return in a boat to Cairo. On their way a gust of wind upset the boat. The monk was drowned, but another boat, passing by, picked up Assemani; and in the midst of a tumult of feelings, his energy did not abandon him. He immediately hired several watermen to fish up the manuscripts; and, having with much care wiped away the slime, he dried and restored them as well as he was able. The manuscripts, in number thirty-four, were deposited in the Vatican about Christmas, 1707.
Their obvious importance was a powerful stimulus. The Pope therefore determined to send again into Egypt, and selected J. S. Assemani, who set out in June, 1715. The head of the Coptic church received him kindly; and he left Cairo to proceed on his journey to Scete about the middle of August, accompanied by Philotheus, a monk of the convent of St. Macarius, as his guide. Having arrived at Etris, a small village on the western branch of the Nile, they turned across into the desert and came first to the convent of St. Macarius. Here he obtained some excellent Coptic manuscripts, of which he has given a catalogue in his 'Bibliotheca Orientalis' (vol. i. p. 617); and these, he says, were all they possessed of any consequence. His next visit was to St. Mary Deipara: here he found upwards of two hundred Syriac manuscripts, all of which he carefully examined, and selected about one hundred, hoping that he might be able to purchase them. But upon this, as upon the former occasion, if Assemani's own account be correct, the monks continued most obstinate; nor could he prevail upon them by argument, bribe, or entreaty to give up to him more than a very few volumes.
In the interval between the journeys of Elias Assemani and that of his cousin the convents of Nitria had also been visited (December, 1712) by the Jesuit Claude Sicard. The once flourishing monastery of St. Macarius at that period had only |49 four inhabitants----the superior, two deacons, and a porter. Having passed one day in this convent he proceeded to that of the Syrians, which he describes as being in the best condition of them all, having a very agreeable garden, watered by a well, in which were many trees of various kinds. The number of monks was not above twelve or fifteen. Having remained here two days, during which time he made a short visit to the convent of Amha Bishoi, only a few paces distant, and inhabited by but four monks, he set out at sunrise on the morning of the 11th, and arrived at the monastery of the Holy Virgin of El-Baramous, or of the Greeks, about noon. The number of monks here was also about twelve or fifteen. Sicard states that in the immediate neighbourhood of this convent were the ruins of ten or twelve other buildings, and that he could distinctly trace through the valley the ruins of upwards of fifty monasteries; and that the superior of St. Macarius informed him that they were formerly equal in number to the days of the year. Sicard does not upon this occasion make any particular mention of the books in either of these convents, but merely states that in the tower of each there was a library, which consisted of three or four chests filled with books and ancient manuscripts, covered with dust and in a neglected condition. This Jesuit revisited Nitria with J. S. Assemani, and afterwards accompanied him, upon his return to Egypt in the next year, 1716, in his expedition across the desert of the Thebaid to the convents of St. Anthony and St. Paul near the coast of the Red Sea. Sicard, in describing their visit to the monastery of St. Anthony, says,----
'He [Synodius, the superior of the convent] was more tractable when Assemani begged him to show us the tower which is shut against all strangers; for, making him some trifling presents of hardware (the good monk was a great studier of astrology and alchemy, and the transmutation of metals), we persuaded him to conduct us thither. Our only curiosity was to see the manuscripts. We found three chests-full, being all that had escaped the ravages which at different periods had befallen the monastery. We examined them all. For the most part they consisted of prayers and homilies in Coptic and Arabic. The Abbe Assemani only found three or four manuscripts worthy of the Vatican. These he purchased secretly from the Superior, without the knowledge of the monks, who, had they known, would have opposed the sale, although the manuscripts are quite valueless to themselves, and they make no use of them whatever.'
Assemani, although he mentions that Sicard accompanied him in his expedition to the Thebaid, is altogether silent respecting his attending him to the desert of Macarius. Neither does his account of obtaining so few manuscripts there, and those with so much difficulty, quite coincide with that of Sicard, who says that |50 he took those which suited him. This silence certainly gives ground for suspicion that there was something in the transaction which Assemani did not wish to transpire, and of which the mention of Sicard's accompanying him might have led to the disclosure. His secret and indeed fraudulent dealing with the Superior, who had no right to dispose of any property without the consent of the community, would make but a sorry figure in his account of the manner in which various valuable accessions had been made to the collections of the Vatican.
In the month of August, in the year 1730, the Sieur Granger made a journey to the Natron Lakes. He tells us that he was well received by the monks, whom he describes as poor and ignorant. Those belonging to the convents of Macarius and St. Mary of the Syrians were deaf to all his entreaties to be allowed to see their libraries. He says that the buildings at that time were falling into decay, and the dust destroying the books and manuscripts, of which the monks made no use whatever. Their own patriarch had represented to them that the sum which the books would produce would be sufficient to enable them to restore their churches and rebuild their cells; but they declared that they would rather be buried in the ruins.
In 1778, C. S. Sonnini visited the valley. He remained five days in the monastery of El-Baramous. He makes no mention of books or manuscripts, but complains bitterly of the avarice and extortion of the monks, who wished to exact from him five or six hundred sequins upon his leaving them. He is the only traveller who has spoken in harsh terms of these poor monks.
In May, 1792, W. G. Browne, an Englishman, was here. He says----
'During my stay near the lakes I visited two of the Coptic convents----that called the Syrian, and that of St. George----where I could observe no traces of any European travellers but Baron Thunis, whom the Empress of Russia had sent to negotiate a defection on the part of the Beys, but who having exhibited less prudence than courage in the promotion of the designs of his mistress, had been privately put to death at Cairo by order of the Beys, to avoid delivering him to the Porte, as had been requested of them. These convents contain each of them several Religious, who retain all the simplicity of the primitive ages. They drink water, and eat coarse bread and vegetables, very seldom touching meat, wine, or coffee. They are ignorant indeed, but strangers to vice; and although their time is employed to no useful purpose, so neither is their application of it prejudicial to any. They have each a small garden, which supplies common vegetables, and a breed of tame fowls, together with a well of water within the walls. The rest of the necessaries of life are provided them by the voluntary contributions of the Christians of their own persuasion; and as the business of artificers |51 and menials is all performed by themselves, their expenses are not very extended. The entrance to each of these convents is by a small trapdoor, against which two millstones are rolled within. The buildings appear to have lasted for several centuries, and the walls are still firm and substantial. No praise is to be given to the Religious for cleanliness; but as the list of their furniture and apparel is very small, they cannot be frequently renewed. Human beings, more ignorant of mankind and their transactions than some of those whom I conversed with, are scarcely anywhere to be found; but the Superiors in both were in a certain degree intelligent. One of them, when I was admitted, was mending his shoes, and seemed to think little of theological controversies. The other attempted to prove to me the tenet of Monothelism; and on my expressing myself persuaded by his arguments, he seemed highly gratified. Indeed I met with, on their part, every mark of hospitality. I inquired for manuscripts, and saw in one of the convents several books in the Coptic, Syriac, and Arabic languages. Among these were an Arabo-Coptic Lexicon, the works of St. Gregory, and the Old and New Testament in Arabic. The Superior told me they had nearly eight hundred volumes, but positively refused to part with any of them, nor could I see any more. The monks are strangers to all idioms but the vulgar Arabic.'
The next account of this place is that by General Andréossy in his 'Mémoire sur la Vallée des Lacs de Natron, et celle du Fleuve-sans-eau.' At the time of his visit, in 1799, there were nine monks in the convent of El-Baramous, eighteen in that of the Syrians, twelve in the Amba-Bishoi, and twenty in the St. Macarius.
'Their only books,' he says, 'are ascetic works in manuscripts, on parchment or cotton-paper, some in Arabic, and some in Coptic, having an Arabic translation in the margin. We brought away some of this latter class, which appear to have a date of six centuries.'
In the year 1828, Lord Prudhoe, who thinks no labour too great when any real advantage to science or literature is probable, made an excursion to these monasteries. We have been favoured by his Lordship with the following brief account of his visit:----
'In 1828 I began to make inquiries for Coptic works having Arabic translations, in order to assist Mr. Tattam in his Coptic and Arabic Dictionary. On a visit to the Coptic bishop at Cairo, I learnt that there was in existence a celebrated Selim or Lexicon in Coptic and Arabic, of which one copy was in Cairo, and another in one of the Coptic convents of the Natron Lakes, called Baramous, besides which libraries were said to be preserved both at the Baramous and the Syrian convents. In October, 1828, Mr. Linant sent his dromedaries to Terane, on the west bank of the Nile, where the natron manufactory was established by the pacha, and on the next day Mr. Linant and I embarked in a cangia on the Nile, and dropped down to Terane, where we landed. |52 Mounting our dromedaries, we rode to the Baramous convent, and encamped outside its walls. The monks in this convent, about twelve in number, appeared poor and ignorant. They looked on us with great jealousy, and denied having any books except those in the church, which they showed. We remained with them till night, and in some degree softened their disposition towards us by presents of some comforts and luxuries of which their situation in the desert deprived them. On the following morning we again visited the monks, and so far succeeded in making friends of them that in a moment of good humour they agreed to show us their library. From it I selected a certain number of manuscripts, which, with the Selim, we carried into the monks' room. A long deliberation ensued among these monks how far they were disposed to agree to my offers to purchase them. Only one could write, and at last it was agreed that he should copy the Selim, which copy, and the manuscripts which I had selected, were to be mine in exchange for a fixed sum in dollars, to which I added a present of rice, coffee, tobacco, and such other articles as I had to offer. Future visitors would escape the suspicions with which we were received, and might perhaps hear how warmly we had endeavoured to purchase and carry away the original Selim. Next we visited the Syrian convent, where similar suspicions were at first shown, and were overcome by similar civilities. Here I purchased a few manuscripts with Arabic translations. We then visited the two other convents, but found little of consequence. These manuscripts I presented to Mr. Tattam, and gave him an account of the small room with its trap-door, through which I descended, candle in hand, to examine the manuscripts, where books and parts of books, and scattered leaves, in Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac, and Arabic, were lying in a mass, on which I stood. From this I handed to Mr. Linant such as appeared best suited to my purpose, as he stood in the small room above the trap-door. To appearance it seemed as if on some sudden emergency the whole library had been thrown for security down this trap-door, and that they had remained undisturbed in their dust and neglect for some centuries.'
About nine years after the visit of Lord Prudhoe, the Hon. Robert Curzon, jun., who has travelled much in the East to search for manuscripts (with considerable success), and in his travels has met with many curious and interesting adventures, which we could wish were made public, was also a visitor to these monks. We are indebted to him for the following account of his excursion:----
'I am sorry to say that I cannot answer your letter in as satisfactory a manner as I could wish, for I have no papers by me here to refer to, and I have forgotten some things about the monasteries on the Natron Lakes which might have been interesting to you. However, as far as I remember I will tell you. During the winter of 1837 I was in Egypt for the second time, and in the month of January or February I was engaged in a brisk chace after old books, particularly two which I had heard of at Nagadé----one a Coptic History of Egypt, which I had been told at Thebes was in the possession of the Bishop of Nagadé, who |53 was reputed to be a great dealer in magic----the other a Coptic and Arabic Dictionary, said to be the most perfect and the largest known. When I arrived at Nagadé the bishop was in church; but certain men brought me a mat, whereon I sat in the shade of an old wall till the people came out of church, which they presently did, with the bishop at their head. The bishop sat down by me on the mat, and the congregation sat down in a ring; and after a long prologue of compliments, and coffee and pipes, and so on, we entered on the subject of manuscripts. The bishop told me that the Dictionary was gone to the palace of the patriarch at Cairo; and we were talking about the History, when suddenly there arose a great noise in the church, of howling and clanking of chains. We were all silent in consternation----and I expected that the episcopal magician had been raising a spirit;----when the church doors burst open with a crash, and in the dark porch there stood a tall figure in a priest's robe, waving a great brazen censer in his hand. This apparition stalked forward slowly, when I saw he had a heavy chain tied to his legs. He came up, and sat