Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Scribe's Curse (Greg.-Aland 1030)

The monk Theophilos Iviritis, also know as "the unfortunate" or "the ragged" was born 1460-70. He was sent on a comission to Alexandria in 1486 by the Patriarch Nephon II. On his travel back to Constantinople he visited Mount Athos, where he settled for some years. His activity is attested over a period of at least 30 years, in dated colophons from 1518 to 1548, and of his production 29 MSS are still extant, mainly in various monasteries on Mt Athos, but Peter Head can check out one MS preserved in Cambridge (Trinity College B VII.2).

At one period he was at the Kosinitsa Monastery in Drama, Greece where he copied at least four liturgical MSS (not GNT MSS). The monastery was looted by the Bulgarians in 1917 and two of his MSS ended up in the Ivan Dujčev Centre for Slavic and Byzantine Studies. Today its library holds the richest collection of Greek MSS in Bulgaria (ca 500 codices).

The last period in Theophilos' life he spent in the Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople where he continued to work as a scribe until his death in 1548. Apparently, Theophilos led a virtuous life; the Orthodox Church pronounced him a saint (hosios) and commemorates him on 8 July.

The oldest of Theophilos' extant MSS is Iviron cod. 342 (809) (=Greg.-Aland 1030). This manuscript contains the four Gospels, the Psalter and a work by Thomas Magistros (Thekaras). The MS is written on paper and has four illuminations. The colophon dates it to the year 7026 (= 1518). The colophon ends with this sentence: "This book was completed, with God's help, through the labours of the unfortunate, ragged Theophilos."

At another point in the MS we find his directions for use conditioned with a curse:
I beseech all who come across this book not to dare cut it up shamelessly, in order to take it apart and remove either the Gospels or the Psalter or Thekaras or any other office or part, or even a single leaf, but let it remain intact, just as it was written and bound by me. Should the binding become worn, may it be rebound just as it is now. If anyone should act against what I say, the curse of my sinful unworthy self beupon him. And may whoever owns this take care not to leave it lying idle on the shelf but always make full use of it; for this is why the book was written, so that he might not suffer the same condemnation as he who hid the talent. And if he should neglect his own salvation, let him give the book to another who cares greatly about being saved so that he might use it to gain the riches of heaven and to pray for my wretched self, who is responsible for a thousand wicked deeds and is unworthy of either heaven or earth. May the Lord have mercy upon me and deliver me from eternal damnation; therefore, I beseech you, all the holy fathers, to pray for me.


  1. Do you have any call numbers for the mss in Sofia? Or for other interesting ones there? I'm planning to be there next month.

  2. Peter, first it would be wise to consult with the INTF in Münster how to best spend your time (and for help with established contacts).

    I believe there are very close contacts between the Ivan Dujčev Centre for Slavic and Byzantine Studies (director Axinia Džurova) and the INTF in Münster. I suspect all the GNT MSS have been properly registered (see Liste p. 492f. and updates online). (The MSS I referred to are not Greek New Testaments, but other liturgical MSS.)

    If you are not interested in any particular MS, I would try to get permission and access to the other two institutions in Sofia, St. St. Cyril and Methodius National Library and the Institute for Church History and Archives of the Bulgarian Patriarchate - especially the latter.

    The former institution have 149 Greek MSS described in a "Catalogue of the Greek and Foreign Language Manuscripts", but 10 more MSS are not yet described (what are these?). According to the Liste there are 11 GNT MSS there, but who knows, there may be more, and they have continued to make new acquisitions.

    I cannot find information about the latter institution, but probably there is something among these webpages: http://www.bg-patriarshia.bg/

  3. Hi I'm from Bulgaria, and on that link, http://www.bg-patriarshia.bg/. You will not find MSS.
    Better try that; http://shu-bg.net/?lang=us

  4. A touching note. Certainly the thought that this MS, and all MSS, were written so that their contents would be used and shared in the church, rather than be sealed avay in museum vaults, is something that we should keep in mind.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  5. Wow, that's great. So interesting. Thanks for sharing. It's seldom we get such a look into the persona of a scribe.

  6. Thanks bogoizbrania. I do not find any information about manuscripts on the webpages of University of Shumen. Do you think they have Greek manuscripts in their library? We would all be very curious to know, particularly if they have Greek New Testament manuscripts.

    As for the linnk I referred to it is the official pages of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. I thought that somewhere there would be a link to this institution: Institute for Church History and Archives of the Bulgarian Patriarchate, which we know holds some MSS.

  7. Now we know where Thomas Nelson got their logo for the NKJV.

    But did they get permission?