The history of the development of Syriac and ofthe various Aramaic dialects is still more complex and difficult to establish.46 The populations of Syria and Mesopotamia, who spoke Aramaic, gradually adopted Arabic as their vernacular. In the twentieth century Aramaic only continued to be spoken in a few isolated areas: in the mountains of Kurdistan, in the Tfiir Abdin, around Urmiya and in the plains of Mosul,47 as well as in a few villages to the north of Damascus, notably Ma'lula. But in the crusading period Syriac speakers, in other words those connected with the Jacobite and the Nestorian churches, were far more numerous. We have already noted that Dionysios, metropolitan of Melitene, who laid claim to the patriarchate in 1252, did not know any Arabic. When he went before the Ayyubid sultan of Damascus to plead his case, he had recourse to an interpreter.48
In contrast to Coptic and Greek, Syriac more than continued as a literary language. Traditionally, the thirteenth century is remembered as the golden age of Syriac literature.49 It was only in the fourteenth century that it gave ground to Arabic. Its literary achievements are well known and are often studied fortheir own sake, without regard for the context oftheirtime. It would be particularly valuable to know why one and the same author will by turns use both Arabic and Syriac. A good example is Bar Hebraeus (known in Arabic as Abul-Faraj ibnal-'Ibri), maphrian ofthe easternJacobite Church from 1264 to 1286, who left a large corpus of works - thirty-one according to the list drawn up by his brother - in the fields of history, theology, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, grammar and belles-lettres.50 This literary activity corresponded to the preoccupations of a prelate: to bring comfort to the Syriac community, to enrich its intellectual heritage and to preserve its standing in the Near East. If Bar Hebraeus mostly wrote in Syriac or translated philosophical and medical treatises from Arabic to Syriac, he also made use of Arabic, either writing directly in the language or establishing Arabic versions of some of his Syriac works. For instance, his historical oeuvre comprises, on the one hand, a universal chronicle written in Syriac consisting of two separate parts, one devoted to secular history and the other to ecclesiastical history, and, on the other, an abridged universal chronicle, written in Arabic. Recent research has
46 Syriac is the Aramaic dialect of Edessa, which became in the fourth and fifth centuries the learned language of Syria and Mesopotamia.
47 For this reason Syriac was given official status in Iraq alongside Arabic and Kurdish, and in 1975 the Syriac Academy of Baghdad was established.
49 P. Kawerau, Diejakobitische Kirche im Zeitalter dersyrischenRenaissance (Berlin: AkademieVerlag, 1955).
50 J.-M. Fiey, 'Esquisse d'une bibliographie de Bar Hebraeus (fi286)', Parole de l'Orient 13 (1986), 279-312.
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