Important Manuscript Discoveries for the Syro-Roman Law Book : A. Vööbus

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A. VOOBUS, LutheranSchoolof Theology,Chicago

THE first publication of the Syro-Roman Law Book’ created an interest and excitement commensurate with its extraordinary value. This interest and excitement has continued to this day, as witnessed by the still growing number of studies of the Law Book. The exciting phenomena which this document contains have led to unending discussions among scholars who still hold conflicting views regarding both the interpreta- tion of the currents and undercurrents that emerge in this unique document, and their significance for the history of jurisprudence in the Orient. Some scholars have seen in it the impact of Mosaic Law2 retained by the Eastern Christians in their practice of juris- prudence.3 Even the influence of the Codex of Hammurabi has been detected in the many allusions to it in this Law Book.4 Other scholars see in the Law Book an unfolding of an interesting struggle between the law of the state and the legal traditions of the people,5 or perhaps a mixture of the two.6 Some have found this remarkable source to be repre- sentative of the relationships between Roman and Oriental Law, a symbiosis for which this document has been regarded as the best evidence.’ Others see in it the possible portrayal of the Syrian law of Christians of Semitic origin in the valley of the Euphrates and its influence upon Roman law.8 For still others the Law Book fundamentally unfolds

Roman law,9 but is modified by legal peculiarities of provincial origin.10
Any assessment of the document’s contributions has been hampered by the nature of

its transmission; because of the scarcity of sources and the condition of those few which

are at our disposal, our knowledge has been, up to this point, far from satisfactory. Aside from these deficiencies, the texts themselves are beset with errors. Thus, there has always been an urgent need for new sources which would lead researchers out of their present deadlock.

The history of literary culture knows of sources of exceptional importance which have

7E. Carusi, “Sul frammento L.38 del libro di diritto siro-romano,” Bulletino dell’Istituto di Diritto Romano 28 (1915-16): 261 ff.

2 See V. Aptowitzer, Die syrischen RechtsbUcher
und das mosaisch-talmudisches Recht, Sitzungsberichte
der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, vol. 163 romano postclassico,” Christianesimo e diritto romano (Vienna, 1909), p. 5.

1First edited by J. P. N. Land as “Leges saecu- lares,” Anecdota syriaca, vol. 1 (Lugduni Batavorum, 1862), pp. 128 ff.

3f. J. Bossowski, Acta congressus iuridici inter- nationalis Roma 1934, vol. 1 (Rome, 1935), pp. 358 ff.

4 D. H. Miller, “Das syrisch-r6mische Rechtsbuch und Hammurabi,” Wiener Zeitschrift fiir die Kunde des Morgenlandes 19 (1906): 193; cf. also J. Koschaker, Rechtsvergleichende Studien zur Gesetzgebung Hammu- rapis, Konigs von Babylon (Leipzig, 1917), p. 56.

(Milan, 1935), pp. 389 f.
9 C. A. Nallino, “Sul libro siro-romano e sul pre-

10E. Volterra, “Un’ ipotesi intorno all’originale 6L. Mitteis, Reichsrecht und Volksrecht in den greco del libro siro-romano di diritto,” Rendiconti

6stlichen Provinzen des rimischen Kaiserreichs (Leip- zig, 1891).

6 Cf. J. Taubenschlag, Journal of Juristic Papyro- logy 6 (1952): 119.


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8 A. Vismara, “La donazione nuziale nel diritto ebraico e nelle fonti cristiane in relazione al diritto

sunto diritto siriaco,” Studi in onore di Pietro Bonfante, vol. 1 (Milan, 1930), pp. 203 ff. See other studies in his collected works, Raccoltd di scritti editi e inediti IV: Diritto musulmano, diritti orientali cristiani (Rome, 1942).

Linc., no. 8, pt. 8 (1953), p. 23; W. Selb, Zur Bedeu-

tung des syrisch-rbmischen Rechtsbuches (Munich, 1964), p. 260.


been released from oblivion only very reluctantly and slowly. This is the case with the

Syro-Roman Law Book.
To the great disadvantage of progressive research on the Syro-Roman Law Book, new

sources have not emerged. In 1880 the manuscript sources known at that time were edited,” and it was not until 1907 that a new manuscript in the Vatican Library was made available.12 This manuscript was of Nestorian provenience, however, and made research even more complicated. Since 1907 there has been such a dearth of new sources that virtually nothing has come forth which might widen our knowledge of this unique legal record. All of our new knowledge is derived from only two very tiny fragments.

Under these circumstances it is a singular event in the entire history of our first century of research on the Syro-Roman Law Book-indeed, an unbelievable occurrence-that one can announce the discovery of not only one new source but of a whole cycle of new manuscripts. This is a real reward for the tireless search for new manuscript sources in the Syrian Orient.

The hiding place of the first sources was in a priceless document, namely in Ms. Dam.

Patr. 8/11,13 written in the year A.D. 1204.14 It is unique among legislative sources.15 Indeed, this corpus of legislative documents is a very rich mine. It contains the ancient

conciliar acts,16 the heretofore unknown records of the conciliar acts of later centuries,17

and it is supplemented by various kinds of legislative documents of indigenous Syrian, Byzantine and Islamic origin. The records of special interest to us have found their place in the company of such rare documents.

The discovery reveals two sets of law books. The first 18comprises 100 paragraphs; the second 19is a law book which contains 157 paragraphs in all.

