Monday, August 03, 2009

Caucasian Albanian Palimpsests of Mt Sinai

Wolfgang Schulze has announced (in a new comment to an old post that I accidently deleted and could not retrieve) that the full edition of the Caucasian Albanian Palimpsests from St Catherine's Monastery (Mt. Sinai) has now been published by Brepols:

Jost Gippert, Wolfgang Schulze, Zaza Aleksidze and Jean-Pierre Mahé, eds., The Caucasian Albanian Palimpsests of Mount Sinai. Monumenta Palaeographica Medii Aevi/Series Ibero-Caucasica 2. 2 vols., XXIV+530 pp.; Turnhout: Brepols 2009.

Background from Schulze's homepage:

In 1996, the Georgian scientist Zaza Aleksidze – while doing documentary work in the St. Catherine monastery on Mt. Sinai – discovered two Georgian palimpsest manuscripts (conventionally labelled N/Sin-13 or M13 and N/Sin-55 or M55) that contain in their lower, heavily washed layer texts in Albanian script (see Aleksidze & Mahé 1997, 2002 for a detailed presentation of the manuscripts and a preliminary discussion of the language of the lower layers, for a presentation of the Sinai project). Meanwhile, the pioneering work of Aleksidze has been continued by Jost Gippert (Frankfurt) and Wolfgang Schulze (Munich). For the time being, nearly the totality of the readable folios of both manuscripts has been deciphered and interpreted. Aleksidze’s assumption that we have to deal with a rather old lectionary used in the Holy Service turned out to be correct. For copyright reasons, I cannot go into the details of the whole corpus (see the projected publication in Aleksidze & Gippert & Mahé & Schulze (forthcoming)). Hence, I have to restrict myself to more general remarks.

In sum, the two manuscripts consist of roughly 180 folios (recto/verso), in parts heavily distorted and only fragmentary. They show the Aluan text in horizontal lines crossed by the upper layer of Georgian text in vertical lines (see for images). The Aluan text is strongly washed out. Its characters have (in major parts) merged with the Georgian letters of the upper layer. The original Albanian text was written in two columns (22 to 23 lines per page) which 15 to 20 characters per line. In addition, smaller characters were used to add commentaries relevant for the use of the lectionary in the Holy Service. At the end of M13 n63, the scribe seems to have added a ‘personal note’.

The bulk of the lectionary is preserved in M13, whereas M55 is much smaller and more fragmentary in nature. It is not quite clear whether both manuscripts had been written at the same time. Perhaps, M13 is older stemming from the 5th or 6th century, whereas M55 has been written in the 8th century (see Aleksidze 2002). Nevertheless, it comes clear that both manuscripts originally represented a single ‘book’ which contained passages from the New Testament as well as at least one passage from the Old Testament.

Earlier, Schulze and Gippert have published an article, "Some Remarks on the Caucasian Albanian Palimpsests" in Iran and the Caucasus, Volume 11, Number 2, 2007 , pp. 201-211(11) in which they summarize their results of the analysis of the text (as far as they had examined it by then) and concludes, among other things, that the translators relied upon corresponding Old Armenian sources. At the same time, however, it can be shown that the texts in parts deviate from surviving Old Armenian Bible texts, so that Georgian, Greek, and Syriac sources must also be taken into account.

Also read our earlier report on this and related projects connected to the Georgian version and MSS here.


Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for this. As you may remember from a comment here a few years ago, I have a particular interest in this part of the world, where I lived for several years. I have friends in the village of Nic who speak the modern version (Udi) of the language of these palimpsests, which was used as the basis for deciphering these texts. The 4000 or so Udi speakers have remained nominally Christians while surrounded by another majority religion.

In the 4th to 8th centuries Caucasian Albania (roughly modern Azerbaijan) was a Christian kingdom and something of a cultural and religious melting pot. Political influences came from Byzantium, Persia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkic peoples to the north, and from the late 7th century Arabia. The church was divided between the Chalcedonian orthodox loyal to Byzantium, mainly Armenian monophysites, and Syriac speaking "Nestorians". It is not surprising that the Albanian Bible text was influenced by all of these streams.