The Syriac Manuscripts of Notre-Dame des Semences

In 1906 Addai Scher in "Journal Asiatique, series 10, vols 8 & 9 gave a catalogue of the manuscripts of this abbey.  I translated part of it into English in 2006, but never did more than you see below.  The words are those of Dr Scher.

"Nine hours north of Mosul on the mountain of Beth Edri is one of the most ancient Chaldean abbeys.  It was founded around the end of the 6th century by Rabban Hormizd, disciple of Rabban Bar Edta.  It flourished until the 10th century.  At the beginning of the 15th century the Nestorian patriarchs moved their residence there, since there were no longer any Christians in Baghdad.  The tombs of 9 such patriarchs from 1504-1804 can be found there.

At the end of the 18th century, the convent was abandoned.  Gabriel Dambo repaired it.  He had been one of the richest merchants of Mardin.  Renouncing his wealth, he became a monk at Alqosh in order to live in the convent.  He encountered numerous difficulties with the patriarchal family, which he overcame with patience and confidence in God.  He thus attracted a number of disciples who followed with him the rule of St. Anthony.

Dambo was murdered in 1832 by the soldiers of Mohammed Pasha, the kurdish emir of Rawandouz.  These had revolted against the Ottoman government and gone on a spree of pillage and massacre (see the note at the end of codex 94).

The library of the convent of Rabban Hormizd was rich in Syriac manuscripts.  In 1828 many of these manuscripts were looted and broken up by Moussa Pasha, who had imitated the emir of Rawandouz in revolting against the Turk.  In 1868 147 volumes, manuscript and printed, suffered the same treatment from Ismael Pasha, the successor of Moussa Pasha.  Most of the manuscripts now (1906) in the convent have been acquired and brought here since 1842.

Addai Scher visited the library in 1902 and took notes on each manuscript, although not noting the size or number of pages in every case.

A.  Biblical texts

1. Pentateuch, in the peshitta version.  Written in 1857 by Rabban Ibrahim `Abbo of Kirkuk.

2. Book of Sessions, in the peshitta version; i.e. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Song of Songs, Job.  Written in 1817 at the convent of Rabban Hormizd by R. Joseph Audo who later became patriarch.

3. Same as codex 2.  Written in 1819 at the convent of Rabban Hormizd by Rabban Isaac.

4. Same as codex 2.  Written in 1828 at the convent of Rabban Hormizd by the priest Bernard of Telképé.

5. Same as codex 2.  Written in 1828 by the deacon Simeon.  Followed by the book of Tobit, translated into Syriac from Arabic by Simeon Asmar of Telképé in 1818.

6. Book of prophets, in the peshitta version; i.e. Isaiah, Joel, Amos, Abadiah, Jonah, Micaiah, Nahum, Habakuk, Sophonia, Hagai, Zachariah, Malachi, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezechiel, Daniel.  Written in 1854 in the village of Cardess by the priest David son of John, son of Nisan, son of Gorgo, of the village of Barzané, in the district of Zehbar.

7. Same as codex 6.  Written in 1818 at the convent of Rabban Hormizd by Rabban Stephen.

8. Old Testament, containing the following apocrypha: Machabees, Paralipomen, Esdras, Wisdom, Judith, Esther, Susannah, and the letters of Jeremiah and Baruch.  Written in 1825 at the convent of Rabban Hormizd by the monk Clemendos, son of Petros, of Telképé.

9. New Testament, in the Heraclean version.  Undated, but the book hand is prior to the 13th century.  Parchment.  Mainly in a Nestorian hand, but some Monophysite characters. Very carefully made.  The margins are full of Greek words.

10. New Testament, in the peshitta version.  Parchment; first quire is missing.  Written in estrangelo and beautifully. Written in 1511 of the Greeks, 596 of the Arabs (1200 AD)  at the convent of Rabban Hormizd by Rabban Iso.

11. Same as #10.  Written in 2028 of the Greeks (1717) at Alqosh in the time of Mar Elia, patriarch, by the priest `Abisho`, son of the priest Hadbesabba.

12. Same as #10.  Written in 1993 of the Greeks (1682) at Araden in the time of Mar Elia, patriarch, by Kuriakos, deacon, son of `Abisho`.  It was written for the priest Ewed, son of the priest Denha, of the village of Doure, in the district of Beth Tannoura.

13. Same as #10. Estrangelo, very careful.  Includes pictures, including the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Written in 1694 in the times of Mar Elia, patriarch, by the priest Guiwargis, son of the priest Israel, son of the priest Hormizd, son of the priest Israel, and given to the convent of Rabban Hormizd by another priest Guiwargis and his brother John, son of the priest Sahmano.

14. Same as #10.  Followed by the Apocalypse of John, translated into Syriac by Saumo, priest, of the village of Pios.  Saumo lived in the first half of the 18th century, and wrote a poem on the plague which devastated his village in 1738.

15. Apocalypse of John.  Translated from Arabic by Saumo.  Undated, but 18th century.

[I will now just stick to titles, for lack of time today -- RP]

16. Book of the gospel split up into daily readings, according to the rite of the superior convent (of Mar Gabriel and Mar Abraham, in the Mosul area). Estrangelo, 1572.  Copied from a copy belonging to Ebedjesu (Bar Brika), made in 1285.

