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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsSPEAKER: I'm joined here today by Dr. Dan Reynolds, who is a lecturer in Byzantine history at the School of History and Cultures. Hello, Dan.

Skip to 0 minutes and 16 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: Hi.

Skip to 0 minutes and 17 secondsSPEAKER: Could you tell us a little bit about what your research is?

Skip to 0 minutes and 20 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: Sure. I work in the Centre for the Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greek Studies, and my research is actually on Christian communities that live in the former Byzantine provinces of Palestine and Arabia, so an area that now covers Israel, Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. And I basically look at how that was created as a Christian Holy Land. So from the fourth century with the establishment of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre all the way up until the First Crusade.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 secondsAnd in particular, I think, at the moment what I'm working on, is I look at how Christians function as a community and as a component of early Islamic society from the time of the Arab conquest in the seventh century, and then looking at how they adapt to the changing political and social environments in the Islamic world, when it's governed by the Umayyad family and then the Abbasids, and then, finally, from the Fatimids in Egypt.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 secondsSPEAKER: So what kind of material are using in the Mingana Collection?

Skip to 1 minute and 23 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: So in the Mingana Collection, I'm using two different types of material, one of which forms the majority of the collection are the Christian Arabic texts. We have a great collection of Christian Arabic works here, dating from the ninth all the way up until the 15th century. And what I focus on here are most of the earlier works in this collection, so works that are produced between the 9th, 10th, or 11th century. And I also look at something else, which is the works and manuscripts produced in the Georgian language from the-- what is now Georgia in the Caucasus.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 secondsAnd what I look at mostly, actually, are colophons, so small marginal notes or sort of scribal notes, and they describe all sorts of things to us. They help us identify the scribe. They often give us the date of when a manuscript was produced, the monastery where they reproduced, or sometimes, actually, the person that bought and commissioned the manuscript. So what I do in the Mingana Collection is I look at all the manuscripts, look at the colophons, compare them to other colophons we know about in other collections across the world, and see if we can identify similar scribes or perhaps groups of scribes moving around this landscape.

Skip to 2 minutes and 41 secondsSPEAKER: So how do the manuscripts that we have here relate to the work that you're doing?

Skip to 2 minutes and 45 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: Great. I have-- what I have here is an Arabic manuscript of the ninth century and a Georgian manuscript of between probably the late ninth, early 10th century. And what they both are, are translations of works and writings of an earlier Christian author called Sir Ephrem. And what you have here is a kind of whole ninth, 10th century translation movement in motion. So this is the earlier of the two manuscripts. This is an Arabic Christian manuscript, and it is a translation into Arabic from an original Greek or possibly Syriac work of the writings of Sir Ephrem.

Skip to 3 minutes and 26 secondsAnd what we know from the colophon of this work is that it was produced in the monastery of Mar Saba, which is just outside of Jerusalem, and it was produced by a scribe known as Anthony David. And we know that Anthony David came from Baghdad. And this is a few leaves, or a few pages, of a manuscript, which survives elsewhere in Strasbourg. And what we know from that manuscript is that this whole work was commissioned by somebody called Abbot Isaac, and Isaac was an abbot on Mount Sinai, which is now St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 secondsOn the other side, what I've got is a Georgian translation, probably of Arabic, of the writings of Sir Ephrem, and this was produced probably between about 850 and 900. We don't have an exact dating, but we know from the handwriting that it was probably produced around that century. And this is in fact, a colophon. It's one of these marginal notes that tell us a little bit about the scribe. And we know from this one that it was also produced in the monastery of Mar Saba by a scribe called Giorgi, or George.

Skip to 4 minutes and 42 secondsAnd that at some point in its life anyway, it actually ended up on Mount Sinai, because on the other page, we have a small, little Arabic note, and that was probably made by one of the librarians on Mount Sinai. And basically, what it's telling us is that anybody that removes this book from Mount Sinai, which is identified as [NON-ENGLISH],, faces excommunication by the community. So it's a kind of early mediaeval form of library keeping. What's also very interesting about this is that there is a slightly later tiny, little note, at the very bottom of this page, which basically asks the people reading this to pray.

Skip to 5 minutes and 29 secondsIt just says pray, but we know from the handwriting that that was made by a scribe that we know from other works in the Sinai collections.

Skip to 5 minutes and 37 secondsSPEAKER: So we can see a lot of connections, really, between kind of the Greek texts that were being translated both in our Islamic collections and in the Christian collections.

Skip to 5 minutes and 45 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And Christians, particularly in Palestine, were among some of the earliest Christian communities to actually adopt Arabic, because they were living very, very close to the political centre in Damascus. So it made complete sense to learn Arabic because it's the new administrative language. And by the ninth and 10th centuries, you've actually got Muslim writers praising Christians for their fluency and their ability to articulate themselves in Arabic. And also because the Arabic they use often adopts Islamic philosophy and theology and ways of thinking about things like the nature of God. So they're almost trying to explain their religion in a language, which Muslim readers and listeners would have found highly familiar.

Skip to 6 minutes and 34 secondsSPEAKER: So how does this work that you've been doing add to scholarship, then? Why does it matter?

Skip to 6 minutes and 39 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: I think, well, one of the great things about colophons, it's actually one of the few cases where we can actually identify the personalities and the actions of people who weren't necessarily the ruling powers of their day. These are educated people, but they're not necessarily the types of people that you read about in narrative histories produced by kings or caliphs. These are people which, otherwise, I think, slipped through the cracks of history. And what's brilliant about this, is actually, you can see by something like this, this was produced by a man that was born, clearly born in Baghdad and lived in Baghdad and then moved to Jerusalem, but he was in contact with people in the Sinai Peninsula.

Skip to 7 minutes and 23 secondsAnd in much the same way, you have a man born in the Caucasus, who found his way to just outside of Jerusalem and then produced something that ended up on Mount Sinai. So you can get a real sense of the communications and the networks, which are occurring across the Islamic world by the ninth and 10th century.

Skip to 7 minutes and 40 secondsSPEAKER: Is this work on colophons an emerging field, then, or is it something that's been happening for a while?

Skip to 7 minutes and 47 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: It's a growing field. I think, scholars since the 19th century have always noted the existence of colophons, as you know, but I think as something that deserves to be treated in their own right, as something which is of interest to cultural or economic historians, particularly, I think that's just beginning to emerge.

Skip to 8 minutes and 9 secondsSPEAKER: Well, thank you.

Skip to 8 minutes and 10 secondsDAN REYNOLDS: Thank you very much.

Dr Dan Reynolds: Christian Manuscripts of The Mingana Collection

In this video, Dr Dan Reynolds, Lecturer in Byzantine History at the University of Birmingham, discusses some of his research with the Christian manuscripts in the Mingana Collection.

As you watch this video, think about his approach to research with manuscripts. What kinds of features is he looking at when examining manuscripts? Make some notes as you watch; you will return to these after watching the video.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham