Cataloguing The Syriac Manuscripts In The Collection Of The Lutheran School Of Theology In Chicago: Their Contents And Significance 

Reported by Edward Brice 
Deputy-Chief-Editor of the Journal of Maronite Studies

A page from the Mardin 102 (A) Mansucript

On Wednesday the 29th of March 2000, and at the invitation of the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) of the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures of the Catholic University of America, Dr. Abdul Massih Saadi [1] spoke on cataloguing the Syriac manuscripts in the collection of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Illinois. 

This collection is mainly the private compilation of the late Syriac scholar and professor Arthur Vööbus. 

Dr. Saadi, who is now cataloguing this collection and organizing it to make it available for the use by researchers, described the physical condition of the collection, the method of organizing and classifying the units of microfilms, and the current method of revealing their contents and significance. 

Saadi began his lecture by refuting the misconception which holds that most of the source materials and records for the field of Syriac studies are to be found in the great libraries of Europe, namely Rome, London, Paris, and Berlin. On the contrary, Dr. Saadi argued that most of these materials and records were in “oblivion” in their indigenous lands of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. Vööbus embarked on his journey of discovery in 1935 and uncovered a wealth of manuscripts in these countries, and then photographed the manuscripts that were either totally unknown or unknown in their different recensions. 

Vööbus published numerous writings making public these manuscripts. “He confirmed that in his collection, there are more than 200,000 pages of un-researched and un-catalogued Syriac documents, which are known or listed nowhere else in the world.” Vööbus dedicated fifty years of his life investigating this immense corpus of Christian Syriac writings that span over 1500 years. However, this undertaking is bigger than one man’s passion and lifetime. Much remains to be done. 

In the summer of 1994, Dr. Saadi assumed the task to continue to the work of Vööbus. The room that housed the collection was actually called The Institute for Syriac Manuscript Studies. Dr. Saadi described the room as one “filled with boxes containing microfilms and various papers and scraps. There were several big boxes that contained many pieces of microfilms from different places and in various subjects; they were terribly disorganized. There were however, many other small boxes organized according to their place of origin and having their own numbering system. In each of these small boxes, there were several pieces of films, which all together comprise – or are intended to comprise - one manuscript.” 

“The initial task” said Dr. Saadi “was to learn Vööbus’ method of categorizing and labeling the smaller boxes that were already organized and placed on shelves. After that had been achieved, I felt I should reorganize everything in accordance with the defined model.” 

The initial task was to learn Vööbus’ method of categorizing and labeling the smaller boxes that were already organized and placed on shelves. After that had been achieved, I felt I should reorganize everything in accordance with the defined model. 

Dr. Saadi explained that the process of grouping and analyzing these films “was tedious”, because “in each of the smaller boxes there were many pieces of films, which needed to be arranged sequentially, as it was simply not clear which piece followed which. At this early stage, there was no way to arrange them but only through painstaking reading and ascertaining of the flow of meaning. The process became even harder when there were overlaps of their Frames. For example, in a given manuscript, which normally comprises several pieces of films, the supposed first piece ends at Frame number 18. The supposed second piece may begin at Frame 14, which means that there are four Frames which overlap. Still, this is an easy problem! There are cases where there were gaps between the supposed first piece and the second one. In this case, the sequel of Frames requires more research and scrutiny and conceivably a return to the monastery to try to find the missing portions.” 

Saadi continued to describe that when all these pieces of a given manuscript were arranged, he tagged each piece with a sequel number; then grouped them into different sections in accordance with their place of origin, creating thus far the following sections: Mardin, Damascus, Sherfeh, ‘Atshaneh, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Alqosh, Midyat, Za`faran, Tur Abdin, Mosul, Mar Matti (Mosul), and Diyarbaker. 

Having organized most of the microfilms, the process of cataloging begins. Saadi explained the methodology, which is to identify and introduce every subject and the number of its frames (folios). The report about its contents is fairly simple when the manuscript contains one subject by one author. For example, Ms. Mardin 102 contains the commentary of Moshe Bar Kepha on Luke. In this case, the manuscript’s content, its inception and end, authorship, number of folios, date, colophon, paleographical information, and notes on certain diluted or missing pages and defects are recorded, then the manuscript is supplemented with the necessary bibliographical information. There are cases, however, when the manuscript contains many subjects by different authors. In this case, and in accordance with the sequel of its Frames, each subject is treated as if it is a distinct and separate manuscript of its own. 

