Archive for the ‘Aramaic’ Tag

fringe philology   Leave a comment

Greetings!. It’s been a long while, but if you’re interested in more posts like those you’ve seen here at hmmlorientalia, please check out fringe philology, a site I’ve set up for some of my teaching, writing, translating, etc. Here’s the about page. There are already posts on stuff in Coptic, Gəʕəz, Syriac, and Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, with more to come in other Aramaics, Georgian, Armenian, and more. Some posts are free, and some accessible to patrons only, but please have a look and consider subscribing! Thanks for your interest!

Here are links to a few posts:

Death and Satan in Syriac verse

a new edition and translation of the hymn of the pearl

puryå “bed” in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic

prepositions, particles, adverbs, and other little words in JBA

a favorite Jesus-miracle 🌞

little intro to Targums + Gen 11:1-9 (Targum Onqelos)

“dew” in the Manichaean Psalm-book

Bohairic Jonah, pt. 3 (1:13-16)

two lines on the Great Battle (MCH 6)

Posted May 25, 2023 by adam_bremer-mccollum in Uncategorized

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Old Georgian phrases and sentences 62 (Raka!)   Leave a comment

In Sarjveladze-Fähnrich, 960a, s.v. რაკა (and 1167b, s.v. უთჳსესი), the following line is cited from manuscript A-689 (13th cent.), f. 69v, lines 20-23:

კითხვაჲ: რაჲ არს რაკა? მიგებაჲ: სიტყუაჲ სოფლიოჲ, უმშჳდესადრე საგინებელად უთჳსესთა მიმართ მოპოვნებული

Frage: Was ist Raka? Antwort: Ein grobes Wort, den nächsten Angehörigen gegenüber als leiser Tadel gebraucht.

This is a question-and-answer kind of commentary note on the word raka in Mt 5:22. There is probably something analogous in Greek or other scholia, but I have not checked. For this word in Syriac and Jewish Aramaic dialects, see Payne Smith 3973-3974; Brockelmann, LS 1488; DJPA 529b; and for JBA rēqā, DJBA 1078a (only one place cited, no quotation given). For the native lexica, see Bar Bahlul 1915 and the quotations given in Payne Smith.

For this word in this verse, the Syriac versions (S, C, P, H) all have raqqā, Armenian has յիմար (senseless, crazy, silly), and in the Georgian versions, the earlier translations have შესულებულ, but the later, more hellenizing translations have the Aramaic > Greek word რაკა on which the scholion was written. Before returning to the Georgian scholion above, let’s first have a look at parts of this verse in Greek and all of these languages. Note this Georgian vocabulary for below:

გან-(ხ)-უ-რისხ-ნ-ეს 3sg aor conj (the -ნ- is not the pl obj marker) განრისხება to become angry | ცუდად in vain, without cause | შესულებული dumbfounded, stupid | ცოფი crazy, fool

Part 1

  • πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ
  • kul man d-nergaz ʿal aḥu(h)y iqiʾ
  • ամենայն որ բարկանայ եղբաւր իւրում տարապ֊արտուց
  • A89/A844 რ(ომე)ლი განხოჳრისხნეს ძმასა თჳსა [ცოჳ]დად
  • Ad ყოველი რომელი განურისხნეს ძმასა თჳსსა ცუდად
  • PA რომელი განურისხნეს ძმასა თჳსსა ცუდად
  • At რომელი განურისხნეს ძმასა თჳსსა ცუდად

Part 2

  • ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ· ῥακά
  • kul d-nēmar l-aḥu(h)y raqqā
  • որ ասիցէ ցեղբայր իւր յիմար
  • A89/A844 რ(ომელმა)ნ ხრქ(ოჳ)ას ძმასა თჳსსა შესოჳლებოჳლ
  • Ad რომელმან ჰრქუას ძმასა თჳსსა: შესულებულ
  • PA რომელმან ჰრქუას ძმასა თჳსსა რაკა
  • At რომელმან ჰრქუას ძმასა თჳსსა რაკა

