Thursday, May 12, 2016

Constantin Panchenko on the Sunset of Melkite Syriac

From: Constantin Panchenko, Arabic Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans: 1516-1831 (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Seminary Press, 2016), p. 443

The Sunset of Aramaic Writing

In the early Ottoman era came the final decline among the Orthodox of Syriac liturgy and writing. The German semiticist Anton Baumstark presents data about fifty-two Melkite Syriac manuscripts preserved from the sixteenth century, whereas the number of manuscripts is markedly reduced during the last three decades of the century. From the seventeenth century, he reaches a total of nine manuscripts, of which six are from the first two decades, with the latest from 1654.

Some Antiochian hierarchs continued to sign official documents in Syriac or garshuni [i.e., Arabic written in Syriac script]-- examples of this are known until the 1630s. Often, however, this was just a tribute to ancient traditions and the signatories themselves had a weak knowledge of Syriac and poorly remembered the alphabet. In two garshuni signatures on a letter from Antiochian clergy to Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich in 1594, some forgotten Syriac letters are replaced with Arabic.

However, there is evidence indicating that Syriac writing continued in use even after the mid-seventeenth century. The Syriac liturgy was preserved in the area of Maaloula and surrounding villages up to the present day, so accordingly, Syriac liturgical texts were copied. However, the scope of the use of Syriac writing shrank to the narrow limits of liturgical literature and thus acquired a marginal character.

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