Saturday, July 13, 2024
Text Size

The Book of the Bee - Preface





OF the author of 'the Book of the Bee,' the bishop Shel or Solomon, but very little is known. He was a native of Khilu>t or Akhlu>t (in Armenia, at the western end of lake V), and by religious profession a Nestorian. He became metropolitan bishop of al-Basra (in al-`Iru>k, on the right bank of the united streams of the Tigris and Euphrates) about A.D. 1222, in which year he was present at the consecration of the catholicus or Nestorian patriarch Sabr-h (Hope-in-Jesus) (see Assem Bibl. Orient., t. ii, p. 453, no. 75; Bar-hebraeus, Chron. Eccl., t. ii, p. 371). In the Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Works compiled by `Eb-yh or `Abd-h (the-Servant-of-Jesus) he is stated to have written, besides 'the Bee,' a treatise on the figure of the heavens and the earth, and sundry short discourses and prayers (see Assem Bibl. Orient., t. iii, pt. i, p. 309, where there is a lengthy analysis of the contents of 'the Bee'). A Latin translation of 'the Bee' by Dr. J. M. Schoenfelder appeared at Bamberg in 1866; it is based upon the Munich MS. only, and is faulty in many places.

The text of 'the Bee,' as contained in this volume, is edited from four MSS., indicated respectively by the letters A, B, C and D.

The MS. A belongs to the Library of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. It is dated A.Gr. 1880 = A.D. 1569, and consists of 188 paper leaves, measuring about 8 in. by 5. Each page is occupied by one column of writing, generally containing 25 lines. This MS. is so stained and damaged by water in parts that some of the writing is illegible. The quires are twenty-one in number and, excepting the last two, are signed with letters. Leaves are wanting after folios 6, 21,49, 125, 166 and 172; and in several pages there are lacunae of one, two and more lines. The volume is written in a good Nestorian hand, with numerous vowel-points. Originally it was the property of the priest Ward son of the deacon Moses, who was prior of the convent of M Ezekiel. Later on, it belonged to one M John of Enzelli (near Resht, on the south shore of the Caspian Sea). In the year A.Gr. 1916 = A.D. 1605 it was bound by a person whose name has been erased. The Book of the Bee occupies foll. 26 a to 92 b, and the colophon runs: 'By the help of our Lord and our God, this Book of the Bee was completed on the 16th day of the month of Tammuz, on the Saturday that ushers in the Sunday which is called Nd, in the year 1880 of the blessed Greeks, by the hands of the sinful servant the faulty Elias. Amen.'

The MS. B is on paper, and is numbered Add. 25,875 in the British Museum. See Wright's Catal., p. 1064, no. dccccxxii, ff. 81 b-158 a. It is written in a good Nestorian hand, with numerous vowel-points, etc., and is dated A.Gr. 2020 = A.D. 1709. The colophon runs:--

'It was finished in the year 2020 of the Greeks, on Friday the 22nd of the blessed month Tamm, by the wretched sinner, the deacon Hof Alkh. I entreat you to pray for him that perchance he may obtain mercy with those upon whom mercy is freely shewn in the day of judgment, Amen. And to Jah be the glory, Amen.

'The illustrious priest and pure verger, the priest Joseph, the son of the late deacon Hormizd of Hdaphn took pains and was careful to have this book written: may Christ make his portion in the kingdom of heaven! Amen. He had it written for the holy church called after the name of our Lady Mary the pure and virgin mother, which is in the blessed and happy village of Hdaphn in the district of `Am. From now and henceforth this book remains the property of the (above-) mentioned church, and no man shall have power over it to carry it off for any reprehensible cause of theft or robbery, or to give it away without the consent of its owners, or to abstract it and not to return it to its place. Whosoever shall do this, he shall be banned and cursed and execrated by the word of our Lord; and all corporeal and incorporeal beings shall say "Yea and Amen."'

From the manner in which B ends, it would seem either that the MS. from which it was copied was imperfect, or that the scribe Homitted to transcribe the last leaf of the MS. before him, probably because it contained views on man's future state which did not coincide with his own.

The MS. C, belonging to the Royal Library at Munich, consists of 146 paper leaves, measuring about 12 1/8 in. by 8. There are two columns, of twenty-four lines each, to a page; the right-hand column is Syriac, the left Kshor Arabic in Syriac characters. The MS. is beautifully written in a fine Nestorian hand, and vowels and diacritical points have been added abundantly. The headings of the chapters are in Estrangel The last two or three leaves have been torn out, and on fol. 147 a there are eighteen lines of Kshin another hand, which contain the equivalent in Arabic of B, fol. 157 a, col. 2, lines 10 to 24.

On the fly-leaf are five lines of Arabic, which run:--

'This book is the property of the church of M Cyriacus the Martyr at Batne. The deacon Peter bar Saumhas purchased it for the church with its own money, and therefore it has become the lawful property of the church. Whosoever taketh it away without the consent of the directors of the church, committeth sin and is bound to restore it. This was on the 17th of the month of h in the year of our Lord 1839, in the protected city of Mosul.'

