Project Outline

1. OBJECTIVES / SIGNIFICANCE

1.1. SCIENTIFIC OR TECHNICAL OBJECTIVES

The first objective of this research project is to collect information on the pre-Islamic historical geography and toponyms of the Beth Qaṭraye region from the most important available sources. The project will produce a number of publications including a toponymical and a lexical dictionary in addition to an online lexical search tool and a project website. The toponyms will shed light on the language of Beth Qaṭraye in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period by analyzing their etymology and name components. The historical geography will clarify the cultural relations between this region and other areas around the Gulf, and how patterns of social predominance shifted over time. Recent archaeological discoveries by the Qatar Museums Authority such as an East-Syriac (Nestorian) Cross, discovered in Umm al Maradim in central Qatar in December 2013, will further consolidate the project’s geographical and toponymical research. This project will as a result provide a better understanding of not only the dynamics of society within Beth Qaṭraye, but also the place of Beth Qaṭraye within the larger history of the Middle East in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods.

The second objective of this research project is to determine the set of lexemes that are designated by Ibn Bahlul and the East-Syriac Anonymous Commentary as belonging to the dialect of Beth Qaṭraye. This will shed some light on the languages and dialects that where in use in the Arabian peninsula not only in the pre-Islamic period, but also what has survived there in the post-Islamic period as the Anonymous Commentary belongs to the ninth century and Ibn Bahlul belongs to the tenth century. Making use of modern database and computational linguistics technology, the project will provide researchers with a tool that helps them to easily find the linguistic inventory of Beth Qaṭraye and adjacent dialects.

1.2. PRELIMINARY DATA OR STUDIES

This project builds on a successfully completed QNRF project by team members Mario Kozah, Haya Al Thani, Saif al-Murikhi and Abdulrahim Abu-Husayn entitled “The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century CE” (NPRP 4 – 981 – 6 – 025) which produced three books. It aims to provide researchers with a more detailed historical context in which to interpret the literary texts composed by Syriac authors from Beth Qaṭraye, as discussed in the recent publications by the current team members entitled The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century (Gorgias Press, 2014) and An Anthology of Syriac Writers from Qatar in the Seventh Century (see Publications).

There are two main pools of primary data for this project. The first consists of historical sources, especially the Synodicon Orientale edited by Chabot, the letters of Ishoʿyahb III, the largely unedited Anonymous Commentary, the lexicon of Ibn Bahlul, and the mediaeval Arabic historical and geographical sources. The Synodicon Orientale contains the records of thirteen synods and several additional letters spanning the years 410–775. The Syriac text covers 252 pages, and the French translation 272. It is expected that the subscription lists of these councils will yield dozens toponyms, some of which pertain to places within Beth Qaṭraye.

 The five seventh century letters of Ishoʿyahb III to the people of Beth Qatraye may yield additional toponyms, or may simply provide additional attestations to places in Beth Qaṭraye known from the Synodicon Orientale. The over five hundred folios of the mostly unedited Anonymous Commentary may yield more toponyms, dozens of lexica in Qaṭrayith (the language that was spoken in Beth Qaṭraye), possibly new names of Syriac Qatari commentators, and general historical information about the region.

Another primary data source for this project is Duval’s edition of the Ibn Bahlul lexicon. The edition constitutes 2098 columns. Based on a sample of 20 random columns, the average column contains 7.6 lexical entries (some of which are idiom-type entries). It is expected that the lexicon contains ca. 15,944 entries. In contrast, Margoliouth’s Compendious Syriac Dictionary(1903) contains ca. 15,700 entries, Sokoloff’s A Syriac Lexicon contains 18,529 entries, and the forthcoming dictionary by Brock-Kiraz contains ca. 13,000 entries.

The second pool of primary data for this project consists of the historic sites within Qatar, and their modern names, which may have Aramaic etymological components. See for example the recently published and pioneering book by Dr Haya Al Thani (Lead Principal Investigator in current project) entitled Forts, Castles and Towers: Documented study of historical and heritage sites in Qatar (Katara: 2014). See also the seminal articles by Prof. Saif Al-Murikhi (Principal Investigator in current project) on the subject. A list of these toponyms will be developed by Qatari archaeologists and analyzed by Syriac specialists in consultation with etymological dictionaries of place names developed by scholars for other Middle Eastern countries. The latitude and longitude of these places in modern Qatar can be collected using GPS equipment. Recent discoveries by the Qatar Museums Authority such as an East-Syriac (Nestorian) Cross, discovered in Umm al Maradim in central Qatar in December 2013, will further consolidate the project’s geographical and toponymical research.

