Gabriel Sionita, a learned Maronite, famous for his share in the publication of the Parisian polyglot of the Bible; b. 1577, at Edden on the Lebanon; d. 1648, at Paris. Though he came to Rome at the age of seven, he always looked upon Arabic as his mother tongue. At Rome he learnt Latin, Syriac, and acquired a slight knowledge of Hebrew; he studied theology, but did not receive the priesthood till much later, in Paris, at the advanced age of 45. Savary de Breves, once French ambassador to Turkey and interested in Oriental studies, when recalled from Rome, took two Maronites with him to Paris to assist in the publication of the polyglot under the auspices of de Thou, the royal librarian, and Cardinal Duperron.
The two Maronites were Gabriel Sionita and John Hesronita. Gabriel, however, was by far the more prominent of the two. They received an annual stipend of 600 livres, and Gabriel was appointed to the chair of Semitic languages at the Sorbonne. Unfortunately both de Thou and Duperron died within four years, and serious financial difficulties arose. In1619, it is true, the assembly of French clergy at Blois voted 8000 livres to support the undertaking; but through some malversation of funds, this money was never actually paid; at least such is the accusation brought by Gabriel in his preface to the Syriac Psalter which he published. The Maronites seem to have become involved in pecuniary embarrassments, which led to unseemly feuds with the leaders of the undertaking. In 1619, however, by royal diploma, Gabriel‘s stipend had been raised to 1200 livres; the following year he received the doctor’s degree and two years later the priesthood. Evidently all had been done to honor and support these Eastern scholars; and the blame probably lies largely with Gabriel, who can hardly be excused from idleness and thriftlessness. In 1626, as Gabriel held no classes owing to lack of students, his stipend was curtailed. After some time, however, he was paid on the original basis; and, in1629, his salary was increased to 2000 livres. In 1630, he recommenced work on the polyglot; but, as he did not apply himself industriously, and was even accused, apparently with some show of reason, of carelessness in the work, he again found himself in difficulties. In the quarrel which ensued, Richelieu sup ported the editor, Le Jay, against the Maronites; and as it was feared that Gabriel might leave the country, the cardinal had him imprisoned in Vincennes (1640); he was released, however, at the expiration of three months’ time, when he had signed an undertaking and given sureties that he would prepare the texts for the polyglot. He had actually completed his great task some time before his death, which occurred at the age of 71. Gabriel‘s share in the polyglot is as follows: he revised and corrected almost all Syriac and Arabic texts; and he translated the Arabic and Syriac texts into Latin with the exceptions of the Book of Ruth. But he made only a revision and not a fresh translation of the Gospels into Latin, nor did he translate from Syriac into Latin the Sapiential books or the Apocalypse. Together with John Hesronita and Victor Sciala he published, in 1614, a Latin translation of the (Arabic) Psalter; in 1616, he published an Arabic grammar, of which, however, but one division (Liber I) appeared, containing rules for reading. In 1619, appeared his “Geographia Nubiensis”, i.e. a translation of the Maronite editions of the same, or rather of Edrisi’s geography, with a small treatise as appendix, “De nonnullis Orient. Urb. nec non indig. relig. ac. moribus”. In 1634, was issued a “Poema Enigmaticum” in praise of Divine wisdom by an ancient Syrian philosopher; in 1630, “Testamentum et pactiones inter Mohammedem et Christiana fidei cultores”, in Arabic and Latin; and finally (1640-2) three small pamphlets, one in Latin and two in French, containing his defense in the actions of Le Jay and Vitre
J. P. ARENDZEN