Libmonster ID: SE-414

(Arabic St. Petersburg Facial Psalter) from the collection of the Institute of Historical Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (St. Petersburg branch). Podg. Val. V. Polosin, N. I. Serikov, S. A. Frantsuzov; under the general editorship of N. I. Serikov. Saint-Petersburg-Voronezh: Kvarta Publ., 2005, 216 p. ("Mirabilia" series)*

Studies of the history and culture of the peoples of the Christian East were once one of the leading areas of Russian science. It is enough to recall such names of scientists of the late XIX-early XX centuries as V. R. Rosen, V. V. Bolotov, B. A. Turaev, N. A. Marr, and I. Y. Krachkovsky. After a period of decline that lasted almost the entire twentieth century, the study of Middle Eastern Christianity in the last 10 to 15 years is experiencing a new upsurge in Russia. The number of publications devoted to the Christian cultures of the East has significantly increased. One of the most recent examples of this kind is a peer-reviewed publication. Made on a brilliant printing level, this publication is accompanied by a separate volume of detailed comments compiled by well-known Arabists N. V. Polosin, N. I. Serikov and S. A. Frantsuzov, who have long been fruitfully engaged in the Christian East. The interest of Russian science and society in Eastern Christian subjects is quite understandable. Orthodox and other Christian cultures of the Syro-Palestinian region are part of the Byzantine civilization to which we belong. Knowing it is also important for our own self-identification. Moreover, the history of Christian Arabs has been intertwined with Russian history more than once, including in the era when the now reprinted Arabic Psalter was written.

This manuscript was created in the autumn of 1648 in the entourage of the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Makariy ibn az-Zaim (reigned in 1647-1672), known for his two-time visit to Russia during the reign of Alexey Mikhailovich. The copyist and illustrator of the book was Yusuf al-Musawwir, a prominent translator, artist and calligrapher of his time, a major figure in the so-called Melkite Renaissance (Nahda) - a cultural upsurge in the Orthodox Arab environment of the XVII century. According to the publishers, the Psalter was presented to Patriarch Macarius as a collective gift from his closest associates on the anniversary of Macarius ' accession to the throne. This assumption follows from the analysis of the colophon of the manuscript, which was written in a handwriting very different from the main text and apparently belonged to the famous Paul of Aleppo, the son of Patriarch Macarius and the author of the description of his journey to Russia (p.18-20; here and further links to the pages of the Appendix).

While I agree with the identification of Paul's handwriting, I would like to express doubt that the" addressee " of the manuscript was the Patriarch, since there is no direct indication of this. It is much more natural to assume that the first owner of the book should have been its customer, the person who gave money for the production of the manuscript. His name is given in the colophon: "Haji Michael, son of Huri Yusuf, surnamed Ibn al-Mubayid "(p. 18). Unfortunately, apart from the name, we don't know anything about this person. The further fate of the manuscript is also unknown, up to the moment when it got into the collection of the French diplomat J. R. R. Tolkien. - B. Rousseau (1780-1831), who, in turn, in two parts, in 1819 and 1825, sold his collection to the Russian


* A facsimile of the Arabic St. Petersburg front Psalter was issued at the expense of the Mostgeocenter financial and Construction company and prepared by employees of the Institute of Internal Affairs of the Russian Academy of Sciences and The Henry Wellcome Trust, Great Britain.

page 170


to the government. The authors of the comments analyze in detail the history of the acquisition of the J.-B. Rousseau collection (pp. 7-12), which became the basis of the library of the newly created Asian Museum in St. Petersburg. With involuntary envy, one can read about the amounts allocated for the purchase of manuscripts from the state treasury, which indicate the scale of funding for Russian humanities in the XIX century. The French government was unable to raise such funds, and that was the only reason why Rousseau's collection came to Russia. In this regard, the leading French orientalist S. de Sacy wrote to the Russian Minister of Public Education, Prince A. N. Golitsin: "I see with some regret that this collection will pass us by, but... I am quite satisfied that it will fall into your hands " (p. 10).

One of the most interesting sections of the "Appendix" is devoted to the personality of Yusuf al-Musawwir and his era - the "Arab Orthodox Renaissance" (pp. 21-29). The authors describe the cultural and linguistic history of Syro-Palestinian Orthodoxy in the Middle Ages, the dynamics of interaction between Greek and Arabic languages in the local Christian environment. After the Arab conquest, the Melkites of the Middle East were relatively isolated from the area of the Greek-Byzantine culture, and by the IX-X centuries they had switched to Arabic in everyday life and writing (along with the remaining enclaves of the Syriac language). During these centuries, the Christian spiritual and literary heritage was intensively translated into Arabic. In the X-XI centuries, the Arabic-speaking Orthodox culture was already quite self-sufficient, as evidenced by its prosperity in Antioch, which was returned to Byzantine rule in 969-1084. The era of the Crusades and Mamluk rule once again weakened the ties of the Middle Eastern Melkites with Byzantium, although we should not exaggerate the extent of this isolation. The Sinai Monastery in the 13th and 15th centuries was a meeting place for the cultures of the entire Orthodox world, and the hierarchs of Jerusalem and Antioch in the 14th century. they actively participated in Byzantine church and social life.

