MS Vatican Syriac 22 & MS Vatican Syriac 17: Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India

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MS Vatican Syriac 22 & MS Vatican Syriac 17: Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India
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1. Introduction

MS Vatican Syriac 22 & MS Vatican Syriac 17: Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India : There are many documents available from 14th century onwards which gives precise information about the Indian Christian community and the Bishops of India. Some of these were copied locally in South India. Amongst these, the MS Vatican Syriac 22 and MS Vatican Syriac 17 are the most well known Syriac MS from India.

MS Vatican Syriac 22 : Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India
MS Vatican Syriac 22 : Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India

MS Vatican Syriac 22, the oldest known Syriac MS from India,  contains a lectionary of the Pauline Epistles according to the Peshitta version. It was copied in 1301 AD ( 1612 A Gr) in Estrangelo Script at Cranganore, South India by a deacon named Zakharya bar Joseph bar Zakharya at the Church dedicated to Mar Quriaqos .

MS Vatican Syriac 17 was completed on 6th March 1510 AD (1821 A Gr) and copied by Mar Jacob “ Bishop of Hindo”, who arrived in South India in 1504 AD. According to the colophon, this was copied in the blessed and famous place Cranganore, South India at the Church of Saint Thomas. It contains the complete Estrangelo Script New testament. This is the oldest extant locally copied New Testament in India.

 MS Vatican Syriac 22 & MS Vatican Syriac 17: Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India

1. MS Vatican Syriac 22

Folios Dimension Lines Columns Language Copied by Copied at
94 35 ½ X 24 ½ cms 22 2 Estrangelo Script Zakharya bar Joseph bar Zakharya Church of Mar Quriaqos, Cranganore, South India

 

a)      About the MSS

This MS is a volume of 94 folios, of these 1 folio is from a rebound of 16th century. According to the colophon of the MS Vatican Syriac 22, this was copied on 1301 AD in Cranganore ( 1612 A Gr) at the Church dedicated to Mar Quriaqos . This MS is written in Estrangelo Script by a very young decon named Zakharya bar Joseph bar Zakharya  who was just 14 at the time of writing. This is the oldest known Syriac MS copied in India. Though from the manuscripts it is evident that the scribe Zakharya knows Syriac very well, Zakharya is very apologetic about his knowledge of Syriac in the MS.1

According to Levi della Vida, the first leaf was added to the book in 16th century as part of a rebounding done. A European hand in Italian has written about the contents of the book in the first leaf as “The epistles for the Sundays of Saint Paul for the whole year in Chaldean characters and language”. This is followed by a note in small Estrangelo script attributed by Levi della Vida to Mar Joseph Sulaka. The note indicates the readings of Genesis and Isaiah for the 1stSunday of Sbara ( Advent). This is followed by the Portuguese name “Gela Fonseca”.2

MS Vatican Syriac 22 : Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India
MS Vatican Syriac 22 : Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India

According to J. P. M. van der Ploeg, this book may have been in the hands of the Portuguese. As Levi Della Vida comments, this old book was rebounded by the Portuguese in 16th century and they have added the content information in the first leaf . It was given by “Gela Fonseca” to Mar Joseph Sulaka who took it with him on his last journey to Rome. Mar Joseph Sulaka, is the brother of Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Simon VIII Sulaqa ( 1551-1555). Mar Joseph Sulaka was consecrated as the Bishop of India by Chaldean Catholic Church Patriarch Abdisho IV( 1555-1571) in 1557 or 1558.Mar Joseph died in Rome in 1569.3

 

b)      Contents of the MSS

This famous MS contains a lectionary for the readings of Saint Paul in the Eucharistic liturgy of Sundays, feasts, and commemorations of the whole ecclesiastical year according to the rite of the church of Kokhe. The Church of Kokhe is the cathedral church of Seleucia- Ctesiphon, the See of the Patriarchs of the Church of the East in earlier times. This rite is different from the one of the “High Monastery” which is often quoted in Syriac MSS in Kerala.

