Sacred-Texts Christianity Index Previous Next
THE present volume contains a complete translation of the Syriac text of the compendious history of the world from the Creation to the Crucifixion of our Lord, which is commonly known as "Me`ârath Gazzê," or the "Cave of Treasures." In the Syriac title the composition of the work is attributed to Ap[h]rêm Suryâyâ, i.e. Ephrem Syrus, or Ephraim the Syrian, who was born at Nisibis (?) soon after A.D. 306 and died in 373, but it is now generally believed that the form in which we now have it is not older than the VIth century. An edition of the Syriac text, and an Arabic version of it, together with a German translation, were published by Bezold (Die Schatzhöhle, Munich, 1883-86), but this work is scarce and is little known in England. The German translation was made from an eclectic text constructed from at least three manuscripts, which varied in age and accuracy and general literary value. The translation given in the following pages has been p. xii made from the best, in my opinion, of all the known manuscripts, namely British Museum MS. Add. 25875. (See Wright, Catalogue, vol. iii, page 1064.) This MS. contains twelve complete works, all of which were written, in a fine Nestorian hand, by the priest Homô, the son of the priest Daniel, a native of Al-Kôsh, a very ancient town which lies about 20 miles north of Môsul (Nineveh), in the year of the Greeks 2020, i.e. A.D. 1709. It was written at the expense of the priest Joseph, the son of Hormizd, a native of Hordaphne, in the district of ´Amediâ, for the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in that place. When I read through the manuscript in 1885, whilst preparing my edition of the "Book of the Bee," I was convinced that Homô, the scribe, was a very learned man, and the marginal notes which he added to his copy showed that he was at once a capable and an understanding editor of Syriac texts. When the printed edition of the Syriac text of the "Cave of Treasures" appeared in 1886, I was surprised to find that Homô's text had not been made the foundation of the work. Whilst I was in Al-Kôsh in 1890-91 collecting manuscripts for the British Museum, I found there some of Homô's descendants, and of these one or two were professional scribes. They possessed a few ancient Syriac manuscripts, and from one of them I had copies made of the p. xiii "Cave of Treasures" and the "Book of the Bee." On my return to England I collated the copy of the former work with the British Museum Codex, and found that the text only varied in a few minor points. There are a few mistakes in the British Museum MS., and in one or two places a few words are omitted, but as a whole it contains the text of the "Cave of Treasures" in as perfect form as ever we are likely to get it; and therefore I have made the translation printed herein from it.
A text of this kind might be annotated to almost any extent, but I have limited my notes to pointing out parallels in the "Book of Jubilees," the "Book of Adam and Eve," the "Book of the Bee," and other cognate works. These are printed within square brackets [ ] immediately following the passages in the "Cave of Treasures" which they illustrate. In the short Bibliography which follows the translation will be found the names of a number of books and of editions of texts which those who are interested in the literary history of the "Cave of Treasures" will find necessary for useful work. I have also added a translation of the "Testament of Adam," a popular apocryphal work which is based upon the Syriac "Cave of Treasures," and upon legends derived from books of a similar, and perhaps allied, character.
The ancient tradition which asserts that the "Cave of Treasures" was written in the IVth century of our Era, is supported by the general contents of the work. These reproduce Ephraim's quaint and sometimes fanciful methods of exegesis and his hatred of the Jews, and supply many examples of his methods in religious argument with which we are familiar from his other writings. We may notice, too, his pride in the antiquity of the Syriac language. That it was written in Mesopotamia by a Syrian, there is no doubt, and if we reject Ephraim as its author, we are bound to admit that the author, or perhaps later editor, belonged to the school of Ephraim. Whichever view be taken is immaterial. For the book certainly contains a mass of historical information which can only have been derived from pre-Christian Hebrew works, or from post-Christian chronologies and histories written in Greek. The writers of such Greek works derived some of their information at first or second hand, from documents originally written in cuneiform. Of the general historical character of the "Cave of Treasures" there is no doubt, and it is this fact which gives it such importance for the history of the Hebrew Patriarchs, and for early Christian History, and the Christian Faith. This view was maintained by the eminent scholars Dillmann, Nöldeke, p. xv Sachau, Wright, Bezold and others during the last century, and it was firmly held by Christians in Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Nubia and Abyssinia for the fourteen centuries preceding.
On the historical facts which form the framework of the "Cave of Treasures," the pious author, or editor, grafted a whole series of legends, many of which deserve the descriptions of "idle stories" and "vain fables" which have been applied to them by Assemânî and the older European theologians. The reader having perused them will readily understand that such legends, containing as they do garbled history facts and anachronisms, are neither accepted nor endorsed by any member of the Committee of the Religious Tract Society or by myself. These legends were inserted with the view of making the "Cave of Treasures" a sort of religious "wonder-book" which would appeal to the vivid and credulous imaginations of Christian natives in almost every country of the Near East; and religious "wonder-books" were intended by their authors and editors to amuse as well as to instruct. The "Cave of Treasures" possesses an apocryphal character it is true, but the support which its contents give to the Christian Faith, and the light which the historical portions of it throw on early Christian History, entitle it to a very high place among the apocryphal Books of the Old and p. xvi the New Testament. These facts have induced the Committee of the Religious Tract Society to order the publication of this the first English translation of the "Cave of Treasures."
My thanks are due to the Trustees of the British Museum for permission to publish a photographic reproduction of the cylinder of Cyrus and photographs of Ethiopic and Syriac MSS.; to Sir Frederick Kenyon, K.C.B., and the late Dr. Byron Gordon for permission to copy the photographs made by Mr. C. L. Woolley, M.A., for the Joint Expedition, of the objects found at "Ur of the Chaldees"; to the Art Editor of The Times for a copy of the photograph of "Abraham's Street" at Ur; to Mr. C. L. Woolley for the use of his notes and descriptions of the antiquities found at Ur; to the Rev. C. H. Irwin, D.D., General Editor of the Religious Tract Society, for his friendly criticisms, and to Mr. H. R. Brabrook for his practical suggestions.
E. A. WALLIS BUDGE
48, Bloomsbury Street,
Bedford Square, London, W.C. 1.
July 30, 1927.