down directly before me on the ground. "Who have you the honour to be?" said I. "Who, pray, are you?" said one of my men. Upon which he turned round and spat in the face of the man who had addressed him. This man, who was a negro, laid his hand upon his sword, when the other sprang upon his feet with a scream, and made a dash at the negro with the censer----a very efficient weapon when properly applied. He missed my man, and broke the censer on the stones. We all started up, and a general rush ensued against the bearer of the censer, who was with some difficulty secured and carried off. He was a son of the bishop; and, being a maniac, had been chained down before the altar of St. George----a sovereign remedy in these cases----only he pulled up the staples of his chain, and so came away with the censer before his cure was completed. But the end of the affair was that the bishop departed in the scuffle, and I heard no more of the History of Egypt. The other volume had been at Cairo, but was gone when I made inquiries respecting it to the monastery of Amba-Bishoi at the Natron Lakes. I went after it, and arrived there in the month of March; but although there were many Coptic manuscripts of Liturgies there in a room in a square tower, it was not among them. I then went to another monastery: I think it was called Baramous. There was nothing there but a few Coptic manuscripts on paper, and a prodigious multitude of fleas. I retreated from their attack to the church, where I went to sleep on the marble floor; but I had hardly shut my eyes when I was again attacked by so many of these monsters that I was forced to be off again; so I got up, and watched the moon over the desert till daylight. I then departed for the monastery of the Syrians, where I arrived in a short time. Here was a congregation of black Abyssinian monks, dressed in wash-leather and tallow, who were howling in honour of some Abyssinian saint, in a strange little room at the end of a garden, which was surrounded by the high fortified wall of the monastery. They had a library of which I have shown you a sketch, where the manuscripts hung upon pegs by long straps, in a peculiar manner, different from the arrangement |54 of any other library I have ever seen. Besides these black brethren, there were ten or twelve Copts. The superior was blind and very old, with a long white venerable beard, but very dirty. When I inquired for books he showed me the library in a high tower, in a little strong room, with stone niches in the wall. There were some very remarkable Coptic manuscripts----the finest I have ever seen. The latest of them, as I imagine, is that great quarto which you saw at Parham. Two others on vellum were lying on the top of an open pot or jar, of which they had formed the lid. There had been jam or preserves of some sort in the pot, which the books had been used to protect; but they had been there so long that the jam had evaporated, leaving some dubious-looking lumps of dirt at the bottom. I was allowed to take all the manuscripts on vellum, as they were too old to read, and of no use as covers for the vases of preserves. Among a heap of dusty volumes on the floor I found the manuscript Dictionary of which I was in search, but this they would not sell, but they sold me two other imperfect ones, so I put it in one of the niches in the wall, where it remained about two years, when it was purchased and brought away for me by a gentleman at Cairo. You say that Lord Prudhoe fed the monks, and so found the way to their hearts. Now I have found, from much practice, that the two species of Eastern and Western monks may be divided logically into the drinking and the eating kind. A Benedictine or even a Capuchin is a famous hand at a capon, and an oyster pate or so has great charms for him on a fast-day----probatum est; but the monks of St. Basil are ascetics----they know nothing of cookery beyond garlic and red pepper, and such like strong condiments----howbeit they have a leaning to strong drink, and consider rosoglio as a merchandise adapted to their peculiar wants.
'The old blind abbot had solemnly declared that there were no more books in the monastery besides those I had seen; but I had been told by Mr. Linant, the pacha's engineer, who had accompanied Lord Prudhoe, that there were some ancient manuscripts in the oil-cellar. Nevertheless the abbot denied the fact; but I got him into my room, with another father who always went about with him, and there I gave them some rosoglio which I had brought on purpose. It was very soft stuff I remember, pink, and tasted as sweet and pleasant as if there was no strength in it. They liked it much, and sat sipping fingians----that is, coffee-cups----of it with a happy and contented air. When I saw that the face of the blind man waxed unsuspicious, and wore a bland expression which he took no pains to conceal----for he could not see, and did not remember that those who could might read his countenance----I entered again upon the subject of the oil-cellar. "There is no oil there," said the old man. " I am curious about the architecture," said I: "I hear yours is a famous oil-cellar." "It is a famous cellar," said the other elder; "and I remember the days when it overflowed with oil. Then there were I do not know how many brethren here, but now we are few and poor; bad times are come over us; we are not what we used to be." This monk having become sentimental, and the abbot unsuspicious, "Well, let us go," said I, "and see this famous cellar, |55 and we will have another bottle when we come back." This last argument prevailed. We went to the oil-cellar, which was under the great tower, and there were some prodigious pots which once held the oil of gladness, but which now sounded hollow and empty to the touch. There was nothing else here; but taking the candle from the hands of one of the brethren----for they had all followed us into this hole like sheep----I found a low door, and parsed into a little vaulted room, which was full of loose leaves of Syriac manuscripts, more than knee-deep. These are the famous volumes now deposited in the British Museum. Here I fumbled about a long time, and after a good deal of digging I pulled out four books; and two monks, struggling together, pulled out the great manuscript Evangelistarium, which you have seen. It was tied up with a string. "Here is a box," shouted the two monks, who were nearly choked with the dust. "A box!" echoed the blind abbot. "Bring it out----make haste----where is the box? Heaven be praised, it is a treasure." "Yes," screamed all the monks, "a treasure. Allah Akbar! ----a box----out with it----bring out the box." Out they all rushed with the treasure, and I issued forth into the dark (for they had run away with the candle in their anxiety about the box), with three octavos under one arm, and a quarto under the other. I found no more, except fragments. These I took to my room, and the abbot and the other brother soon came after me for the promised bottle of rosoglio, which they now much wanted to keep up their spirits, when they found the box of treasure to be only a great book. They mumbled and murmured to themselves between their cups; and when they were gradually getting comforted again, I began to say, "You found no box of treasure in the vault; but, behold, I am a lover of old books. Give them to me, and I will give you a certain number of piastres in exchange; and so you will have found a treasure, and I will go my way in gladness." "Ah!" said they, "how much will you give?" "How much do you want?" said I. And so we settled it over the rosoglio, which smoothed many difficulties. The Coptic manuscripts on vellum were ensconced in one side of a great pair of camel-bags. "Now," said I, "I will put these into the other side, and you shall take it out, and help to load the camels." All we could do we could not put all the books in; and the two monks would not let me have any extra parcel lest the other brethren should see it and smell a rat, and claim their share of the spoil----at least I suppose that was their reason. In this extremity I looked at each of the three octavos and the quarto, not knowing which to leave behind. At last, the quarto being imperfect, I left that, and great is my sorrow that I did so, for on looking at the manuscript again, I believe that very quarto is the famous book dated A.D. 411, now the great pride and treasure of the British Museum. However, I am glad that establishment is now possessed of it, and I hope it will be duly made use of. This is all I have to tell you of the manuscripts in the monasteries of the Natron Lakes.'
