Manuscripts as Refugees
The Manuscript Library of St Ephrem Cathedral in Aleppo presents another good example of a refugee manuscript as indicated by a 16th century Arabic colophon that records the rediscovery, purchase, and return of the looted manuscript to its legitimate owner. The colophon reads “This blessed book, is the book of St Ephrem the Syrian, and it is all about his poems [mimre]. Its owner is rabban monk Youssef, the poor [one] from the blessed city of Ḥesn. This book was stolen during the destruction of Ḥesn, when Muhammed Bek the Invader destroyed it [Ḥesn] in the year of 1820 of Greek [1820 Gr: 1509 Ad]. I have found it, and I am its owner, the mentioned monk, and I bought it for a second time in Mardin, the protected city.” [SOAA_00182 B_336v]
In addition to these notes and in summary, it is important to record that:
- Systems to protect Syriac heritage have long been in place. In fact, it is one of the Bishop’s duties to protect and preserve the MSS in his diocese since they belong to the Church, as is clear in the constitution of the Syriac Orthodox Church (Articles 68 and 155).
- Syriac MSS often contain curses those who might try to steal them from monasteries and churches, as we saw in the official Patriarchal letter appended to The Chronicle of Michael the Great.
- Like human refugees, refugee MSS have found new and final homes, but simultaneously have been able to keep their own identity.
2) Survived Identity
Many old Syriac liturgical MSS, such as those of the Syriac Liturgical Anaphoras, have been poorly protected and preserved, not due to conflict, but because of accessibility and heavy usage. Nevertheless, it is sometimes possible to find traces of these old liturgical MSS in the bindings of other MSS. These refugee MSS are not the refugees of conflict but are ‘refugees’ that have migrated to the bindings of other manuscripts after their original codices were damaged because of daily use. Nevertheless, conflict also threatens their existence. The inclusion of liturgical and other heavily used MSS in other bindings potentially indicates that the binders wanted to preserve the identity of these liturgical MSS. A good example is the binding of a Syriac Anaphora manuscript (written in Syriac and in Turkish-Garshuni) from the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo Collection (St Ephrem Cathedral) which is itself made from different fragments. The cover binding of SOAA 0232 (Z), includes a text which I could identify as coming from the Syriac Anaphora of Bar Salibi – one of the famous texts included in most of the Syriac Anaphoras manuscripts.
Another case concerning the themes of identity and authority in Syriac liturgical MSS is associated with the frequent deletion of names. This might involve destroying the paper or obscuring the name with a writing implement. Names were deleted for many reasons, but usually due to community splits. Sometimes, the identity of the liturgical text is also deleted for theological reasons (anathematized). This happened when the liturgical manuscript found itself on the shelves of another library and under the ownership of a new authority. Or for some confessional conflicts as was the case with the Syriac Anaphoras MS from the collection of Al-Tahira Syriac Catholic Church in Qaraqosh (DSCQ T 00104), where we see a deletion to the title after the name of Patriarch Mor Quryaqos.
The example of the Anaphora of Basilius Abd Al-Ghani in the Mosul manuscript libraries also shines light on the phenomenon of MSS as refugees. I was surprised when I discovered this text since it was not mentioned in the HMML catalog. I had several questions then: Where is it now? Was it destroyed by ISIS? Moved somewhere else?
