Introduction. The phrase ‘Cave of Treasures cycle’ signifies a textual network of interlaced hiero-historical compositions extant in various editions in Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic; or in other words, most of the important linguistic spheres of the Christian East during late antiquity and the Middle Ages. It furnished what quickly became the dominant narrative for structuring and recounting the pre-Christian past among oriental Christian and Muslim historians from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries of the Common Era. The following works comprise important components of the cycle: (1) the several Syriac versions of the so-called Cave of Treasures; (2) the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, and eventually Greek forms of the Testament of Adam; (3) the Arabic work christened by Gibson as the Kitāb al-majāll (‘Book of Rolls’); (4) the Ethiopic Gadla ’Adām (‘Strivings of Adam’); and (5) the Arabic and Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter and Qalēmentōs (i.e., Pseudo-Clementine) literature, an enormous mass of exegetical and traditional lore which possesses little if any overlap with the more familiar Homilies and Recognitions long associated with minority Syro-Palestinian forms of Christianity. A number of historical and eschatological writings exhibit their reliance upon certain strands of tradition found exclusively in this cycle of texts, such as the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, the so-called Chronicle of Zūqnīn, the Ta’rīkh of al-Ya‘qūbī, portions of the Ta’rīkh al-rusul wa’l-mulūk of al-Tabarī, the Murūj al-dhahab of al-Mas‘ūdi, the Annales of Eutychius, the Chronicon of Michael Syrus, the so-called Book of the Bee attributed to Solomon of Basra, the Syriac Chronicle ad annum 1234, and the Chronicon syriacum authored by Bar Hebraeus. A few scholars have suggested (although with little sustained argument) the cycle’s likely connection with ‘gnostic’—particularly Sethian—strands of Jewish and Christian thought, and some have proposed (again with largely underdeveloped arguments) that Jewish extra-canonical materials like the Enochic works and the Hebrew Book of Jubilees were utilized by these sources.
The name ‘Cave of Treasures’ refers in the first instance to the place where the biblical primal couple Adam and Eve stored certain relics they took with them from Paradise after their expulsion. It also becomes Adam’s sepulcher prior to his corpse’s removal and re-interment after the Flood at ‘the middle of the earth’ (i.e., Golgotha in Jerusalem), and it functions as a shrine and crypt for his immediate antediluvian descendants. The gold and the spices later offered by the Magi to the newly born Christ reputedly come from this same Cave, which is supposedly found on or near a mountain or territory known as Seir(is) that is located in the remote East. The Cave also achieved fame as a repository for certain writings associated with biblical forefathers such as Adam and Seth.Certain adepts renowned for their mastery of esoteric wisdom by later generations, such as the prophet Daniel or the alchemist Khālid b. Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiya, reportedly obtained their knowledge of arcana through their consultation of ancient writings which had been archived there. It is also worthy of notice that some of the transmitted fragments of the ‘books about Adam and Eve’ that are attributed to the enigmatic Muslim figure of Ka‘b al-Ahbār, infamous as one of the primary conduits for the transmission of Jewish biblical lore into nascent Islam, are closely allied in their structure and language with passages from the Cave of Treasures.
History of scholarship. While traditionally ascribed to the fourth-century father Ephrem Syrus, Western scholarship for the most part has operated on the assumption that the Cave of Treasures as an integral narrative composition achieved a relatively fixed form in Syriac during the sixth century CE and was subsequently translated into Armenian, Georgian, Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. The first scholarly edition using this assumption was published by Carl Bezold in the late nineteenth century, who aligned an eclectic Syriac text of his own making based on four manuscripts of varying quality and provenance with a parallel Arabic text from a Paris manuscript (which Bezold mistakenly described as a translation) of an affiliated work belonging to the derivative Kitāb al-majāll, Apocalypse of Peter, and Qalēmentōs traditions. On the basis of the manuscript evidence available to him at that time, he posited the existence of at least two distinct recensions of the Syriac version of the Cave (BSV over against A) and two of ‘der arabischen Version’ (Paris and Oxford exemplars over against that held in the Vatican). In addition to preparing and publishing his transcriptions of these texts, Bezold supplied a German translation for his Syriac base text (although not the Arabic!) and prepared a relatively brief commentary which concentrated almost exclusively on text-critical concerns.
