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The Chronicle of Arbela (1907).  Preface to the online text


The supposed 6th century Chronicle of Arbela was first published by Alphonse Mingana in 1907.  But soon after many doubts were raised as to whether it was not, in fact, a forgery by Mingana himself.  The Bryn Mawr Classical Review article on an Italian translation summarises the problems:

Mingana had published the Chronicle as the work of a sixth-century writer named Meshih‚-zkh‚ ("Christ has conquered"), a lost work known otherwise only from a thirteenth century catalogue of Syriac ecclesiastical works. In 1941, the great French scholar J.-M. Vostť disclosed that Mingana had actually persuaded a local scribe to insert the name Meshih‚-zkh‚ into his copy of the text. Subsequent to this, Julius Assfalg examined the only known manuscript -- then labelled Ms. Berl. Or. 3126 -- and noticed that not only did Mingana's text not always correspond to the manuscript -- including one page for which there was no manuscript text at all -- but the script of the manuscript, albeit in Estrangelo, an early Syriac script, clearly indicated that this manuscript was a modern copy, and not one from the tenth-century as Mingana had claimed. At nearly the same time, J.-M. Fiey went so far as to pronounce the text to be a complete fabrication on the part of its editor, noting that the authenticity of earlier editions of Syriac texts prepared by Mingana had already been brought into question by other scholars. Sebastian Brock has since proved that the work cannot be a forgery, but lingering doubts from these earlier studies still cast a dark cloud over the reputation of this Chronicle. Thus, until very recently, consensus among Syriac scholars was that the work is almost totally unreliable, although scholars of Jewish and Sasanian history and religion generally held the text in somewhat higher regard. Its most recent editor, Peter Kawerau, however, argued in his introduction that there is more historically reliable data in the Chronicle of Arbela than had been previously recognized.

Richard Burgess wrote in the LT-ANTIQ list:

The two standard treatments of the 'forgery' argument are Assfalg, Julius, 'Zur Textuberlieferung der Chronik von Arbela. Beobachtungen zu Ms. or. fol. 3126'. Oriens Christianus 50 (1966): 19-36, and Fiey, J.-M., 'Auteur et date de la Chronique d'Arbeles'. L'Orient Syrien 12 (1967): 265-302. Two recent supporters of the antiquity of the work are Brock, Sebastian, 'Syriac Historical Writing: A Survey of the Main Sources'. Journal of the Iraqi Academy Syriac Corporation 5 (1979/80): 1-30 (reprinted in Studies in Syriac Christianity. History, Literature and Theology. Aldershot, Hampshire, 1992. Paper I) and Schrier, Omert J., 'Syriac Evidence for the Roman-Persian War of 421-422'. GRBS 33 (1992): 75-86.  My own studies of this work support the argument that it was written in antiquity from a variety of sources (including at least one local document from Arbela) and is not a modern concoction.

I began to translate the French translation provided by Mingana in 2003, but never got further than chapter 4.  Since I don't wish to see this effort wasted, I have uploaded it here.  The uncorrected French text is also added, in case I ever do more.

While looking for the date of the text, I found online an English translation by Timothy Kroll for CSCO 468 (1985), although it may disappear, I suspect.

Roger Pearse
Ipswich
8th December 2006


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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2006. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.


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