daniel stoekl


Thesaurus Antiquorum Lectionariorum Ecclesiae Synagogaeque

generously funded by the Fritz Thyssen foundation

The THALES team is happy to announce
that the database is finally online (in a BETA version)
contact us
for further details if you want to be part of the testing team



In Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, few people knew how to read or write. The common person usually became familiar with texts by hearing them recited or by seeing them represented artistically in liturgical, theatrical and ritual performances. Lectionaries – broadly understood as texts of different genres which inform the liturgical performance of one or more biblical passages – are the key link between the Bible and people, between intellectuals and the uneducated, between theory and praxis and, therefore, between the fields of literary and ritual studies. As such, lectionaries are important not only for scholars of Eastern and Western liturgies, but also for exegetes of the Old and New Testaments as well as for historians researching Jewish – Christian relations. In short, they are essential for any scholar attempting to understand Christianity and Judaism as living religions both in the past and present. This database is a deliberate attempt to bring to the fore the dimensions of liturgical performance and ritual in the study of early Christianity and Judaism, where texts continue to be perceived as falling primarily under the elitist domains of philology, dogma and literature.


Scholarly Aims

Our aim is to assemble the vast data contained in all ancient lectionaries, both Jewish and Christian, and make them easily accessible for and conveniently searchable by scholars interested in liturgy, the Wirkungsgeschichte of biblical texts, as well as by historians. We truly believe that publishing materials on the web is the most convenient way to provide free and immediate access to those important texts which form the basis for much of human culture. Publicizing these materials electronically allows anyone with internet access to utilize these texts and enables these materials to reach a broader audience.


Why Is This Database Important and to Whom?

This database will enable biblical scholars to quickly research the ritual Sitz im Leben of scriptural chapters or verses, which is critical for studying the impact of the Bible (the Wirkungsgeschichte). In addition, liturgical experts will be able to compare different reading traditions more easily and comprehensively. Historians as well as patristic and rabbinic scholars can utilize the database for a variety of purposes, such as finding the chronological and liturgical context of a homily or evaluating whether a biblical pericope might have an impact during a particular season of the year. With the help of the database, scholars will also be able to compare the prevalence of a text within the database to the number of extant exegetical treatises, along with carrying out many other statistical queries.


Why Have Lectionaries Remained an Understudied Subject Matter?

Despite their significance, lectionaries have been severely understudied. As a consequence, almost no commentary on the Bible includes thorough references to the liturgical life of a text - despite the fact that modern exegesis has understood the importance of the history of Biblical interpretation (e.g. Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar).


One of the factors contributing to this phenomenon is the fragmentation of modern university life, where exegetes and liturgists, scholars of the Church Fathers and scholars of Rabbinic Judaism, rarely collaborate. Liturgy is usually a Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or – more rarely – a Jewish field. Scholars from each of these disciplines usually focus on their own religious traditions; and liturgical study programs are seldom established in non-theological institutions and rarely carry out comparative analyses of different traditions.


An additional reason why lectionaries have remained an understudied subject matter is that this discipline is highly complex and contains an immense amount of data. The reading traditions of the Christian East as well as those of the West can be distinguished by several large families. On the Christian side we may list among others Roman, Gallican, Mozarabic, Byzantine, Jerusalem [Armenian  and Georgian], Coptic, as well as East and West Syrian. The Jewish families consist of Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Yemenite, Byzantine, Italian rites that read the Torah in one year and Palestinian rites that read the Torah in three years or more. Some of these traditions are quite homogeneous (such as Roman and Byzantine Christian or the various derivations of the annual Jewish rite), while others are extremely heterogeneous, differing from manuscript to manuscript (e.g. West Syrian).


A third reason why lectionaries remain an understudied field is the fact that information relating to lectionaries is dispersed throughout many sources and is difficult to locate. Currently, anybody trying to identify when different Churches would read a specific biblical chapter is forced to consult dozens of books, many of which are rare. For serious studies on Syriac, Coptic or Jewish Palestinian liturgy, one would have to locate and consult countless additional manuscripts as well. While the database will not replace these publications, it will make their core information easily accessible and will help the user decide which materials are worth consulting.


