Texts for Maronite History

The Study of Texts for Maronite History

Several times in my researches, I have come across a very interesting fact: the resources available to the student of Maronite history are quite poor. Not only have very many sources been completely lost (many being destroyed by Latin authorities), but those which are available today are often miscopied or mistranslated.

I have met this observation on several occasions, and I think it is about time to start collecting those notices. Posting this on the internet has the advantage that others may know of more examples, and may advise me; and also, as I come across more, I can add them to this post.

Recently, I picked up once more Fr Paul Sfeir’s book Les ermites dans l’église Maronite, 1986. Unfortunately, being published in a limited edition by USEK, and only in French, it soon became unavailable.

The very first chapter of his book is titled “Dwayhi’s Annals: a critical study of the sources.” Fr Sfeir wrote “Dūwaīhī.” I will adopt the more straightforward “Dwayhi,” which corresponds to how the name is pronounced today.

He states that Dwayhi travelled among Maronite churches from 1668 to 670, reading materials relevant to the history of the Maronite Church. These have often disappeared. They included manuscript copies of the Holy Gospels, missals, “rituals” (books of ritual), lectionaries, and what he calls “large lectionaries.” In these, there were often annotations and margin notes which provided information (3). This was, in those days, a standard practice. It was done because those large books were retained, often for many generations, and used over the years. Placing notices of recent events in those books was a way of ensuring that the information was kept while that book was consulted.

Now, Sfeir notes that Dwayhi’s style, as he was collecting the materials, was not to alter or abridge what he found, even though he knew that there were many repetitions or trivial matters included (6). His careful researches on hermits – which is what Sfeir was studying – were included in his Annals. Sfeir lists the available manuscripts, and their range of contents, so that scholars know the basis of his own work (8-12). He selects from all these, Vat. syr. 215 as the best. This is a shorthand way of referring to number 215 in the Vatican Syriac collection. I have been to the Vatican Library, and been allowed to study some of these ancient Syriac volumes. It is an unforgettable and humbling experience to follow, however timidly, in the footsteps of great scholars.

Sfeir now makes the critical point: this text, VS 215, as we shall call it, is the corrected edition made by Dwayhi himself, as the one to be printed, but “unfortunately, it was not this text which was finally published” (13). As Sfeir sadly notes, when Rashid Shartuni came to publish a text of Dwayhi’s Annals, in 1890, he did not restrict himself to the best sources, and there was no guarantee of his critical authenticity (13). Shartouni stated that his aim had been not to give a correct impression of what Dwayhi had said, but to provide a history of the “Maronite nation,” and hence had selected only parts from Dwayhi, and added to it materials from other sources (13). This is, of course, outrageous: if he wanted to do that, he should have published the book under his name, quoting from each separate source. Even worse, before the text had got to Shartouni, the copyist, Maroun Ashqar had made changes to Dwayhi’s text. Monsignor Dib states that Shartuni retouched the text, adding to it a “literary allure and sometimes denaturing the author’s thought.” Monsignor Raggi went even further in deploring Shartuni’s efforts (13).

The comedy continued, the 1951 edition of the annals by Tautel, under the name Tarikh al-Azminat (History of the Times), did not go back to the original source, but used later incorrect editions (13-14). Further, the tendency of copyists to simply substitute their own ideas for those of the originals which they falsely claim to be copying was known to both Dwayhi himself, and to Jerome Dandini (14-15). Now, they were not writing specifically about Dwayhi’s Annals, but the point is that the unreliability of copyists, and the need to go to the author’s own work, was well known – and ignored.

After a careful survey of the available texts, Sfeir concludes that VS 215 escaped the notice of Assmani, and hence of those who relied upon him, because it made its way to the Vatican library only after his death (21). Dwayhi had sent it to Rome to be printed, but the Congregation to whom it had been given, did not think it worthwhile (21). It was sent to the Vatican Library between 1768 when Assemani died, and 1797 when it was noted as being in that library (21-22). Sfeir carefully sets out the history of the text, and why he believes it was written by Dwayhi himself (23-31). This is sobering, but at least we know the background to Sfeir’s study on the Maronite hermits, as revealed by Patriarch Dwayhi. That shall follow in a future post.

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