Three Fragments of a Judaeo-Arabic Translation of Ecclesiastes with Full Tiberian Vocalisation

In: Intellectual History of the Islamicate World
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  • 1 University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge
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Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts with complete vocalisation are rare, a problem which makes reconstructing the pronunciation of the medieval language challenging. This study presents an edition of a Judaeo-Arabic translation of Ecclesiastes from the Cairo Genizah with full Tiberian vocalisation. This manuscript exhibits noteworthy features of dialectal medieval Arabic and a palaeographic style which places it in twelfth-century Egypt-Palestine. The transcription system provides specific evidence for the pronunciation of a type of medieval Judaeo-Arabic, while the translation offers a window into the culture of popular Bible translations and scribal activity in the medieval Middle East.


Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts with complete vocalisation are rare, a problem which makes reconstructing the pronunciation of the medieval language challenging. This study presents an edition of a Judaeo-Arabic translation of Ecclesiastes from the Cairo Genizah with full Tiberian vocalisation. This manuscript exhibits noteworthy features of dialectal medieval Arabic and a palaeographic style which places it in twelfth-century Egypt-Palestine. The transcription system provides specific evidence for the pronunciation of a type of medieval Judaeo-Arabic, while the translation offers a window into the culture of popular Bible translations and scribal activity in the medieval Middle East.

1 Introduction1

One of the challenges facing scholars of Judaeo-Arabic is the limited information available concerning the pronunciation of the medieval language, particularly with respect to vowels. Only a small percentage of Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts (MS/MSS) contain written vowel signs, and the majority of those are vocalised only sporadically.2 This paper presents a manuscript which breaks from that tendency, and offers a rare glimpse into the linguistic background of a twelfth-century Judaeo-Arabic translation of Ecclesiastes with full Tiberian vocalisation.

The extant manuscript is comprised of three parchment bifolia from the Cambridge University Library’s Taylor-Schechter (T-S) and Lewis-Gibson (L-G) collections: T-S Ar.27.55; T-S Ar.53.12; and L-G Ar.I.150. The two T-S Ar. fragments appear in Baker and Polliack’s Arabic and Judeo-Arabic Manuscripts, but they did not notice that the pair belong together.3 L-G Ar.I.150 has not been described in any catalogue. Khan refers to T-S Ar.53.12 several times in his studies of vocalised Judaeo-Arabic,4 but none of these fragments have been published as editions before now. The manuscript’s text spans Ecclesiastes 2:8 to 12:12, and probably represents the writer’s personal Judaeo-Arabic translation of the Hebrew original.5

The following discussion contains three parts. The first describes the palaeography of the manuscript, using comparative methods to demonstrate that it was most likely written in the Egypt-Palestine area during the twelfth century. The second then examines the vocalisation and orthography of the text, using the high concentration of vowel signs to identify both dialectal and pseudo-classical features that differ from Classical Arabic (CA). Finally, the third part presents an edition and translation of the extant material, along with comments on noteworthy features from the transcription.

It is hoped that these elements will provide a useful guide for understanding the historical context and linguistic significance of this manuscript. Ultimately, it is a valuable witness to the adaptation of Hebrew vowel signs to Middle Arabic, and enhances our understanding of the phonetic realisation of spoken medieval Arabic in a period when vocalised manuscripts are relatively scarce.

2 Palaeography

The extant fragments comprise six single-column parchment leaves (three bifolia), containing all or part of Ecclesiastes 2:8–2:15, 2:22–3:5, 4:12–5:1, 5:8–5:15, and 11:8–12:12. The most complete leaf is T-S Ar.53.12, which measures 14.9 × 16.5 cm. All leaves originally contained 11 lines. The lines and margins are clearly ruled, and the outside margins are pricked. The flesh side is easily distinguished from the hair side. Hebrew incipits mark the beginning of each verse. They are smaller than the main Judaeo-Arabic text, but have a similar palaeographic style. We conducted this analysis with microscopy in visible and ultraviolet light in order to clearly see the ornamentation, stroke order, and thickness of each letter. What follows is a detailed palaeographic description of the letters of the main text as a point of comparison for future scholarship.

