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Christian Palestinian Aramaic

Christian Palestinian Aramaic
CPA in uncial script: underwriting of Matthew 26:72–27:2 in a palimpsest
RegionPalestine, Transjordan, Sinai
Eraca. 400–1200
Early forms
Christian Palestinian Aramaic Alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Christian Palestinian Aramaic (Liššōnō Sūrsi) was a Western Aramaic dialect used by the Melkite Christian community, predominantly of Jewish descent,[2] in Palestine, Transjordan and Sinai[3] between the fifth and thirteenth centuries.[a] It is preserved in inscriptions, manuscripts (mostly palimpsests, less papyri[6] 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).[7][8][9] CPA shows a specific vocabulary that is often not paralleled in the adjacent Western Aramaic dialects.[7]


No source gives CPA a name as a distinct dialect or language and all such names are modern scholarly inventions.[8] Names like "Palestinian Syriac" and "Syro-Palestinian Aramaic"[b] reflect the fact that Palestinian Aramaic speakers often referred to their language as Sūrsi (Syriac) in their native tongue and made use of an alphabet based on the classical Syriac of Edessa,[11] the Estrangela (from Greek strongylos ΣΤΡΟΓΓΥΛΟΣ, "rounded")[12] script.[8] The Palestinian Aramaic term Sūrsi is originally derived from the Greek term Syristi (ΣΥΡΙΣΤΊ)[13] and both refer to Aramaic. Additionally, in later Rabbinic literature, Aramaic was recognized as Syriac.[14] Egeria, in the account of her pilgrimage to Palestine at the end of the 4th century, refers to Syriac,[15] which was probably what is now Christian Palestinian Aramaic.[16]

The term syrica Hierosolymitana was introduced by J. D. Michaelis based on the appearance of the Arabic name of Jerusalem, al-Quds,[c] in the colophon of a Gospel lectionary of 1030 AD (today Vat. sir. 19).[18] It was also used in the first edition by Miniscalchi Erizzo.[19] The term "Jerusalem Syriac" is sometimes said to emphasise the location where most of the first inscriptions were found,[8] although most of them come today from Transjordan.

The terms "Christian Palestinian Aramaic" and "Melkite Aramaic"[d] emphasise the confessional identity of the speakers and the distinctness from any Syriac variety of Aramaic.[8]


CPA is preserved in inscriptions, manuscripts (mostly palimpsests in the early period) and amulets. 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.[4][8]

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 (non-fragmentary) manuscript dates to 1030. All the complete manuscripts are liturgical in nature.[8][10]

CPA declined as a spoken language because of persecution and gradual Arabization following the early Muslim conquests. From the tenth century onwards it was mainly a liturgical language in the Melkite churches; the Melkite community mostly spoke Arabic.[8] 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.[20]


Deuteronomy 11:7–10 from the Lewis lectionary, 11th century (Westminster College, Cambridge)

The only surviving original compositions in CPA[8] are inscriptions in mosaics and rock caves (lavras),[21][22] magical silver amulets[23][24][25] and a single short magical booklet.[26] All other surviving manuscript compositions are translations of Greek originals.[8]

Many of the palimpsests come from Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula (e.g., the Codex Climaci Rescriptus),[27] but some also from Mar Saba (e.g., part of the Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus),[27] the Cairo Genizah[e][27][28] and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.[29] They often transmit rare texts lost in the Greek transmission (e.g. the Transitus Mariae;[30][31][32] the hitherto unknown martyrdom of Patriklos of Caesarea, one of the eleven followers of Pamphilus of Caesarea;[32][33] and a missing quire of Codex Climaci Rescriptus[32][34][35]), or offer valuable readings for the textual criticism of the Septuagint.[36]

Inscriptions have been found in Palestine at ʿEn Suweinit,[37] near ʿAbūd,[38] at ʿUmm er-Rūs,[39] in the Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem,[40] at Hippos in Galilee,[41] and at Khirbet Qastra near Haifa.[42] In the Transjordan, inscriptions have been found on Mount Nebo (ʿAyūn Mūsa), in the vicinity of Amman (Khayyān el-Mushrif)[21] and on tombstones in Khirbet es-Samra.[22]

The manuscripts include a short letter on papyrus from Khibert Mird[43] and at least one wooden board.[44] The parchment manuscript fragments are Biblical (mostly in the form of lectionaries), Patristic, theological (e.g. the catecheses by Cyril of Jerusalem and homilies by John Chrysostom), hagiographic (mostly martyrs' lives) or apocryphal (e.g., the Transitus Mariae). The only dated manuscript is the Gospel lectionary of 1030.[45]


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.[4][46] It is also distinguished by the presence of Greek syntax (by partial retention in translation). Also, unlike JPA and SA, CPA is attested only in primary texts (mostly 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.

