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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Rare Christian Syraic Homilies Edited Translated

Subhalmaran The Book Of Gifts edited by David J. Lane (Scriptores Syri Tomus, 236: Peeters) Syriac text only Intro in English; Subhalmaran The Book Of Gifts: Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium translated by David J. Lane (Translator) (Scriptores Syri Tomus, 237: Peeters) Ktaba da-mnawata, variously translated Book of Gifts, Book of Fragments, Book of Centuries, of Subhalmaran the early seventh-century Metropolitan of Selok, now Kirkuk, apparently survives in one manu­script alone. The chief part of that (73 folios) is now British Library Ori­ental Manuscript 6714', but other fragments (1 folio) are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (Ms arabe 6725)2 and (1 folio) in the Selly Oak Colleges Library at Woodbrooke, Birmingham, (Mingana Syriac ms 631).

The translation is inten­ded to remain fairly close to the Syriac, but at the same time to make the work accessible to those who are without benefit of Syriac, yet wish to know a writer on East Syriac asceticism who stands in thought and prac­tice at a mid-point of development between the fourth-century Aphrahat and Joseph the Seers from the second part of the seventh century. As with other Syriac writers, the greatest obstacles to a translator of Subhalmaran are the length of compound sentences and the multiplicity and ordering of subordinate clauses; the length of interval between an`initial accusative case and a concluding finite verb; the use of personal pronouns which leave doubt about the antecedent, and the position of adverbs. Hence, in this translation, long sentences have been broken up, some clauses have been re-ordered, and in some cases the relevant sub­ject made clear. There is an attempt to give appropriate nuances to the Syriac words and syntax rather than to provide a mechanical series of equivalents. The version is intended as a mean between a formal and a dynamic translation, able to give a flavour of the author's scriptural, per­ceptive and witty style.

The listing of English equivalents and a transcription of the Syriac terms on p. 197-219 indicates how this has been done. If such an ap­proach seems cavalier, attention is drawn to the habit of our author in manipulating scripture to clarify as well as to support his argument. Or, in a more modern term; facilitation, not manipulation. To aid still fur­ther clarity, the parts of Subhalmaran work have been identified, and the chapter divisions divided into paragraphs of varying length to give some correspondence with the subject matter.

When NAU described the contents of the first 73 folios of BL Oriental manuscript 67146, he allowed himself to be misled. Instead of his three sections:15 sections on virtues and virtuous practices (fols 1-30); 22 chapters of prudent warnings (fols 30-54); and other chapters about suit­able patterns of behaviour for ascetics alone or in monasteries, with rules and regulations for private and public behaviour (fols 54-73) there are in fact six. Here they are called Parts, one of which is found inserted in the middle of another. They are:

  • Part 1: The Book of Gifts which was compiled by the holy Mar Subhalmaran Bishop of Karka d-Befit &Mk.

  • Part 2: Next, chapters concerning wise admonitions and the way in which grace summons each one of us, and an analogy from the natural orders: these are of advantage to everyone who wishes to be an ascetic. By the same author.

  • Part 3: (Between chapters X and XI of Part 2).

  • Next, an extract from a letter to one of those friends who wished to go out to the desirable companionship of the guides of the ascetic life and was oppressed by his fear. By the same author Subhalmaran.

  • Part 4: More warnings and chapters of instruction that are useful for honest penitents and for those who wish to increase their right actions, and con­cerning the last times. These are set out alphabetically by the same Mar Subhalmaran

  • Part 5: Further chapters by the same author, as to how it is necessary for broth­ers who are in accord with each other to live a life of asceticism in love in a dwelling or in a monastery or wherever. And about canons and regulations for their manners of life outside and inside.

  • Part 6: (Eight chapters about the first and second coming of our Lord and the role of Elijah; three chapters about the Last Judgement and the condi­tion of those in Gehenna and those with our Lord).

  • Excipit: The end of the Book of Gifts that was made by Mar Subhalmaran.

III. The manuscript as a collection of Subhalmaran pieces.

The range and variety of this material show that there is here a small but valuable collection of works on the ascetic life, on virtues, and on the last things, put together by an editor rather than the author. Confir­mation of this conclusion comes from two sources and one group of ob­servations. First, Mère PHILOTEA has outlined the contents of some new manuscript finds at St Catherine's Monastery, and among them she notes a volume which contains 75 pages of 'Commentary on Holy Scripture of Babai the Great' and lists some of the topics: 'On the mys­teries of all religions and the mysteries of the Church'; 'On the manifes­tation of the one who is lost, how he behaves, and what he does and in­structs'; 'On the sufferings which the ungodly one makes the faithful endure, and the narration of his converse and the outward appearance in which he shrouds his deceit, 'On the manner of listening to the fearful voice which has commanded those on the left hand side "Go away from me, cursed", on what happens to those who hear it, on the head of Gehenna, on the love of our creator towards us, and the hope of sinners'. These are remarkably similar to sections in the material ascribed to Subhalmaran and which is found in Part 6 of our work. Immediately af­ter the Babai commentary, without a break, there follow 60 pages of homilies by Subhalmaran, on the Resurrection, on the Transfiguration of our Lord, and on the end of time. It is, therefore, more than possible that the works of two contemporaries who handled the same topics and had similar responsibilities are not only juxtaposed but confused or intermin­gled. Once such a suspicion is formed, support may be found from ob­servation that Subhalmaran's passages on the last things are of a differ­ent order and character from his writings on the ascetic life and on the virtues.

Secondly, BROCK's view that Or. 6714 originated in Mt Sinai is still more testimony that the monastery there was familiar with both Subhalmaran and Babai the Great from eastern Syriac monastic writers. There is then the observation that the letters kaph, (?)lamadh and mem appear in the margins of folios 16r, 46r, and 64r respectively. This sug­gests that Or. 6714 was copied from an exemplar with different quire numbering and folio size. Another mem appears in the margin of fol. 74v, that is, of the work by Abraham of Naphtar which follows ours. It follows that our scribe copied from different manuscript exemplars to obtain his particular selection of authors and their writings. The manu­script here, therefore, is an example of monastic copying to provide its own literature according to its own priorities or taste.

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