An Inclusive Approach: Types of Texts Included in the Database

Our website attempts to be as inclusive as possible and aims to compile all Jewish and Christian texts, thereby providing information on regular biblical readings. Many different genres of such texts exist. First and foremost, there are various forms of lectionaries. Some include the text to be read, e.g. Evangelaries (readings of the Gospels), Epistolaries (readings of the Epistles), and Menologies. Others are simply notations on the margins of biblical manuscripts, give only the chapter and verse number, or merely provide the first and last verses of the pericopes which are to be read. There is also a great deal of data scattered throughout many different texts. This data mainly focuses on local rites in patristic documents, in Midrashim or in some Piyyutim (Jewish liturgical hymns) which mention a Haftarah in connection to a Torah reading in one or the other synagogue of Byzantine and Muslim Palestine.


A Dynamic Approach: A Growing Database

Current and Future Content

The database has been launched with the introduction of a group of basic Christian and Jewish lectionaries, which represent the major liturgical families. We are continuing to expand the database by diversifying the larger families and by adding smaller local rites, single manuscripts and various reconstructions. At the moment, our aim is to digitalize all lectionaries from the first millennium; later we hope to include texts up to the age of print.


We have also begun mapping those lectionaries which will eventually be included in the database, and we welcome any references to lectionaries that we can include in this database.


In addition, important Patristic data exists which can be analyzed for the purposes of reconstructing the Biblical readings of prominent Church figures. Michael Margoni-Koegler (Vienna) and Harald Buchinger (Rome) are researching this issue in the cases of Augustine and Origen and will contribute their relevant results to this database.


Currently, the database focuses on readings. At a later point, additional data such as the Sanctorale will be added as will an introduction and bibliography to each lectionary.


Queries That Can Currently Be Carried Out

While we plan to expand the range of possible queries on the database, at this preliminary stage it is only possible to carry out those inquiries that focus on which biblical passage was read at what particular time. As of now, the database allows for three types of such queries:

a)      Exactly (readings that exactly match the inquiry). For example:

a.       Search all readings exactly like Isa. 11:4.

b.      Search all readings exactly like Jer. 30:5b-7.

b)      Including (readings that include the whole passage being searched). For example:

a.       Search all readings including the whole passage of Isa. 11:4 (i.e. Isa. 11; Isa. 11:3-7; but not Isa. 11:3-4a [verse 4b is missing]).

b.      Search all readings including the whole passage of Jer. 30:5b-7 (i.e. Jer. 30; Jer. 30:1-8; but not Jer. 30:1-5 [verses 6 and 7 are missing]).

c)      Overlapping (readings that include parts of the passage being searched):

a.       Search Isa. 11:4: the result would include readings such as Isa. 11:3-4a; Isa. 11:3-5; Isa. 11:4b-7; Isa. 11; or Isa. 11:4.

b.      Search Jer. 30:5b-7: the result would include readings such as Jer. 30; Jer. 30:6; Jer 30:1-8; Jer 30:1-5; or Jer. 30:6-12.


As of now, the database cannot distinguish between the different numbering systems of the various Bibles, but we plan to include a tool converting Hebrew to LXX or Vulgate numbering in the near future.


At a later stage, the database will also include a calendar program for questions such as “Which texts are read during April/Nisan?” or “Which texts are read during the week before and after Passover/Easter?” Ideally, we would also like to include the biblical texts themselves in their original language as well as their English translations. This would allow for searches such as: “When are textual passages read which include the words 'angel' AND 'sword'?”


We also aim to allow for a broader range of possible queries: The user should be able to search for the use of a certain passage during all rites, or during selected rites, solely according to parameters such as chronology, geography, language and liturgical family. With regard to the origins of a certain lectionary, we hope to be able to assist researchers to search the database in a more “positivistic” or “hypothetical” manner. Each researcher should be able to decide whether to include hypothetical reconstructions, such as Jacob Mann’s version of the three-year Palestinian reading cycle, or if he/she should only include actual manuscripts in his/her search.