Editions of texts


  • Jan P. N. Land, Anecdota Syriaca IV (Leiden, 1875), pp. 177–233 [Latin], pp. 103–224 [Syropalestinian], pls. I–VI.
  • James Rendall Harris, Biblical Fragments from Mount Sinai (Cambridge, 1890), pp. 65–68.
  • Paul de Lagarde, Evangeliarum Hierosolymitanum (Bibliothecae syriacae; Göttingen, 1892), pp. 257–402.
  • George H. Gwilliam, The Palestinian Version of the Holy Scriptures (Anecdota Oxoniensia, Semitic Series Vol. I Part V; Oxford, 1893).
  • George H. Gwilliam, Francis Crawford Burkitt, John F. Stenning, Biblical and Patristic Relics of the Palestinian Syriac Literature, (Anecdota Oxoniensia, Semitic Series Vol. I, Part IX; Oxford, 1896).
  • G. Margoliouth, The Liturgy of the Nile, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1896, pp. 677–727, pls. I–II.
  • Agnes S. Lewis and Margaret D. Gibson, The Palestinian Syriac Lectionary of the Gospels (London, 1899).
  • Agnes S. Lewis and Margaret D. Gibson, Palestinian Syriac Texts from Palimpsest Fragments in the Taylor-Schechter Collection (London, 1900).
  • Agnes S. Lewis and Margaret D. Gibson, An Appendix of Palestinian Syriac Texts (Studia Sinaitica XI; London, 1902), pp. XXVIII–XXIX, XLVII.
  • Friedrich Schulthess, Christlich-palästinische Fragmente, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 56, 1902, pp. 249–261.
  • Friedrich Schulthess, Christlich-palästinische Fragmente aus der Omajjaden-Moschee zu Damaskus (Berlin, 1905).
  • Pavel K. Kokowzoff, Nouveaux fragments syropalestiniens de la Bibliothèque Impériale Publique de Saint-Pétersbourg (St. Petersburg, 1906).
  • Hugo Duensing, Christlich-palästinisch-aramäische Texte und Fragmente (Göttingen, 1906).
  • Agnes S. Lewis, A Palestinian Syriac Lectionary: Containing Lessons from the Pentateuch, Job, Proverbs, Prophets, Acts, and Epistles (Cambridge, 1897).
  • Agnes S. Lewis, Supplement to a Palestinian Syriac Lectionary (Cambridge, 1907).
  • Agnes S. Lewis, Codex Climaci Rescriptus (Horae Semiticae VIII; Cambridge, 1909).
  • Agnes S. Lewis, The Forty Martyrs of the Sinai Desert and the Story of Eulogios (Horae Semiticae IX; Cambridge, 1912).
  • Matthew Black, Rituale Melchitarum. A Christian Palestinian Euchologion (Stuttgart, 1938).
  • Matthew Black, "A Palestinian Syriac Palimpsest Leaf of Acts XXI (14–26)," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 23, 1939, pp. 201–214, pls. 1–2.
  • N. Pigoulewski, "Fragments syro-palestiniens des Psaumes CXXIII–IV," Revue Bibilque 43 (1934), pp. 519–527, pl. XXX.
  • Hugo Duensing, Neue christlich-palästinische-aramäische Fragmente, NAWG, phil.-hist. Kl. 9 (Göttingen, 1944).
  • Matthew Black, A Christian Palestinian Syriac Horologion (Texts and Studies N.S. 1; Cambridge, 1954).
  • Hugo Duensing, Nachlese christlich-palästinisch aramäischer Fragmente, NAWG, phil.-hist. Kl. 5 (Göttingen, 1955).