In the year 1838, the Rev. Henry Tattam, now archdeacon of Bedford, with the design already mentioned, set out upon his expedition into Egypt. He was accompanied by Miss Platt, a |56 daughter of Mrs. Tattam, a young lady of great talents and acquirements, who took notes of everything which passed during their journey, for the amusement of her mother after their return. This interesting Journal has since been printed, but, as she writes in her preface, very reluctantly, at the particular request of several friends, and solely for private circulation. They arrived at Cairo on the 19th of October: having staid here for about three weeks, busily employed in visiting the patriarch and other ecclesiastics, and making inquiry after manuscripts, they set out on the 13th of November, and proceeded up the Nile as far as Esneh, visiting many churches and monasteries, both in going and returning, and inspecting their libraries, which the patriarch's letters rendered accessible. But in most of these Mr. Tattam found little more than liturgies and service-books. At Sanabou there were some very fine Coptic manuscripts, in number amounting to eighty-two. They returned to Cairo on Christmas-day.
On the 12th of January they started across the desert for the valley of the Natron Lakes; and, at eight o'clock in the evening, pitched their tent at a short distance from the monastery of Macarius. Such passages as relate to our purpose we are glad to be allowed to quote from Miss Platt's Journal.
' Sunday, Jan. 13th.----The first object on which our eyes rested, as we sat at breakfast in the tent, was the solitary convent of Abou Magar (St. Macarius), a desolate-looking building, like a fortress surrounded by the sea. It is enclosed by a high plastered wall, containing a space of about 300 by 200 feet. Within this area are built the church, the convent itself, a strong tower, and a small chapel, which, according to the account given by the monks, dates its origin as far back as the fifth century. There is not a window or an aperture to be seen on the outside, with the exception of a low door-way, which is almost overlooked as the eye wanders over the high blank wall. A considerable descent, scooped out from the drifted sands, leads to the threshold of the heavy iron-door. It was not thought advisable to remain here until we had visited the further convents. Mr. Tattam spoke to some of the priests at the gate, and two of them accompanied us to the middle convents, which are about two hours' ride from the first. In passing at the back of the garden-wall we perceived the remains of buildings still connected with the present monastery, which led us to suppose that it had once been much more extensive.
'As we crossed the ridge of hills separating the two valleys we observed the remains of many convents. The monks state that there were formerly three hundred and sixty on the mountain and in the valley of Nitria, and that the ruins of fifty of them may still be seen. We descended gradually between the rocks, and saw before us the two middle convents, Deir Amba Bischoi and St. Soriani, or the Syrian convent. They were of the same description as St. Abou Magar, but larger and in better preservation, particularly the latter. Our tent was pitched |57 beneath the walls of St. Soriani: Mr. Tattam immediately entered the convent, where pipes and coffee were brought him; after which the priests conducted him to their churches, and showed him the books used in them. They then desired to know his object in visiting them; upon which he cautiously opened his commission by saying that he wished to see their books. They replied that they had no more than what he had seen in the church; upon which he told them plainly that he knew they had. They laughed on being detected, and after a short conference said that he should see them. The bell soon rang for prayers.' 'Jan. 14th.----Mr. Tattam went into the convent immediately after breakfast. The priests conducted him to the tower, and then into a dark vault, where he found a great quantity of very old and valuable Syriac manuscripts. He selected six quarto volumes and took them to the superior's room. He was next shown a room in the tower, where he found a number of Coptic and Arabic manuscripts, principally liturgies, with a beautiful copy of the Gospels. He then asked to see the rest; the priests looked surprised to find he knew of others, and seemed at first disposed to deny that they had any more, but at length produced the key of the apartment where the other books were kept, and admitted him. After looking them over he went to the superior's room, where all the priests were assembled, about fifteen or sixteen in number: one of them brought a Coptic and Arabic selim, or lexicon, which Mr. Tattam wished to purchase, but they informed him that they could not part with it, as it was forbidden to betaken away by an interdiction at the end, but they consented to make him a copy. He paid for two of the Syriac manuscripts he had placed in the superior's room, for the priests could not be persuaded to part with more, and left them, well pleased with his ponderous volumes, which he gave me through the top of the tent, and then rode off with Mohamed to the farthest convent, of Baramous, about an hour and a half's ride from St. Soriani. In the convent of El Baramous Mr. Tattam found about one hundred and fifty Coptic and Arabic liturgies and a very large dictionary in both languages. In the tower is an apartment with a trap-door in the floor, opening into a dark hole full of loose leaves of Arabic and Coptic manuscripts. The superior would have sold the dictionary, but was afraid, because the patriarch had written in it a curse upon any one who should take it away.'
Into the monastery of Amba-Bischoi, after some reluctance on the part of the monks to open their door to a lady, Miss Platt was herself admitted:----
'On the ground-floor was a vaulted apartment, very lofty, with arches at each end, perfectly dark, and so strewn with loose leaves of old liturgies that scarcely a portion of the floor was visible; and here we were all fully occupied in making diligent search, each with a lighted taper, and a stick to turn up old fragments. In some parts the manuscripts lay a quarter of a yard deep, and the amazing quantity of dust was almost choking, accompanied by a damp and fetid smell, nearly as bad as in the Tombs of the Kings. We did not find anything really valuable here, or anything on vellum, excepting one page.'----vol. i. p. 279. |58
On Tuesday the 15th, Mr. Tattam set out to return to Cairo, having previously obtained from the monks of the Syrian convent four other valuable Syriac manuscripts. He called at the monastery of Macarius as he passed: here he found about one hundred liturgies, and a beautiful copy of the Epistles in Coptic, which the monks refused to sell. There were also a great number of fragments and loose leaves, from which he selected about a hundred, which he was permitted to take away.
