Syriac Scripts: Melkite

Overview

(Some parts of this lesson appeared previously in a post at hmmlorientalia.)

The so-called Melkite script is found much less often than Estrangela, Serto, or East Syriac, but enough manuscripts survive to reveal its distinctiveness from the three other better known types of writing.

 

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 an Aramaic dialect altogether distinct from Syriac, Christian Palestinian Aramaic [CPA], the script of which has some similarities to Estrangela.) From the ninth century especially, the literature is in Arabic, but in Syriac there are some 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; for Arabic, see 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 dating from 1045 CE. Hatch offers examples in his plates clxxxiv-cxcvii. The examples below from various collections add to those already known from Wright and Hatch.

Example 1 - 14th/15th-century manuscripts

Mardin, CCM 147, f. 2r (14th/15th C.)

Menaion for September

Example 2 - 16th-century manuscripts

Mhadsei, MHAY 1, ff. 4v-5r (dated 1512)

Gospel Lectionary

Diyarbakir, DIYR 62, f. 42r (dated 1535)

Menaion

Diyarbakir, DIYR 83, f. 35v (dated 1540)

Pentecostarion

Mardin, CCM 102, f. 1v (dated 1583)

Hymns for Passion and Easter Week

Diyarbakir, DIYR 63, f. 69v (16th century)

Menaion

Example 3 - 16th/17th-century manuscripts

Diyarbakir, DIYR 335, f. 157v (16th/17th century)

Menaion

This manuscript shows few features that we have not seen before, but note the overall compact footprint of each letter. In addition, note the sideways writing of the word ḥassāmā’it at line-end at f. 157vb, line 6 from the bottom.

Hamatura, HMTR 26, ff. 10v-11r (dated 1605)

Gospel Lectionary with Commentary

The hand of this manuscript shows a bit more variation in line thickness than other Melkite manuscripts.

At word-end, letters that would end in a line at baseline (e.g. bēt, šin) often have a high, sharp uptick. At or just before line-end, letters or connectors may be stretched to fill the line.