Dr. Saadi in now in his second year of intensive identification and cataloguing of these manuscripts. So far, this collection is a mine of resources says Dr. Saadi, with 475 separate manuscripts containing 1,375 different subjects which reveal new writings, new writers, and a new method of study by which one can recover the hidden message of the author that lies between the lines. As for the classification of these subjects, Dr. Saadi states that they are classified under Biblical Texts (Old and New Testament); exegetical work on both Old and New Testament; historical writings which include: annalistic records, unknown biographies, histories, narratives, panegyrics, martyrology and, menlogy, correspondence, and related records; legislative literature; patristic literature; history of Christian thought; liturgies; spirituality; ascetic and mystical literature; poetry; lexicography, philosophy; apology; comparative religions; folk-lore; zodiac, charms, and various non-Christian literature.” 

Some of the manuscript examples that Dr. Saadi mentioned in his lecture were those of the Mardin section such as the lectionary of Biblical texts of the Old and New Testament that shows different reading than the Peshitta. It exists in Mardin 65, dated 1792 of Greek, i.e., 1481 A.D. A Commentary on Old Testament, by Dionysius bar Salibi. It exists in Mardin 66; and Mardin 71. 

A Commentary on Psalms, collected from various authors, including Dionysius Bar Salibi and Bar Hebraeus. It exists in Mardin 76. A Commentary on New Testament, collected from various authors, including Dionysius Bar Salibi, Iawanis (John Chrysostom. Various editions of the “Stories of Jesus’ Childhood,” such as in Mardin 882. Ascetic and mystical literature, by John bar Phenkaye, on Observing the inner and outer grades. It exists in Mardin 63, (example F 17); the Solitary Mark’s (disciple of John Chrysostom) homilies preserved in Mardin 0.421 (never published). Apologetic Literature (towards the Muslims) Mardin 325, (beginning from folio 7 L). It’s title reads: Chapters concerning the Muslims, from their book, from Quran, in Sura “Do not dispute the people of the book, except in what is better.” It is dated to the year 1856 of Greek, i.e., 1545 A.D. Yazidi faith Catechism Mardin 0.348 contains 25 folios of Yazidi Catechism, and its relative to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Legislative literature, a collection of rules and cannons of synods or individual. Timothy of Gargar (12th century), concerning the Egyptian Fathers, Macarius, Yuhannon, Beshoy, and the sons of the King, Maximus and Domatius. It exists in Mardin 74, (F 6). Garshun Xenaia (c. 9th century), Against the Heresies & kind of index for translation of Greek words into Syriac. His writings are found in Mardin 456. Ruphina, the Silver trader (6th century), composed a book “Solution of the Spender which was interwoven by Lawent of Jerusalem (cf. Manuscript II) Jacob of Bartella’s Theological and apologetic book, “The Treasures,” preserved in Mardin (cf. manuscript II) (unpublished). Profane Literature: 

Mardin 325 shows a passage on the making of ink. Mardin 0.559 reveals the unpublished letter of a Philosopher, called, Ruphinus (prob. of Akyla, 5th century); also, Aristotle on Soul (cf. mss II). Mardin 559 reveals various profane subjects, such as zodiac, planets, charms, demons (spirits), souls… etc. and various folk stories. 

This effort of cataloguing and annotating the collection is a very important and indispensable work for the use of these manuscripts. Only those who are scholars in the field of Syriac Studies can actually carry out this kind of work. As pointed by Dr. Saadi, unfortunately there are only less than a one hundred scholars in Syriac Studies throughout the world, this does impede the progress of the studying of these and other Syriac manuscript. There is a need to cultivate more scholars especially within the culturally Syriac communities in order to share this great Christian tradition of the Church with the Christian believers and the rest of the world. 

“Indeed,” said Dr. Saadi, “we need to make these sources available to the Syriac scholars and to everybody of interest.” Dr. Saadi, like those who are concerned about the continuity of the Syriac tradition, feels the great responsibility of his endeavor to safeguard this precious past and unearth it for the world to share its wealth and its role in the Plan of Salvation and the spreading of the Good News. 

Dr. Saadi is concerned not only of the continuity of scholarly work in the field of Syriac Studies, but also of the conditions and status of the original manuscripts that are endangered either by lack of proper preservation or arbitrary government confiscation and destruction. 

Dr. Saadi closed by saying that those of us who are of Syriac ancestry need to cultivate our own scholars and encourage our own offsprings to share in the preservation, translation, and publishing of our noble heritage and its contribution to the Universal Church. 

[1] For those who are interested in this collection or in communicating with Dr. Saadi, you may contact him at the following addresses: 

Dr. Abdul Massih Saadi 
1100 E 55th St 
Chicago, Il 60615 
Tel. (773) 947?8074 

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