In the month of February Mr. Tattam returned to these convents, and was more successful than upon the former occasion.
'Saturday, Feb. 9th.----Immediately after breakfast Mr. Tattam went with Mohamed to St. Soriani, leaving me to my own amusements in the tent. . . . Mr. Tattam soon returned, followed by Mohamed, and one of the Bedouins bearing a large sack-full of splendid Syriac manuscripts on vellum. They were safely deposited in the tent, and a priest was sent for from St. Amba-Bischoi, with whom Mr. Tattam entered the convent, and successfully bargained for an old Pentateuch in Coptic and Arabic, and a beautiful copy of the four Gospels in Coptic. We are delighted with our success, and hope, by patience and good management, to get the remainder of the manuscripts.'
'Feb. 10th.----Mr. Tattam went in the evening to St. Soriani to take his leave of the monks there, who said he might have four more manuscripts the next day . . . . . . . . . Mohamed brought from the priests of St. Soriani a stupendous volume beautifully written in the Syriac character, with a very old worm-eaten copy of the Pentateuch, from St. Amba-Bischoi, exceedingly valuable, but not quite perfect at the beginning.'
This Mohamed, who seems to have been little less eager than his master in his endeavours to procure the manuscripts, had recourse to the same means of negotiation as Mr. Curzon found it wise to adopt, and applied them with similar success, only substituting arakie for rosoglio.
The manuscripts which Mr. Tattam had thus obtained in due time arrived in England. Such of them as were in the Syriac language, not falling in with the object for which his journey had been originally undertaken, were, by and bye, disposed of to the Trustees of the British Museum. This was indeed a most important accession. Forty-nine manuscripts of such extreme antiquity, containing some valuable works long since supposed to have perished, and versions of others written several centuries earlier than any copies of the originals known to exist, constituted such an addition as has been rarely if ever made at one time to any library. The collection of Syriac manuscripts procured by Mr. Rich had already made the library of the British Museum conspicuous for this class of literature----but this treasure of manuscripts from Egypt rendered it superior to any other in Europe. |59
From the accounts which Lord Prudhoe, Mr. Curzon, and Mr. Tattam had given of their visit to the monastery of the Syrians it was evident that but few of the manuscripts belonging to this convent had been removed since the time of Assemani, and probable that no less a number than nearly two hundred volumes must be still remaining in the hands of the monks. Moreover, from several notices found written in the manuscripts already brought to England, it was evident that most of them must be of very considerable antiquity. Several of these notices were in the handwriting of Moses of Tecrit, abbot of the monastery; and in each of them he states that in the year 932 he brought into the convent, from Mesopotamia, about two hundred and fifty volumes. As there was no evidence whatever to show that even so many as one hundred of these manuscripts had ever been taken away (for those which were procured for the papal library by the two Assemani,added to those which Mr. Curzon and Mr. Tattam had brought to England, do not amount to that number), there was sufficient ground for supposing that the convent of the Syrians still possessed not fewer than about one hundred and fifty volumes, which at the latest must have been written before the tenth century. Application accordingly was made by the Trustees to the Treasury; a sum was granted to enable them to send again into Egypt, and Mr. Tattam readily undertook the commission. The time was most opportune. The good-will of the patriarch had been gained by the liberality of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, who had undertaken to print, for the use of his churches, an edition of the New Testament in Coptic and Arabic, in a beautiful large type cut expressly for this purpose. Mr. Tattam, the editor of this work, was naturally in great favour with the patriarch, who by and bye gave consent to his proposals. We cannot but rejoice that these measures were taken so promptly, as we have been informed, upon the best authority, that similar representations had been made to the French government; and had much more delay been interposed, these manuscripts, which perhaps constitute the greatest accession of valuable literature which has been brought from the East into Europe since the taking of Constantinople, would in all probability have been now the pride of the Bibliothèque Royale.
The following is Mr. Tattam's own account of the manner in which he obtained the remainder of the manuscripts upon his second excursion:----
'When I returned to Cairo the second time, all the Europeans who seemed to understand my business prophesied that I should not succeed, but the result proved they were false prophets. I found I could |60 work more effectually through the sheich of a village on the borders of the desert, who had influence with the superior of the convent, and whom my servant had secured in my interest, and through my servant, rather than by attempting direct negotiation. I therefore set to work. After I had been in Cairo about a fortnight, the sheich brought the superior to my house, where he promised to let me have all the Syriac manuscripts. My servant was to go back with him and the sheich when he returned, and to bring away all the manuscripts to the sheich's house, where they were to be deposited, and I was to follow in three days and bargain for them. I went at the time appointed, and took money with me in the boat, and a Mohamedan as a silent witness to the transaction and the payment of the money, should any crooked ways be discovered. My servant had taken ten men and eight donkeys from the village, and had conveyed the manuscripts to the sheich's house, where I saw them as soon as I arrived; and I found he had already bargained for them, which I confirmed. That night we carried our boxes, paper, and string, and packed them all, and nailed up the boxes, and had them in the boat before morning dawned, and before ten o'clock in the morning they were on their way to Alexandria.'
The manuscripts arrived in the British Museum on the 1st of March, 1843. Upon opening the cases very few only of the volumes were found to be in a perfect state. From some the beginning was torn away, from some the end, from others both the beginning and end; some had fallen to pieces into loose quires, many were completely broken up into separate leaves, and all these blended together. Nearly two hundred volumes of manuscripts, torn into separate leaves, and mixed up together by time and chance more completely than the greatest ingenuity could have effected, presented a spectacle of confusion which at first seemed almost to preclude hope. To select from this mass such loose fragments as belonged to those manuscripts which were imperfect, and to separate the rest, and collect them into volumes, was the labour of months. To arrange all those leaves now collected into volumes, in their proper consecutive order, will be the labour of years. Without the aid either of pagination or catchwords, it will be requisite to read almost every leaf, and not only to read it, but to study accurately the context, so as to seize the full sense of the author. Where there are two copies of the same book, or where it is the translation of some Greek work still existing, this labour will be in some measure diminished; but in other instances nothing less than the most careful perusal of every leaf will render it possible to arrange the work, and make it complete.