2. EXPECTED IMPACT OF THE PROJECT

It is anticipated that the historical geographical sources will yield dozens of place names, of which some will clearly pertain to Beth Qaṭraye, and the historic sites within Qatar will yield many more place names, of which some may have Aramaic etymological components. Taken together with the Qaṭrayith lexica derived from Ibn Bahlul and the Anonymous Commentary, the names of these places will provide clues as to the language of Beth Qaṭraye in the 5th–8th centuries, while the geographical information and further archaeological discoveries by the Qatar Museums Authority may provide a picture of shifting settlement patterns within the region.

It is also anticipated that the project will yield over 15,000 lexical entries. As to how many of these will belong to the dialects of Beth Qaṭraye and neighboring regions of the Arabian Peninsula remains to be seen. A very promising indicator is that Duval does include a list of over 15 dialects from the region that are cited by the lexicon of Ibn Bahlul.

2.1. QNRS ALIGNMENT/NPRP PROGRAM OBJECTIVES

 Qatar National Research Strategy (QNRS) Justification:

The project will develop a knowledge base in the development of culture in Qatar and the Gulf region by collecting, analyzing, and publishing in a toponymical dictionary, information on the pre-Islamic and early Islamic historical geography and toponyms of the Beth Qaṭraye region from the most important available sources as well as later toponymical studies. The toponyms will shed light on the languages of Beth Qaṭraye in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period by analyzing their Syriac, Aramaic and Arabic etymology and name components. The historical and archaeological geography will clarify the cultural relations between this region and other areas around the Gulf, and how patterns of social predominance shifted over time. The project will also collect and publish in a lexical dictionary lexemes that are designated in the tenth century Syriac/Arabic lexicon of Bar Bahlul and other Syriac texts such as the eighth century Synodicon Orientale and ninth century East Syriac “Anonymous Commentary” as belonging to the dialect of Beth Qaṭraye. This knowledge base will also be available to the general public through an open-access project website.

2.2. COMMUNICATION AND EXPLOITATION OF RESULTS

The geographic information discovered by this project will be published in book form and online on the project website and in The Syriac Gazetteer (http://syriaca.org/geo/), which will make it freely available to a large public. The data will be tagged in such a way that all records relevant to Beth Qaṭraye may be served by the API of The Syriac Gazetteer to other websites, and thus the data will also be displayed on the Beth Qaṭraye project’s website for comparison with other information specific to Beth Qaṭraye. This will include a map display of all places in Beth Qaṭraye which have known latitude and longitude coordinates. The research results will also be disseminated through conference presentations.

The data produced by the project can also be disseminated through the lexical database SEDRA (Syriac Electronic Data Research Archive). The SEDRA database has been made available to the public in binary format since 1994 and is now available on the Internet through an attractive user interface.

Potential beneficiaries in Qatar and the wider Gulf region would be educational programs in schools and universities (history, culture, religion, literature and civilization courses). Also museums (Qatar Museums Authority) and cultural centers for audio-visual exhibitions of related material. Finally, the Qatar Ministry of Culture would certainly be able to make use of the research results in order to highlight the late antique and mediaeval civilization of Qatar and the Gulf region as one of cultural and religious harmony and efflorescence.

2.3. FUTURE PLANS

This project will provide researchers with a more detailed historical context in which to interpret the literary texts composed by Syriac authors from Beth Qaṭraye, as discussed in the recent publication by the current team members entitled The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century (Gorgias Press, 2014). It will also provide historians and archaeologists with a view of how the geography of Christianity was changing in Qatar during the period of the appearance of Islam. The project could be followed by analyzing additional sources with more geographical information regarding Beth Qaṭraye, or by examining the geography of the Qatar region in a subsequent period, such as by consulting Yaqut al-Hamawi’s Muʿjam al-buldan, Ibn Khuradadhbeh and al-Hamadhani for all Qatari places known to him in the thirteenth century.