Part 3

  • ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ· μωρέ
  • man d-nēmar lellā (P, H; while S, C have šāṭyā)
  • որ ասիցէ ցեղբայր իւր մորոս
  • A89/A844 NA
  • Ad და რომელმან ჰრქუას ძმასა თჳსსა: ცოფ
  • PA რომელმან ჰრქუას ძმასა თჳსსა ცოფ
  • At რომელმან ჰრქუას ძმასა თჳსსა ცოფ

So now we return to the scholion given above.

კითხვაჲ: რაჲ არს რაკა? მიგებაჲ: სიტყუაჲ სოფლიოჲ, უმშჳდესადრე საგინებელად უთჳსესთა მიმართ მოპოვნებული

  • კითხვაჲ question
  • მიგებაჲ answer
  • სოფლიოჲ worldly (< სოფელი)
  • უმშჳდეს-ად-რე < უმშჳდესი quiet, peaceful, calm adv + -რე a particle meaning “a little, slightly”
  • საგინებელად to berate, chide, scold
  • უთჳსესი neighbor, nearby person
  • მოპოვნებული found

Finally, here is an English translation of the scholion:

Question: What is raka? Answer: An impolite word found [when one wants] to berate one’s neighbor in a slightly gentle way.

That is, according to the scholiast there are harsher, stronger vocatives with which to berate someone, but when just a little verbal aggression is needed, raka is the word to choose!

Dried meat in Bar Bahlul   Leave a comment

In a recent post, I mentioned Bar Bahlul’s source “the Proverbs [or tales] of the Arameans”. Among other entries in his lexicon where he cites that source, here is another:

Bar Bahlul, Lexicon, ed. Duval, col. 2072

Bar Bahlul, Lexicon, ed. Duval, col. 2072


Tmirā I found it in the Proverbs [or tales] of the Arameans. I think it is tatmīr, that is, seasoned, salted meat.

Here is an image from a manuscript of the Lexicon, SMMJ 229 (dated 2101 AG = 1789/90 CE), f. 311v:

SMMJ 229, f. 311v

SMMJ 229, f. 311v

This is not a particularly special copy of the Lexicon; it’s just one I had immediately at hand. It is, not surprisingly, slightly different from Duval’s text, including the variants he gives. Note that the Persian word at the end is misspelled in this copy.

Payne Smith (col. 4461) defines tmirā as caro dactylis condita (“meat seasoned with dates”), with Bar Bahlul cited, along with some variation in another manuscript, including alongside tatmīr the word تنجمير. I don’t know anything certain about this additional word (rel. to Persian tanjidan, “to twist together, squeeze, press”?).

The word tatmīr is a II maṣdar of the root t-m-r, which has to do with dates. The Arabic noun is tamr (dried) dates (do not confuse with ṯamar fruit), and probably from Arabic Gǝʿǝz has ተምር፡; cf. Heb. tāmār, JPA t(w)mrh, Syr. tmartā, pl. tamrē. (Another Aramaic word for date-palm is deqlā.) The Arabic D-stem/II verb tammara means “to dry” (dates, meat) (Lane 317). While the noun tamr means “dates”, the verb tammara does not necessarily have to do with drying dates, but can also refer to cutting meat into strips and drying it. Words for tatmīr in the dictionary Lisān al-ʿarab are taqdīd, taybīs, taǧfīf, tanšīf; we find the description taqṭīʿu ‘l-laḥmi ṣiġāran ka-‘l-tamri wa-taǧfīfuhu wa-tanšīfuhu (“cutting meat into small pieces like dates, drying it, and drying it out”) and further, an yaqṭaʿa al-laḥma ṣiġāran wa-yuǧaffifa (“he cuts meat into small pieces and dries it”).  All this makes it doubtful that the word above in Bar Bahlul’s lexicon really has anything to do with dates. Why not simply “dried, seasoned meat”?

