Examples of Melkite Syriac script   2 comments

The script used for Syriac is generally divided into three types: Estrangela, East Syriac, and Serto, which are distributed partly along chronological, partly denominational, lines. These three types cover the majority of surviving manuscripts, but this is not the whole picture: another type, called Melkite, is found less often, but we have enough surviving manuscripts to recognize its distinctiveness from the three other better known types of writing. A search online for “melkite syriac script” etc. yields little easily discoverable images of examples, so it occurred to me that this would be a good place to share a few. HMML finished digitizing the manuscripts of the Church of Mary in Diyarbakır a few years ago, and the collection has been ably cataloged by Grigory Kessel, with his records searchable through Oliver. The Church of Mary has a few manuscripts with this kind of script, and it is from these that the images below come. (These Diyarbakır manuscripts, along with the rest of the collection, are available for study at HMML, and copies may be ordered with a form here.)

The term “Melkite” (< Syriac malkā) refers to adherents of the Council of Chalcedon particularly in areas where there where also adherents of miaphysite belief. Melkite, or Rum Orthodox, Christians are partly an heir to Syriac culture, and Syriac was used liturgically into the eighteenth century in some places. (In Palestine and Transjordan from the 5th-14th centuries, Chalcedonian Christians used Christian Palestinian Aramaic (CPA), the script for which is similar to Estrangela, but it is an Aramaic dialect altogether distinct from Syriac.) From the ninth century especially, the literature is in Arabic, but in Syriac there are some earlier theological and polemical texts, not to mention a number of translations from Greek, as well as a few monastic texts known from Melkite manuscripts but originating in Syriac Orthodox or Church of the East communities. (For Syriac, see further Brock in GEDSH, 285-286, and “Melkite” and “Melkites” in the Comprehensive Bibliography of Syriac Christianity at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and otherwise G. Graf, GCAL I 623-640, II 3-93, and III 23-41, 79-298, and J. Nasrallah, Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l’Église Melchite du Vᵉ au XXᵉ siècle, 4 vols.)

According to Hatch (An Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts, 28-29), the Melkite Syriac script developed from Serto, but he generally points out similarities with Estrangela and East Syriac, too, echoing Wright, who says that it “inclines in many points towards the Nestorian” (Cat. Syr. Brit. Mus., pt. III, p. xxxi). Plates xv-xvii of Wright’s catalog provide some examples. Hatch knew of only fourteen manuscripts, including those in Wright’s catalog, in Melkite script clearly dated before the end of the sixteenth century, the cutoff point for his Album. The oldest of these manuscripts is one finished at the Lavra of Mar Elias on the Black Mountain and dated 1045 CE. Hatch offers examples in his plates clxxxiv-cxcvii.

A few more examples from HMML’s work at the Church of Mary in Diyarbakır, of good quality and in full color, will be a welcome addition to the samples otherwise available. The manuscripts are indicated by their HMML source number.

DIYR 00062. Menaion, dated 1535.

DIYR 62, f. 42r

DIYR 62, f. 42r

DIYR 00063. Menaion, 16th cent.

DIYR 63, f. 69v

DIYR 63, f. 69v

DIYR 00083. Pentecostarion, dated 1540.

DIYR 83, f. 35v

DIYR 83, f. 35v

DIYR 00335. Menaion, 16th/17th cent.

DIYR 335, f. 157v

DIYR 335, f. 157v

2 responses to “Examples of Melkite Syriac script

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  1. Was ancient Syriac script written from right to left or left to right. We have some examples of something which was identified as ancient Syriac script. I would like to send you a sample to see if you can identify it., This script is similar to some of these samples, but it is more rounded. Would you like me to scan it and send it to you?

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