As a whole, the palaeographic style is typical of a professional Egyptian-Palestinian (“Eastern”) hand from the late eleventh to early twelfth century AD. It is a small yet sophisticated book-hand script. Some components of the letters are found in earlier (ninth- and tenth-century) Eastern manuscripts, but these components also persist in the Eastern book-hands of later centuries, and the overall rounded and simplified style points toward a twelfth-century date.6

2.1 Branched Letters (ʾālep, ṭêt, ʿayin, ṣādê shîn)

All branched letters have the fundamental shape and stroke order seen in Eastern hands from the tenth to twelfth centuries. However, the ducti joining the branches to the main strokes are thick and the serifs are significantly rounded, which are typically later features. The horizontal bottom strokes of ṭêt and shîn are notably flat.

  • ʾĀlep:7 The top serif is not a separate stroke, but instead flows smoothly into the main stroke, which curves slightly downward at the bottom. The leftmost branch attaches to the top of the middle stroke, which is an Eastern feature. The ʾālep-lāmed ligature is comprised of integral features from both letters and fits the aforementioned script style.

  • Ṭêt:8 The top fits a tenth-century palaeography, but the bottom horizontal stroke is flat, a feature seen in comparable twelfth-century MSS.

  • ʿAyin:9 Some ʿayins are noticeably upright. The leftmost branch joins the main stroke higher than expected for the assessed script style, but the top and bottom serifs both fit it well.

  • Ṣādê:10 Shaped like nûn, with a right branch proceeding almost perpendicularly from the middle stroke.

  • Shîn:11 Similar to ṭêt, shîn has a flat base, and the middle stroke joins the left-hand stroke at a high point. These features are seen in ninth-century script styles, but the roundness of the strokes and serifs are comparable to twelfth-century MSS.

2.2 Right-Angled Letters (bêt, dālet, , ḥêt, rêsh, tāw)

The shape and ornamentation of these letters match comparative script styles for a tenth-century Eastern hand. However, these simple letters tend to keep similar shapes over longer periods of time, so they also have parallels in twelfth-century scripts.12

  • Bêt: The downward stroke does not narrow significantly before being subsumed by the sweeping, slightly curved bottom stroke. It is easily distinguished from kāp by a sharp edge protruding backwards beyond the downwards stroke.

  • Dālet: The top of the downward stroke is ornamental, beginning well above the horizontal roof, which has a strong serif at the leftmost end.

  • : The same base shape as dālet; the left bottom branch attaches to the roof.

  • Ḥêt: Both downstrokes begin slightly above the horizontal line, less severely than dālet and .

  • Rêsh and tāw: The serif and angle typically appear in earlier (tenth-century) Eastern styles.

2.3 Vertical Letters (gîmel, wāw, zayin, nûn)

These letters match the fundamental shapes and stroke orders of a tenth-century Egyptian-Palestinian hand, although the ornamentation is more rounded than some comparative script styles; this rounding is more common in twelfth-century samples.

  • Gîmel:13 The middle stroke is straight and extends seamlessly into the top serif, which is poorly-defined and points steeply upward. This feature deviates slightly from comparative styles which have more angular strokes. The bottom stroke attaches high in the middle of the mid-stroke, which is typical for the assessed period.

  • Wāw:14 Closely matches the tenth-century Eastern book hand and comparable twelfth-century scripts.

  • Zayin:15 Short, which is typical of tenth-century Eastern book hand. However, like the top of gîmel, there is no stroke break between the middle stroke and the serif, which is another feature seen in comparative twelfth-century scripts.

  • Nûn:16 The serif is rounded and flows seamlessly into the main stroke, fitting a tenth-century Eastern script style as well as the later twelfth-century style.

2.4 Rounded Letters (kāp, mêm, sāmek, )

The basic forms and ornamentation of these letters agree with the Egypt-Palestine palaeography, and small deviations in them place the script in the twelfth century.

  • Kāp and mêm: Both letters match the assessed script style exactly. Mêm has a straight roof common in twelfth-century comparative texts.

  • Sāmek:17 The roof is flat with no ornamentation. A slight bump is visible on the rightmost side of the top stroke, where the downward stroke begins.