As for the passive participle mubazzar, b-z-r is often “to sow”, but may also be used for the “sowing” of seeds, spices, etc. in cooking, so: “to season” (Lane 199). Finally, the last word is Persian namak-sud “salted” (Persian [< Middle Persian] namak salt + sudan to rub [also in Mid.Pers.)

A meeting of three languages in the CPA version of Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures   Leave a comment

Among the texts surviving in Christian Palestinian Aramaic (CPA) that were translated from Greek is a fair amount of Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures (CPG 3585), translations of which also survive in several other languages. In one place (§ 6.14),* Cyril is discussing Simon Magus and says that the emperor Claudius set up a statue to him in Rome, so much did the traditional arch-heretic lead the city of Rome astray. (The story appears in other patristic texts, too.)

Καὶ ἐπλάνησέ τε οὕτω τὴν Ῥωμαίων πόλιν, ὥστε Κλαύδιον ἀνδριάντα αὐτου στῆσαι, ὑπογράψαντα τῇ Ῥωμαίων γλώττῃ, ΣΙΜΟΝΙ ΔΕΟ ΣΑΓΚΤΩ, ὅπερ ἑρμηνευόμενον δηλοῖ, Σίμωνι Θεῷ ἁγίῳ.

So Cyril gives the Latin of this inscription as Simoni Deo Sancto: “To Simon, the holy god.” Turning to the CPA text, we have:

ܘܟܠ ܕܢ ܐܛܥܝ ܪܘܡܐ ܡܕܝܢܬܐ܃ ܠܡܠܘ ܕܐܩܝܡ ܠܗ ܩܠܘܕܝ ܨܠܡ ܘܟܬܒ ܥܠܘܝ ܒܠܝܫܢܐ ܪܘܡܝܐ ܣܝܡܘܢ ܕܐܝܘܣ ܙܢܩܛܘ܃ ܡܐ ܕܗܘ ܡܬܪܓܡ ܘܡܘܕܥ ܣܝܡܘܢ ܐܠܗ ܩܕܝܫ

wkl d<y>n ʔṭʕy rwmʔ mdyntʔ lmlw dʔqym lh qlwdy ṣlm wktb ʕlwy blyšnʔ rwmyʔ symwn dʔyw{s} znqṭw mʔ dhw mtrgm wmwdʕ symwn ʔlh qdyš

The translation is straightforward and makes sense, but the appearance of the Latin inscription, which the CPA translator would have seen in Greek letters, is a bit mangled, not surprisingly. There is no indication of the dative -i in symwn, the -s of dʔyws should be deleted, and the znqṭw, while reflecting the right pronunciation of -γκτ-/-nct-, is a little odd for having a z- at the beginning. In addition, in the CPA version of the Greek translation of the Latin inscription, we really expect the preposition l- to mark the dedication, but there is not one.

Every translation naturally deals with at least two languages, but sometimes, as here, another language also makes an appearance, and, also as here, that appearance may offer an opportunity for some confusion, yet it also grants us an opportunity to have a glimpse at translators and/or scribes with their feet in a more or less complicated labyrinth of more than two languages.

*Greek and CPA published side-by-side in Christa Müller-Kessler and Michael Sokoloff, The Catechism of Cyril of Jerusalem in the Christian Palestinian Aramaic Version, A Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic Version 5 (Groningen, 1999), here pp. 60-61.