While a detailed study of these records must be reserved for a later time, it should be

noted that an edition of these two sources is in preparation20 and will be the basis for

such investigation. However, before the edition is completed, it is necessary and fitting to take a preliminary glimpse at the physiognomy of these new texts. An examination of

the texts immediately shows sources which open up many new vistas. The content as well as the structure of the Syro-Roman Law Book are delineated from a different branch of the document’s textual transmission. As such they take their rightful place in the history of the transmission of the document’s recensions. The most ancient stratum is manifested by the instances in which these texts go hand in hand with the oldest sources rather than with the later recension in the Vatican Library. Moreover, some of the texts reveal an even greater antiquity-there are readings which appear to be still older than those in the oldest known codex. Brevity and conciseness in legal formulations and other related phenomena point in the direction of great antiquity. The fine quality of the transmission of the new sources is beyond doubt. This is particularly exemplified by the way in which

11K. G. Bruns and E. Sachau, Syrisch-rbmisches Rechtsbuch aus dem fuinften Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1880).

12 E. Sachau, Syrische Rechtsbacher, vol. 1 (Berlin, 1907), pp. 4 ff.

13In the collection of manuscripts of the patri- archate of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Damascus.

16A. V66bus, “Discovery of Important Manu- scripts on the Canons of Ecumenical Councils,” Abr- Nahrain 11 (1971): 39 ff.

17 See A. Vo6bus, Syrische Kanonessammlungen: Ein Beitrag zur Quellenkunde, vol. 1, Westsyrische Originalurkunden 1, A (Louvain, 1970), Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Subsidia 35, pp. 5 ff.

18 Fols. 162b-166a.
19 Folg. 166a-192a.
20 The Synodicon in the West Syrian Tradition,

Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Scriptores Syri.

14 See A. Vo6bus, “Neuerschlossene Urkunden syrischer Kirchengeschichte,”

einzigartige Zeitschrift

fiir Kirchengeschichte 78 (1967): 219 ff.
15See A. V66bus, “Emergence of the Synodicon

in the West Syrian Tradition,” Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 19 (1968): 225 ff.

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technical Greek juridical terms, which appear in the Law Book in Syriac transcription, have been rendered. The fact that the corrupt transcription in the oldest manuscript in London (in which these terms do not make sense at all and have been a constant plague to editors) appears here in the correct form, speaks for itself.

Another riddle can now find its final solution. It is well known that the form of the Syro-Roman Law Book which Bar cEbraya has quoted in his codification of the civil law21 has its own peculiarities. The enigmatic fact that these legal norms differ from all the known recensions of the Syro-Roman Law Book has prompted some speculations that Bar cEbraya was quoting either an unknown Arabic version,22 the Nestorian redac- tion in a different form,23 or different and hitherto unknown forms of the same law book then in circulation. Now we can end the guesswork about this conundrum. The deviations in the content and structure of the law book emerge in this new manuscript.

Still other unknown sources have come to light as a result of persistent searching. These documents are a valuable supplement to the Ms. Dam. Patr. 8/11.

Examination of Ms. Mardin Orth. 316 24 led to the discovery of another precious source. It comes to us from a collection of manuscripts that has survived in the treasury house of the Monastery of Zacfardn,25 despite all the storms of destruction that have swept over Syrian Christianity. In this way, these unique records 26which have not survived elsewhere have been preserved.27 This codex is a corpus of legislative sources which includes not only the codification of ecclesiastical and civil law by Bar cEbraya, but also legislative

records of Syrian, Byzantine and Islamic origin. The Syro-Roman Law Book appears among them.

According to its colophon, we can date the codex in the year A.D. 1660/1. The value of this source lies in the fact that, “although textually it represents the same recension as the preceding document, it does show features peculiar to itself, principally in the variant readings. Since it does not exactly parallel the preceding codex we can learn still more. The ramifications of this recension allow us to look more deeply into the history of the transmission of the manuscript traditions.

The third discovery appears in Ms. Mardin Orth. 323. It is a codex which was copied by a late hand.28 It represents the text in Ms. Dam. Patr. 8/11.29

It is a particular joy when the search for new manuscript sources is rewarded in such

a way. Considering the monumental significance of the Syro-Roman Law Book among the records of jurisprudence, it is most gratifying when very important new sources come into ou@possession. Indeed, due to their nature, these sources have opened up a new

epoch for research.

21P. Bedjan, ed., Nomocanon (Paris, 1898).

22 Bruns and Sachau, Syrisch-r6misches Rechtsbuch, p. 178.

23 Sachau, Syrische Rechtsbiicher, vol. 1, p. xviii.

24In the collection of manuscripts of the arch- bishopric of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Mardin.

26 About these treasures, see A. V66bus, Hand- schriftliche Uberlieferung der Mimri-Dichtung des

(Louvain, 1972); idem, New Important Manuscript Discoveries for the History of Syriac Literature, Papers of the Estonian Theological Society in Exile, vol. 26 (Stockholm, forthcoming).

27See A. V66bus, Syriac Manuscripts from the Treasury of the Monastery of Mdr or Deir Zacfardn, Papers of the Estonian ThHeo.alongdincyaal Society in Exile, vol. 24 (Stockholm, forthcoming).

25 About this famous monastery and the discovery
of new sources on its history, see A. Vd6bus, “Eine
wichtige Urkunde iiber die Geschichte des Mar
Handnja& Klosters,” Oriens Christianus 53 (1969): Important Manuscript Sources for the Syro-Roman 246ff.

29Concerning a portion of the Syro-Roman Law Jacq6b von Seri~g. Sammlungen I-II, Corpus Scrip- Book on parchment, discovered among the manu-

torum Christianorum Orientalium, Subsidia 39, 40 scripts in Sarfeh, see ibid., pp. 24 ff.

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28See also A. V66bus, The Discovery of Very

Law Book, Papers of the Estonian Theological Society in Exile, vol. 21 (Stockholm, 1971), pp. 11 ff.