Spreading the Word

Greek–Arabic Diglot of the Psalms and Odes

Manuscript page written in red ink that switches to black on the bottom half of the page. The right side of the page is in Arabic, the left in Greek
Greek–Arabic Diglot of the Psalms and Odes
Mount Sinai, Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine
Greek 36, ff. 38vÐ39r
Inks on parchment; ff. 200, end lost; 208 x 160mm
Psalter and Odes; Greek and Arabic
Sinai (?); eighthÐninth century

This Greek and Arabic psalter is one of three such bilingual psalters found at Saint Catherine’s, Sinai (the others are Greek cods. 34, 35). They are important witnesses to the liturgical use of Arabic by Christians in the Holy Land and in Sinai in the eighth and ninth centuries. It was during that time that Christians living within the world of Islam, whose everyday spoken language was now Arabic, began to adopt Arabic as an ecclesiastical language. The Melkites (Byzantine or Rum Orthodox), for whom Greek had been the principal language of worship, were the first of the large church communities (Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, Church of the East, Melkite, Maronite) within the Islamic commonwealth to translate their scriptures and church literature into Arabic, and to produce original works in Arabic.

Each page is divided into two columns: Arabic–Greek and on the facing page Greek–Arabic. The texts are marked off in rubrics for liturgical purposes. The Greek Septuagint text is written in a distinctive sloping uncial script with a marked rightward slant; the Arabic in a formal, pointed or voweled Kufic script with a tendency to slope downward to the left.

An undated Arabic note written in a later naskhi script was inserted between the Arabic verses of Psalm 17:1-3. It praises an unnamed head of the monastery and includes a count of the local monastic population during his headship—500 in the monastery of Saint Catherine’s. Statistical information of this kind is interesting because most estimates of the number of monks at Mount Sinai from the tenth through nineteenth centuries have been gathered from accounts by Western travelers. The addition of the phrase “one God” to the customary Trinitarian doxology “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” at the beginning of the note reflects Christian usage in an Islamic milieu.
MJB (author bios)

Gardthausen, 1886, p. 10; Graf, 1944-53, vol. 1, p. 115; Clark, 1952, p. 1; Kamil, 1970, p. 63; Nasrallah, 1979-, vol. 2, pt. 2, p.184.

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