  • :18 The letter is notably compact and its bottom half extends far past the left stroke. This lengthening may reflect influence from an Arabic script style.

2.5 Tall Letters (kāp sôpît, lāmed, pê sôpît, ṣādê sôpît, qôf, nûn sôpît)

These letters retain the fundamental shape of their medial counterparts.

  • Kāp sôpît:19 Matches the twelfth-century Eastern hand.

  • Lāmed:20 Basic, without serifs, which is similar to some twelfth-century comparative scripts.

  • Pê sôpît:21 The lefthand “nose” sometimes attaches below the top curve of the main stroke.

  • Ṣādê sôpît: The top stroke matches that of medial ṣādê.

  • Qôf:22 The long bottom stroke attaches to the roof a bit further past the serif, a feature seen in the twelfth-century comparative scripts.

  • Nûn sôpît:23 The top serif, like all serifs in this hand, is rounder than in many tenth-century comparative script styles, indicating the later twelfth-century date. The length tends to be shorter than the downstroke of other sôpît letters.

3 Arabic Dialectology

The vocalisation and orthography reflect dialectal features that differ from Classical Arabic. Some of these features are fairly general, occurring in many varieties of Arabic, but a few indicate Egyptian influences on the scribe who wrote the manuscript. Simultaneously, the text follows Classical grammar and morphology in most respects, and it reflects a fairly high register of Arabic. It even contains several cases of “classicised” language with hyper- or hypo-corrected forms.24 The nearly-complete state of the vocalisation is particularly useful for identifying these dialectal and pseudo-Classical forms, especially since the Tiberian pointing system can represent wider range of vowel qualities than the typical Arabic fatḥa (/a/), kasra (/i/), and ḍamma (/u/) signs. The following discussion examines differences between Classical Arabic and the dialectal features in the Arabic of this text, mainly with respect to vowels and consonants.

3.1 Vowels

The majority of medieval Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts lack anything approaching complete vocalisation, often making it difficult to reconstruct the intended phonology of medieval Arabic words. This limitation extends to nearly all of Middle Arabic, as even most Arabic-script texts are sporadically vocalised at best. In fact, some of the most significant direct witnesses for medieval Arabic vocalisation are not in Arabic script at all, but rather transcriptions in Greek,25 Coptic,26 and “phonetic” Judaeo-Arabic27 which record short vowels via plene spellings. There are also a some “classical” Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts with substantial Tiberian vocalisation, although parchment manuscripts of this type are rare.28 With its near-complete Tiberian vocalisation, this Ecclesiastes manuscript provides another critical source for extracting the vowel phonology of medieval dialectal Arabic from a Middle Arabic text.

In these fragments, the Tiberian pataḥ, ḥîreq, and qibbûṣ signs occur regularly where CA would have fatḥa, kasra, and ḍamma, respectively. Ṣērê appears four times in the manuscript,29 and in the two clearest readings it represents /ē/ as an allophone of CA /ā/. Sĕgōl does not occur except as a ḥāṭēp vowel, and there are no clear readings with ḥōlem or qāmeṣ. In general, the manuscript does not record final vowels, and the only indication of case marking is the occurrence of ʾālep in places where CA has tanwīn alif. Throughout the text, ḥîreq before final indicates the equivalent of Arabic tāʾ marbūṭa, while a qibbûṣ before final indicates the 3ms pronominal suffix. This latter feature is an imitation of Classical Arabic orthography, although the suffix was likely pronounced as the dialectal form -u.30

Shûreq also occurs frequently, both where CA has /u/ and where CA has consonantal wāw. In these cases of consonantal wāw, the dot within the letter may actually be a dāgēsh or the equivalent of mappiq, and only appears to look the same as the shûreq vowel sign. See, for example, ‮אַקְוַּאלא‬‎ (ʾaqwālan, “sayings,” 12:9), which has a consonantal wāw marked by both “shûreq” and pataḥ. Accordingly, conjunctive wāw is frequently marked like shûreq. In these cases, it may have been realised as /u/ or /wu/.31

