Some Linguistic and Social Observations on Two Syriac Inscriptions from St Paul’s Monastery

At the monastery of St Paul, on the Red Sea, two inscriptions in West Syriac (Serto), one diglot with Arabic, are seen at the conclusion of Arabic hagiographical volumes (mss 68 and 70). These inscriptions are selected in this paper for two reasons. One purpose is the provenance and date of the inscriptions, in the eighteenth-century Coptic resurgence, which occasioned the production of liturgy, manuscripts and other cultural practices in Cairene Coptic communities. These texts may be related to the important role of the larger arakhina scribal system in the reestablishment of the previously destroyed monastery, after periods of power vacuums in Ottoman Egypt. The monastery itself has a Syrian historical presence, either in pilgrimage or part of a united St. Antony/St. Paul hegoumenos. The hypothesis is that this is reflected in these manuscripts, also studied in a wider project on the material culture and the multi-cultural history of the monastery. A second purpose is to examine the similarity of the hand and language of these inscriptions. This paper will use the first purpose to situate the inscriptions and hypothesise authorship within a multicultural and postcolonial Coptic experience. Secondly the paper then conducts a cognitive linguistics text transmission study including descriptive linguistic observations on idiom and grammatical construction. Far beyond Syriac late antiquity and the Syriac Renaissance, material culture of this kind reflects a respect for former works and the survival of minorities of faith over time.

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