  • Charles Perrot, "Un fragment christo-palestinien découvert à Khirbet Mird," Revue Biblique 70, 1963, pp. 506–555, pls. XVIII–XXIX.
  • Moshe Goshen-Gottstein with the Assistance by H. Shirun (ed.), The Bible in the Syropalestinian Version. Part I. Pentateuch and Prophets (Publications of the Hebrew University Bible Project Monograph Series; Jerusalem, 1973).
  • Christa Müller-Kessler and Michael Sokoloff, The Christian Palestinian Aramaic Old Testament and Apocrypha (Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic I; Groningen, 1997). ISBN 90-5693-007-9
  • Maurice Baillet, "Un livret magique en christo-palestinien à l’Université de Louvain," Le Muséon 76, 1963, pp. 375–401.
  • Sebastian P. Brock, A Fragment of the Acta Pilati in Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Journal of Theological Studies N.S. 22, 1971, pp. 157–158.
  • Sebastian P. Brock, Catalogue of the New Finds (Athens, 1995).
  • Alain Desreumaux, Codex sinaiticus Zosimi rescriptus (Histoire du Texte Biblique 3; Lausanne, 1997). ISBN 2-9700088-3-1
  • Alain Desreumaux, "Une inscription araméenne melkite sous une peinture copte du musée du Louvre. Le texte araméen melkite," Oriens Christianus 86, 1996, pp. 82–97.
  • Christa Müller-Kessler and Michael Sokoloff, The Christian Palestinian Aramaic New Testament Version from the Early Period. Gospels (Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic IIA; Groningen, 1998). ISBN 90-5693-018-4
  • Christa Müller-Kessler and Michael Sokoloff, The Christian Palestinian Aramaic New Testament Version from the Early Period. Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic IIB; Groningen, 1998). ISBN 90-5693-019-2
  • Sebastian P. Brock, Fragments of PS-John Chrysostom, Homily on the Prodigal Son, in Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Le Muséon 112, 1999, pp. 335–362.
  • Christa Müller-Kessler and Michael Sokoloff, The Catechism of Cyril of Jerusalem in the Christian Palestinian Aramaic Version (A Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic V; Groningen, 1999). ISBN 90-5693-030-3
  • Christa Müller-Kessler, Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus. A Collection of Christian Palestinian Aramaic Manuscripts, Le Muséon 127, 2014, pp. 263–309.
  • Alin Suciu, "An Addition to Christian Palestinian Aramaic Literary Corpus: Logos XV of Abba Isaiah of Scetis," Journal of Semitic Studies 61, 2016, pp. 449–461.
  • 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.
  • Laurent Capron, Deux fragments d’épittres pauliniennes (1 Thess. et 1 Cor.) en araméen christopalestinien, Semitica 61, 2019, 117–127.
  • Christa Müller-Kessler, "An Overlooked Christian Palestinian Aramaic Witness of the Dormition of Mary in Codex Climaci Rescriptus (CCR IV)," Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 16, 2019, pp. 81–98.
  • C. 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.