Shĕwă retains both silent and vocalic functions. It appears in places where CA has sukūn, and also represents short /a/ in most places where it does not close a syllable. For example, see ‮פְקֻלְתּ‬‎ (fa-qult, “I said,” 2:14) and ‮אַלמְגְרוּס‬‎ (al-maghrūs, “planted,” 3:2). This vocalic shĕwă as /a/ nearly always appears in unstressed syllables, while pataḥ occurs in syllables with stressed or long /a/, but this rule does always hold. For example, for ‮מְלִך‬‎ (malik, “king,” 2:12), shĕwă represents stressed /a/. The use of shĕwă for /a/ also occurs in Bible manuscripts with “non-standard Tiberian” vocalisation,32 and probably reflects the Tiberian pronunciation of vocalic shĕwă like pataḥ (i.e. /a/).33 The shĕwă sign may also indicate some “reduction” of the /a/ vowel, at least in certain contexts. For example, ‮גְמַעְת‬‎ (gamaʿt, “I gathered,” 2:8) may reflect a form closer to jəmaʿt than to CA jamaʿtu.34 Moreover, the quality of vocalic shĕwă can vary in different contexts. For example, in ‮אַלמְלוּך‬‎ (ʾal-mulūk, “kings,” 2:8), ‮טְהוּר‬‎ (ẓuhūr, “revelation,” 5:13), and ‮כְּאַלגְיום‬‎ (ka-ʾal-ghuyūm, “like the clouds,” 12:2) shĕwă represents /u/ in an unstressed, open syllable.35

Shĕwă also occurs once inside a word-final ḥêt (‮וּאַלמְרַחְ‬‎, u-ʾal-maraḥ, “and merriment,” 3:4). This marking with an interior shĕwă is a known feature in Hebrew manuscripts with “non-standard Tiberian” vocalisation, where it reinforces the full pronunciation of a weakened final guttural consonant. Additionally, it suggests that the scribe’s Judaeo-Arabic /ḥ/ was de-pharyngealised to /h/ in certain contexts, in this case at the end of a word-final syllable. Such de-pharyngealisation is only known in modern Arabic from peripheral dialects like Chadian and Nigerian,36 but if it occurs here, then it may be due to influence from Aramaic.37 Its appearance in this manuscript also suggests that this scribe had some familiarity with a type of non-standard Tiberian vowel pointing.38

One of the most common variations in the manuscript is the raising of CA /a/ and /ā/ in certain phonetic contexts, a phenomenon known as imāla in Arabic grammar.39 Both medial and final imāla are recorded in this manuscript, and both of these types of imāla are also known in dialects from the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and the Maghreb from the early Islamic period onwards.40 This phenomenon is attested in some early Judaeo-Arabic texts by the use of the mater lectionis letter yod,41 and is often marked by vowel dots in vocalised Judaeo-Arabic sources.42 This Ecclesiastes manuscript represents imāla with the Tiberian vowel signs ḥîreq and ṣērê. In positions where CA would have tāʾ marbūṭa, the manuscript has ḥîreq and . For example: ‮לִלְגְהַאלִה‬‎ (li-l-gahālih, “to ignorance,” 2:12), ‮אַלחִכְּמִה‬‎ (al-ḥikmih, “wisdom,” 2:12, twice), ‮אַלטֻ̇לְמִה‬‎ (al-ẓulmih, “darkness,” 2:13), ‮נִעְמִה‬‎ (niʿmih, “comfort,” 5:10), ‮בּ[אק]יִה‬‎ (bāqiyyih, “remaining,”11:8), and ‮אלמט̇למִה‬‎ (al-muẓallimih, “darkened,” 11:8). This tendency to raise final /a/ can be correlated with imāla of the feminine ending in many modern Arabic dialects.43