The number of volumes, as now collected, including both entire works and books made up of various fragments, amounts to three hundred and seventeen, of which two hundred and forty-six are |61 on vellum, and seventy on paper, all in Syriac or Aramaic, with one volume of Coptic fragments. These, together with the forty-nine previously obtained, make an addition to the national library of three hundred and sixty-six volumes of manuscripts. As many of these contain two, or even three or four, distinct works, written at different periods, but bound up together, and as several are made up of various fragments, it is perhaps not too much to affirm that there are contained in this collection parts of at least one thousand manuscripts, written in different countries----in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt----and at various times----from the beginning of the fifth to the end of the thirteenth century. The earliest is dated A.D. 411, the latest A.D. 1292. It would be very interesting, if the means were within our reach, to trace the history of this most remarkable collection, perhaps the largest that was ever possessed by any single monastery, especially when we consider the time and labour requisite to produce even one copy, which could not have been less to the Oriental scribes than in the convents of the West. A note at the end of one copy of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite, which seems to have been written in the eighth century, states that the transcriber completed his task in the course of one year, which is doubtless intended to be a record of more than ordinary diligence. We have no means, as we have said, of tracing the history of this collection, as indeed we have none either for that of the monastery itself. It was most probably founded in the earliest ages of asceticism, and ransacked by the Arabs, with the rest of the convents, at the beginning of the ninth century. We have already stated that it was again in a flourishing condition at the commencement of the tenth century, and that Moses, its then abbot, brought to its library from Mesopotamia two hundred and fifty volumes, of which fact we are assured by the registry which he made in many, if not in all, of these books. Several bearing this notice are now in the British Museum; several also are in the Vatican, as appears from the account given by J. S. Assemani----some belonging to the collection which he himself made, and others to that obtained by his cousin Elias; and one which was formerly the property of Abraham Ecchellensis, from which it appears that some manuscripts had been brought from this monastery into Europe previously to the expedition of Elias Assemani, but by whom or when we have not been able to discover. Moreover, from various notices on the fly-leaves of several of these volumes, we gather that they once belonged to the convent of Amba-Bishoi, and were afterwards transferred to that of St. Mary Deipara of the Syrians by a person named Abraham, and incorporated into their library. Other similar notices record the |62 benefaction of several volumes by various individuals, many of whom appear to have been inhabitants of Tecrit in Mesopotamia; where indeed, and at Edessa, and in the monasteries in the neighbourhood, most of them appear to have been written. Many of these presents seem to have been single manuscripts offered for the salvation of the soul of the donor; but one notice states that no less than eighteen volumes, the property of one individual, came into the possession of the convent upon the death of the owner. There are also records of the purchase of several books for the use of the monastery, and some doubtless were transcribed within its walls. It is only from such incidental notices as these, written at the beginning and end of some of the volumes, that we have any means of forming an estimate of the manner in which the collection was increased to so great a number. There is a note in one of the volumes stating that the manuscripts belonging to the library were repaired in the year of the Greeks 1533 (A.D. 1222). At no very distant period subsequently to this they were probably altogether neglected, the monks becoming too ignorant to make any further use of them. The volume with the most recent date in the collection was written seventy years later, and after this time there seems to have been no effort in these monasteries either at composition or translation into Syriac, or even to reproduce any of their ancient literature by new transcripts. Indeed the examination of this collection brings conviction, that for two or three centuries at least previous to this time little had been done in the way of transcribing further than to copy liturgies, lives of saints, a few homilies, and such parts of the Holy Scriptures as were needed by the monks in the daily services. These, of course, required to be periodically renewed, as by constant use they necessarily became torn and worn out. This circumstance has been the cause of the destruction of some of the finest and most ancient manuscripts which the monks ever possessed. Almost all the manuscripts of this class are palimpsest. When their service-books were worn out, the monks, unable perhaps to obtain vellum elsewhere, had recourse to the expedient of erasing the text of an old volume. In selecting manuscripts for this purpose they seem to have been guided chiefly by the fineness of the vellum, and consequently attacked those which were the most ancient, and in every respect the most valuable. The Greek manuscripts seem to have suffered first, probably because they were unintelligible to the monks; for although there are several Greek palimpsests, as well as Syriac, among the manuscripts now in the British Museum, there is not found in the whole collection one single Greek book, but only a few very small fragments in some of the volumes, which have been pasted |63 on to mend the leaves that were torn; but even these are sufficent to show that the Greek manuscripts which they did possess were of the finest class and of the greatest antiquity, closely resembling the famous Alexandrine Bible in substance and calligraphy. It is evident that the monks must have employed some chemical process of erasure, and this in most instances has been so successful as to leave scarcely any perceptible trace of the original writing, but at the same time it has been very injurious to the texture of the vellum: these manuscripts are consequently in the worst condition of any in the collection. Some, indeed, of the others look as fresh as if they had scarcely been used at all ----even the original dressing of the vellum still remains; although they have been written more than a thousand years, they seem as if the transcriber had finished his task but yesterday.
The contents of these manuscripts are, as we should naturally expect, chiefly theological, and in this department they are most important. The copies of the Holy Scriptures are some of the oldest in existence, and the translations of the works of the great Fathers of the Church are most valuable, not only because many of them, in all probability, were made during the lifetime of the authors (we have the means of proving certainly that some of them were), but also because the manuscripts in which these Syriac versions are found are the oldest copies of these works now extant, and were written some centuries earlier than any of those in which the original Greek exists. Moreover, this collection contains several really important works, of which the Greek copies have been long since lost, and are now only known to us either by their titles which have come down to us, or by very short extracts preserved by other writers. Besides these there are many original works of Syriac authors.
Of biblical manuscripts of the Peshito version there are nearly thirty volumes, containing various books of the Old Testament, most of which were written about the sixth century; one copy of the Pentateuch dated A.D. 464. We find also the book of Exodus, Written A.D. 697----the books of Numbers, Joshua, and the first book of Kings, transcribed about the same time----of the Hexaplar edition, with the asterisks, obelisks, &c., as corrected by Eusebius; together with part of Genesis, and of two copies of the Psalms, of this same edition, with short scholia by Athanasius and Hesychius of Jerusalem. Here are the first book of Samuel and the first book of Kings, in the version of Mar Jacob of Edessa, written A.D. 703; and a copy of Isaiah, written about the same time, probably translated by the same Mar Jacob. There are upwards of forty manuscripts containing parts of the Peshito version of the New Testament, many of which are of the sixth century, |64 and some appear to be of the fifth: and also a copy of the Gospels and of the Epistles of St. James, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude, of the Philoxenan version, or, more properly speaking, of the edition corrected by Thomas of Heraclea.
