where both Muslims and Christians spoke Coptic. He also has the story of a Jewish convert to Christianity who assimilated to the extent of speaking Coptic.42 As a literary language, Coptic became a dead language. There is nothing written in it after the eleventh century The desire to preserve this heritage led in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to a renewed interest in the Coptic language. It resulted in twenty or more Coptic grammars, written in Arabic and making use of Arabic terminology, as well as Arabic-Coptic dictionaries, some of which were organised in the classic alphabetical order of Arabic lexicography. These works have been studied by A. Sidarus,43 who has noted that in the thirteenth century they dealt mostly with Bohaïric dialects and in the fourteenth century Sahidic. This reflected the concentration of the Coptic population in Middle Egypt. The final triumph of Arabic affirmed the coming into being from the Fatimid period onwards of a truly Arab Egypt, with which the Copts strongly identified, while retaining their religious individuality.44
It was quite otherwise with Greek. At the time of the Arab conquest of Egypt and Syria it was a liturgical and literary language mostly used by the Melkites, who spoke various Coptic dialects in Egypt and Aramaic ones in Syria and Palestine. Greek would soon give place to Arabic, so that by the ninth century, at least in Muslim territories, Melkite scholars had practically ceased to write in Greek. Those parts of northern Syria reconquered by the Byzantines in 969 saw a renewal of literary activity in Greek. For example, the Melkite patriarchs of Antioch installed by Constantinople wrote in Greek. Paradoxically, it was under Byzantine auspices that Antioch became an important centre of translation of biblical, patristic and literary texts from Greek to Arabic. This favoured the arabisation of the Melkite liturgy, which had further consequences, for adapting the liturgical language to the needs of the vernacular was a characteristic trait of the Melkite Church.45
42 M. Martin, 'Chrétiens et musulmans a la fin du XIIe siècle', in Valeur et distance: identités et sociétés en ¡Egypte, dir. C. Dècobert (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2000), 86-7.
43 A. Sidarus, 'La philologie copte arabe au Moyen Age', in La signification du Bas Moyen Age dans l'histoire etlaculture du monde musulman [Actes du 8e Congrès de l'Union européenne des Arabisants et Islamisants, Aix-en-Provence 1976] (Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1978), 267-81.
44 J.-C. Garcin, 'L'arabisation de l'Egypte', Revue de l'Occident Musulman etMéditerraneen 43 (1987), 130-7; U. Haarmann, 'Regional sentiment in medieval Islamic Egypt', Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 43 (1980), 55-66.
45 This will explain why a liturgy in Syriac continued to be used in the patriarchate of Antioch, as well as at the Melkite monastery of St Catherine of Sinai, where the liturgy was celebrated in Greek, no doubt for the benefit of pilgrims coming from the Byzantine Empire, in Arabic, and in Syriac in a chapel set aside for Syrians.
Was this article helpful?