Eusebius: the Manuscripts of the "Theophania", the "Martyrs of Palestine" (long version), and the "Encomium on the Martyrs"

This collection of works was preserved only in a single Syriac manuscript, obtained from the Nitrian desert in Egypt in 1839.  This is now in the British Library, where it is BL. Add. 12150.

The Theophania (Theophany, or Divine Manifestation) in five books,

In the preface to the only English translation of the Theophania, by Samuel Lee, the following story is given:

Sometime in the year 1839, the Rev. Henry Tattam of Bedford, who is an excellent Coptic scholar, formed the resolution of visiting Egypt for the purpose of procuring Coptic manuscripts, in order to complete, if possible, an edition of the Coptic Scriptures. At the suggestion of his friends a subscription was set on foot, for the purpose of assisting in defraying the expense of this undertaking, and this subscription was headed by a contribution of £300. by government. Individuals contributed to a small extent: and Mr. Tattam accordingly set out for Egypt. In a short time he returned, having procured some good Coptic manuscripts, of which a list has been printed and circulated; and also about 50 volumes of Syriac manuscripts2, some of which were of an extreme age, and very valuable.

These manuscripts Mr. Tattam sent to me, with the request that I would give him some account of their contents ; and, at the same time, say what I thought their value might be: which I did as soon as my other engagements would allow. It was in looking over these manuscripts that I had the extreme pleasure of discovering that of which the following Work is a translation. Knowing then, as I did, the extreme rarity of this Work; in other words, that no other copy of it was known to exist, I requested Mr. Tattam to allow me to take a copy of it before it should leave my hands, in order that the Work might not be lost, whatever might happen to this MS. Mr. Tattam, with the disinterestedness for which he is so remarkable, instantly gave his consent, allowing me moreover to retain the MS. as long as I might want it: and, although he soon after disposed of the collection generally to the trustees of the British Museum, he was so obliging as to make this stipulation, that I should be allowed to retain this MS. as long as I might deem it necessary. [...]

The MS. containing our Work, is very neatly written in the Estrangelo, or old Church-hand-writing of the Syrians, on very fine and well prepared skin. It is of the size of large quarto, each folio measuring about 14½ inches by 11½, and containing three columns each of the width of 2¾ inches, as may be seen in the fac simile prefixed to this Work. The exterior margins average 2½ inches in width, the interior 1¼; and the space between the several columns is about 5/8 of an inch. The MS. contains 245 folios; 71 of the first of which contain a Syriac translation of the Recognitions of St. Clement, as they are called. The 83 next following, the work of Titus Bishop of Bostra4, (or Bozrah) against the Manicheans ; the next 76 folios contain our Work of Eusebius ; the next 14, Eusebius's account of the Martyrs of Palestine, as published in the 8th book of his Ecclesiastical History ; and the last folio, Encomiums on their excellencies, entitled, [syriac]. This last work is incomplete, some leaves having been lost from the end of the MS., and on this account the original date of the MS. has not come down to us in its close, as is usually the case.

We have nevertheless on the reverse of the fourth folio, after the conclusion of our Work, written on the outside margin of one of the folios of the Tract on the Martyrs of Palestine, the following Inscription in a bold, but rather unsightly hand, and in the common Peschito character ;


See, my brethren, if the latter part of this ancient book has been cut off, and has perished together with that (with) which its writer closed and completed it ; it was thus written at its end, viz. that "This book was written in the city of Edessa of Mesopotamia, by the hands of a man named Jacob, in the year seven hundred and twenty and three, (and) was completed in the month of the latter Teshrin." (February). And, just as that which was written there, I have also written here without addition. And the things which are here, I wrote in the year 1398, in the (aera) of the Greeks (i. e. the Seleucidae).

If then we are to take the first of these dates, as given in the aera of the Seleucidae, and this Note as containing a true statement respecting the age of our MS., A. D. 411 will be its date, and its age 1432 years ! The date of this Note is, we are told, that of the Greeks (or Seleucidae), that is, A. D. 1398, corresponding to A.D. 1086, just 757 years ago, when, as its author tells us, this manuscript was such as to merit the appellation of ancient!