Ṣērê represents imāla four times, including at least three times in places where CA has long /ā/ in an open syllable: ‮מְתֵּי‬‎ (matē, “when,” 5:10), ‮אֵנִפַא‬‎ (ʾēnifan, “in the first place,” 12:7), and ‮פֵאניא‬‎ (fēniyan, “passing away,” 12:8). These instances of vowel raising are not lexical phenomena, but rather are conditioned by their phonological context, as ‮פֵאניא‬‎ (fēniyan, “passing away”) occurs in verse 12:8 alongside ‮כַאלפַאנין‬‎ (ka-ʾal-fānīn, “like those who pass away”). The fourth ṣērê appears where a lacuna allows only a cautious reconstruction of the entire word: ‮אֵ{נְמַא}‬‎ (ʾennamā, “only,” 12:8). If this reconstruction is correct, then this form is probably a hypocorrection of the CA word ʾinnamā.44

Another case of vowel raising occurs with the CA particle man (“who?”). It appears once as min with ḥîreq (‮וּמִן יְכּוּן‬‎, u-min yakūn, “and who is,” 5:8), reflecting the use of the word as a relative pronoun (“whoever”). This example example with ḥîreq notably occurs in the context of a yôd in an adjacent syllable, which may have affected its vowel quality. The use of mīn for CA interrogative man is common to both Egyptian and Levantine varieties of modern Arabic,45 and lexical min as a relative pronoun occurs in modern Egyptian.46

The text uses a few Tiberian ḥāṭēp signs in places where CA has /a/ or /i/. Ḥāṭēp pataḥ occurs somewhat regularly, usually on ʿayin and ḥêt, including: ‮וּאַלמֻלַחֲנַאת‬‎ (u-al-mulḥănāt, “female musicians,” 2:8), ‮וּעֲטֻ̇מְתּ‬‎ (u-ʿăẓumt, “and I became great,” 2:9), ‮עֲלַי‬‎ (ʿălā, “upon,” 2:9, 2:13 twice, 2:26, 4:17, 5:12, 11:10), ‮עֲלִמְתּ‬‎ (ʿălimt, “I knew,” 2:14), ‮עֲרְצַ̇א‬‎ (ʿăraḍan, “judgement,” 2:14), ‮עֲליַךּ‬‎ (ʿălayak, “upon you,” 4:17, 12:2), ‮עֲמַל‬‎ (ʿămal, “labour,” 5:13, 5:14), ‮חֲדַאתְתַּךּ‬‎ (ḥădāthatak, “your youth,” 11:9), ‮אַלחֲיַאה‬‎ (al-ḥăyāh, “life,” 12:6), and ‮חֲכִּימַא‬‎ (ḥăkīman, “wise,” 12:9). However, it is not clear that the quality or quantity of ḥāṭēp pataḥ on these letters actually differed from that of CA fatḥa (/a/). Instead, the writer may have followed the Biblical Hebrew convention of avoiding vocalic shĕwă on guttural consonants. Ḥāṭēp pataḥ also occurs twice on ʾālep: ‮אֲגִּד‬‎ (ʾăggid, “I would find,” 2:25), ‮אֲסַאבּף‬‎ (ʾăsābif, 12:12);47 and once each on tāw, kāp, and yôd: ‮מֻתֲאַמִלַא‬‎ (mutăʾamilan, “contemplating,” 2:11), ‮כֲּדַאךּ‬‎ (kădhāk, “likewise,” 5:9), ‮יֲנְתְטִ̇מְהַא‬‎ (yăntaẓimhā, “he organises them,” 12:9).

Ḥāṭēp sĕgōl is a lexically-specific phenomenon, appearing only on the preposition ʾilā and its variations with pronominal suffixes. For example: ‮אֱליַה‬‎ (ʾĕlayyah, “to him,” 4:17), ‮אֱליַ‬‎ (ʾĕlayya, “to me,” 2:23 and 4:17), and ‮אֱל[י]‬‎ (ʾĕlā, “to, towards,” 5:14). In all of these cases, ḥāṭēp sĕgōl appears beneath an ʾālep-lāmed ligature, and it is impossible to say for sure that it does not instead represent shĕwă on the ʾālep and sĕgōl on the lāmed. If it does, then the expected pronunciation of ‮אְלֶיַ‬‎ (“to me”) would be ʾaleyya or something similar. These examples would then also be the only places where sĕgōl appears in the Judaeo-Arabic text.48