Talking to a dog in Aramaic   1 comment

At some points in the history of lexicography, the acceptable fodder for lexicographers has been restricted, investigations into non-literary and purely colloquial words being eschewed. In the course of the last few centuries, at least, in more than one lexicographic arena, this custom has fortunately fallen into disuse, with the study of slang, etc. finding able word-hunters such as John S. Farmer (on whom see here, with numerous works here, with his French-English Vocabula Amatoria elsewhere), Allen Walker Read (Lexical Evidence from Folk Epigraphy in Western North America: A Glossarial Study of the Low Element in the English Vocabulary [Paris, 1935], reprinted by Maledicta Press in 1977 as Classical American Graffiti), and more recently Eric Partridge, Jonathon Green, and others. It is not only the vocabulary of languages of Europe that have been studied on this more earthy level. Yona Sabar’s Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary (Harrassowitz, 2002), for example, includes in its store euphemisms, taboo words, and metaphors as such, as well as the vocabulary of women’s speech and baby talk (see pp. 59-64).

The tenth-century scholar Ḥasan bar Bahlul (see GEDSH, p. 54) compiled a large Syriac lexicon, which contains many terms that are quite rare — indeed some words we know only thanks to his lexicon — and he also gives evidence of Aramaic dialects as spoken in his own time. One colloquial word, yet a word that he came across, he says, in reading, not necessarily in speech, is kušukušu:

Eric Partridg
Eric Partridge

Bar Bahlul's lexicon, ed. Duval, col. 883

Bar Bahlul’s lexicon, ed. Duval, col. 883

Kušukušu. I found it in the Proverbs [or tales] of the Arameans. [It is a term for] coaxing a dog, putting a dog at ease.

This is just the kind of dog-speech one might use with the animal as described by T.S. Eliot:

The usual Dog about the Town

Is much inclined to play the clown,

And far from showing too much pride

Is frequently undignified.

He’s very easily taken in —

Just chuck him underneath the chin

Or slap his back or shake his paw,

And he will gambol and guffaw.

He’s such an easy-going lout,

He’ll answer any hail or shout.

Perhaps especially a hail or shout “Kušukušu!” If we’re to believe the rest of Eliot’s poem (thanks to my children for keeping it so often in my ears), it’s not so with cats!

Bar Bahul’s complete lexicon, ed. R. Duval, is available online, and the CAL project provides links from individual lemmas to the appropriate pages. The work is hardly a mere glossary, with just close equivalents for Syriac-Syriac or Syriac-Arabic. Some entries are long and give much more than simple definitions (e.g. philosophy on cols. 1548-1554). A full-scale study of the work would yield us a fuller picture of intellectual work and knowledge around Baghdad in the tenth century, especially in Christian circles, so hopefully some able scholar will undertake such a project before long, and a complete digital edition, fully searchable, would be a good foundational start.

Franz Rosenthal on Hans Heinrich Schaeder   3 comments

Hinrich Biesterfeldt, ed. “Franz Rosenthal’s Half an Autobiography.” Die Welt des Islams 54 (2014): 34-105.

I’m now reading the hot-off-the-press memoir of Franz Rosenthal, edited by Hinrich Biesterfeldt. I highly recommend it for reasons of interest academic and historical. Here, as only a taste, are some remarks on his teacher Hans Heinrich Schaeder, with whom Rosenthal studied in Berlin.

My principal mentor and shaykh was Hans Heinrich Schaeder, then at the peak of his mental and physical powers, a conscientious and wonderfully inspiring teacher. His official field was Iranian, and I studied Middle Persian and Islamic Persian with him. Initially, he repaired the damage done me by an earlier course in Syriac that was taught by someone incompetent to teach the language. He showed me how to approach Muslim historical texts, how to reconstruct an Oriental religion, Manichaeism, from fragments transmitted in Arabic, and how to use the tools of scholarship properly. Above all, he was the living example of the need for, and the methods of looking at, the large historical picture without ever neglecting the details offered by the sources. He set the subject of my doctoral dissertation for which he prepared my way by his previous instruction in Aramaic. [p. 54]

I’m very happy that this document has appeared, and thanks are due to the editor and the publisher. As far as I’m concerned, one can never have too much personalia to read.

