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Lexica, Dictionaries, and Glossaries

Notes to Readers

  • The use of lexica in pdf format can in fact be faster than using them in the traditional book format.  This requires, however, bookmarking the pdf, at least according to letter of the alphabet, if not in an even more granular fashion.
  • The Dukhrana Biblical Research site has a wonderful search engine which allows you to type in a Syriac word and get back results from a number of Syriac dictionaries: Bar Bahlul, J. Payne Smith (Mrs. Margoliouth), Jennings, Costaz, Manna, and Audo.  Brockelmann's 2nd edition (which has been translated into English by M. Sokoloff) is not part of the search, because it is still in copyright.  It should also be consulted when you are doing a serious word study.
  • Manna is also searchable online here.
  • Costaz is also searchable online here. (and here).

  

Major Lexica

R. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus (Oxford, 1879-1901). Volume 1; Volume 2.

In many ways, the Thesaurus functions as an index to much of the Syriac literature published up until the late nineteenth century. Among its virtues are its rich citations and the many definitions of idioms which it provides, definitions which one cannot find, for instance, in Brockelmann. When confronted with a puzzling proper name or a place name, the Thesaurus is often the best place to go to find answers, or at least help. An obituary of Robert Payne Smith. Another one here. A death notice here. An entry on him while he was still alive here.  A summary of de Lagarde's harsh criticisms of the first fascicle of the Thesaurus can be read here.

 

J. Payne Smith (Mrs. Margoliouth), A Compendious Syriac Dictionary (Oxford, 1903).

Even with the appearance of Sokoloff’s English translation of Brockelmann’s second edition, the Compendious Syriac Dictionary remains in many ways the best available Syriac dictionary in English. There is the occasional lapse — shroro/shrara (“truth”) somehow got left out, for example — but it contains definitions of idioms and phrases which often cannot be found in other dictionaries written in western languages. Unfortunately, citations for texts cited in the Compendious Syriac Dictionary are not given, so if one sees a passage and wants to know the source, recourse must be made to the corresponding entry in the Thesaurus. When it was published, it was criticized for, among other things, not including all the vocabulary to be found in the Syriac Bible. Also, if you find a Greek word in Syriac, you will often have to go to Brockelmann for help. Whatever its shortcomings, this dictionary has been the first choice of students of Syriac for over a century and it has exerted an enormous influence on the field of Syriac studies.

 

J.P. Margoliouth, Supplement to the Thesaurus Syriacus of R. Payne Smith (Oxford, 1927).

It was said of Mrs. Margoliouth that when Mingana came across a word in Syriac that he didn’t know, he would ask her for help. This supplement covers texts that were published after the completion of the Thesaurus. The words found here are often technical, scientific, or non-Syriac in their origin.

 

C. Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum, 1st ed. (Edinburgh-Berlin, 1895).

This was greatly surpassed by the second edition of Brockelmann’s magisterial work, but the first edition is not completely without merit: the Latin-Syriac glossary at the back, which gives the Syriac word next to the Latin, rather than pointing the reader to the page where the Syriac equivalent can be found, is much more convenient than the Latin reverse index of the Second edition. The first edition, too, is no small feat of lexicography. R.D. Wilson’s review of Mrs. Margoliouth’s Compendious Syriac Dictionary compared the Compendious Syriac Dictionary unfavorably with Brockelmann’s first edition: he preferred the organization according to root, rather than alphabetically, and suggested that Brockelmann had better coverage of biblical (and other) vocabulary. Brockelmann completed this first edition of his lexicon before he turned 30, a humbling fact to contemplate.

 

L. Costaz, Dictionnaire syriaque-français / Syriac-English dictionary (Beirut, 1963).

Based on Brockelmann; until the appearance of Sokoloff’s English translation, Costaz’s dictionary functioned as a back door into that great lexicon for those who either found Brockelmann intimidating or for whom the Latin was too cumbersome. It is a student’s version of Brockelmann in much the same way that Hava’s Arabic dictionary was meant to provide easier access to the riches found in Kazimirski (see below). Costaz has a very useful appendix on proper names as well, which is a quick and easy place to go when one is not sure how to vocalize a name or what the English (or Arabic or French) equivalent of a Syriac name is.

