Thursday, 24 September 2015

Details in the margin – not marginal details: A liturgical annotation in the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus

I have been interested for a while in the importance of marginal annotations for the study of manuscripts and the texts they contain. In the same period I have also been working on the attestation of the so-called First Epistle of Baruch in Syriac manuscripts. In this blog post I combine these two interests, discussing a marginal note in the 6th or 7th century Codex Ambrosianus, also known as the important ms 7a1 of the Leiden List of Old Testament Peshiṭta Manuscripts.

This blog post deals with an annotation in the margin of folio 177v, situated close to the first column containing the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 of the First Epistle of Baruch. The note reads q (with a superlinear stroke) dzdyq’. The note is written vertically, in red ink, by a second hand, and according to Antonio M. Ceriani, in “charachtere maronitico” (Monumenta V,2, 177n83). I read this annotation as a liturgical note and I would translate it as “Lection for [the commemoration of] the just”, suggesting that the passage in the column next to it was intended by someone, who at a certain point engaged with the codex, to be read at an occasion of commemoration of the just (pl.), alternatively at a commemoration of a particular just person (sg.).  


The pdf of the facsimile edition of the codex is available online at

A small annotation such as this one may seem (literally) a marginal detail. However, it may turn out to be an interesting detail, since it sheds some additional light on a hypothesis that has been repeated in scholarship ever since Ceriani published the facsimile edition of the codex in 1876/1883. In the Praefatio of this edition, Ceriani suggestes that the codex was probably not produced for ecclesiastical use, since it includes neither liturgical notes, nor an index of lessons. He notes, though, that the occasional liturgical note occurs in the columns of some texts, but suggests that this is due to the fact that the scribe copied the texts in question from an exemplar that contained such notes (p. 8).

Ceriani’s hypothesis was reiterated and discussed critically by Konrad D. Jenner in, for example, the 1993 article “A Review of the Methods by Which Syriac Biblical and Related Manuscripts Have Been Described and Analysed: Some Preliminary Remarks,” and other scholars have later chimed in. In this article, Jenner engages Ceriani’s arguments one by one. He also points out that, in addition to the notes in the texts of the columns mentioned by Ceriani, the Ambrosianus also contains some liturgical notes in the margins added by later hands. He points to a series of notes in Genesis (1-39), to nine notes mentioning the Consecration of the Myron/Chrism (my inspection of the manuscript suggests that there are more), and to two liturgical titles in Genesis and Numbers. Jenner concludes that the codex could have been used in public worship after all (pp. 256-57).

Despite Jenner’s finds, Ceriani and his hypothesis continues to be referenced in books and articles discussing the codex and/or the writings contained in it. It is repeated even in recent publications, and I must confess that I am myself guilty of that crime (Lied, “Reception of the Pseudepigrapha”). Sometimes Ceriani’s hypothesis is even rephrased in research literature, now saying that the codex has not been used liturgically. In other words, an argument about production and intent has become an argument about later use.

The note qdzdyq’ on folio 177v of the Codex Ambrosianus displays a quite common format for liturgical annotations in Syriac biblical manuscripts.  The qoph with the superlinear stroke is a widely used abbreviation for qryn’, “lection.” It should be noted, furthermore, that the note is written in red ink (The red ink does not show neither in the printed facsimile edition, nor in the online pdf, but it is easy to spot in the manuscript itself). Hence, it generally resembles the format of rubrics in Syriac manuscripts, and appears similar to the liturgical notes that were in fact copied in the columns of the Codex Ambrosianus by the scribe for instance, in Job (folio 62v, column 1, line 13) and in 1 Samuel (folio 82r, column 1, line 15). It is likely that the note on folio 177v is recorded in this way to appear like a rubric. Anyhow, it serves as a bookmark, noting that this is a reading for the commemoration of the just.

As noted above, the marginal annotation appears close to the column containing Ep Bar 8:1 (also identified and known, imprecisely, as 2 Bar 85:1). This means that the note is located in the proximity of the first line of a passage that is copied as a lection in a handful of Syriac lectionary manuscripts, and which is surely appropriate reading at a commemoration of the just. Although of varying length (Ep Bar 8:1-7, or Ep Bar  8:1-15, or  Ep Bar 8:1-3 and 8-15), this excerpted passage is attested in, for instance, Add 14486 (folio 74v), Add 14485 (folios 63v -64r), and Add 14687 (folios 74r-75v) of the British Library. It is also present in a manuscript found in the Church of St George in Bartella (dated 1466 ce) and a manuscript in the Monastery of St Mark in Jerusalem (dated 1559 ce; I am indebted to the work of the Peshiṭta Institute [Willem Baars], and grateful to Jenner for pointing me to the last two manuscripts).

