Reviews

This volume is the reproduction of the revised and enlarged edition of the History of Mar Jab-Alaha and Rabban Sauma established by P. Bedjan in 1895. As the latter explains in the preface to his second edition, for the first one he had at his disposal nothing but a poor copy of it. Some explanations on the text will probably show useful, for which the reviewer will rely on the comments by Pier Giorgio Borbone, Un ambassadeur du Khan Arghun en Occident: Histoire de Mar Yahballaha II et de Rabban Sauma (1281-1317), Paris, L’Harmattan, 2008. The discovery of this text must be resituated in Catholic and Protestant missionary activity implemented in the first half of the nineteenth century among ‘Nestorian’ Christians of Kurdistan. The existence of the manuscript was signalled in October 1886, but the news about it was made public three years later only. A manuscript version was published by American missionaries in eight fascicules of their monthly journal Zahriri d-Bahra [Rays of Light] from October 1885 to May 1886 (Borbone, 13). However, before the manuscript’s existence was made public, Lazarist father P. Bedjan had published it from the erroneous copy delivered to him by a certain Salomon, who resided in the place where it had been discovered. P. Bedjan then begun the preparation of a second, improved edition of the text, with a rich critical apparatus, which came to light in 1895 (Borbone, 15). This is this second edition which has been reprinted by Gorgias Press. No Syriac manuscript has preserved the name of its author, which Borbone supposes was a high ranking cleric, given his literary and linguistic competences. After being the language of high culture par excellence during a number of centuries, Syriac had been replaced by Arabic when the text was written (thirteenth-fourteenth centuries). As a result, the History of Mar Jab-Alaha and Rabban Sauma can be considered the last great Syriac text of the mediaeval period.

The narrative ends up in 1317 with the death of Marcos after his proclamation as the Katholikos. It is evident that is has been completed after this date, since the names of emirs Chupan (d. November 17, 1327) and Irinjin (d. June 1319) are followed by the invocation “may they be kept in life.” The period during which the text was completed may consequently be comprised between November 1317 and June 1319. No doubt, the work was composed by several authors. Its narrative is of primary significance not only for the history of Eastern Churches, but also for its contribution to our knowledge of historical events in the Ilkhanid Empire, in particular on diplomatic exchanges between Arghun and diverse Western rulers, as well as on the approaches by Arghun’s ambassadors to first Franciscan Pope Nicholas IV. This Supreme Pontiff addressed numerous letters to Arghun, to his wives and sons, as well as to the Great Khan of the Mongol dynasty of China, Qubilai. It is fortunate that the Gorgias Press have taken the initiative of this reprint, which makes accessible a particularly significant primary source.

Denise Aigle, Practical School for Advanced Studies, Paris
CER: II-3.1.B-106