Dr. Schoenfelder in the preface to his translation, p. ii, assigns this MS. to the fourteenth century ('ad saeculum decimum quartum procul dubio pertinet'). From this view, however, I differ for the following reasons. The MS. B, dated A.Gr. 2020 = A.D. 1709, is written upon water-lined paper, having for water-mark upon each leaf three crescents of different sizes, and a sign like a V:--

The paper is smooth and thick. The Munich MS. C is written upon rather rougher paper, but with the same water-mark exactly, only the three crescents are on one leaf, and the V-shaped mark upon that next to it. Therefore Dr. E. Maunde Thompson, keeper of the MSS. in the British Museum, who has kindly given me the benefit of his great experience in these matters, considers that the paper on which these two MSS. are written was made at the same manufactory and about the same time. Add to this that the writing of both MSS. is almost identical, and that the signatures of the quires and the style of ornamentation is the same, and it will be evident that the Munich MS. belongs rather to the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century than to the fourteenth.

The MS. D, belonging to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, consists of 405 paper leaves, measuring 8 5/8 in. by 6. There is one column of twenty-one lines, in Kshi or Arabic in Syriac characters, to each page. The MS. is written in a fine bold hand, the headings of the chapters, names, and diacritical points being in red. It is dated Friday the 28th day of , A.Gr. 1895 = A.D. 1584, and was transcribed by Peter, the son of Jacob.

The Arabic version of 'the Bee' contained in this MS. borders at times on a very loose paraphrase of the work. The writer frequently repeats himself, and occasionally translates the same sentence twice, though in different words, as if to make sure that he has given what he considers to be the sense of the Syriac. He adds paragraphs which have no equivalents in the three Syriac copies of 'the Bee' to which I have had access, and he quotes largely from the Old and New Testaments in support of the opinions of Solomon of Basrah. The order of the chapters is different, and the headings of the different sections into which the chapters are divided will be found in the selections from the Arabic versions of 'the Bee'. This MS. is of the utmost importance for the study of 'the Bee,' as it contains the last chapter in a perfect and complete state; which is unfortunately not the case either with the bilingual Munich MS. or the copy in Paris.

Assemsays in the Bibl. Orient., t. iii, pt. i, p. 310, note 4, that there are two codices of 'the Bee' in the Vatican Library, and he has described them in his great work--MSS. Codicum Bibliothecae Apostol. Vatic. Catalogus, t. iii, nos. clxxvi and clxxvii. The latter is incomplete, containing only forty chapters (see Bibl. Orient., t. ii, p. 488, no. ix); but the former is complete (see Bibl. Orient., t. i, p. 576, no. xvii). It was finished, according to a note at the end, on Wednesday, 14th of Shebu>t in the year of Alexander, the son of Nectanebus, 1187, which Assemcorrects into 1787 = A.D. 1476. The name of the scribe was Gabriel, and he wrote it for the 'priest John, son of the priest Jonah' (Yaun), living at the village of ### in the district of Baz, (see Hoffmann, Ausze aus syr. Akten pers. Martyrer, pp. 204-5). At a subsequent time it belonged to the church of M Cyriacus in the village of Sekh, in the district of Barwar, (see Hoffmann, op. cit., pp. 193, 204).

My translation aims at being literal, and will, I hope, be found more correct in some places than that of Dr. Schoenfelder. I have added brief notes only where it seemed absolutely necessary. A few Syriac words, which are either wanting or not sufficiently explained in Castell-Michaelis's Lexicon, have been collected in a 'Glossary,' on the plan of that in Wright's Kalilah and Dimnah. The Index will probably be useful to the English reader. {The glossary and index are not included in this version.}

My thanks are due to Mr. E. B. Nicholson and Dr. A. Neubauer of the Bodleian Library, to the authorities of the Royal Library at Munich, and to the late W. S. W. Vaux, Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, for the loan of the MSS. of 'the Bee' preserved in their respective collections. Professor Wright has edited the extracts from the Arabic versions of 'the Bee,' and read a proof of each sheet of the whole book from first to last, besides giving me much general help and guidance in the course of my work. I dedicate this book to him as a mark of gratitude for a series of kindnesses shewn to me during the past nine years.


October 23, 1886.


Keep this website alive, a Donation will be highly appreciated

Please consider a donation supporting our efforts.


United States 59.5%United States
Japan 10%Japan
Russian Federation 5.6%Russian Federation
Canada 4.7%Canada
United Kingdom 4.1%United Kingdom
Australia 3.1%Australia
Republic Of Moldova 2%Republic Of Moldova
China 1.3%China
Netherlands 1.1%Netherlands
France 0.9%France

Today: 1
Yesterday: 15
This Week: 77
Last Week: 198
This Month: 275
Last Month: 1012
Total: 460671

Please report broken links to the This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This is copyrighted information presented under the Fair Use Doctrine of the United States Copyright Act (section 107 of title 17) which states: 'the fair use of a copyrighted work...for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.' In practice the courts have decided that anything which does not financially harm the copyright holder is fair use

 This is a Non-Commercial Web page, © 1998-2011 L.C.Geerts The Netherlands all rights reserved.

It is strictly forbidden to publish or copy anything of my book without permission of the author, permission is granted for the recourses, for personal use only.

Privacy Statement