Further significant steps forward took place during the third decade of the twentieth century. E. A. Wallis Budge published in 1927 what is still surprisingly the only English language translation of the Syriac Cave of Treasures. Instead of rendering Bezold’s eclectic text, Budge chose to translate the version found in British Library Add. Ms. 25875, a form of the work which he deemed to be superior to the others used by Bezold (‘in as perfect [a] form as ever we are likely to get it’). It however differs in a number of its details from almost all of the remaining textual evidence. He also appended to his work a number of what he termed ‘Supplementary Translations’ which featured English versions of passages from the thirteenth-century Book of the Bee and a few other related sources. Like that of Bezold, Budge’s commentary was relatively spare: it concentrated on suggesting some interpretative parallels from a few extra-canonical Jewish sources, and it made a number of far-fetched comparisons to the material evidence surviving from the cuneiform script-using civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia.
A few years before Budge’s English language edition, an extremely important series of studies treating the textual history and sources of the Syriac Cave of Treasures and its exploitation by later Christian and Muslim writers and chroniclers was published by Albrecht Götze. These contributions remain valuable up to the present day.
The most recent advance in Cave scholarship was Su-Min Ri’s publication in 1987 of a quasi-critical two volume edition and French translation of the Syriac text(s). Nineteen different Syriac manuscripts were used by Ri for the preparation of two base texts on facing pages, one deemed representative of the eastern (orientaux) and the other of the western (occidentaux) textual traditions, labels dependent largely on the type of script used and the theological biases alleged to be present in certain copies. Ri adopted as his base texts two manuscripts which were unknown to Bezold and Götze, and the numerous textual variants found among both geographical traditions are cited at length in his valuable critical apparatus. A second volume provides his translation (again on facing pages) of these texts, but with little annotation beyond what are purely textual concerns.
Purpose of the proposed volume. My own research project on these materials proposes to fill the following lacunae in Cave of Treasures scholarship:
(1) it will provide vernacular English translations of both the ‘occidental’ and the ‘oriental’ base texts which were prepared and published by Su-Min Ri in 1987. It therefore will be the first ‘complete’ English translation of the Syriac Cave of Treasures since Budge’s rendition of BL Add. Ms. 25875 published in 1927.
(2) it will provide a vernacular English translation of the Arabic text which was published en face by Bezold in his nineteenth-century edition of the Cave of Treasures, a text which has to my knowledge never been translated into a western language, and whose utility for scholarship remains restricted in its present relatively inaccessible state. The text is not, as Bezold assumed, a translation of the Syriac Cave of Treasures, nor is it identical, as Gibson recognized, to the Arabic work which she published as the Kitāb al-majāll..
(3) it will provide a vernacular English translation of the ‘biblical’ section of Ya‘qūbī’s Ta’rīkh, an early Muslim universal history known from a unique manuscript which conspicuously employs the Cave of Treasures traditions as one of its principal organizing rubrics. Up to now this section has been available in a western language in its entirety only in Dutch and French.
(4) it will provide an extensive set of annotations which will situate the Cave of Treasures materials among earlier and contemporary Jewish, Christian, ‘gnostic,’ and Muslim literary traditions and conventions which pertain to biblical characters, events, and themes. An excellent start to this last project has recently been made by Ri (see Andreas Su-Min Ri, Commentaire de la Caverne des Trésors: Étude sur l’histoire du texte et de ses sources [CSCO 581, subsidia t. 103; Lovanii: Peeters, 2000]), but it is unfortunately riddled with untenable assumptions and proposals with regard to the historical and literary relationships thought to be operative among many of these writings.