Of the Apocrypha, these manuscripts contain the Book of Wisdom, Baruch, and Maccabees; also the Book of Women, which comprises Esther, Judith, Susannah, Ruth, and the Life of the martyr Thecla. There are also copies of the Gospel of the Infancy; the History of the Holy Virgin, and her Departure from this world; the Doctrine of Peter which he taught at Rome; and a Letter of Pilate to Herod, and of Herod to Pilate.
To the copies of the Scriptures should be added several Lectionaries, containing portions of Scripture appointed to be read in the churches. This class of manuscripts, for the reason which we have above stated, is more recent than the copies of the Scriptures: some of them are dated in the ninth century, but most in the eleventh. There is a large collection of rituals and service-books, with many ancient liturgies; and these also are of the later class of manuscripts: here are found the liturgies of the Apostles, of St. James, St. John, St. Matthew, St. Clement, St. Ignatius, Dionysius the Areopagite; of Celestinus, Julius, Xystus or Sixtus, bishops of Rome; of Basil, of Gregory Theologus; of Cyril, and Dioscorus, bishops of Alexandria; of Eustathius, of Curiacus, and Severus, bishops of Antioch; of Philoxenus, bishop of Mabug; of Jacob of Edessa, and Jacob, bishop of Serug; of Maruthas, Thomas of Heraclea, Moses Bar Cepha, John Bar Salibi, and others. Several collections of canons of councils,-----the Collection of Apostolic canons made by Hippolytus; the Canons of the councils of Nice, Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Laodicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon; the Acts of the second council of Ephesus, held under Dioscorus, patriarch of Alexandria in the time of Theodosius and Valentinian, transcribed A.D. 535. These collections of canons appear to be very important, as they do not seem to have been always translated from the Greek, but to have been arranged and digested by some of the Syrian bishops who attended the councils. To these may be added the canons of several individual patriarchs and bishops for the especial government of their own churches, which may be of great value in tracing the ecclesiastical history of the East.
Of documents which are referred to apostolic times there is found in this collection a small tract bearing the title of the Doctrine of the Apostles. This has been published by the Cardinal Mai, in the tenth volume of his 'Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio;' but he assigns it to the thirteenth century. What pretensions it has to refer its origin to apostolic times, as its title indicates, |65 we cannot discuss in this place; but we must observe that the Cardinal cannot have erred less than six centuries in the date which he fixes on; for there are two copies of this tract among these Syriac manuscripts, both of which were undoubtedly transcribed in the sixth century of the Christian era.* Of the Apostolic Fathers there are found in this collection two copies of the Recognitions ascribed to St. Clement, one in the very ancient manuscript which we have spoken of before, and the other in a copy which seems to be of the sixth century; and three epistles of St. Ignatius, to St. Polycarp, to the Ephesians, and the Romans. To these we should add several copies of the works ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite. Of other ecclesiastical writers of the second and third centuries----besides various fragments from their works cited by other authors,we recover in this Syriac collection an oration of Melito, bishop of Sardis, to the emperor Marcus Antoninus; which, however, does not agree with that cited by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (Book iv. chap. 26):----the entire Dialogue on Fate by Bardesanes, of which a fragment had been preserved by Eusebius in the 10th chapter of the 6th book of his 'Praeparatio Evangelica;' and two or three treatises of Gregory Thaumaturgus, which appear to have been hitherto unknown.
Of ecclesiastical writers of the fourth century,----Titus, bishop of Bostra, against the Manicheans. The original Greek is imperfect, and the last book lost; the Syriac version is complete, and was transcribed A.D. 411. In the same manuscript are contained, as we have seen above, two works of Eusebius, on the Divine Manifestation of our Lord, and on the Martyrs of Palestine. We find here also the five first books of his Ecclesiastical History, transcribed early in the sixth century. Of Athanasius, ----his Commentary on the Psalms, Life of St. Anthony, and his Festal Letters, but not complete: of these letters Athanasius |66 wrote upwards of forty----that is one for every year of his patriarchate----it having been a practice with patriarchs of Alexandria to send a cyclical letter at Christmas to all the bishops of their province to inform them on what day Easter was to be observed. These have all perished in the original Greek, except a fragment of the 39th preserved by Theodorus Balsamon. Of Basil----the Treatise on the Holy Spirit, transcribed A.D. 509, not 130 years after his death; his Regulae fusius Tractatae, Treatise on Virginity, and various sermons. Of Gregory of Nyssa,----Homilies on the Lord's Prayer, on the Beatitudes, and other sermons, some written in the sixth century. Of Gregory Theologus,----his works translated into Syriac by Paul, an abbot in the island of Cyprus, A.D. 624, with commentaries by Severus, bishop of Nisibis; one copy transcribed A.D. 790, another A.D. 840, and others which appear more ancient. Of Ephraem Syrus,----many sermons, metrical discourses, and hymns; among which are several things not comprised in Assemani's edition of his works----for example, his tract against Julian, supposed to have been lost: one of these manuscripts is dated A.D. 519, or about 150 years after the death of the author; others appear to be still more ancient.
Of Fathers at the end of the fourth century and the commencement of the fifth,----nearly all the works of John Chrysostom, in manuscripts of great antiquity; one copy of the Homilies on St. Matthew is dated A.D. 557, about 150 years after his death; another copy, without date, of the same Homilies appears to be about a hundred years earlier. Several treatises of Proclus, his successor on the patriarchal throne of Constantinople. The 'Historia Lausiaca' of Palladius; also the account of the Egyptian monks by Evagrius Ponticus, with other of his works; a short treatise on heresies by Epiphanius, written A.D. 562, less than 160 years after his decease, together with extracts from his other works. Almost all the works of Cyril of Alexandria, of very great antiquity; among which we would specify the treatise on Adoration in Spirit and Truth, transcribed A.D. 553, about 110 years after his death; his commentary on St. Luke, in two volumes, of which the original Greek is lost, excepting a very few passages preserved in the catenae on St. Luke. Some of Cyril's works were translated into Aramaic during his life-time, by Rabulas, who was then bishop of Edessa.
