Christian Palestinian Aramaic

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Christian Palestinian Aramaic (CPA, also known as Palestinian Syriac, Jerusalem Syriac, Syropalestinian Aramaic or Melkite Aramaic) was a Western Aramaic dialect used by the Melkite Christian community in Palestine and Transjordan between the fifth and thirteenth centuries.[a] It is preserved in inscriptions, manuscripts (mostly palimpsests in the first period) and amulets. All the medieval Western Aramaic dialects are defined by religious community. CPA is closely related to its counterparts, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (JPA) and Samaritan Aramaic (SA).[2][3]

The only surviving original compositions in CPA are inscriptions in mosaics and rock caves (lavras),)[4][5] magical amulets and a single short magical booklet. All other surviving manuscript compositions are translations of Greek originals.[3] The history of CPA writing can be divided into three periods: early (5th–7th/8th centuries), middle (8th–9th) and late (10th–13th). The existence of a middle period has only recently come to light.[1][3] Only inscriptions, fragmentary manuscripts and the underwriting of palimpsests survive from the early period. Of the inscriptions, only one can be dated with any precision. The fragments are both Biblical and Patristic. The oldest complete manuscript dates to 1030. All the complete manuscripts are liturgical in nature.[3][6] Many of the palimpsests come from Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai (e.g., the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus),[7] the Cairo Genizah and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and often transmit rare texts lost in the Greek transmission (e.g. a Dormition of the Mother of God,[8] the hitherto unknown martyrdom of Patriklos of Caesarea,[9] and the missing quire of Codex Climaci Rescriptus[10][11]), or offer valuable readings for the text critique of the Septuagint.[12]

CPA declined as a spoken language because of persecution and gradual Arabization following the early Islamic conquests. From the tenth century onwards it was mainly a liturgical language in the Melkite churches and the Melkite community mainly spoke Arabic.[3] Even as a written language, it went extinct around the fourteenth century and was only identified or rediscovered as a distinct variety of Aramaic in the nineteenth century.[13] No source gives it a name as a distinct dialect or language and all such names are modern scholarly inventions. Names like "Palestinian Syriac" and "Syropalestinian"[b] reflect the fact that Palestinian Aramaic speakers often referred to their language as Syriac and made use of an alphabet based on the northern Syriac ʾEsṭrangēlā script. The terms "Christian Palestinian Aramaic" and "Melkite Aramaic"[c] emphasise the confessional identity of the speakers and the distinctness from any Syriac variety of Aramaic. The term "Jerusalem Syriac" emphasises the location where the majority of inscriptions have been found,[3] although the term syrica Hierosolymitana was introduced by J. D. Michaelis based on the appearance of the Arabic name of Jerusalem in the colophon of a Gospel lectionary of 1030 AD.[14] It was also used in the first edition by Miniscalchi Erizzo.[15]

CPA can be distinguished from JPA and SA by the lack of direct influence from Hebrew and new Hebrew loanwords, its Hebrew loanwords being retained from an earlier symbiosis of Hebrew and Aramaic. It is also distinguished by the presence of Greek syntax (by retention in translation). Also, unlike JPA and SA, only primary texts survive for CPA (in palimpsests). There was no transmission of manuscripts after the language itself went out use as liturgical language. In comparison with its counterparts, therefore, the CPA corpus represents an older, more intact example of Western Aramaic from when the dialects were still living, spoken languages.[1]