  • M. Halloun and R. Rubin, "Palestinian Syriac Inscription from ‘En Suweinit," Liber Annuus 31, 1981, pp. 291–298, pls. 59–62.


  1. ^ This period may be described as Middle Aramaic or Late Aramaic.[4][5]
  2. ^ Since Palestine and Syria are different areas with different Aramaic dialects, these terms can be considered misleading.[10]
  3. ^ This itself was a correction of adquds by the editors Assemani.[17]
  4. ^ The term "Melkite Aramaic" was coined by Alain Desreumaux.[4]
  5. ^ Today in the Taylor-Schechter Collection, University Library of Cambridge; Bodleian Library, Oxford; and Museum of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia


  1. ^ The Jewish People in the First Century, Volume 2. Brill. January 1988. p. 1019. ISBN 9789004275096. …Aramaic (sursi) for lamentation, Hebrew (ivri) for speaking'…
  2. ^ Arman Akopian (11 December 2017). "Other branches of Syriac Christianity: Melkites and Maronites". Introduction to Aramean and Syriac Studies. Gorgias Press. p. 573. ISBN 9781463238933. The main center of Aramaic-speaking Melkites was Palestine. During the 5th-6th centuries, they were engaged in literary, mainly translation work in the local Western Aramaic dialect, known as 'Palestinian Christian Aramaic', using a script closely resembling the cursive Estrangela of Osrhoene. Palestinian Melkites were mostly Jewish converts to Christianity, who had a long tradition of using Palestinian Aramaic dialects as literary languages. Closely associated with the Palestinian Melkites were the Melkites of Transjordan, who also used Palestinian Christian Aramaic. Another community of Aramaic-speaking Melkites existed in the vicinity of Antioch and parts of Syria. These Melkites used Classical Syriac as a written language, the common literary language of the overwhelming majority of Christian Arameans.
  3. ^ Arabic in Context. Brill. 6 June 2017. p. 338. ISBN 9789004343047. For the Aramaic-speaking Christian communities of Sinai, Palestine or Trans-Jordan, Christian Palestinian Aramaic was the dominant language in local churches; for Syria and Mesopotamia, it was rather Syriac.…
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ J. A. Fitzmyer, "The Phases of the Aramaic Language," in The Wandering Aramean(Chico, California, 1979), pp. 57–84.
  6. ^ Alain Desreumaux apud Philothée du Sinaï, Nouveaux manuscrits syriaques du Sinai (Athens, 2008)
  7. ^ a b Christa Müller-Kessler, Grammatik des Christlich-Palästinisch-Aramäischen. Teil 1: Schriftlehre, Lautlehre, Morphologie (Texte und Studien zur Orientalistik 6; Hildesheim, 1991), p. 6.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Matthew Morgenstern, "Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in Stefan Weninger (ed.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook (De Gruyter Mouton, 2011), pp. 628–37.
  9. ^ Friedrich Schulthess, Grammatik des christlich-palästinischen-Aramäisch (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1924), pp. 1–2.
  10. ^ a b Sebastian P. Brock, "Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition (Gorgias Press, 2011 [print]; Beth Mardutho, 2018 [online]).
  11. ^ The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Orthodox Christianity. Oxford University Press. p. 72. …The language of the Peshitta—as we have it today—is the standardized (and fossilized) Classical Syriac, the Aramaic language of Edessa and its surroundings.…
  12. ^ Fergus Millar. The Roman Near East, 31 B.C.-A.D. 337. Harvard University Press. p. 457. …'Estrangela' (from the Greek 'strongylos', "rounded"),…
  13. ^ Septuagint:Daniel. Scripture Research Institute. …Aramaic Codex Vaticanus: Syristi (ΣΥΡΙΣΤΊ). Translation: Syrian, Aramaic…
  14. ^ Contours in the Text. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 64. …Suristi, "Syria", and "Syrian" – the Greek names for Aram, Aramaean or Aramaic. Aramaic was also known as 'Syriac' in later Rabbinic literature…
  15. ^ J. Wilkinson, Egeria's Travels (Oxford, 1963), p. 163.
  16. ^ W. Telfer, Cyril of Jerusalem and Nemesius of Emesa (London, 1955), p. 35.
  17. ^ F. Rosenthal, "Das Christlich-Palestinensische", in Die aramaistische Forschung seit Th. Nöldelke’s Veröffentlichungen (Leiden, 1939), pp. 144–146.
  18. ^ J. D. Michaelis and J. D. G. Adler, Novi Testamenti versiones syricae Simplex, Philoxeniana et Hierosolymitana (Copenhagen, 1798), p. 140.
  19. ^ F. Miniscalchi Erizzo, Evangeliarum Hierosolymitanum (Verona, 1861).
  20. ^ Theodor Nöldeke, "Über den christlich-palästinischen Dialect", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 22 (1868), pp. 443–527.
