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Christian Palestinian Aramaic

Christian Palestinian Aramaic (CPA, also known as Palestinian Syriac, Jerusalem Syriac, Syropalestinian Aramaic or Melkite Aramaic) was a Western Aramaic dialect used by the Melkite Christian community in Palestine and Transjordan between the fifth and thirteenth centuries.[a] It is preserved in inscriptions, palimpsests and manuscripts. All the medieval Western Aramaic dialects are defined by religious community. CPA is very similar to its counterparts, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (JPA) and Samaritan Aramaic (SA).[2]

The only surviving original compositions in CPA are the inscriptions and a single short magical booklet. All other surviving manuscript compositions are translations of Greek originals.[2] 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.[1][2] 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. Many of the palimpsests come from Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai. The fragments are both Biblical and Patristic. The oldest complete manuscript dates to 1030. All the complete manuscripts are liturgical in nature.[2][3]

CPA declined as a spoken language because of persecution and gradual Arabization following the early Islamic conquests. In the tenth century it seems to have undergone a renaissance, but by then it was mainly a liturgical language in the Melkite churches and the Melkite community mainly spoke Arabic.[2] 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 eighteenth century. No source gives it a name as a distinct dialect or language and all such names are modern scholarly inventions. Names like "Palestinian Syriac" and "Syropalestinian"[b] reflect the fact that Palestinian Aramaic speakers often referred to their language as Syriac and in the early period made use of an alphabet based on the northern Syriac ʾEsṭrangēlā script. The terms "Christian Palestinian Aramaic" and "Melkite Aramaic"[c] emphasise the ethnoreligious and confessional identity of the speakers and the distinctness from any Syriac variety of Aramaic. The term "Jerusalem Aramaic" emphasises the location where the majority of inscriptions have been found.[2]

CPA can be distinguished from JPA and SA by the absence of Hebrew loanwords and the presence of Greek syntax (by retention in translation). Also, unlike JPA and SA, only primary texts survive for CPA. There was no transmission of manuscripts after the language itself was dead. 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.[1]


  1. ^ This period may be described as Middle Aramaic or Late Aramaic.[1]
  2. ^ Since Palestine and Syria are different areas with different Aramaic dialects, these terms could be considered misleading.[3]
  3. ^ The term "Melkite Aramaic" was coined by Alain Desreumaux.[1]


  1. ^ 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, Vol. 119, No. 4 (1999), pp. 631–36.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Matthew Morgenstern, "Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in Stefan Weninger (ed.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook (De Gruyter Mouton, 2011), pp. 628–37.
  3. ^ a b Sebastian P. Brock, "Christian Palestinian Aramaic", in Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompuy (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition (Gorgias Press, 2011 [print]; Beth Mardutho, 2018 [online]).