Cataloguing LPL’s (not only) Greek manuscripts

Hebrew annotation to MS 1214
Hebrew annotation in the Octateuch MS 1214

For the last ten years Lambeth Palace Library and the Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway, have been engaged in a fruitful collaborative partnership. Lambeth has been pleased to welcome students to annual Greek Palaeography workshops using the collection of fifty-three Greek manuscripts acquired during the four centuries since the Library’s foundation. This palaeographical work led to an exhibition of some jewels of the collection for the 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies in London in August 2006 and the production of the first complete inventory of the collection. Now, thanks to a very generous grant from the A.G. Leventis Foundation, work has started on a detailed analytical catalogue. According to Dr Christopher Wright, one of the research team, the project has made discoveries that cast light on the diversity of cultural communities and interactions across linguistic and religious boundaries in the Byzantine Empire, where most of these codices were produced.

Dr Israel Sandman has assisted the project team by examining Hebrew annotations in the Octateuch MS 1214, which was copied in 1103 for the Byzantine governor of Cyprus by a scribe named John Koulix, who described himself in his colophon as a foreigner and whose surname may indicate that he was of Russian origin. It has been found that most of the Hebrew annotations mark the beginnings of the Scriptural passages read in sequence in synagogues on the Sabbath through the course of the year. Palaeographical analysis suggests that the notes were added by members of the Jewish community in the Byzantine world, probably in the 15th century. Thus it seems that this manuscript, though originally produced for a Greek Orthodox imperial official, later passed into Jewish liturgical use. Such use was compatible with Jewish law, Greek being the one permitted alternative to Hebrew for the Torah reading.

Recently further cross-cultural connections have come to light in MS 1179, a Gospel book probably produced in the 11th century. The sequence numbers of its quires have been identified as Armenian numerals, indicating that the codex was bound by an Armenian, either originally or in some later rebinding. This element of the manuscript’s history may also be reflected in annotations which have been added in the margins at various times, including prayers for the protection of the individuals who wrote the notes and for the souls of others. These are written in Greek, but the standard of language is generally very poor, sometimes to the point of incomprehensibility, which may indicate that those who wrote them were not native speakers, while two of those commemorated appear to bear specifically Armenian names. The use of the Gospels in Greek suggests that the owners of the codex did not live in the Armenian lands but in the migrant communities to be found in many places across the Byzantine Empire. Such communities were an important presence on both sides of the Sea of Marmara, which may help to explain the manuscript’s eventual acquisition by the Greek monastery of the Holy Trinity on the island of Chalke in that sea, where it was purchased in 1800/1.

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