Friday, 20 May 2016

What facsimiles may do for you: the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus (7a1) reimagined

I have been working on the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus lately. Or have I?

Let me be precise. For a couple of weeks during the last years, maybe for a month all together, I have indeed been exploring the codex kept at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. But apart from that, I have been sitting at my desk in Oslo working on Antonio M. Ceriani’s facsimile edition, Translatio Syra Pescitto Veteris Testamenti ex codice Ambrosiano, sec. fere VI photolithographice edita (1876—1883) as well as the Gorgias Press reprint edition published in 2013.
The fact that published editions of a text are something qualitatively different than the copies of that text surviving in actual manuscripts has been pointed out on several occasions already and need not be reiterated here. Eva Mroczek is among the scholars who have eminently shown how such editions may come to shape the scholarly imagination of given texts.
However, what I want to run with you in the current blog post is the ways in which facsimile editions may also shape our imagination, both of a manuscript and its texts, using Ceriani’s facsimile edition as a test case. The effects of a facsimile may be more subtle and therefore sometimes harder to pin down, since a facsimile edition is supposed to be a reproduction of the manuscript page and because it is sometimes used by scholars as a manuscript replacement. “Facsimile” – the very word promises an exact copy, right?
Let me start by making one thing very clear: the importance of Ceriani’s photolitographical edition of the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus for the research on the Peshiṭta version of the Old Testament cannot be overstated. At the time of its publication in the latter part of the nineteenth century it was regarded a masterpiece. Ceriani’s facsimile edition was of unrivalled quality and usability, making the texts of the codex available to the scholarly community. The importance of the edition can be illustrated by the fact that its very existence was one of the reasons why the Codex Ambrosianus was chosen as the main manuscript source for the editions of the Peshiṭta Old Testament, published by the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament and the Leiden Peshiṭta Institute in the series The Old Testament in Syriac According to the Peshiṭta Version since 1966 (1972). The facsimile made the manuscript witnesses easily available to the editors taking part in the project.
Due to the importance of this particular facsimile edition, it becomes even more pertinent to point out how it may shape our imagination of the codex: how it changes the codex, what it adds and what it takes away.
Four brief points. The first three concern the way the facsimile represents the organization of the codex, the page layout, as well as the various text units co-inhabiting the page. The fourth and final point concerns the editor’s additions to the codex.
First, the facsimile edition does not show the difference between black and red ink. In other words, all text is reproduced in black. This means that titles, end titles and subsection headings, which are written in red ink in the manuscript, do not stand out as they do in the codex itself. Hence, we may easily overlook some of the subsection headings, in particular, and we miss out on the visual effect and function the red ink may have had to those who engaged with the codex in late antiquity and the middle ages, serving for instance as book marks and to highlight unit dividers. We also miss out on observations that may matter to the way we understand the production phase of the codex and possibly the use of various Vorlagen in that process, for instance the observation that the layout of Chronicles stands out from the rest of the codex, containing no red ink whatsoever. In Chronicles, there are no subsection headings and no use of rosettes as paragraph markers (crafted in red and black in the rest of the codex), but rather a different set of division markers.
Second, the facsimile shows only (approximately) half of the marginal notes appearing in the codex itself. The best preserved marginal notes certainly show in the facsimile as well, but the ones that have faded, some of the notes written in green and red ink, as well as those that are partly erased do not show. Several of these notes provide information about later engagement with the codex, particularly the notes appearing on the first eleven folios containing Genesis, and certainly matter to the discussion of the usage (or non-usage) of this codex (I may return to these notes in a later post).
Third, the 2013 Gorgias reprint (which is, as far as I can tell, based on the University of Pennsylvania copy of the facsimile [?]) has systematically reproduced the recto pages of the folios in the position of verso pages and vice versa. This makes it difficult to grasp the constitution of the codex, for instance, how the quires are made up and how running titles in the upper margins are functioning. And importantly: since we cannot see in this edition how the pages are facing each other in the codex, it is much harder to detect the occasions where ink has been transferred from one adjacent page to another. This extra ink on a page may be misunderstood as part of the text of the columns, or as a correction or an additional note. (And by the way: the additional note on folio 330v, which provides important information about the history of the codex, has not been included at all in this edition).

Fourth, Ceriani equipped the biblical books in the facsimile with titles, as well as chapter (and sometimes verse) numbers. On the one hand, this may certainly serve as an aid to the reader. On the other hand, the addition of titles and chapter enumeration may also effectively add to – and hide – information, further affecting our imagination of the texts in the codex.
The representation of the First Epistle of Baruch is an excellent example. In the codex, the so-called First Epistle of Baruch is copied on folios 176v-177v. The title in red ink on folio 176v identifies this epistle as “The first epistle of Baruch the scribe, which he sent from the midst of Jerusalem to Babylon”. There is no chapter enumeration, but rosettes are serving as paragraph marks. In the facsimile, Ceriani has added a title in the intercolumn next to the title provided in the column, identifying the First Epistle of Baruch as “Ep. Bar. Apoc.”. He has also added chapter numbers, starting with 78 and ending with 86. In other words, Ceriani’s additional paratextual layer re-identifies this epistle as the epistle located in the latter part of the Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), which is copied elsewhere in the codex (ff. 257r-267r), and assimilates the organization of this text unit with the organization of the epistle copied as part of the larger apocalypse, starting in chapter 78.
On the one hand, it could be argued that Ceriani has done editors of the epistle a favor, showing that this epistle ascribed to Baruch is copied twice in the codex – after all the two copies share approximately 80% of the text and may in this regard be understood as more or less “the same”. In the history of editing of this epistle the two copies have indeed been used as witnesses to the same text, a single epistle of Baruch. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that Ceriani has effectively erased the identity of the First Epistle of Baruch as an autonomous text unit in the codex. In the codex, this epistle bears another name than the epistle in 2 Baruch, it is copied as part of another tripartite unit (The Epistles of Jeremiah and of Baruch), and copied adjacent to Jeremiah and Lamentations. Furthermore, the organization of the text, indicated by its use of rosettes as division markers, suggests that it has been read quite differently than the epistle attached to the apocalypse – which may potentially be important since this is the (version of the) epistle that was read in worship contexts. Ceriani’s additions, thus, may have served the work of text critics identifying various witnesses to an assumed earlier Epistle of Baruch, but they have certainly clouded the view of those of us who aim to understand this text unit as it appears in the codex kept at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.
Back at my desk in Oslo, I find myself constantly juggling the two in my mind, the codex and the facsimile. After my last stay in Milan, I had memorized the position of a passage in the codex, but due to the inverted location of the verso and recto pages in the reprint edition I have to reimagine everything in order to retrieve it in Oslo. Moreover, I constantly have to remind myself that the titles provided by Ceriani serve most of all as indications as to how modern scholarship has perceived of biblical books and assessed copies of texts in manuscripts primarily by their perceived value as text witnesses. They do not help me understand the organization and identifications of the text units as integral parts of the codex.
And, as the memory of the codex continues to fade, the facsimile is starting to play tricks with my mind.

