April 24, 2012

18: Decipher Texts 1 - Gospel of Matthew

I’ve transcribed these excerpts from Rochus Zuurmond’s text-critical edition for the Gospel of Matthew, part of the Novum Testamentum Aethiopice series (Stuttgrat: F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 2001). I’ve selected passages from the A-text which, in Zuurmond’s estimation, is “the earliest retrievable Ge’ez Gospel text. It must have originated between the fourth and the sixth century as a translation of the Greek.” (p.7)

[If you have caught up with the other blog entries, these excerpts should now be fairly easy to decipher. In order to facilitate this process (and help you review), I’ve color coded my transliteration --> green indicates roots that appear in the verb glossary [blog entry 17]; orange indicates major prefixes and prepositions [9] and red indicates important suffixes i.e. the construct state [8], the accusative marker [11] and possession [12]. What’s left are, for the most part, easily recognizable cognates and proper nouns. I’ve glossed a few important terms below each text. Good luck!]

[NOTE: If you have trouble viewing the Fidel script, you can download this blog-entry in PDF format, here.]

I. MATTHEW 2:1-4

watawalido ʾiyasus babeta ləḥm zayəhuda bamawāʿəla herodəs nəguš wanāhu1 meṣʾu sabʾa sagal2 ʾəmbḥera ṣbaḥ3 wəsta
ʾiyarusalem //
wabelu ʾayte4 zatawalda nəguš
ʾəsma rəʾina kokabo bašarq5 wamaṣoʾnasgəd lotu //
wasamiʿo herodəs nəguš tahawka wakʷəla ʾiyarusalem məslehu waastagābʾomu lakʷəlomu
liqanata kahənat […] baʾayte yətwalad krəstos //

1. ወናሁ = and-behold!
2. ሰብአ፡ሰገል = lit. men of divination i.e. the magi
3. ጽባሕ = the morning i.e. the east
4. አይቴ = where?
5. ሠርቅ = the east

II. MATTHEW 2:13-15

ወነሥኦ፡ለሕፃን፡ወለእሙ፡በሌሊት፡ወሖረ፡ብሔረ፡ግብጽ። ወነበረ፡
wa[…]nāhu malʾaka ʾəgziabḥer
ʾastarʾayu layusef baḥləm
waybelo tanšəʾa […]

wanašʾo laḥḍān1 walaʾəmu balelit
waḥora bḥera gəbṣ2 // wanabara həyya ʾəska mota herodəs //

1. ሕፃን = the new-born / the infant
2. ግብጽ = Egypt

III. MATTHEW 4:25 – 5:1-2


watalawwo bəzxān ʾaḥzāb
ʾəmgalilā waʾəmʿaššartu1 ʾahgur
waʾəmiyarusalem wayəhuda
waḥayqa2 yordanos //

wasoba3 rəʾya bəzxa ʾaḥzāba ʿarga wəsta dabr wanabara wamaṣ’u ʾardāʾihu waqarbu xabehu wakašata ʾafhu wamaharomu //

1. ዓሠርቱ = ten
2. ሐይቅ = riverbank
3. ሶበ = qualifier of time i.e. when


  1. as-salaamu alaykum Hamza,

    ሠርቅ = the east (Arabic loan = الشرق)

    Not sure which way you're suggesting this loan was made there, but I don't think this is a loan at all.

    This root is common to Arabic, Ge'ez, Sabaic and most of the South Semitic languages. The root meaning is "to rise".

    1. Waleikum salam! When I saw በሠርቅ in the text for ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ I assumed it was simply the cognate for الشرق, but then I couldn't find the root listed in Leslau (maybe I missed it?) so I posited that it might be a loan. Thanks for the correction Abu Rashid!

  2. It is mentioned in Leslau's comparative dictionary, and it's listed as a cognate of the Arabic and South Arabian, not a loan.

    You're welcome :)

    Personally I think linguists have been a little too liberal in declaring words to be borrowings amongst the Semitic languages. There almost seems to be a pecking order of Hebrew -> Aramaic -> Arabic -> Ethio-Semitic.

    So if a word exists in Hebrew & Aramaic, and is not so common in Aramaic, the natural assumption tends to be it's borrowed from Hebrew, and so on. This is of course purely based on Western perceptions of cultural superiority. Hebrew & Aramaic being Biblical languages are perceived as first class, and Arabic having a much more successful cultural history than Ethio-Semitic makes it ahead of those languages.

    I may be reading too much into it, but it's just the impression I get when reading material that deals with these issues.

    1. Rest assured, I have no such hierarchy in my mind! :) There might be a certain virtue in gauging each language's influence on the others based on its relative "classical" age, but in my experience the picture's nearly *always* more complicated than that. My interest in Ge'ez is precisely to destabilize this type of simplistic / linear pecking order in Qur'an textual criticism (where Aramaic/Syriac is the end-all, be-all lexical origin of every idiosyncratic Qur'anic term.)
      While we're (sort of) on the subject though, I'm assuming from your comments that you know / are familiar with Sabaic? If so, (a) that's fantastic! and (b) could you direct me to any resources on it? Also, more generally, what do you do / study?

  3. Great to hear :)

    Actually I am of the opinion the Aramaic/Syriac influence on Arabic is very much overstated. Surely there are some words borrowed from that language, but nowhere near as many as are claimed. Due to the fact Aramaic has undergone radical sound mergers, it's very easy to debunk these claims.

    I have read a little on Sabaic. As not much survived of the language, there is very little to go on. I have a Sabaic dictionary (English/Arabic/Sabaic) which is very helpful, and have also read bits and pieces about the language in various books about the Semitic languages (some of them listed below).

    The Sayhadic (or Old South Arabian) languages, of which Sabaic is a member, share quite a lot in common with Ge'ez, and of course the Ge'ez script is derived from the Sayhadic script, the "Musnad".

    Recommended Books:
    Sabaic Dictionary -

    The Semitic Languages -

    The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia -


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