The readings of Saint Paul for the Sundays of the whole year were to be followed by those for special intentions Eucharistic liturgy.4

1 Readings of Saint Paul for the Sundays
2 For the dedication of a new Church
3 For the dedication of an old Church
4.5.6 For the commemoration of the Patriarch Aqaq, Babay Shila and the other Patriarchs buried in the Church of Kokhe
7.8 When there is no rain
9.10 In the time of famine
9.10 In the time of an earthquake
11 For deceased Bishop
12 For deceased Bishops and excellent priests
13 For a priest who was a Malpana
14 For deacons, scholars and monks
15 In the time of plague
16 When one becomes an Archdeacon
17 When one becomes a new Doctor
18 For the Patriarch
19 For the commemoration of Saint Sirin, Martyr
20 For the commemoration of Saint Thomas
21 For the commemoration of Saint George
22 For the commemoration of the Saint Sabrisho, Qatoliqa
23 For the commemoration of Saint Shamoni and her sons
24 For the commemoration of Saint Sila, the weeper
25 For the Commemoration of Saint Petyon,
26 For the Commemoration of Mar Mari, the Apostle
27 For the Commemoration of one person: a martyr or any saint as epistle for the commemoration of Saint Quryakos has been indicated by a later hand in the margin.

 

c) Passage about the “ Katholikos-Patriarch”  & Bishop of India in MS

The MS has the following passage about the “ Katholikos-Patriarch” in folio 93:

“ This holy book has been written in the royal and well known and famous town Shengala ( Cranganore) in the land of India, in the holy church dedicated to the glorious martyr Mar Quriaqos …. whilst our blessed and holy father Mar Yahballaha the fifth, the Turk, qatoliqa Patriakis of the East, the head of all the countries, was great governor, holding the offices of the Catholic Church of East, the shining lamp which illuminates its regions, the head of the pastors and Pontiff of the pontiffs, Head of great high priests, Father of the fathers.. The Lord may make long his life and protect his days in order that he may govern her ( the church), a long time, for her glory and for the exhalation of her sons. Amen”

According to J P M Van der Ploeg, this Colophon is a witness of the great reverence and veneration, the copyist had for the Patriarch of his Church.5

Mar Yahballaha the 3rd ( 1283-1317)

The Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon who is mentioned in the 14th century manuscript is Mar Yahballaha the 3rd ( 1283-1317) though wrongly given in the manuscript as Mar Yahabllaha the 5th. According to J P M Van der Ploeg, the fact that the young Indian copyist called him the fifth instead of the third may indicate that the Patriarch of the Church of East was not sufficiently known in Malabar, nobody had ever seen him and as far as we are aware he did not interfere with the internal affairs of the community.6

The See of  Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon, Yahballaha 3rd  was located in the far away town of Maragha, which is to the south of Tabriz in modern Persin. This is not far from the south-east point of the Lake of Urmia.

The MS has the following passage about the Bishop of India: Governor of the Holy See of the Apostle Mar Thomas in folio 93:

“ And Mar Jacob, Bishop- Metropolitan, Superintendent and Governor of the Holy See of the Apostle Mar Thomas, is our Governor and also of the whole Christian Church of India. The lord may give him strength and help to be our zealous superior, to govern us according to the will of the Lord, to teach us His commandments and to make us walk in His paths in length of days, through the prayer of the holy Apostle Mar Thomas and of all those who are with him. Amen”

2. MS Vatican Syriac 17

Folios Dimension Lines Columns Language Copied by Copied at
480 15 X 10 ½ cms 21-13 1 Estrangelo Script Mar Jacob “ Bishop of Hindo” Church of Saint Thomas, Cranganore, South India

 

a)      About the MS

This MS is a volume of 480 folios. It was completed on the 6th of Adar (March) of the year 1821 A Gr ( 1510 AD) by Mar Jacob “ Bishop of Hindo”, who arrived in South India in 1504 AD. It was copied in the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle, “ in the blessed and famous place Sangalla which is called qrwngalur (Cranganore) which is in Malabar in the country of India

MS Vatican Syriac 17: Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India
MS Vatican Syriac 17: Syriac Manuscripts copied in South India

 

b)     Contents of the MS

The MS contains the complete ES New testament in the order:  the IV Gospels, Acts, James, Peter, 1 John and XIV Epistles of Saint Paul. In John, the passage of the adulterous woman is lacking. This is the only manuscript known to have been copied by the Metropolitan Mar Jacob himself.  Between folio.477 and folio. 478 a leaf has been taken away. On f.477 v, line 12, a word has been erased in the middle of the line, which may have been done by Mar Jacob himself. The Bishop copied this MS for his disciple ” for his blessed son and pure deacon and trusty levite .. Giwargis, son of the noble Joseph, son of Giwargis of the blessed village mnwr, he prays that the Lord may give the reader to profit from the contents By the prayers of the blessed Mart Maryam and the Apostle Saint Thomas.”

This is the oldest known New Testament copy  from India.

3. Conclusion

There are scores of  evidence from extant manuscripts associating many East Syrian prelates with India and the hierarchical relationship Church of India shared with Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon of the Church of East. There are references about David of Basrah ( ca.295 AD), John of Persia and Greater India ( 325 AD), Mar Komai ( 425 AD), Ma’na of Riwarddasir ( Persia) ( 470 AD), a Persian bishop whose name is not known ( 535 AD),  Patriach Sabrisho I ( 6/7th century), Bishop Thomas ( 8th century), Mar Sabrisho and Mar Peroz ( 9th century), Mar Jacob (14th Century).Precise evidence is available in the letters of two East Syrian Patriarchs, Mar Ishoyahb III ( 647/8 or 650/1) and Mar Timothy I ( 780-823 AD). Patriarch Thimothy in 8th Century calls Archdeacon ( Arken), head of faithful of India.

Of these, the locally scribed MS Vatican Syriac 22 & MS Vatican Syriac 17 gives evidence on the nature, faith, constitution, rite, Eucharistic liturgy, Bishops, Patriarch and the hierarchical relationship of the Indian Christian community in South India before the advent of the Portuguese. The local scribe aged 14 years old Zakharya bar Joseph bar Zakharya of MS Vatican Syriac 22 had very good knowledge of Syriac as commented by Assemani and J P M Van der Ploeg.

The titles given in the MS Vatican Syriac 22 for Mar Jacob is  “Metropolitan, Superintendent and Governor of the Holy See of the Apostle Mar Thomas, and also of the whole Christian Church of India”. The Patriarch of Seleucia- Ctesiphon of Church of East who is mentioned in the 14th century manuscript is Mar Yahballaha the 3rd ( 1283-1317) though given in the manuscript wrongly by the scribe as Mar Yahabllaha the 5th.

The title given in the MS Vatican Syriac 17 for  the Metropolitan Mar Jacob “ Bishop of Hindo”. Mar Jacob was consecrated by Patriarch: Eliah V ( 1502-1503) in 1503 AD. Other two MS, Vatican Syriac 204 MSS and MS Syr 25.f.7r of the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris contains the letter sent by Mar Yahballaha, Mar Thomas, the Metropolitans and Mar Denha, Mar Jacob ,the Bishops after their arrival in South India in 1504 AD. Mar Jacob became the Metropolitan after the death of Mar Yahballaha and continued until his death in 1533 AD.

MS Vatican Syriac 22, was copied at the Church of Mar Quriaqos, Cranganore, South India. MS Vatican Syriac 17, was copied at Church of Saint Thomas, Cranganore, South India.The long line of east Syrian prelates ended with the demise of Mar Abraham who died in Malabar in 1597.According to Bishop Francis Roz ( 1604 AD) who succeeded Mar Abraham , based on a Chaldean book he has read, there were three Churches in Cranganore. One was dedicated to the Apostle Thomas, another one to Saint Kuriakose, and  the third one was dedicated to Our Lady.