Current Database Content

The construction of this database was launched in January 2006. Today it includes roughly twenty five lectionaries with roughly 8000 individual readings.

List of Lectionaries Included So Far

Name LanguageComment
 Old Armenian Lectionary, ms Jerusalem 121 Armenian Oldest witness for Jerusalem liturgy
 Constantinople Typicon (ms St. Cross 40) Greek Tenth century
 Vat. Syr. 24 Syriac Witness of the rite of the Upper Monastery, Eastern Syriac
 Bobbio Missale Latin Old Gallican rite
 Mozarabic, Paris BN lat 2269 palimpsest Latin Old Mozarabic rite from around 800
 Roman Lectionary, Comes Wuerzburg Latin Witness for the Roman rite, end of 7th century
 Murbach Latin Roman rite
 Alcuin Latin
 Roman rite
 British Museum add 14705 Syriac 
 British Library 243 (Add. 14492) Syriac 
 Paris Bibliothèque Nationale 27 Anc fonds 5 Syriac 
 British Museum LII Add 17103 Syriac 
 British Museum add 14485b Syriac 
 British Museum add 14485a Syriac 
 British Museum XLVIIII Add 14442 Syriac 
 British Museum L Add 14437 Syriac 
 British Museum CCXXIV add 12139 Syriac 
 British Museum add 14487 Syriac 
 British Museum XLIV Add 12134 Syriac 
 Burkitt Lectionary BM 14528  Syriac A Syriac Lectionary that might attest to readings used in Edessa of the fifth century
 British Museum add 14486 Syriac 
 BM 243 (add. 14492)  Syriac
  Witness for the Lectionay of the Upper Monastery from 862 AD
 Mishna  Hebrew Attestations for fixed readings in the Mishna (3rd century)
 Tosefta Hebrew Attestations for fixed readings in the Tosefta, belonging to the rabbinic corpus, perhaps around 300
 Jewish triennial   (reconstruction acc to Encyclopedia Judaica)
 Siddur Rav Saadia Gaon
 tenth century Iraq
 Jewish Yemenite Hebrew 
 Jewish Sephardi Hebrew 
 Jewish Byzantine (Romaniot) Hebrew 
 Jewish Ashkenazi Hebrew 
 Jewish Italian Hebrew 


Lectionaries Currently Undergoing Digitalization

The Jerusalem Lectionary as witnessed in ms P (Paris, Cod. Georg. 3) of the Old Georgian Lectionary.

Comes of Alcuin ms Cambrai, Bibl mun 553 et Paris BN lat 9452


THALES Staff Members and Collaborations

Coordinator of the THALES database Project

Daniel Stoekl Ben Ezra - French National Institut for Research (CNRS), Centre Paul-Albert Février, Aix-en-Provence

Cooperating Scholars Contributing to the Database Include:

Harald Buchinger, Faculty for Catholic Theology, Regensburg University.

Margaret Dimitrova, Department of Cyril and Methodius Studies, Faculty of Slavic Studies, Sofia University, Bulgaria.

Emmanuel Fritsch, Secrétaire de l’Episcopal Committee for Liturgy of the Conference of Ethiopian Catholic Bishops, Ethiopia and researcher associated with the Centre francais des études éthiopiennes (CFEE - IFRE 23 - USR 3137)

Michael Margoni-Koegler, Institute for Liturgical Studies, University of Vienna (Augustine).

Ophir Münz-Manor, Department of History, Philosophy and Judaic Studies, Open University, Israel.

Wido van Peursen, Department of Religious Studies, Leiden University.

Ugo Zanetti, Institut Orientaliste, Université Catholique de Louvain.


Software Engineer: Nicolas Richard


Research Assistant:  Avi Perrodin

Previous Research Assistants: Moshe Levi and Avigail Nir

Previous Software Engineer: Uzi Galili

Daniel Stoekl Ben Ezra

November 2009