Using the Qaṭrayith lexica gleaned from Ibn Bahlul and the Anonymous Commentary this project will give researchers the possibility to do linguistic analysis on the texts produced by the Beth Qaṭraye writers. This project can be followed, for example, with another project to produce a fully-analyzed morphological analyzer of the Beth Qatraye writers along the lines of Kiraz’s Computer-Generated Concordance (1983).

 

 

3. PROJECT STRUCTURE

 3.1. SCIENTIFIC PLAN

Beth Qaṭraye, Syriac for “region of the Qataris”, is a term found in Syriac literature referring to the region of North-East Arabia (today’s East coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar) from the fourth to the ninth centuries. It was an important region of the Late Antique world, at the nexus of the Sasanian Persian world, the Arabian Peninsula, and trade routes with India. Its place and development remain poorly understood and little studied because it is erroneously regarded as peripheral to scholarly concerns. Beth Qaṭraye was also an important region for Christianity in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period, when it produced one of the most widely translated Christian authors (Isaac of Nineveh, called after his bishopric, also known as Isaac Qaṭraya or the Qatari) and participated in a dispute regarding the authority of the Catholicos of the Church of the East (the “Nestorian” church of the Sasanian Persian Empire). Other important Syriac authors came from Beth Qaṭraye in this period, and Syriac scholarship on Beth Qaṭraye has focused on Syriac authors rather than other aspects of Beth Qaṭraye.

Such a historical reality reveals the important fact that the Syriac community was not only surviving but producing the finest and most educated authors of the time many of whom became intellectual, spiritual or religious leaders in the Middle East as whole. The state of the study of Beth Qaṭraye in Syriac Studies was recently summarized by a book published by the current team members entitled The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century (Gorgias Press, 2014). A second publication presents readers with an anthology of literature by the Syriac writers of Beth Qaṭraye.

However historical geography and archaeology are also important for clarifying the development of Beth Qaṭraye itself and its links to other regions, and at the same time toponyms provide clues as to the linguistic composition of Beth Qaṭraye in Late Antiquity. The objective of this research project is to collect and analyze information on the pre-Islamic and early Islamic historical geography, archaeology, and toponyms of the Beth Qaṭraye region from the most important available sources as well as later toponymical studies. The second objective of this project is to determine the set of lexemes that are designated in the tenth century Syriac/Arabic lexicon of Bar Bahlul and other Syriac texts such as the eighth century Synodicon Orientale and the ninth century East Syriac “Anonymous Commentary” as belonging to the dialect of Beth Qaṭraye. This will shed important light on the languages and dialects that were in use in the Arabian Peninsula not only in the pre-Islamic period, but also what has survived there in the post-Islamic period since Ibn Bahlul, for example, belongs to the tenth century.

Perhaps the most fruitful source for the historical geography of pre-Islamic and early Islamic Beth Qaṭraye is the collection of records of ecclesiastical synods of the Church of the East (known also as “Nestorians”), which was edited by J.-B. Chabot in Paris in 1902 under the title Synodicon Orientale ou Recueil de synodes nestoriens. Bishops of important places within Beth Qaṭraye frequently participated in the synods and signed their names at the end, and one synod took place within Beth Qaṭraye itself in 676. Therefore the lists of signatories to the different synods contain place names from Beth Qaṭraye. The Synod of 676 resolved a conflict within the Church of the East from the mid-seventh century, and several letters by the seventh century Catholicos Ishoʿyahb III were addressed to the people and bishops of Beth Qaṭraye. These letters were edited by Rubens Duval in 1904-1905 under the title Išoʿyahb III Patriarcha, Liber Epistularum, and may provide additional geographical information about Beth Qaṭraye.

Another important source for the language that was spoken in Beth Qaṭraye known as Qaṭrayith is the ninth century East-Syriac Anonymous Commentary which in its most extended form covers both the Old and New Testaments. Most manuscripts, however, contain only the Old Testament Part, or even only the Pentateuch section. So far only a facsimile edition with English translation of the Anonymous Commentary on Genesis 1:1 – 28:6 (a very small section of the whole) has been published by A. Levene (London, 1951). This facsimile is from MS Mingana 553 held in the library of the University of Birmingham. A more complete and older source of the Anonymous Commentary which contains both the Old and New Testaments is MS (olim) Diyarbakır 22 which contains 530 folios and was written before 1605, possibly in the 14th century. A full survey of the complex manuscript tradition associated with the Anonymous Commentary was first given by T. Jansma (Leiden, 1958) and additions were later made by L. Van Rompay (OLP, 1974).

