Handwritten Psalter in Five Languages

Vatican manuscript Barberini or. 2 is a paper manuscript in the Vatican Library containing the book of Psalms in the five languages used in the Monophysite or Oriental churches: Ethiopic (Ge’ez), Syriac, Coptic (Bohairic), Arabic, and Armenian.

Alin Suciu writes:

This pentaglot Psalter has a fascinating history. The manuscript was produced, most likely in the 14th century CE, in one of the monasteries of the Wadi el-Natrun in the Egyptian desert. A note in Arabic at the end of the manuscript indicates that it was repaired in the year 1626 CE* in the Monastery of St. Macarius in the Wadi el-Natrun. Just a few years later, in 1634-1635, this large codex was acquired in the same locale at the request of the French scholar Nicolas de Peiresc (1580-1637) by Fr. Agathange de Vendôme, who was later martyred while doing missionary work in Gondar, Ethiopia. Fr. Agathange entrusted the manuscript to a certain Captain Baile to carry it to France. However, Baile’s ship was attacked on the Mediterranean by pirates, who robbed all its possessions, including the valuable Psalter. After making diligent inquiries, de Peiresc found out that the manuscript ended up in the collection of a Pasha from Tripoli, but he died before he was able to recuperate it. The Psalter was later purchased by the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Jean-Paul Lascaris de Castellar, who donated it to the library of Cardinal Barberini, from which it passed to the Vatican Library.

Another interesting detail: as no one had access to the lost manuscript anymore and Fr. Agathange mistakenly described its content as a Psalter written in six languages instead of five, seventeenth-century scholars speculated that it was part of Origen’s Hexapla. Therefore, de Peiresc desperately tried to recover it.

* Page 234v gives the Coptic date Monday 1st of Koiahk 1343 AM (Anno Martyrum) which is Monday Nov 30, 1626 AD (Gregorian)

See photos of the complete manuscript in the Vatican Library: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Barb.or.2

Commenter Essam Tony writes:

I think this book looks like the Lectionary (Book of Readings) for Bright Saturday in the Coptic Rite. Following the 150 psalms, It has Psalm 151 starting p. 196v. After Psalm 151, It continues with other praises [i.e. the Odes – ed.]. The Praise of Moses from the Book of Exodus (which forms the First Canticle of the Coptic Midnight Praise) starts on p. 197v. The Praise of Anna mother of Samuel follows starts p. 199v. The Praise of Isaiah starts p. 201r, The Praise of Habakkuk starts p. 202r. The Second Praise of Moses starts p. 204v. The Prayer of Azariah starts p. 210r. The Prayer of the Virgin Mary from the Gospel of Luke starts p. 217v. The Praise of the Angels from the Book of the Prayers of the Hours in the Coptic rites starts p. 218v. The Orthodox Creed starts p. 221r. The Prayer of Jonah starts p. 222r. The Prayer of Simeon the Elder (Luke 2:29-32) starts on p. 224r. The Prayer of Manasseh the King is on p. 225v. Starting Page 225r-227r, there is a table of a Synaxis, which gives a day-by-day list of Commemoration of Saints and other Church events. It appears to belong to different Book. It is truncated. The pages should start at 227r and work backwards. Thus the last page is 225r. The last preserved page of this Synaxis Table (Page 225r) starts with the 15th Day of third Coptic Month (Paopi), which is the Commemoration of St Menes the fourth Century Martyr of Thebes. Page 225r ends with the 8th Day of the Fourth Coptic Month (Koiahk). The Pages 227v – 234r should be also read backwards. It starts at Page 234r, which gives a summary of the Psalms which it explains that it is a summary of the Teachings of Athanasius of Alexandria (Apparently meaning The Letter of St Athanasius to Marcellinus) as well as the teachings of other fathers of the Church. It also describes the division of the Psalms into divisions and relates them to other Old Testament Books. A description of the Coptic Book of the Hours starts on p. 228r and works (backwards) to p. 227v. It gives which Psalms should be read in each hour. This is followed by a short Homily of St Gregory of Nazianzus on Page 227v. Page 235r is bound upside-down.


Fr Silouan Thompson

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