In contrast to dialectal forms, the vocalisation also reflects several apparent “hypocorrections,” where the writer attempted to “classicise” a perceived dialectal pronunciation of /i/ by replacing it with /a/, but failed to produce a true CA form.49 For example: ʾastaḥsinuh (‮אַסְתַחְסִנֻה‬‎, “it deemed it beautiful,” 2:10) for ʾistaḥsanahu; ba-ʾal-maysūr (‮בְאַלמַיְסוּר‬‎, “at ease,” 5:11) for bil-maysūri; fa-ʾiltimāsuh (‮פְאִלתְמַאסֻה‬‎, “for his seeking,” 5:11) for fal-timāsuhu; zaltuh (‮זַלְּתֻּה‬‎, “I abandoned it,” 5:12) for CA ziltuhu; ʾannahā (‮אַנְּהא‬‎, “indeed it/they,” 11:8) for ʾinnahā; ka-ʾal-ghuyūm (‮כְּאַלגְיום‬‎, “like the clouds,” 12:2) for kal-ghuyūm; and fī-ʾal … (‮פִיאַל …‬‎, “in the …,” 12:3) for fil.

The text also contains occasional “hypercorrections” where the writer uses a grammatical form when CA does not require it. For example, verse 2:26 has ‮בהרגא‬‎ (bi-hargan, “with agitation”), marking a direct object with both tanwīn alif and bi-. Similarly, in verse 11:8, the CA word ʾakthar (“greater, more than”) appears as ‮אַכְתְרַא‬‎ (ʾaktharan), apparently marked with tanwīn as the predicate of takūn, even though CA elative adjectives do not take tanwīn.

3.2 Consonants

The text is “classical” Judaeo-Arabic, generally matching the orthography of Classical Arabic with corresponding Hebrew letters.50 The Arabic definite article is almost always written ‮אל‬‎ (with the two letters connected as a single ligature) where CA would have ‮ال‬‎, as well as in places where CA normally elides the initial alif with hamzatu l-waṣl (see hypocorrections above). There is one instance where the lāmed of the definite article is omitted before a ḍād (3:4: ‮לַצ̇חְךּ‬‎, la-ḍḍaḥk, “for [the] laughter”), but otherwise it is always written, even with “sun letters.” Similarly, geminated Arabic letters are usually written only once in Hebrew characters—sometimes marked with a dāgēsh—except for two cases which reduplicate the consonant: 2:11, ‮אִנְּני‬‎ (ʾinnī, “indeed I”); 12:9, ‮אללףֿ‬‎ (ʾallaf, “he composed”).

There is one notable instance of consonantal interchange. In verse 3:1, ‮מַחְדּוּר‬‎ (maḥdūr) is probably intended as ‮מַחד̇וּר‬‎ (maḥḍūr, “prepared, fixed”). This spelling may be a remnant of an earlier “phonetic” Judaeo-Arabic orthography, which used dālet to represent Arabic ḍād.51 Alternatively, it may indicate a loss of /ḍ/ in certain contexts in the writer’s dialect.

The writer uses two types of diacritic dots to distinguish consonants: Tiberian dāgēsh and a single supralinear dot. These dots are used sporadically, but when they do appear, they distinguish specific pairs of letters.

The supralinear dot appears regularly to indicate ẓāʾ and ḍād, two consonants which do not have a phonetic equivalent in the Hebrew alphabet. A dot above ‮ט‬‎ distinguishes ẓāʾ from ṭāʾ, and a dot above ‮צ‬‎ distinguishes ḍād from ṣād. This convention follows a typical Judaeo-Arabic practice for indicating Arabic consonants that do not have Hebrew counterparts.52