17. Same as #16.  Estrangelo, 1542.  Also copied from the autograph of Ebedjesu.

18. Same as #16.  Written in 1599. 

19. Same as #16.  Written in 1722 at Alqosh. 

B.  Biblical commentaries

20. Commentary on the Psalms, split into two parts.  The first contains:

  1. The treatise of Ahob Qatraya on the psalms.
  2. The treatise of Nathniel, bp. of Saherzor, on the psalms.
  3. The psalm of David when he fought against Goliath.
  4. Dispute against Origen and his partisans.

The second and much longer part: "Explanations on the book of the psalms of David by Rabban Denha, or according to others, Rabban Gregory, the perfect monk, of the convent of Gamré."

18x13 cms, 32 cahiers of 10 folios. Written in 1884.

21. Same as #20.  Written in 1893.

22. "Explanations on difficult and obscure words found in the Pentateuch, extracted from the commentaries of the blessed Theodore (of Mopsuestia), the traditions of the Syrians, Mar Aphrem, Abraham and John of Beth Rabban, Mar Michael and the other doctors."  Copied from a ms. of Seert (No. 21) in 1887.  The author lived later than the 9th century as he cites Ishodad, bp. of Hdattha (ca. 850).  Other authors mentioned in the work are: Narsai, Gabriel of Qatar, Aba I, Babai the Persian, Ahob, Aphrahat, James of Edessa, Theophilus the Persian, Soubhalmaran, monk, Daniel bar Toubanita and Isobarnoun, patriarch.

23. "Explanations on the New Testament, compiled by Mar Ishodad of Merv, bp. of Hdattha, taken from numerous books of commentators and doctors of the holy church."  Undated.  Writing of 17th century.

24. Same as #23.  Followed by:

  1. Extracts from the treatise of Abraham of Nathpar on the ascetic life.
  2. Questions with answers on the gospel.
  3. Fragments of the book of Isobokht, metropolitan of Persia, on the Hexameron.
  4. Capita distincta of the book of the questions of St. Peter on the sacraments.
  5. Extracts from the book of Mar Abdisho (Joseph Hazzaya)
  6. Treatise on the stars, extracted from the book of Ishobarnoun, who lived in the desert.
  7. Abridgement of the explanation of the offices of the church, by Ebedjesus of Nisibis.

28x18cms, 32 quires of 10 folios. Written in 1698 at Alqosh. 

25. "Book of the archaeology or history of the temporal world composed by St. John bar Penkayé."  The work is divided into two sections, the first of 9 chapters, the second of six. They cover the hexameron, the flood, history of the chosen people, the inspired books, their use, the doctrine they contain, etc; the error of the gentiles, the trinity, the incarnation, the redemption, etc.  The last two chapters cover history; the apostles, the persecution of the church under Sapor, Constantine, the Persian and Roman kings, the council of Ephesus, the end of the Persian kingdom, the Arab kings.  It ends with events in year 67 of the Arabs (686 AD), the era at which the author lived.

30x30cms, 17 quires of 10 folios.  Written in 1882.  Copied from an ms in the Chaldean patriarchate in Mosul.

26. "Book of scholia, by the doctor Theodore, from the land of Kaskar."  Copied from the ms at Seert (cod. 23) in 1884 by Salomon Adamo.

27. "Explanation of the gospel of John, by Theodore the interpreter."  Written in 1704 at Alqosh.

28. "Explanations of the psalms of David."  Unknown author, different from the text in cod. 20.   Written in 1709. 

29. "Book of the garden of delights, composed by the interpreter of the Turks." Commentary on all the scripture readings used on Sundays, feasts and commemorations.  Copied from ms. Seert 28, and is complete while the original has lost some folios.  The 'interpreter of the Turks' belongs to the 13th century since he quotes Sabriso bar Paulos, who lived at the start of the 13th century; and he is quoted by Ebedjesu of Nisibis who died  in 1318.

30. "Book of the storehouse of mysteries composed by Barhebraeus."  Commentaries on the Old and New Testaments.  Many partial publications (R. Duval, Litt. Syr., 2nd ed. p.80-81). Written in 1711 at Alqosh.

31. First book of the "Metrical discourses of Narsai". Contains 27 memre; most are exegetical homilies and interpretations of bits of scripture. 30x21cms, 30 quires of 10 folios. Written in 1879 at Rabban Hormizd by the priest Nicolas.

32. Second book of the same work. 42 memre.  Most of these discourses have been published in 1906 by Fr. Mingana at Mosul. 30x21cms, 38 quires of 10 folios. Written in 1898 by R. Paulos Djadan at Notre Dame des Semences.

33. "Explanation of the apocalypse of St. John, composed by John Stephen, Jesuit, translated from Latin into Arabic by Peter, priest, son of John of Aleppo, and translated from Arabic into Syriac by the priest Saumo of Pios."  Written in 1796. 

34.  "Poem of the priest Isaac Sbednaya on providence, from the beginning until now." Written in 1888.

35. ....

Unfortunately I never did more than this. 


Addai Scher, Notice sur les manuscrits syriaques conservés dans la bibliothèque du couvent des Chaldéens de Notre-Dame-des-Semences, Journal Asiatique  Sér. 10: 8, 9 (1906).  This may be found online at

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.

This page has been online since 15th July 2006

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