The story started when I was searching for manuscripts which might include the liturgical text of Maphrian Abd Al-Ghani’s Anaphora. I read in Barsoum’s The Scattered Pearls that this anaphora can be found in Cam. 2887 and in the collection of the Al-Tahira Church in Mosul. I felt somehow lucky to know that HMML had digitized the Al-Tahira Church collection, so I contacted them after determining that the MS was in this collection. I received images of 5 digitized MSS of Anaphoras from HMML, and I was in full of optimism that I would find amongst these images the anaphora that I was looking for. However, to my dismay it wasn’t there! So, I called a deacon from Mosul who now lives in Vienna to enquire about the anaphora and was surprised when he asked me: “Which Al-Tahira Church? The Syriac Orthodox or the Catholic one?” In the time of Barsoum, there was only one Church, but this had subsequently split into two. There was a chance that Al-Tahira Church MS collection had been split alongside the Churches. I searched for the Syriac Catholic Church MSS, but again I found nothing. I then contacted a priest from HMML’s digitizing team in Iraq who was unable to confirm if the piece had been digitized. As such I concluded that, the MS either had not yet been digitized or had been moved to another place at some point in the past. In order to investigate this, I checked the collection of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Mosul (ASOM), but again found nothing about the anaphora that I was looking for. Then I noticed that the HMML cataloguers depended on a previous Arabic catalogue for the Syriac Orthodox collection of Mosul. So, I decided to compare the catalogues and noticed that the numbering was different. First, I matched the old numbering system with the new one, and then I turned to the Arabic catalogue, which describes one Anaphora which was not catalogued calling it as “an unidentified Anaphora.” So, I requested the digital images of this MS (ASOM 00072), which I discovered was the former manuscript of Mosul N. 50 [olim Syrian Orthodox of Mosul 50]. I was extremely happy to find that this “unidentified Anaphora” was the one which I had been looking for (or maybe another one!?). Perhaps, the Arabic catalogue could not identify it simply because the title was not in red ink!</
Ephrem Ishac is a specialist in Syriac Studies focusing on East and West Syriac General Councils, Syriac Anaphoras, the History of Ecumenism in the Middle East, and Syriac Manuscripts.
He serves as a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at FSCIRE Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna (Italy), Lecturer in Syriac Liturgical Theology at Salzburg University, and a Postdoctoral Researcher at VESTIGIA Manuscript Research Center, Graz University.
 On the presentation of the manuscript, see: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-presented-with-historic-prayer-manuscript-saved-from-isis-67382. See photograph in my posts on social media (FB and Twitter) of Pope Francis’s visit to Qaraqosh on Sunday 7 March 2021. For the full story of how this MS was rescued, see: https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/iraq/pope-francis-to-return-rare-500-year-old-refugee-christian-prayer-book-to-iraq-1.1177534
 The paper was entitled “Manuscripts as Refugees: Losing Identity?” and was presented on October 27, 2016 at APAE, Conference and School on Authority, Provenance, Authenticity, Evidence held at the University of Zadar, Croatia. See: http://apae.unizd.hr/?session=libraries-in-times-of-war-the-syrian-iraqi-case
 In February 2018, Dr. Aho Shemunkasho and I co-organized an international and ecumenical symposium held at Salzburg University to celebrate the 1500 year anniversary of Mor Severus’ fleeing to Egypt. During the symposium, Sebastian P. Brock referred to Mor Severus as “a refugee Patriarch.” For more details about the symposium, see the Salzburg Syriac Theology Newsletter: http://plusnews.sbg.ac.at/inxmail/syrischetheologie/mailarchiv_syrische_theologie.jsp?mail=16244&c=display On the inauguration of the symposium by Patrach Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, see: https://syriacpatriarchate.org/2018/02/inauguration-of-conference-on-mor-severus-of-antioch-salzburg/
 I. A. Barsoum, makhTuTat Ṭur ʿAbdin [Manuscripts of Ṭur ʿAbdin], Damascus 2008, p. 244–249.
 Or the Monastery of the Ladders, is on the right bank of the Euphrates, a half-hour journey from the village of ʿUrbīsh, near Karkar. It was established sometime after the fifth century and was first mentioned by historians in the beginning of the ninth century. It produced one Patriarch and fourteen bishops. It was inhabited until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Some of its ruins are still standing.” Ignatius Afram Barsoum, The Scattered Pearls: A History of Syriac Literature and Sciences, trans. Matti Moosa, 2nd rev. ed. (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2003), p. 560.
The Edessa – Aleppo Syriac Codex of the Chronicle of Michael the Great, ed. G. Kiraz and G. Y. Ibrahim, 2009.
 Permeant link to access it: https://www.vhmml.org/readingRoom/view/508585
 For a full access to the constitution (English translation from the original Arabic), see: https://dss-syriacpatriarchate.org/canon-law/constitution/?lang=en
 Permanent link: https://www.vhmml.org/readingRoom/view/508643, accessed 24 January 2021.
 Permanent link: https://www.vhmml.org/readingRoom/view/136311</