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

Some maxims (Syriac & Arabic)   1 comment

At the beginning of CFMM 306 are a few maxims, first in Syriac, then in Arabic (Garšūnī):

CFMM 306, f. 1r

The ink and hand are none too lovely, but the thoughts are, at least. English’d they are:

  • Don’t believe everything you hear.
  • Don’t tell* everything that you see.
  • Don’t say everything that you know.
  • Don’t do everything that you are able to do.
  • Don’t give all you possess.

(*The Syriac has “judge”; the word can mean “declare”, but having to do with a dream, that is, to judge the significance of a dream and to declare it to the dreamer.)

These are maxims of reticence or prudent withholding, all of this basic theme, and they reflect the experience of those who, having given too freely of their means or knowledge, have gotten into trouble, lost relationships, and more. There are, of course, notable traditions of maxims and proverbs spanning ancient near eastern and classical literature (at least Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin), and the sentiments indicated above are hardly unique among those traditions. Erasmus’ Adagia would supply as with many similar items fromg Greek and Latin, richly commented upon — there is to my knowledge nothing comparable for ancient near eastern literature taken comprehensively — but it will suffice to list a few that are to hand.

  • Aḥiqar, Saying 15 (Lindenberger, pp. 75-76): “Above all else, guard your mouth; and as for what you have h[eard], be discreet! For a word is a bird, and he who releases it is a fool.” (מן כל מנטרה טר פמך ועל זי שמעת הוקר לבב כי צנפר הי מלה ומשלחה גבר לא לבב). The last line here brings to mind Homer’s ἔπεα πτερόεντα (“winged words”); perhaps Martin West or others have made the connection before, too, but I’m unaware of it, if so. (For the present purposes, for this and the other sayings from Aḥiqar, I have not marked the few conjectured letters of the Aramaic text as such: see Lindenberger for discussion of each case.)
  • Saying 53 (Lindenberger, 140-141): “Do not reveal your [secr]ets before your [frien]ds, lest your reputation with them be ruined.” (סתריך אל תגלי קדם רחמיך אל יקל שמך קדמיהם)
  • Saying 59 (Lindenberger, 149, partly reconstructed from Armenian and Slavonic versions): “Do not be too sweet lest you be [swallowed]; do not be too bitter [lest you be spat out].” (אל תחלי ואל יבלעוך אל תמר ואל ירקוך)

A quick scan of the gnomai Menandri (ed. Dindorf) yields these admittedly only slightly related finds, the iambic trimeters of which I apologize for not rendering analogously:

  • 90. Γλώσσης μάλιστα πανταχῆ πειρῶ κρατεῖν. Make every effort to rule especially over your tongue.
  • 448. Πρᾶττε τὰ σεαυτοῦ μὴ τὰ τῶν ἄλλου φρόνει. Mind your own business: don’t worry with the affairs of others.

There’s much more in the gnomai about friends, women (not much in appreciation!), parents, and old age.

From the Monosticha Catonis, we might mention:

  • 13. Rem tuam custodi. Watch over your own matter(s).
  • 23. Cui des, videto. Consider to whom you might give something.
  • 31. Nihil temere credideris. Believe nothing rashly.
  • 54. Pauca in convivio loquere. Say little at a party.
  • 57. Minime iudica. Don’t judge at all. [esp. for the Syriac version of the second maxim given above]

And finally, two lines from Leonard Cohen, “Waiting for the Miracle” (from The Future):

If you’re squeezed for information,

That’s when you’ve got to play it dumb.

So then, here’s to sharing and giving, but doing so with care, so advised from Aḥiqar to Cohen! I do hope, though, that you will share any related maxims from antiquity (or later) that come to mind in the comments!


James M. Lindenberger, The Aramaic Proverbs of Ahiqar, Johns Hopkins Near Eastern Studies (Baltimore and London, 1983).

The gnomai of Menander will be found in Dindorf’s Aristophanis comœdiæ…accedunt Menandri et Philemonis fragmenta (Paris, 1846); the monosticha Catonis are easily discoverable online.

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