Interestingly, in addition to citations from Aḥūb Qaṭraya, a seventh century Syriac author who hails from Beth Qaṭraye, and quotations from another biblical commentator, relied upon as an authority for both the Old and the New Testaments, also from Beth Qaṭraye, who is at times referred to as Rabban Gabriel Qaṭraya (ܪܒܢ ܓܒܪܝܠ ܩܛܪܝܐ) and at others as Mar Abba Gabriel Qaṭraya (ܡܪܝ ܐܒܐ ܘܓܒܪܝܐܝܠ ܩܛܪܝܐ) or simply as Gabriel or Rabban, the Anonymous Commentary also includes glosses containing words in Qaṭrayith: the language of Qatar or Qatari (ܩܛܪܐܝܬ) spoken by Qataris (ܩܛܪ̈ܝܐ) who appear to be distinguished from Arabs (ܛܝܝ̈ܐ) who have their own language. There is also the possibility that a full study of this commentary may not only yield many more references to words in Qatari but also more citations from Aḥūb as well as reveal more anonymous or not yet recognized references to authors from Beth Qaṭraye. A full analysis of this commentary as proposed by this project will undoubtedly reveal more toponyms, lexica in Qaṭrayith, names of Syriac Qatari scholars and general historical information about the region.

A fourth essential source is the tenth century lexicon of Ḥasan Ibn Bahlul which was first published by Rubens Duval in three volumes in 1888-1901 under the title Lexicon Syriacum auctore Hassano bar Bahlule. It was reprinted in two volumes in 1970. While this lexicon was used as a source for the major Syriac lexica, such as Smith’s Thesaurus Syriacus (1868–1901), most scholars today do not use it because it is not available in a searchable form. More importantly to this project, its contents with regards to the language of Beth Qatraye has been almost forgotten.

Using these important primary sources this project will develop a lexical inventory that aims to collect from Syriac lexica words and lexemes that are marked as belonging to the language of Beth Qaṭraye. Aramaic, in its various forms, was the lingua franca of the Middle East at the advent of Islam. In the Arabian Peninsula, Arabic—also in various dialects—was most probably the common language of the various nomadic tribes. In the cultural centers of Beth Qatraye, Aramaic and Arabic must have interacted. Although many oral forms of these two language families are now lost to history, the lexicon of Ḥasan Ibn Bahlul (حسن بن بهلول, 10th century) contains quite a number of words that are marked in Syriac Qaṭrayith: ‘in the Qatari language (form/way/manner)’.

Finally the Arabic geographical and historical sources also represent a mine of information that will be used to investigate toponyms and lexica in Beth Qaṭraye as well as historical information about it. One important source that will be heavily relied upon is Yaqut’s Mu’jam al-buldan which is the most important medieval geographic dictionary in Arabic. It is organized alphabetically and much useful information is contained in Yaqut for the student of Syriac; he has well over 100 entries, for example, on monasteries, using information culled from other medieval sources, such as Shabushti’s Kitab al-diyarat, or Book of Monasteries (as well as other, now-lost books of monasteries).

3.2. PROJECT MANAGEMENT

The research will proceed along two parallel arcs, which will be synthesized at the end. The first approach will transcribe all of the place names of dioceses in the Synodicon Orientale, both in the original Syriac and in Chabot’s French translation. Standardized English transcriptions of these names will be supplied. Each place will be annotated with the range of years during which it is attested in the Synodicon. Additional information of the same kind will be added from the letters of Ishoʿyahb III to the people of Beth Qaṭraye, and from other sources which may be discovered to be relevant during the course of this research. For places from these sources which can also be identified in Ibn Khuradadhbeh, al-Hamadhani and Yaqut al-Hamawi’s Muʿjam al-buldan, the Arabic name assigned by Yaqut or other authors will be added to the record.