The use of dāgēsh conforms to the standard Tiberian practice, marking stops but not fricatives. Accordingly, ‮בּ‬‎, ‮דּ‬‎, ‮כּ‬‎, and ‮תּ‬‎ correspond to the Arabic stops ‮ب‬‎, ‮د‬‎, ‮ك‬‎, and ‮ت‬‎, respectively, while ‮ד‬‎, ‮כ‬‎, and ‮ת‬‎ correspond to the Arabic fricatives ‮ذ‬‎, ‮خ‬‎,53 and ‮ث‬‎. The fricative reflex of ‮ב‬‎ (/v/) and the stop reflex of ‮פ‬‎ (/p/) have no Arabic equivalents, so those letters always represent ‮ب‬‎ and ‮ف‬‎ in the manuscript. There is also a single instance of with rāfê in verse 12:9 (‮אללףֿ‬‎; ʾallaf, “he composed”), which presumably highlights the fricative pronunciation in that word. Then for gîmel, ‮גּ‬‎ corresponds to the Arabic letter ‮ج‬‎, while ‮ג‬‎ corresponds to ‮غ‬‎. This usage breaks from more common diacritical practices in Judaeo-Arabic, which typically mark jīm using the convention for marking Arabic phonemes that have no Hebrew equivalent (like ẓāʾ and ḍād). That is, they usually indicate the Arabic affricate jīm (/j/) using a gîmel with a diacritic dot either above or below it.54 Instead, this manuscript uses dāgēsh to separate ‮ج‬‎ and ‮غ‬‎ in the same way as the other bgdkft pairs that have two Arabic equivalents. If the same pattern for those letters also holds for gîmel here, then it suggests the writer realised Judaeo-Arabic ‮ג‬‎ as a voiced velar fricative (/gh/ or similar) and ‮גּ‬‎ as a voiced velar stop (/g/), and not like the CA palatal affricate (/j/). This “gīm” reflex is a hallmark of modern Egyptian Arabic, and is also known to have occurred in Egypt between the eighth and twelfth centuries.55

3.3 Summary

The Judaeo-Arabic of this translation reflects a fairly high register of medieval Arabic, which generally conforms to CA grammar and morphology, and also attempts to “classicise” some of its dialectal features. However, a few elements of the writer’s dialect have crept into the formal language of the text, including: the raising of a-vowels in certain contexts (imāla) and a likely realisation of the Arabic letter jīm as /g/. The imāla seen here is similar to many modern dialects, and does not contradict the Egypt-Palestine assessment of the manuscript’s palaeography. Then the /g/ reflex of jīm is a well-known feature of Egyptian Arabic, including during the early medieval period. These details indicate that the writer most likely spoke a variety of Egyptian Arabic. Given the dating of the palaeography and the fact that this manuscript is parchment from the Cairo Genizah, it is also probable that the writer lived in Egypt during the twelfth century.

4 Transcription and Translation

The following section contains a transcription of the manuscript. Portions in [square brackets] are reconstructed from damaged areas that still have some ink, but where either the vowels or consonants are not clear, often with the aid of ultraviolet or infrared microscopy. Those in {curly brackets} are not visible in the manuscript, but are reconstructed from the context of the contents. The actual size of the incipits is smaller than the main text, so we have transcribed them in a smaller font size. Beside the transcription is our translation of the Judaeo-Arabic text, produced as faithfully as possible within the limits of reasonable reconstruction. We have also included the Jewish Publication Society’s 1985 translation of Ecclesiastes,56 as well as the text of the Leningrad codex from the Westminster Theological Seminary’s online edition ( The rightmost column contains the line number in the manuscript, while the leftmost column contains the corresponding chapter and verse in Ecclesiastes.

4.1 Ar.53.12 F1 Recto



Westminster Leningrad





I further amassed silver and gold and treasures of

‮כָּנַ֤סְתִּי לִי֙ גַּם־כֶּ֣סֶף וְזָהָ֔ב וּסְגֻלַּ֥ת‬‎

I gathered silver and {gold} …..

‮כָּנַסְתִּי לי גַּם וּגְמַעְת פִצַ̇ה וּדְהַ{בא}.....‬‎


kings and province; and I got myself male

‮מְלָכִ֖ים וְהַמְּדִינ֑וֹת עָשִׂ֨יתִי לִ֜י שָׁרִ֣ים‬‎

of kings and cities, desirously; and {I acquired} … fine {male}

‮אַלמְלוּך וּאַלמדאין רַאגִבַא וּאַתַּכְ{דת} … {אלמלחנין}‬‎


and female singers, as well as the luxuries of commoners—

‮וְשָׁר֗וֹת וְתַעֲנוּגֹ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י הָאָדָ֖ם‬‎

and female musicians, and some of the remaining pleasures of man,

‮וּאַלמֻלַחֲנַאת57 מֻחְסִנַא וּמְן מלאד58 אַלאִנְסַאן אַלבַּאקִיַא[תִ]‬‎



coffers and coffers of them.