In these manuscripts the excerpted passage is scripted to be read, for example, on the Sunday before Lent, on the Sunday of the departed, and for the commemoration of saints. The term dzdyq’ (in the plural), as well as the event of the commemoration of the just, appears in, e.g., the gospel lectionary manuscript Add 14490 of the British Library (folio 264v), among other commemoration days attributed to the apostles, martyrs, patriarchs, etc. In other words, a hypothesis might be that the annotation on folio 177v of the Codex Ambrosianus points to a passage that has been known to this later active reader as a lection read at occasions of commemoration and for this reason he may have decided to make note of the location of the passage in the margin.

As mentioned above, this note in the margin may not be a marginal detail.

First, it adds one more example to Jenner’s list of annotations by later hands. The number of liturgical annotations in the Ambrosianus is still not high. Compared to other relevant biblical manuscripts, the contrary is rather the case. But the notes are there, and they suggest that this codex may well have been used liturgically, at least by some and on some occasions. In other words, although the Codex Ambrosianus may originally neither have been produced, nor offered to the monastery that kept it (cf. the colophon, folio 330r), in order to be applied liturgically, that did not prevent some later users from using it in this way.

Second, these occasional annotations in the Codex Ambrosianus invite an insight from the field of book history that cannot be repeated too often – namely that although a given manuscript may have been produced with a particular use in mind, the intentions of the producers are often not obeyed by later users. Codices such as the Ambrosianus have lived long lives and they may have been part of a variety of practices. Logically, we cannot use a hypothesis about intent of production to say something about later use. Still, there is this tendency in scholarship to focus on the origin and to make the judgment of that origin valid to the otherwise long history of a given manuscript. The origin is allowed to decide what the manuscript “is,” whatever happens to it later, since, after all, that was what the manuscript once was and was meant to be. This line of reasoning implies that we privilege one point in time over all the others, and we overlook signs of later usage which could have been important correctives to our overall understanding of a manuscript. This scholarly focus also implies that we stop taking interest in the history of the manuscript at the point when it becomes an artifact of relevance to social practice. The result is that we lose sight of the social and cultural functions the codex may have had to those who engaged with it, although this later engagement may be an interesting topic for discussion per se 

Third, this nuancing of the scholarly use of Ceriani’s hypothesis matters to those of us who work on 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra, and their reception history. The inclusion of these two apocalypses, as well as Josephus’s Jewish War, Book 6, in the codex has been mentioned as one possible reason why the codex was not used liturgically (Baars, “Neue Textzeugen,” 477n3). However, given that the observations above are correct, the Codex Ambrosianus does display signs of occasional liturgical use, and hence the inclusion of these unexpected writings may not have been a disqualifying element after all – at least not to all users.  

Literature (selection)

Baars, Willem. “Neue Textzeugen der syrischen Baruchapokalypse.” Vetus Testamentum 13.4 (1963): 476-78.

Ceriani, Antonio M. Monumenta sacra et profana ex codicibus praesertim Bibliothecae Ambrosianae V, 2. Milan: Bibliotheca Ambrosianae Mediolani, 1868.

Ceriani, Antonio M. Translatio Syra Pescitto Veteris Testamenti ex codice Ambrosiano, sec. fere VI photolithographice edita. Volume 2. Milan: Bibliotheca Ambrosianae Mediolani, 1883.

Jenner, Konrad D. “A Review of the Methods by Which Syriac Biblical and Related Manuscripts Have Been Described and Analysed: Some Preliminary Remarks,” ARAM (1993):255-66.

Jenner, Konrad D. De perikopentitels van de geïllustreerde Syrische kanselbijbel van Parijs (MS Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Syriaque 341). Een vergelijkend onderzoek naar de oudste Syrische perikopenstelsels”, Ph.D. dissertation, Universiteit Leiden, 1993.

Lied, Liv Ingeborg. “The Reception of the Pseudepigrapha in Syriac Traditions: The Case of 2 Baruch”. In ‘Noncanonical’ Religious Texts in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. Edited by James H. Charlesworth and Lee M. McDonald. Library of Second Temple Studies. London: T&T Clark, 2012.

Lied, Liv Ingeborg and Marilena Maniaci, eds. Bible as Notepad. Manuscripta Biblica. Berlin: De Gruyter. In progress.

Thanks are due to Konrad D. Jenner, Jeff Childers, Philip M. Forness, and Wido T. van Peursen.

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. “Details in the margin – not marginal details: A liturgical annotation in the Codex Ambrosianus,” posted on Religion – Manuscripts – Media Culture, 24 September 2015 (URL, retrieved [date]).

If you want to discuss any of the findings or hypotheses, feel free to contact me in the commentary field below.