However, with the inclusion of the Arab East in the Ottoman Empire, the ties of the Orthodox peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean were strengthened many times. It is in this situation that the "Arab Orthodox Revival" begins, which the authors interpret as "the reaction of the Arabic-speaking flock of the Patriarchate of Antioch" to their "cultural and linguistic isolation" (p.21). The Melkite intellectuals were undoubtedly aware of a certain marginality of the Arab Orthodox culture in relation to the culture of their Balkan co-religionists and sought to narrow this gap and integrate the Church of Antioch into the pan-Orthodox cultural space. This is connected with the efforts of Arab church leaders of the 17th century to unify worship according to Greek models (somewhat similar to the reform of Patriarch Nikon), mass translations and translations into Arabic from Greek post-Byzantine literature. Yusuf al-Musawwir, a translator, book scribe, and creator of icons and miniatures, played a prominent role in this cultural movement.

The authors pay special attention to Yusuf's pictorial heritage, his creative style (p. 25-28), as well as to the analysis of 32 miniatures decorating the Psalter (p.30-56). It should be noted that the study of the Christian East from an art historical perspective is now very popular in the world science, but this direction is poorly developed in Russian Oriental studies. Therefore, the comments on the miniatures of Yusuf al-Musawwir presented in the book are an important addition to the small circle of works in Russian about the art of Christian Arabs. Most of the miniatures illustrate Old Testament and partly Evangelical subjects in a more or less standard way. At the same time, publishers note the presence of some specific Middle Eastern flavor on the images, for example, a lute (od) of a characteristic Arabic type in the hands of the psalmist David. The most interesting compositions relate to the early Byzantine theme - here we can catch some echoes of the perception of Orthodox Arabs of their own church history.

The authors of the comments repeatedly note the desire of Nahda figures to emphasize the Middle Eastern and Antiochian component in the Christian Church and thereby" bring " the history of Christianity closer to their flock. These trends are reflected in Yusuf's miniatures "John of Damascus and the Virgin" (p. 190) and "Christ with the Saints" (p.196), where famous theologians and ascetics of the Christian East are depicted surrounded by Christ. Unfortunately, an error has crept into the accompanying text for this thumbnail. On the reproduction (p. 196) and in the title of the description (p. 43), one of the characters is named John of Damascus, and in the commentary to the miniature (p.45 and 47), he also appears as John Chrysostom (the latter attribution is correct).

page 171


A special place in the book is given to the very content of the published manuscript - the role of the Psalter in the history of Christian culture, the origin of the psalms, and their place in Christian worship (pp. 57-67). In the context of the study of Middle Eastern Christianity, the chapter "The Psalter among Christian Arabs" (pp. 68-74) is very significant, where the problem of the existence of pre-Islamic Arabic translations of the Holy Scriptures is analyzed, and the first documented attempts to translate the Psalter into Arabic in the 9th century are reconstructed. The authors conclude that it is groundless to search for some "original" text of the Arabic Psalter. At an early stage (IX-XII centuries), it existed in the form of a set of subscripts that were not related to each other textually. It was only in the first half of the eleventh century that deacon Abdallah ibn al-Fadl in Antioch prepared a complete Arabic translation of the Holy Scriptures, which for many centuries became canonical in the Orthodox (and not only) Arab environment. The book describes several copies of the Arabic Psalter translated by Abdallah ibn al-Fadla from the St. Petersburg collection.Russian Academy of Sciences, including printed publications of the XVIII-XIX centuries, made in Haleb, London and Jerusalem.

The appendices to the commentary deal with the structure of the Psalter, the numbering of psalms, textual problems, and compare various versions of the Psalter that existed in the Arabic environment (pp. 75-83).

The text of the comments (with the exception of the textual part) is duplicated in English (p. 109-166). The book is completed with a bibliography, indexes, and color illustrations (pp. 189-213): reproductions of Yusuf al-Musauvir's miniatures, title pages of Arabic printed Psalters from the collection of the SPbF IB RAS, and a number of other materials.

Despite the fact that the publication of comments on the Arabic Psalter is an undoubted success of the author's team, I would like to make a number of critical comments on the work. Although we do not have much written about the history and culture of Orthodox Arabs, especially specifically about the personality of Yusuf al-Musawwir, the authors, unfortunately, overlooked one publication dedicated to the work of this man. Forty years ago, A. I. Mikhailova published an article entitled " The Facial Arabic manuscript of the translation of the Greek Chronograph of the XVII century "(Palestinian collection. Issue 15 (78). M.-L. 1966. pp. 201-207), which deals with an illustrated translation of the chronicle of Matthew Kigala, made with the participation of the same Yusuf al-Musauvir. The author of the article claims that the miniatures of this manuscript, which belong to the late period of Yusuf's creative work, are "noticeably inferior in terms of execution skill" to his earlier work, presented in another manuscript of the same collection of the INA of the USSR Academy of Sciences (the current Institute of Fine Arts of the Russian Academy of Sciences). Presumably, this meant the Psalter currently published, although A. I. Mikhailova, probably for censorship reasons, did not specify the name of this "other manuscript". In any case, it would be interesting to compare the style of Yusuf's work presented in two groups of miniatures separated by a gap of more than a decade and a half.