In the beginning of the sixth century, a work of Timotheus, patriarch of Alexandria, against the Council of Chalcedon, transcribed A.D. 562----25 years after his death; various letters of his successors, Theodosius and Theodorus; numerous writings of Severus (Patriarch of Antioch), among which we would specify |67 a volume of sermons, transcribed A.D. 569, or only about thirty years after his death: many of his works were translated into Syriac during his life-time, in the year 528, at Edessa, by Paul, bishop of Callinicum. Of these writers of the sixth century nothing more is preserved to us in the Greek than the titles of their works, and not even the whole of these. This arises probably from their having been diligently suppressed by the emperor and the opposite party, by whom they had been condemned: they are, however, most important for throwing light upon the history of the first half of the sixth century, more especially on several important events consequent upon the Council of Chalcedon, concerning which we have little more at present than the statement of one party.
For ecclesiastical history we have in this collection----besides the five first books of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, and his Martyrs of Palestine----a contemporary Ecclesiastical History, by John, bishop of Ephesus, from the year A.D. 571 to 583 (this manuscript must have been transcribed about the same time as the last event it records); two imperfect Ecclesiastical Chronicles; a considerable collection of Martyrologies, Lives of Saints, Fathers, and eminent Bishops; which may supply much matter hitherto unknown. In general theology there are several anonymous treatises on Christianity, and works against various heresies, together with some volumes of miscellaneous sermons.
Of Ascetic writers,----numerous treatises of Ammonius, Macarius, Evagrius, Esaias, &c. &c.
Of original Syriac authors, besides Ephraem, above spoken of, there are found among these manuscripts,----works of Mar Isaac, presbyter of Antioch; numerous writings of Mar Jacob, bishop of Serug, or Batnae----among which one volume of sermons is said to have, been purchased A.D. 653, little more than 130 years subsequently to his death, and probably was written much earlier; various works of Philoxenus, bishop of Mabug, one volume of which is dated A.D. 569, or less than fifty years after his death; the treatise of Peter, bishop of Antioch, against Damian; several works of Mar Jacob, bishop of Edessa, and amongst these his valuable recension of the books of the Old and the New Testament, according to the Peshito version and that of Thomas of Heraclea. We might have added many other Syriac authors.
To the above short list of writers purely theological, we should not omit to subjoin the categories of Aristotle, translated into Syriac by Sergius of Rhesina, in the sixth century; commentaries |68 on Aristotle by Probus and Severus bishop of Kenneserin; and a Syriac translation of Galen de Simplicibus. These manuscripts are of great antiquity, and touch upon the times at which the translations were made.
In closing a very brief notice of this collection, we cannot refrain from congratulating the learned of Europe generally that these manuscripts have been rescued from perishing in a vault in the desert of Africa; and we shall perhaps be forgiven for indulging in a little national pride when we rejoice that they are deposited in the British Museum. We are, however, constrained at the same time to confess that this our joy is much sobered down by the apprehension that these valuable works, although now safe from the clanger of destruction, will still lie upon our shelves in almost as great neglect as they did in the oil-cellar of the monastery. There are but few Oriental scholars in England; and among those few the Syriac has found hardly any attention. The number of persons at present competent to make any use of this matchless collection is very limited, and even of those who may be competent, one is too far removed to be able to avail himself of it, a second too much pressed by other duties. Neither can we foresee any prospect of young scholars rising up to whom we may look forward as future explorers of this extensive mine. The mercantile spirit pervades even our literary pursuits, and that is most studied which seems most likely to turn out to some material advantage, not that which most tends to intellectual profit. We have some Hebrew scholars: there are Hebrew professorships in both the universities; that in Oxford is well endowed. We have a few indifferent Arabic students; there are also chairs for Arabic, indifferently endowed, in both universities. The foundation of the Sanscrit Chair and scholarships in Oxford has already engaged several in the study of that language; and the additional facilities afforded to obtain the means of wealth and distinction in India, by the knowledge of the Persian, have produced several eminent Persian scholars. But the Syriac, a language which by every association would seem to call for our sympathies more than any other, hardly excepting the Hebrew itself, has hitherto been in this country almost entirely neglected. There are no lectures read in this language in the university of London. There is no professorship of Syriac in Oxford or Cambridge; and while no less than three new theological chairs have been lately established in Oxford, the Syriac language, which would afford more light than any other for the critical explanation of the text of the New Testament----perhaps of the Old Testament also----which contains much patristical theology and vast materials for ecclesiastical history that |69 cannot be elsewhere obtained, has been left without a professor, and consequently, perhaps, without a student. The Syriac Theophania of Eusebius and the Epistles of Ignatius are the only works in that language, with the exception of the whole or parts of the Scripture, which, so far as our knowledge goes, have been published in this country. The glory of such Syriac literature as was brought to England by Huntington was taken from us by foreigners, who transcribed and published the valuable history of Gregory Bar Hebraeus from the manuscripts in the Bodleian.
These are melancholy recollections; and our anticipations are shaded with their tints. But still we are pleased and proud that the Government and the Museum have done their duty as respected the Treasure of the Desert.
* There is another error less excusable committed by the learned Cardinal, which, as it relates to a matter of considerable interest, the testimony to the antiquity of the British Church received in the East, certainly not later than about the year 500, and probably much earlier (for this is the period of the transcript of the manuscript), we must take this opportunity of correcting. At the end of this work, professing to be 'the Doctrine of the Apostles,' there is an account of the different channels through which the sacerdotal office was transmitted to the various parts of the then Christian world. The passage to which we allude runs thus:----'Rome, the whole of Italy, Spain, Britain, Gaul, and the other countries round about, received the hand of priesthood from Simon Cepha, who came from Antioch, and was ruler and governor of the church which he built there.' This we have translated from the Syriac, as it is correctly printed at .page 174. But the Latin version runs thus:----'Accepit manum sacerdotalem Roma civitas, et tota Italia, ac Hispania, Bythinia, et Gallia,' &c.----p. 7.
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