  1. ^ This period may be described as Middle Aramaic or Late Aramaic.[1]
  2. ^ Since Palestine and Syria are different areas with different Aramaic dialects, these terms can be considered misleading.[6]
  3. ^ The term "Melkite Aramaic" was coined by Alain Desreumaux.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Christa Müller-Kessler, "Christian Palestinian Aramaic and Its Significance to the Western Aramaic Dialect Group" (review article), Journal of the American Oriental Society 119, 4 (1999), pp. 631–636.
  2. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, Grammatik des Christlich-Palästinisch-Aramäischen. Teil 1: Schriftlehre, Lautlehre, Morphologie (Texte und Studien zur Orientalistik 6; Hildesheim, 1991).
  3. ^ a b c d e f Matthew Morgenstern, "Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in Stefan Weninger (ed.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook (De Gruyter Mouton, 2011), pp. 628–37.
  4. ^ Émile Puech, "Notes d’épigraphie christo-palestinniene de Jordanie", in C. Dauphin and B. Harmaneh (eds.), In Memoriam Fr. Michele Piccirillo, OFM (1944–2008) (BAR International Series 248; Oxford, 2011), pp. 75–94, figs. 205–236.
  5. ^ Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Alain Desreumaux, Khirbet es-samra I Jordanie (Bibliothèque de l'anquité tardive; Turnhout, 1998).
  6. ^ a b Sebastian P. Brock, "Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompuy (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition (Gorgias Press, 2011 [print]; Beth Mardutho, 2018 [online]).
  7. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus. A Collection of Christian Palestinian Aramaic Manuscripts”, Le Muséon 127 (2014), pp. 263–309).
  8. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "Three Early Witnesses of the «Dormition of Mary» in Christian Palestinian Aramaic: Palimpsests from the Cairo Genizah (Taylor-Schechter Collection) and the New Finds in St Catherine's Monastery", Apocrypha 29 (2018), pp. 69–95.
  9. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "The Unknown Martyrdom of Patriklos of Caesarea in Christian Palestinian Aramaic from St Catherine's Monastery (Sinai, Arabic NF 66)", Analecta Bollandiana 137 (2019), pp. 63–71.
  10. ^ Agnes Smith Lewis, The Codex Climaci Rescriptus (Horae Semiticae VIII; Cambridge, 1909).
  11. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "The Missing Quire of the Codex Climaci Rescriptus Containing 1–2 Corinthians in Christian Palestinian Aramaic (Sinai, Syriac NF 38)", in Jana Gruskova, Grigory Kessel, Giulia Rossetto and Claudia Rapp (eds.), New Light on Old Manuscripts: Recent Advances in Palimpsest Studies (2020).
  12. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "1.4.9 Christian Palestinian Aramaic Translation”, in A. Lange and E. Tov (eds.), The Hebrew Bible, Vol. 1A (Leiden, 2016), pp. 447–456.
  13. ^ Theodor Nöldeke, "Über den christlich-palästinischen Dialect", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 22 (1868), pp. 443–527.
  14. ^ J. D. Michaelis and J. D. G. Adler, Novi Testamenti versiones syricae Simplex, Philoxeniana et Hierosolymitana (Copenhagen, 1798), p. 140.
  15. ^ F. Miniscalchi Erizzo, Evangeliarum Hierosolymitanum (Verona, 1861); F. Rosenthal, Die aramaistische Forschung seit Th. Nöldeke’s Veröffentlichungen (Leiden, 1938), pp. 144–146.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sebastian P. Brock, Catalogue of the New Finds (Athens, 1995). ISBN 96085739-0-4
  • Sebastian P. Brock, "Ktabe mpassqe: Dismembered and Reconstructed Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic Manuscripts: Some Examples, Ancient and Modern", Hugoye, Journal of Syriac Studies 15 (2012), pp. 7–20.
  • Sebastian P. Brock, "Sinai: A Meeting Point of Georgian with Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in The Causasus between East and West: Historical and Philological Studies in Honour of Zaza Aleksidze (Tbilisi, 2012), pp. 483-494.
  • Philothée du Sinaï, Nouveaux manuscrits syriaques du Sinai (Athens, 2008).
  • Émile Puech, "Notes d’épigraphie christo-palestinienne de Jordanie", in Memoriam: Fr Michele Piccirillo, ofm (1944–2008) ed. by Claudine Dauphin and Basema Hamarneh, BAR International Series 248 (Oxford, 2011), pp. 75-94.
  • Tarsee Li, Greek Indicative Works in the Christian Palestinian Aramaic Gospels (Piscataway, 2013).