 

T. Audo, Dictionnaire de la langue chaldeenne / ܣܝܡܬܐ ܕܠܫܢܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܐ (Mosul, 1897). Volume 1; Volume 2.

This Syriac-Syriac dictionary contains more entries than any other Syriac dictionary in existence; it contains more than even the great Thesaurus Syriacus. For those who find its Syriac-Syriac format a bit challenging, Emmanuel Thelly has produced a Syriac-English-Malayalam Lexicon based on Audo which provides a back door to this work, much like Costaz did for Brockelmann.

 

R. Duval, Lexicon syriacum auctore Hassano bar Bahlule: Voces syriacas græcasque cum glossis syriacis et arabicis complectens. (Paris, 1888–1901). Volume 1; Volume 2; Volume 3.

A 10th-century Syriac-Arabic/Syriac lexicon, based on earlier lexica, including that of Hunayn b. Ishaq. It is an invaluable resource for a number of reasons, not the least because it quotes a number of sources which are no longer extant (especially pagan Syriac sources originating in Harran). Duval surveys all the sources of the book and also provides a very fascinating list of the different Aramaic dialects cited by Bar Bahlul (there are 16 total, for a study of these, go here). Many of the words Bar Bahlul defines are Greek in origin and a number of them are unattested elsewhere in Syriac literature. Also see this page at Harvard.

 

R.J.H. Gottheil, ed. The Syriac-Arabic Glosses of Isho‘ bar ‘Ali, Atti della Reale Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Memorie V, 13 (Rome 1908–1928). (also PDF links: Volume 1Volume 2)

The second half of Bar ‘Ali’s ninth-century Syriac-Arabic lexicon. Bar ‘Ali was a student of Hunayn b. Ishaq and, his lexicon represents one of the two great Syriac lexica that have survived from the Middle Ages (the lexicon of Hunayn, for example, has been lost). The first half of Bar ‘Ali’s Lexicon was published by G. Hoffmann in a handwritten edition which, to the best of our knowledge, cannot be found at present on the Internet, though scanned copies of it do exist. The Thesaurus Syriacus, however, reproduces the definitions of both Bar 'Ali and Bar Bahlul throughout.

 

Y.A. Manna, Qāmūs kaldānī-‘arabī / Vocabulaire chaldeen-arabe / Chaldean Arabic Dictionary, 2nd ed., with suppl. by R. Bidawid (Beirut, 1975).

This is an outstanding dictionary. Its main defect is that Manna does not provide citations to let one know what texts he is deriving his words and definitions from, but Syriac scholars have often made recourse to this dictionary and always with profit. For instance, Brockelmann’s second edition (still under copyright) is extraordinary in its coverage of rare words — it is a not uncommon experience to be reading an off-the-beaten-track text, come across an unknown or unfamiliar word, not find it in Mrs. Margoliouth’s Dictionary or the Thesaurus, and then to find its meaning in Brockelmann, with a citation from precisely (and sometimes, only) the passage being read. Brockelmann also has meanings which you cannot find in Payne Smith (but, it should be noted, the opposite is sometimes true), and reading an author like Jacob of Sarugh is much easier when done with Brockelmann at one’s side.  With all this said, however, we have, on a number of occasions, found meanings in Manna that are in neither Brockelmann nor in Payne Smith. This can be especially true when reading unpublished texts in manuscript. Manna is definitely a lexical resource that is worth keeping ready to hand. It is Syriac-Arabic, but even a person with a basic grasp of the Arabic alphabet and a lexicon like Steingass’s Arabic-English Dictionary nearby (which lists words alphabetically rather than by root) can profit from using Manna. It is a real gem and an underappreciated resource in the world of Syriac dictionaries. This is a re-typing of Manna, in modern Arabic and Syriac fonts.


G. Cardahi, Al-Lobab, seu Dictionarium syro-arabicum, 2 vols. (Beirut, 1887—1891). Volume 1 is not online, so far as we can tell; Volume 2 can be found here.