There are some comments about the text of the comments. Describing the difficult situation of Christians under Muslim rule, the authors write: "Moreover, Christian communities were charged with the maintenance of church buildings" (p. 23). It would be strange if the maintenance of the temples were entrusted to someone else. On the contrary, the degree of internal autonomy enjoyed by the Dhimmis under Sharia law (including the autonomous ecclesiastical economy) was an unmistakable boon for them. And any attempt by the state to restrict this autonomy, as was the case in the Ottoman Empire of the XIX century, attempts, for example, to assign state salaries to priests, caused stubborn opposition from the Christian clergy.

It seems that it is not entirely correct to include Yusuf al-Musauvir, as well as Patriarch Makariy al-Zayim, in the" circle of intellectuals " belonging to the Lavra of St. John the Baptist. Savva (p. 21). In general, the Lavra has only an indirect relation to the Arabic Nahda. This is the place where Meletius Karama, the future initiator of the "Melkite revival" and teacher of Makariy al-Zaim, got acquainted with Greek culture, discovered the world and was inspired by the idea of unifying rituals according to the Greek model. After 1636, the Lavra was abandoned and ceased to exist as an independent ecclesiastical and political center, equivalent to Jerusalem and Sinai. True, the patriarchs of Jerusalem paid off the Lavra's debts and repopulated it with monks, but it was already more of an almshouse or a place of exile than an oasis of high culture.

Describing the activities of Catholic missionaries, the authors mention the mass importation to the Middle East of Arabic church books printed in Rome: "It was very far-sighted-

page 172


This was a strategic move in relation to a multilingual society where Turkish, Arabic, Syriac and Greek were co-located. Arabic is becoming the main language of the Christian population of the East" (p. 24). An untrained reader may get the impression that this was the result of the work of Catholic printing houses. In fact, the missionaries were adapting to the pre-existing language situation. Arabic had long since become the dominant language of the Christian East, no later than at the beginning of the fourteenth century, when literary activity in Syriac and Coptic had virtually ceased.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning the attempt to organize Maronite printing in the Arab East. The authors write: "The Maronite printing house that existed in the Kuzhaya monastery in Lebanon from the beginning of the 17th century used the Syriac script. There, in 1610, the first Arabic Psalter in the Middle East was printed" (p. 103, note 278). The popular opinion prevails in the literature that the printing house existed since 1610. However, that edition of the Arabic Psalter on Karshuni in 1610 was the first and last. The printing house no longer functioned (for details, see: S. Walbiner. The Christians of Bilad al-Sham (Syria): Pioneers of Printing in the Arab World. P. 11 // The Beginnings of Printing in the Near and Middle East: Jews, Christians and Muslims. Wiesbaden. 2001).

In my opinion, there is a long overdue need for the appearance of modern fundamental Russian monographs on the history of the Christian East. Until such works are written, specialists are forced to turn either to deeply outdated authors of the XIX century, like A. N. Muravyov or Porfiry Uspensky, or to the works of modern Western researchers, who, for all their merits, are sometimes confessionally biased and perceive the history of Middle Eastern Orthodoxy somewhat incorrectly. It is precisely these views that the book reflects in the phrase that "for the maintenance of church life (of the impoverished Eastern patriarchates. - K. P.) communication with the Papal See has become urgent" (p. 23). In reality, in the post-Crusader era, only the Sinai Monastery received significant financial assistance from the Christian West. In Palestine, relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians were extremely hostile, and the Church of Antioch lay on the periphery of the interests of Latin missionaries. Only since the Counter-Reformation era, especially in the 1620s, when the union was actively promoted in the Arab Orthodox community, did missionaries begin to provide some financial assistance to those hierarchs whom they hoped to persuade to cooperate. Although we do not have specific figures, it is clear from indirect signs that Catholic support was not comparable in scale to the huge sums that came to the Orthodox East from the Danubian principalities, the Moscow Kingdom or the Georgian lands.

There are other minor factual errors in the text, for example: the establishment of the Greek "xenocracy" in the Church of Antioch did not take place at the end of the 17th century (p. 22), but in 1724.

All these comments do not in any way detract from the merits of the publication. It best demonstrates the high level of Russian science about the Christian East and its potential. Many hundreds of Arabic-Christian manuscripts are kept in Russia, there are highly qualified scientific personnel, and there is an undoubted public interest in Eastern Christian issues. It is particularly gratifying that it was in Russia that sponsors were found who financed the publication of Psalms, and these books themselves are printed at a printing level that is not inferior to foreign analogues. All this gives reason to hope for new achievements of Russian science in the field of studying Middle Eastern Christianity.


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