We were only in Paris for three full days, arriving late Sunday night and leaving (too) early Thursday morning, and I was in the library from about 10am to 6pm every day. One of their policies is that, when you request manuscripts, they try to make you use microfilms first (out of concern to preserve the manuscripts, of course), so I tried the microfilm first, and for a few manuscripts that was sufficient (usually sufficient to reveal that I wasn't interested in this manuscript, because the script revealed that it was the wrong Syriac church). But if I needed to type up any colophons or notes, it's far harder to read those from negative microfilms, and the original's red ink just becomes hard-to-read grey, so I had to persuade the librarian to let me use the original manuscripts. But because the librarians kept swapping out and sitting in shifts, there were a couple times I had to persuade librarians (sometimes in French, although I suspect they would have used English if I hadn't tried to use French) to let me see the real manuscripts.
Some of the manuscripts I consulted were:
- A liturgy book for the festival "The Prayer of the Ninevites" which inserted over a dozen times variations on the little phrase, "Pray for the scribe."
- Another of the same, a little later, which also includes an explanation of the principles of this particular collection by the scribe.
- A manuscript of a Syriac grammar composed in 1444, which is "a second copy from the first copy of the hands of the bishop, the author," copied in 1497.
- A manuscript of Abdisho of Nisibis which included a work on how to compute the dates of the church feasts and a poem about a deacon who converted to Islam, as well as a colophon which gives the name of God as Pipi. (See digression below.)
- Most challenging, there were two Arabic manuscripts copied by scribes from the Church of the East, and I had to try to transcribe the Arabic (which is difficult because I know only a little Arabic). The first challenge was identifying the colophon!
Digression on Pipi as the name of God:
The name of God, as written in Hebrew, is sometimes called the Tetragrammaton on account of the fact that it contains four letters, and it is usually transliterated into English as YHWH. In the Hebrew Old Testament, it is conventionally written with the vowels of the word for "Lord," i.e. Adonai, and it is from that (through German) that we get Jehovah, whereas more recent scholarship has suggested the original pronunciation was probably Yahweh. When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, the name of God was conventionally represented κύριος, "Lord." But a handful of manuscripts of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) provide, usually in the margin, the additional reading ΠΙΠΙ as a rough visual equivalent to the shape of the Hebrew letters in the Tetragrammaton, and any of you who read Hebrew will recognize that a capital pi looks somewhat like a Hebrew letter he, while the capital iota is used to represent both the initial yod and the medial waw. It's not a perfect representation, but it's probably as close as you can get with Greek letters. This was never intended to be pronounced, but only to show a Greek speaker the approximate shape of the letters. This was apparently picked up by Origen in his Hexapla (now lost), because it was transliterated in the Syriac translation of part of the Hexapla as ܦܝܦܝ. Jacob of Edessa, in the eighth century, wrote a small tract against those who think the name of God is "Pipi," which suggests that some people were confused. How that was passed on to a scribe in the fifteenth century, I can't say, but I know that another fifteenth-century author (Isaac Shbadnaya) also includes a reference to "Pipi" in his major work. So some early Greek scribe's attempt to provide Greek readers with a visual approximation of the Hebrew name of God led, some fifteen centuries later, to a Syriac scribe calling upon God as "Pipi." That's the ironic bit of history for the day.