A Syriac-Arabic dictionary. Its strongest feature is the rich number of idioms and expressions it defines; apart from this, however, it is rather weak and should never be among the first three or even four dictionaries one consults. Go here if you find an idiom whose definition you cannot find somewhere else, i.e., the Thesaurus or Manna.

 

C. Schaaf, Lexicon Syriacum Concordantiale, 2nd ed. (Leiden, 1717).

This is a wonderful resource. It is a Syriac-Latin Lexicon to the NT. What makes it so useful is that it also functions as a concordance of the entire NT as well. For each word, it gives every time it occurs in the New Testment. A great tool for tracking down a Biblical citation in an author — but keep in mind, the coverage here is for the Peshitta; if an author is citing the Old Syriac or Harklean, and you use Schaaf to try to locate the reference, you may not find what you are looking for.

 

E. Castell, Lexicon Syriacum, ex eius lexico heptaglotto seorsim typis describi curavit (Göttingen, 1788).

Castell and Michaelis was the standard Syriac lexicon for European scholars until it was replaced by the Thesaurus Syriacus in the late 19th century. Read Payne Smith’s remarks (and here) about the difficulties of working with Syriac texts in the middle of the nineteenth century, when this was the best lexicon available.

 

W. Jennings, Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament (Oxford, 1926).

The standard NT Peshitta Lexicon in English.

 

I. Loew, Aramaeische Pflanzennamen (Leipzig, 1881).

A remarkable work of erudition on plant names in Aramaic; it draws extensively on Syriac sources like the Syriac Geoponika.

 

Other Lesser-Known Syriac Lexical Instrumenta

H.F. Whish, Clavis SyriacaA Key to the Ancient Syriac Version, called "Peshitto," of the Four Holy Gospels (London and Cambridge, 1883).

 

J. Brun, Dictionarium Syriaco-Latinum (Beirut, 1895).


A. Gutbier, Lexicon Syriacum: Omnes Novi Testamenti syriaci dictiones et particulares complectens, rev. ed. E. Henderson (London, 1890 [1836/1667]). [NT + NT lexicon]


B.H. Cowper, ''The Alphabet of Bardesanes'', Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record n.s. VI, 12 (1865): 465–466.

 

Lexica in Neighboring Languages

Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon

The CAL covers Syriac and a host of other Aramaic dialects and can give you definitions. It allows you to do searches and to also “browse” a number of texts in these languages. The number of Syriac sources contained in the CAL, while considerable, is still only a drop in the bucket as far as just how much Syriac is out there.

 

F. Schulthess, Lexicon Syropalaestinum (Berlin, 1903).

For Christian Palestinian Aramaic, but very useful to students of Syriac who want to know usages and resonances of words in other Aramaic dialects.  This lexicon is dated now, because of the appearance of new texts after its publication.  But it's still useful to have on hand.

 

M. Jastrow, Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud, and Midrashic Literature (London and New York, 1903).

Michael Sokoloff’s dictionaries of Palestinian, Babylonian, and Judean Aramaic have replaced this, but it is still a useful resource. See also Edward M. Cook, Glossary of Targum Onkelos (Leiden, 2008).

 

F. Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch (Marburg, 1895).

 

E.W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon (London, 1863).

Still the best dictionary for classical Arabic in existence; it draws upon the great classical Arabic dictionaries for its information. Using Hans Wehr to read classical/medieval texts can be a dangerous (and misleading) game. Hava, Dozy, and most of all Kazimirski (vol. 1, vol. 2) can be much surer guides. Hava is based on Kazimirski and will often do the trick when one is looking for a quick and dirty definition. Steingass is a dictionary which is quite useful but frequently overlooked, which is a pity; it is essentially an English version of Wahrmund (vol. 1, vol. 2). Arranged alphabetically, Steingass is especially useful when one is feeling lazy and does not want to spend time hunting for a root.  Freytag is an old dictionary, but there are some who still make occasional use of it and do so with profit.

 

W.E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary (Oxford, 1939).

 Tyndale House has other dictionaries on-line, for Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. They also have a copy of the Compendious Syriac Dictionary which is very easy to use.

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