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Author can be reached on admin at nasrani dot net
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Footnotes
  1. J P M Van Der Ploeg, The syriac manuscripts of Saint Thomas Christians []
  2. Levi della Vida, Ricerhe sulla Formazione del piu antico fondo dei Manoscritti Orientali della Biblioteca Vaticana []
  3. J P M Van Der Ploeg, The syriac manuscripts of Saint Thomas Christians []
  4. Assemani, Catalogue, Vol II p.174, E Tisserant, Specimina Codicum Orientalium []
  5. J P M Van Der Ploeg, The syriac manuscripts of Saint Thomas Christians []
  6. J P M Van Der Ploeg, The syriac manuscripts of Saint Thomas Christians []

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3 Comments

  1. Fr Thomas Prasobh OIC says

    very informative and eye-opening article….

  2. M Thomas Antony says

    Thanks admin for this excellent article. These manuscripts are jewels in the Nasrani history. Most of the Thomas Christian groups have forgotten or neglected this evidence due to various political reasons.

    The Vatican Syriac codex 22 is an excellent document showing the exact position of Thomas Christians in AD 1301 period in terms of hierarchical relationship with the East Syrian Church. It clearly states the authorship of the manuscript, the exact date and place of copying. It also narrates about the Patriarch at the time, even though it was Yahballaha III, the copyist says it is the Vth. making a bit of confusion to some people.
    I am not too surprised with a small error by a 14 year old author of the colophon. I do not think, in those times, any Patriarch visiting India. It took 3 months or so for people to travel to Babylon to visit the Patriarch. The travel was also troublesome and risky in those days. The news of the death of a Patriarch also arrived here after several months through travellers, as it has been reported in the history that there are occasions where the letters sent by Malabar Nasranis addressed to a Patriarch received only by his successor. Luckily, Deacon Zacharias has added the adjective ‘the Turk’ to identify the exact person, as Mar Yahballaha III was a Turk.

    The manuscript also states the position of the Metropolitan of Cranganore- The Superintendent and Governor of the Holy See of Apostle Mar Thomas and the director of all the Holy Church of Christian India. There is no dispute over the meaning of these sentences. This manuscript clearly reaffirms that the Indian Church was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of the East with a recognition as a Particular church with a Quasi Patriarchal status-the director o f the See of Apostle Thomas- the Throne of Apostle Saint Thomas and the Director of all the churches of Christian India.

  3. Georgekutty says

    I think its just a typo mistake of the local author of this 1301 AD manuscript on writing Patriarch Mar Yahballaha III as Mar Yahballaha V. This is not because Patriarch was not known widely in India or due to any gap in communication. The fact that the author of the manuscript calls him “the Turk” clearly shows the 14 year old author of the 1301 manuscript knows what he is talking about. I am surprised that this author was just 14 years old.

    The great Patriarch of Church of East, Mar Yahballaha III (1245–1317), before elected as the Patriarch,
    was known as Monk Morqous bar Turkaye ( Son of turk). His origins were Mongol and Chinese on mothers side and turk on father side.

    In 1281 he was elected as the Patriarch of Church of East with the name of Mar Yahballaha III.
    In 1287, Patriarch Mar Yahballaha III send his profession of faith to Pope Nicholas IV.
    In 1302, the Patriarch Mar Yahballaha III send another document to Pope Bonafice VIII.

    Please see the second document in the following link :

    http://www.2shared.com/photo/eEfp0e-m/Pallium_of_Mar_Yahballah.html

    Here is the translation:

    The letter is written in black vegetable ink. On the lower part is the symbol of Church of East “ the universal cross”. First five lines are written in Syriac.

    Following is the translation. “ In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.
    To our most holy father and lord Bonafice: the unworthy and humble Yahballaha, who by the grace of our lord Jesus Christ has been elected Catholicos and Patriarch of Orient, ask your holiness to bless him”. The rest of the document is written in Arabic except the last line.

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