This blog post is based on my research and is part of the wider dissemination of my work. If you want to use the information in this post, please cite it!
Lied, Liv Ingeborg, “What facsimiles may do for you: the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus (7a1) reimagined,” posted on Religion – Manuscripts – Media Culture, [20 May 2016] (URL, retrieved [date]).
If you want to discuss any of the findings or hypotheses, feel free to contact me in the commentary field below.

Select literature

P.A.H. de Boer. “Praefatio.” Pages v-xiv in Institutum Peshittonianum Leidense, Vetus Testamentum Syriace iuxta simplicem syrorum versionem. Part I, fasc. 1. Leiden: Brill, 1977.
Antonio M. Ceriani. Translatio Syra Pescitto Veteris Testamenti ex codice Ambrosiano, sec. fere VI photolithographice edita. 2 vols. Milan: Bibliotheca Ambrosianae Mediolani, 1876-1883.
–.         , ed. A Facsimilie Edition of the Peshiṭto Old Testament Based on Codex Ambrosianus (7a1). Introduction by Emidio Vergani. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2013.
Liv Ingeborg Lied. “Between ‘Text Witness’ and ‘Text on the Page’: Trajectories in the History of Editing the Epistle of Baruch.” In Snapshots of Evolving Traditions: Jewish and Christian Manuscript Culture, Textual Fluidity, and New Philology. Edited by Liv Ingeborg Lied and Hugo Lundhaug. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 175. Berlin: De Gruyter, forthcoming.
Eva Mroczek, The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Consider the most trivial mystery of all the mysteries of the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus solved

I hope you are ready for a fun fact, because that’s all this blog post has to offer.
I am in Milan again, just briefly, to attend a seminar on the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus (7a1; B 21 Inf and bis Inf), as well as to continue my work on the place of 2 Baruch in this particular codex. Today, while working on B 21 ter Inf, Antonio M. Ceriani’s annotated copy of the facsimile edition of the codex, I solved a mystery that would easily qualify as the most trivial mystery of all the unsolved mysteries of the venerable Codex Ambrosianus, the oldest complete manuscript of the Peshiṭta Old Testament that has come down to us.
In March, I spent a week in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana working on this codex, focusing in particular on codicological features, text layout and unit organisation, as well as signs of later use and reader engagement with the codex. One recurring feature caught my eye: it looked like someone had had “an accident” involving a pink highlighter while working on the codex. At least this was what I thought at the time. Something pink was smeared on the margins of a handful of the parchment folios. It made me shake my head, wondering who on earth would bring a pink highlighter to their desk when working on the codex. A special kind of “later reader engagement”, indeed. My imagination was certainly put to the test.
This head-shaking mystery was solved today: at least, I have a prime suspect and I think I know how the crime was committed.
Antonio M. Ceriani, the famous nineteenth century prefect of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, worked extensively on the Codex Ambrosianus after taking up the position in the library in 1855. His impressive publication record includes Latin translations, and editions of the Syriac text of several of the books in the codex, starting in 1861. He also published the much acclaimed facsimile edition (1876 and 1883), and he was preparing a thorough codicological and palaeographical description of the entire codex, which he unfortunately did not finish. B 21 ter Inf contains his work in progress notes on this unfinished project. Apparently, Ceriani worked systematically on these features of the codex from early 1890 to late 1892 and again for some periods in 1898 and 1899. (We know this because he consistently dated his work on the various pages [ – a special service for the three or four 2 Baruch geeks out there: he worked on 2 Baruch from 24 June to 12 July 1892]).
And now, please allow me to introduce my exhibit A. Ceriani’s notes in B 21 ter Inf are penned in black, red and something that looks like cyclamen coloured ink. On some of the pages, the red and cyclamen inks are smeared (Cf. e.g., fasc. 8, pp. 554, 556, 563; fasc.1, pp. 6, 12), providing a perfect match for my head scratching/shaking observation of pink smearing in the codex itself.
In plain words, working on his never published palaeographical and codicological description of the codex, Ceriani was consulting the Codex Ambrosianus while taking notes in B 21 ter Inf, his hands occasionally being tainted by the red and cyclamen inks, and as a result he left some not so subtle marks on the 6th/7th century parchment folios.
Mystery solved.