There are two reasons for an article on the Ethiopic Synaxarion to be in a Coptic encyclopedia: first, the Ethiopic Synaxarion contains historical notices about Egypt—for example, the patriarchs or the churches of Old Cairo, based on lost documents; and, second, the Egyptian edition of the Coptic SYNAXARION by the qummus ‘Abd al-Masih Mikha’il and Armaniyus Habashi Shata al-Birmawi (1935-1937) has become the semiofficial edition of the Coptic church. For this edition its authors used an Arabic version of the Ethiopic Synaxarion (Coptic Museum, MS Lit. 155 a-c). Certain notices complete the ancient recension of the Synaxarion of the Copts. It is therefore important to say a few words about the genesis of the Ethiopic Synaxarion.
Until 1951 the ABUN, the religious head of Ethiopia, was an Egyptian monk chosen by the patriarch of Alexandria. It was therefore entirely natural that Ethiopia should turn to Egypt when it desired to acquire a Synaxarion for its use. In the first effort a very literal translation was made (there are only two manuscripts of this first recension, both in the Ethiopian section of the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris: Abbadie 66-66bis and Ethiopien 677 [formerly Trocadero Museum, no. 5], the latter half burned and containing only the first half of the year).
The first manuscript is provided with a valuable colophon that has been studied and published by I. Guidi and by Conti Rossini; it states that the Arabic Synaxarion had been translated at the monastery of Saint Antony, in the desert called Wadi al-‘Arabah, near the Red Sea. This is what is conventionally called the first recension. The date is not given, but the translator, Simon, is known from other works, and it can be inferred that the colophon was translated at the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth. (See Guidi, 1911, and Conti Rossini, 1912.)
With time, however, this first recension was judged by the Ethiopians to be too literal, and not to give enough place to Ethiopian saints. A second recension was therefore made, today represented in a large number of manuscripts, that was translated back into Arabic. We cannot say exactly how far back this new Ethiopic version of the Synaxarion goes. However, since the oldest known manuscript is dated to A.D. 1581, the revision was prior to that date.
There is still no critical edition of the Ethiopic Synaxarion. In 1897, R. Graffin wished to include one in his Patrologia Orientalis, and he entrusted R. Basset with the publishing of an edition of the Arabic Synaxarion of the Copts with French translation. Graffin divided the task among four Ethiopic scholars: I. Guidi, C. Conti Rossini, J. Perruchon, and Basset. Only Guidi completed his work, and between 1905 and 1912 published the last third of the year, from the month of Sane (Coptic: Ba’unah) to the month of Paguemen (which has no Coptic equivalent).
Later, S. Grébaut presented the month of Takhsas (Kiyahk) in two fascicles (1926, 1946). More recently G. Colin has set himself to complete the work, and has edited, with a French translation, the months of Maskaram (1986, Teqemt (1987), and Khedar (1988). Unfortunately, thus far no comparison has been made with the Synaxarion of the Copts.
We have, then, a critical edition of seven months of the year. Regrettably, this work was not preceded by any detailed study or precise classification of the manuscripts. In particular, no account was taken of the fact that the manuscript Abbadie 66-66bis had arrived in Europe in disorder, and had been paginated by a European without the pages being restored to order. The Ethiopian copyists were not in the habit of paginating their books, or of writing at the bottom of the page the word or words with which the following page begins. The pages that the editors note as missing are, in fact, in the manuscript but incorrectly placed. This is of some importance, for certain notices are sometimes marked as belonging to the “revision” although they are, in fact, in the first recension.
The second recension includes notices of Egyptian saints for whom the author(s) of the recension from Lower Egypt did not have a Coptic text from which a summary could be made in Arabic. This is the case for patriarchs who lived after the compilation of the Synaxarion of the Copts and of saints from Upper Egypt. The author summarized Arabic lives (for several patriarchs and Sahidic saints) and even used sermons (this is the case with the panegyric of John, bishop of Asyut, on the holy martyrs of Isna, which he divided over several days). He also used texts translated from Syriac.
It is not known where this second recension was made, but it is clear that it must have been in an Egyptian monastery that had a rich library. Ethiopians could reside in Egypt where they had dependencies: at DAYR AL-MUHARRAQ, also in the Wadi al-Natrun, and at Saint Antony (DAYR ANBA ANTUNIYUS) on the Red Sea. There they could have met Syrian monks, which would explain the presence of typically Syrian texts in their Synaxarion, which is a very eclectic document.
E. A. W. Budge had begun an edition of the Ethiopic Synaxarion but gave it up when Graffin announced his project at the Congress of Orientalists in Paris in 1897. He did not wish to be in competition with Patrologia Orientalis. However, perhaps because of the delays with the project, in 1928 he published a translation of the whole work based on manuscripts preserved in London (hence of the second recension), a publication that is still valuable despite its inadequacies.
- ‘Abd al-Masih, Mikha’il, and Armaniyus Habashi Shata al-Birmawi. Al–Sinaksar, 2 vols. Cairo,1935-1937.
- Budge, E. A. W. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, 4 vols. Cambridge, 1928.
- Colin, G. Le Synaxaire éthiopien. Mois de Maskaram, PO 43, fasc. 3; Mois de Teqemt, PO 44, fasc. 1; Mois de Hedar, PO 44, fasc. 3.
- Conti Rossini, C. “Piccoli studi etiopici. 4. Sull’ eta della versione abissina del Sinassario.” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 27 (1912):371-72.
- Coquin, R.-G. “Le Synaxaire éthiopien. Note codicologique.” Analecta Bollandiana 102 (1984):49-59.
- Dillmann, A. Chrestomathia aethiopica. Leipzig, 1866.
- Grébaut, S. Le Synaxaire éthiopien. IV. Mois de Tahschasch. PO 15, fasc. 5, and 26, fasc. 1.
- Guidi, I. Le Synaxaire éthiopien. I. Mois de Sane; II. Mois de Hamle; III. Mois de Nahase et de Paguemen. PO 1, fasc. 5; 7, fasc. 3; 9, fasc. 4.
- . “The Ethiopic Senkassar.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society n.s. 43 (1911):739-58 and 44 (1912):261-62.
- Simon, J. “Notes bibliographiques sur les textes de la ‘Chrestomathia aethiopica’ de A. Dillmann.” Orientalia n.s. 10 (1941):285-311, esp. 287-91.