An evaluation of A Dictionary of Christian Palestinian Aramaic by M. Sokoloff, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 235 (Peeters, 2014)
The indefatigable Mike Sokoloff has added a new contribution to his list of modern dictionaries of the important and previously underserved Aramaic dialects, this time for Christian Palestinian Aramaic, a dialect not seriously subject to lexical study since the work of Friedrich Schulthess in his Lexicon Syropalaestinum of 1903 (available here ). New texts have been published since Schulthess’ time, and many of the difficult palimpsest texts scattered among European libraries have been read or reread by Christa Müller-Kessler, so the time was ripe for this effort.
As a companion volume, Sokoloff has also published Texts of Various Contents in Christian Palestinian Aramaic in the same series, consisting of fragmentary texts of various acts and lives of the saints, homilies, and a small collection of epigraphic fragments.
The first thing to note about the publications is that, like the previous volumes published jointly by Müller-Kessler and Sokoloff in the series A Corpus of Christian Palestinian Aramaic (Groningen: Styx) in the 1990’s, CPA is presented in a font (designed by Müller-Kessler for her grammar and probably used here without proper permissions) that relatively accurately reflects CPA manuscript ductus, but, although basically a version of Estrangelo, is extremely awkward for non-specialists to read with any fluency. To write a dictionary in such a font does a huge disservice to the non-CPA-specialists who will undoubtedly constitute the overwhelming majority of potential users. We can only hope that future lexical contributions, in particular the major reworking of the Mandaic lexicon in the works by M. Morgenstern, will see fit to publish their Aramaic in a font with wider appeal (i.e. square script, Estrangelo or Serto, or transliteration).
The next feature that stands out is that, unlike his Jewish Aramaic dictionaries, where almost every citation is translated (clearly modeled after the practice of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary), and even still often but far from always the case in his reworking of A Syriac Lexicon, here very few of the citations justifying the glosses have merited an English translation. and when the text is glossed it is done in an often confusing manner. Consider the following citation under the lemma byṣypw(tˀ) adv. s.v. yṣypw. n.f., eagerly, diligently (p. 165a):
hw qqnh byṣypw npq lˀwrˁwth Prod2 5:2 (approached him; προθυμῶς)
Apparently one is to interpret this guidance to tell us that the adverb here modifies “approached him” and corresponds to the Greek word προθυμῶς “eagerly”.
This example takes us to the most serious indeed critical flaw in the lexicon, as illustrated by the second gloss in the same entry: with haste. Now our word is obviously based on the common Aramaic root YṢP, “to be concerned, take care” and has nothing to do with “haste”. so why “with haste”? Because the corresponding Greek equivalent in the text here translated is μετὰ σπουδῆς whose first definition in Greek dictionaries is “with haste”. But it also can mean “eagerly”, so why is this a new gloss? The obvious initial solution to this question must reflect on the speed with which Sokoloff does his work. Clearly one can say in more ways than one that yṣypw is not properly reflected in this entry.
But a second and even more serious flaw is illustrated here, and it is clear that he has learned this egregiously false method from his work on Brockelmann’s mammoth volume: Texts translated from Greek into Aramaic in antiquity do not always render literally, no more than the Septuagint renders the Hebrew bible literally even when the Urtext is clearly the same as the MT. Hundreds if not thousands of times Brockelmann justified a rather strange gloss for the Syriac by allusion to the Greek it was supposedly translating. To take a striking example here witness br gns glossed (p. 59, this one under br not gns!) as one of the same age, though the same phrase simply means something like “relative” in Syriac. Yet at Galatians 1:14 it is used where the Greek has συνηλικιώτας. Surely the CPA expression no more means “same age ones” than does the King James rendering “my equals” at the same passage.
A final criticism must be saved for Sokoloff’s penchant for creating multi-word lexical collocations, a practice he began with his JPA lexicon but here has expanded it in a truly extensive way. All lexemes can vary semantically when combined with others, but the proper way to do lexical analysis on such collocations is to abstract the shared semantics of similar collocations and enter the appropriate gloss in the main entry and/or to list the various collocations by semantics rather than a meaningless alphabetic arrangement.
When all is said and done, though, we needed this book. A corrective, detailed review by someone qualified in patristic Greek would be most welcome.
As for the text volume, whose format follows that of the earlier Styx volumes, the most intriguing thing to be said about it is that it contains a lengthy appendix consisting of revised translations of the material published in the earlier, joint volumes. From this fact alone, this reader cannot but help get the impression that all is not quite as certain as the specialists would have us believe when it comes to reading CPA palimpsests.