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The Christian Library from Turfan

Dr Erica C.D. Hunter (Dept. for the Study of Religions, SOAS) is the Principal Investigator for the AHRC funded project, The Christian Library from Turfan. She is joined by Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams FBA and Professor Peter Zieme. Dr Mark Dickens (Clare Hall, Cambridge), currently completing his doctorate, will be Research Assistant. The project, funded for 42 months (April 2008 – September 2011) will be affiliated with the Dept. for the Study of Religions, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, SOAS.

The project aims to catalogue some 900 manuscripts in Syriac, Christian Soghdian and Christian Old Turkic, as well as New Persian that were found in the opening decade of the twentieth century at a monastery site near Bulayiq, Turfan. The texts, dating from the early medieval period (9th - 12th centuries), encompass liturgical texts, Bible readings, hymns and psalters, as well as ascetical texts including translations from Evagrius Ponticus, the Apophthegmata Patrum and East Syrian writers. The lives of John of Dailam and Serapion, the legend of Bishop Barshabba who brought Christianity from the Sassanid empire to Marv as well as a history of the city of Nisibis uphold the culturo-religious connection between the Turfan community and the East Syrian Church.

Today these manuscripts are held in the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Staatsbibliothek, Potsdamer Strasse, Berlin and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst at Dahlem, Berlin. The manuscripts will be published as separate language catalogues in the Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in German Collections (Katalogisierung der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland [KOHD]) a national project of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen (Director, Dr. O. Feistel, Staatsbibliothek, Berlin). In addition, the project will address various issues, including the transmission of texts between different languages (Syriac, Soghdian and Old Turkic), the usage of liturgical and vernacular languages at Turfan and finally, the links that were maintained with the Mesopotamian homeland of the Church of the East whose patriarchate was at Baghdad.

As well as its vigorous publication schedule, the project will also host annual workshops for interested scholars. All enquiries should be directed to Dr Erica C.D. Hunter, Dept. for the Study of Religions, SOAS (eh9@soas.ac.uk).