The Allographic Use of Hebrew and Arabic in the Samaritan Manuscript Culture

in Intellectual History of the Islamicate World


In the 10th/11th century, Arabic became both the vernacular and literary language of the Samaritan community, along with the two languages of the liturgy: Samaritan Hebrew and Samaritan Aramaic; Samaritan Neo Hebrew was also employed at this time mainly for the composition of religious poems. Together with the introduction of the Arabic language, the Samaritans started to use the Arabic script, along with the Samaritan Hebrew formal and cursive scripts. In comparison with the use of the Arabic script, the Samaritan Hebrew script served mostly for more sacred texts or was employed in order to mark certain textual passages with a higher degree of sacredness. Allography of Arabic in Samaritan Hebrew letters is attested in Samaritan manuscripts since the beginning of the 13th century, although it was introduced most probably at an earlier date. This allography is employed mainly for the Arabic translation of the Samaritan Torah, for the Arabic translations of prayers, and for Samaritan Hebrew or Samaritan Aramaic quotes in Arabic texts. The replacement of Arabic by Modern Israeli Hebrew as the primary vernacular among the Samaritans living in the State of Israel led to a revival of Samaritan Hebrew allography for Arabic texts in the 20th century, mainly in festival poems in Arabic language, which are performed at certain occasions, although not all congregants are still familiar with the Arabic language and script. A close analysis demonstrates that Samaritan Hebrew allography of Arabic is the result of an intense contact between two scribal cultures, both of which were well established amongst the Samaritans. The allographic use of the Samaritan Hebrew script for writing Arabic texts originally did not aim to make these texts more accessible to Samaritan readers, but rather was employed to mark Arabic texts as belonging to the realm of the sacred.

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