As a first step to determine what can be learned about the language of Beth Qaṭraye during the tenth century, we propose to produce an electronic edition of the Syriac-Arabic lexicon of Ḥasan Ibn Bahlul. We propose to encode the lexicon in Unicode so that the Arabic and Syriac texts can be easily searched across computer platforms. The Syriac is in the Estrangelo script. The Arabic will be encoded in a standard Unicode font. Once an electronic version is available, it will be possible to extract the lexical entries marked specifically as words of Beth Qaṭraye origin. We will attempt a lexical analysis of the vocabulary of Beth Qaṭraye origin.

A lexical inventory will also be produced that aims to collect from Syriac lexica words and lexemes that are marked as belonging to the language of Beth Qaṭraye from both the lexicon of Ibn Bahlul and the Anonymous Commentary which will be closely analyzed by Syriac scholars in the team using the available manuscripts.

The second approach will gather location and name information for historic sites in Qatar which indicate use during the late pre-Islamic or early Islamic periods. Toponyms which may have components which are etymologically Aramaic will provide clues as to the language of Beth Qaṭraye in the period under discussion. Latitude and longitude coordinates for these historical sites will be gathered in order to display them on a map. This data will be synthesized with the historical geographical information by identifying, where possible, the historic sites known today with places drawn from the historical sources where there is overlap, using Ibn Khuradadhbeh, al-Hamadhani and Yaqut al-Hamawi’s Muʿjam al-buldan as a potential bridge resource.

 

Digital Methodology and Design

Collection and publication of research data from the project will follow the best practices and technical standards as currently defined in the emerging field of Digital Humanities (http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/). The data will be stored in an open source, open access digital database to ensure that it can be easily published online, searched for use in future scholarly research, and archived by scholarly libraries around the world.

The project will follow the technical specifications recommended by The Syriac Institute (http://www.bethmardutho.org) which seeks to promote the study and preservation of the Syriac heritage and language, and to facilitate opportunities for people to pursue the study of this ancient legacy globally, and Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal (www.syriaca.org), the leading scholarly organization for digital research on Syriac. An outline of the specific database design is as follows:

Data Format: All project data will be stored digitally using XML (eXtensible Markup Language), an international standard format for digital information. The project will also adopt a specific scholarly version of XML, the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). The TEI guidelines (www.tei-c.org) provide a robust vocabulary of over 500 descriptive XML elements well-suited for storing historical data. The TEI guidelines have now been used for over two decades to encode information from hundreds of thousands of historical texts (for example http://www.fihrist.org.uk/). The TEI community is also one of the largest scholarly organizations supporting humanistic digital scholarship. Storing records in TEI XML provides assurance that the project’s data will be available for long term scholarly research.

Database Design: The project team will work closely with Bethmardutho.org and Syriaca.org to implement an open source XML database, eXist-DB (http://exist-db.org). We will adopt the same workflow using TEI XML within eXist-DB that is already in place for Syriaca.org’s Syriac Gazetteer. Because Syriaca.org uses open licenses for both data and software the only costs will be those associated with hiring a software developer to create specific features. No licensing or royalty fees will be incurred.

Online Publication and Data Storage: The project team will publish its data in two locations, directly online through the project website and as part of The Syriac Gazetteer (http://syriaca.org/geo/), which will make it freely available to a large public. In addition, through publication in The Syriac Gazetteer all data will be archived through the international academic library partners of Syriaca.org. Following the best practices in digital humanities research (and the standards of Syriaca.org), all data will be published under the Creative Commons “Attribution CC BY” open access license, a license which encourages scholarly use of the publications in future research.

Digital Communication: Partnership with Bethmardutho.org and Syriaca.org will allow the project to be known through various scholarly channels. Researchers from Bethmardutho.org and Syriaca.org make regular print and digital announcements of new publications list-serves such as those sponsored by H-Net, Hugoye, or Agade, as well as through scholarly societies such as the American Philological Association, the American Historical Association, and the American Academy of Religion. Project staff have presented papers and offered training sessions at international conferences. In addition, they use digital publications and social media to communicate with interested audiences. Syriaca.org maintains a blog (http://syriaca.org/blog/) and a twitter account (@srophe) as well as encouraging its collaborators to publish their research. Bethmardutho.org oversees Hugoye, a prestigious Syriac Studies electronic journal. It also maintains a research library, an encyclopedic dictionary of the Syriac heritage, a Syriac reference portal, Syriac summer courses, and an online study group with over 300 members from the Syriac scholarly community.

 

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