I was once inclined to think that our MS. could not be so old as this first date made it, and that the year 723, must be that of our common aera; which would give 1120 years for its age; and that this, both from the appearance of the MS., and from some other considerations, was nearer the truth. Yet I must confess, as I have never seen, or heard of, a Syriac MS. bearing a date in our common aera; and, as all Syriac MSS. said to be written at Edessa, do,--as far as I know,--always bear dates according to the aera of the Seleucidae; I do not see how this date can be given in our common aera.

As to the appearance of the MS., although it certainly is in very perfect and clean condition, yet as the climate of Egypt, in which it has been kept probably for many centuries, is extremely dry, it is by no means impossible that the fresh appearance of the MS. is anything more than the nature of the case requires. 

2. 1 These he purchased at the monastery of the Blessed Virgin in the desert of Nitria (or Askit. The Coenobium Scetense of Asseman.), situated on the west of the Nile, and somewhat more than 80 miles from Cairo. Asseman visited this Monastery in 1715, when he tells us its Library did not contain more than about 200 Volumes. Of these he requested to have a hundred, but could not get more than nine or ten good authors, with a few others. (Bibl. Orient. Tom. i. Pref.) But in his Catalogue of the " Codices Nitrienses," ib. pp. 561--572, he gives an account of 34 Codices. Some of which were perhaps obtained on a former occasion by his Cousin Elias (ib.); from which, according to Peter Benedict their Editor and Translator, were the Works of Ephrem Syrus published at Rome, in 1737--43. I am greatly rejoiced to find, that Mr. Tattam has just returned from a second visit to this same Monastery, and has brought with him another collection of Syriac Manuscripts, from which, I trust, much valuable matter will be extracted and brought before the public.--It is evident that many of the MSS. brought to England by Mr. Tattam, had passed through the hands of Asseman, from certain marks found in them: and this I think is true of ours, as certain pencil-marks are found in it, which could hardly have been placed there by an Oriental.

3. 1 London, printed for the Society for the publication of Oriental Texts, sold by James Madden and Co., 8, Leadenhall-street. 1842. To this I prefixed a short Preface, referring the reader to the more ample one intended to go forth with this Work.

4. 2 The Metropolis of Arabia Petraea. Syr. [Syriac] or [Syriac] Gr. and Lat. Bostra. Arab, [Arabic] Basra. Assem. Bibl. Orient. Tom. iii. p. ii. p. DCCXXX. Not to be confounded with the Bozrah, [Hebrew] of Jerem. xlix. 13, of the Idumeans, nor with that of the Moabites, ib. xlviii. 24. Reland's Palestine, Lib. in. p. 666. Edit. 1714. Where we are told that this Bishop was present at the Council of Antioch, A.D. 363. This work of Titus was printed by Canisius, in the original Greek : the text, however, is any thing but good and exhibits many Lacunae, which this very ancient Syriac translation would well supply.

The long version of the Martyrs of Palestine is a free-standing version of the shorter text usually appended to book 8 of the Historia Ecclesiastica.

The Encomium on the Martyrs is a sermon in praise of some of the martyrs Eusebius knew.  The English translation was published in the Journal of Sacred Literature 4th series 5 (1864) pp. 403-408.



Shelfmark & Notes

Date /

London: British Library BL. Add. 12150.  Bought in 1839 from the Monastery of the Blessed Virgin, the Nitrian Desert, Egypt, by Henry Tattam.  MS details above.  Contains:

1. The Recognitions of Clement. (71 folios)
2. Titus of Bostra against the Manicheans. (83 ff)
3. The Theophany of Eusebius. (76 ff)
4. The Martyrs of Palestine, also by Eusebius. (14 ff)
5.  Encomiums (1 folio - f. 250 r)

411 AD


S. LEE, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea on the Theophania or Divine Manifestation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, translated into English with notes from an ancient Syriac version of the Greek original now lost, Cambridge: Duncan and Malcolm, University Press (1843).  Checked and online.

W. WRIGHT, The Encomium of the Martyrs: Journal of Sacred Literature, 4th series vol. 5 (1864), pp.403-408 (Syriac text with introduction by B.H.COWPER); 4th series vol. 6 (1864-5), pp.129-133 (English translation and introduction by B.H.COWPER). Checked and online.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.

This page has been online since 12th August 2002

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