  21. ^ a b 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.
  22. ^ a b Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Alain Desreumaux, Khirbet es-samra I Jordanie (Bibliothèque de l'anquité tardive; Turnhout, 1998), pp. 435–521 (script samples).
  23. ^ J. Naveh and S. Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1993), pp. 107–109, pl. 17.
  24. ^ E. Puech, "Deux amulettes palestiniennes une en grec et une bilingue en grec-christo-palestinien," in H. Gasche and B. Hrouda (eds.), Collectanea orientalia. Histoire, arts de l’espace et industrie de la terre. Etudes offertes en hommage à Agnès Spycket (CPOA 3; Neuchâtel, 1996), pp. 299–310.
  25. ^ K. Beyer, Die Texte vom Toten Meer, Vol. 1–2, Supplement (Göttingen, 1984, 1994, 2004).
  26. ^ M. Baillet, "Un Livret Magique en Christo-Palestinien à L'Université de Louvain", Le Muséon 78 , 1963, pp. 375–401.
  27. ^ a b c Müller-Kessler, Christa (2014). "Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus (CRSG/O/P/S)". Le Muséon (3): 263–309. doi:10.2143/MUS.127.3.3062095.
  28. ^ M. Sokoloff and J. Yahalom, "Christian Palimpsests from the Cairo Geniza", Revue d’Histoire des Textes 8, 1978, pp. 109–132.
  29. ^ F. Schulthess, Christlich-Palästinische Fragmente aus der Omajjaden-Moschee zu Damaskus (Berlin, 1905).
  30. ^ Müller-Kessler, Christa (January 2018). "Three Early Witnesses of the "Dormition Of Mary" in Christian Palestinian Aramaic from the Cairo Genizah (Taylor-Schechter Collection) and the New Finds in St Catherine's Monastery". Apocrypha. 29: 69–95. doi:10.1484/J.APOCRA.5.116638.
  31. ^ Müller-Kessler, Christa (18 July 2019). "An Overlooked Christian Palestinian Aramaic Witness of the "Dormition of Mary" in Codex Climaci Rescriptus (CCR IV)". Collectanea Christiana Orientalia. 16: 81–98. doi:10.21071/cco.v16i0.1101. hdl:10396/19203. ISSN 2386-7442.
  32. ^ a b c "Research Site | Sinai Palimpsests Project".
  33. ^ Müller-Kessler, Christa (January 2019). "The Unknown Martyrdom of Patriklos of Caesarea in Christian Palestinian Aramaic From St Catherine's Monastery (Sinai, Arabic NF 66)". Analecta Bollandiana. 137 (1): 63–71. doi:10.1484/J.ABOLL.4.2019024.
  34. ^ Agnes Smith Lewis, The Codex Climaci Rescriptus (Horae Semiticae VIII; Cambridge, 1909).
  35. ^ Sebastian P. Brock, "The Syriac ‘New Finds’ at St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai and Their Significance", The Harp 27 (2011), pp. 39–52.
  36. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "1.4.9 Christian Palestinian Aramaic Translation", in Armin Lange and Emanuel Tov (eds.), The Hebrew Bible, Vol. 1A (Leiden: Brill, 2016), pp. 447–456.
  37. ^ M. Halloun, and R. Rubin, "Palestinian Syriac Inscription from ʿEn Suweinit," Liber Annuus 31 (1981), 291–298, Tf. 59–62
  38. ^ J. T. Milik, "Inscription araméenne christo-palestinienne de ʿAbûd," Liber Annuus 10, 1959–60, pp. 197–204.
  39. ^ R. A. Macalister, "A Byzantine Church at Umm er Rûs," PEFQS 31, 1899, pp. 200–204.
  40. ^ F. Macler, "L’inscription syriaque de Ste. Anne à Jérusalem," in Mosaïque orientale (Paris, 1907), pp. 16–21.
  41. ^ Borschel-Dan, Amanda (25 July 2019). "6th-century inscriptions near Galilee may show Christians' fading Greek literacy". Times of Israel. "There were so many mistakes, we thought perhaps it is not their lingua franca," Eisenberg said this week, rather Aramaic.
  42. ^ L. Segni and J. Naveh, "A Bilingual Greek – Aramaic Inscription from Ḥ. Qastra, near Haifa," ‘Atiqot 29, 1996, pp. 77–78.
  43. ^ J. T. Milik, "The Archaeological Remains at el-Mird in the Wilderness of Judaea, Appendix: The Monastery of Kastellion," Biblica 42, 1961, pp. 21–27.
  44. ^ M.-H. Rutschowscaya and A. Desreumaux, "Une peinture copte sur un bois inscrit en araméen christo-paestinien au Musée du Louvre," Compte rendue de séances l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres 1992, pp. 83–92.
  45. ^ Smith Lewis, Agnes and Dunlop Gibson, Margaret (1899). The Palestinian Syriac lectionary of the Gospels, re-edited from two Sinai MSS, and from P. de Lagarde's edition of the "Evangeliarium Hierosolymitanum". Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner. p. ix.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  46. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, Grammatik des Christlich-Palästinisch-Aramäischen. Teil 1: Schriftlehre, Lautlehre, Morphologie (Texte und Studien zur Orientalistik 6; Hildesheim, 1991), p. 8.

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Christian Palestinian Aramaic
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