Thus, I

‮שִׁדָּ֥ה וְשִׁדּֽוֹת׃‬‎




from time to time.

And I became great in that,

‮חִינַא וּאַחְיַאנַא: וְגָדַלְתִּי וְהוֹסַפְֿתִּי וּעֲטֻ̇מְתּ פִי דַאךּ‬‎


gained more wealth than anyone before me in Jerusalem.

‮וְהוֹסַ֔פְתִּי מִכֹּ֛ל שֶׁהָיָ֥ה לְפָנַ֖י בִּירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם‬‎

and I gained wealth beyond those who came before me, who were, in the house of peace,

‮וּזִדְּת קַדְּ[רַ]א עֲלַי [אָלּ]דִין קבלּי [כּ]אנוּ פִי דַאר אַלסְלַם‬‎


In addition, my wisdom remained with me:

‮אַ֥ף חָכְמָתִ֖י עָ֥מְדָה לִּֽי׃‬‎

great. And my wisdom was prepared ……… brought together in

‮כבּרא וּחִכְמְתִּי מַעַדא[ד]{ה} ....ל.ל …[צ̇]מה פִיִ‬‎



I withheld from my eyes

‮וְכֹל֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שָֽׁאֲל֣וּ עֵינַ֔י‬‎

my actions.

….. my sight

‮אַפְעַאלִי: וְכָֿל אֲשֶׁר ..... [ק] טַרְפִי‬‎


I withheld from my eyes nothing they asked for, and denied myself no enjoyment;

‮לֹ֥א אָצַ֖לְתִּי מֵהֶ֑ם לֹֽא־מָנַ֨עְתִּי אֶת־לִבִּ֜י‬‎

anything it deemed beautiful …… it deemed nice;

‮שַׁיַא אַסְתַחְסִנֻה ......[חּ]א אַסְתַּזַאנֻה‬‎


rather, I got enjoyment out of all my wealth.

‮מִכָּל־שִׂמְחָ֗ה כִּֽי־לִבִּ֤י שָׂמֵ֙חַ֙ מִכָּל־עֲמָלִ֔י‬‎

rather, my heart was with that …… [and it] which was

‮בַּל כַּאן קַלְבִּי בְּדַאך ......[וּהוּ]א אַלְּדִי כַאן‬‎



And that was all I got out of my wealth.

‮וְזֶֽה־הָיָ֥ה חֶלְקִ֖י מִכָּל־עֲמָלִֽי׃‬‎

my share from all that ……


קלבי חַטִ̇י מִן כֻּל מַא .....א: וּפָנִיתִי אֲנִי תֻם‬‎


Then my thoughts turned to all the fortune my hands had built up,

‮וּפָנִ֣יתִֽי אֲנִ֗י בְּכָל־מַעֲשַׂי֙ שֶֽׁעָשׂ֣וּ יָדַ֔י‬‎

indeed, I turned in contemplation [of all that] … I had built and what

‮אִנְּני תוּגַהְתּ מֻתֲאַמִלַא [כֻל מא] … צְנַעְתֻּה59 ומ[א]60‬‎


Line 1: The vocalisation of ‮גְמַעְת‬‎ may reflect a dialectal pronunciation of the 1cs perfect verb as jəmaʿt, although vocalic shĕwă tends to represent /a/ in most of the manuscript.

Line 2: The shĕwă in ‮אַלמְלוּך‬‎ (al-mulūk, “the kings”) appears to represent /u/ in an unstressed, open syllable.

Line 2: The translator probably chooses madīna (“city;” pl. madāʾin) here because it shares a root with the word mĕdînâ (“province;” pl. mĕdînōt) from the Hebrew verse, even though they have different lexical meanings. This word, as well as a few others, are left unvocalised, seemingly at random.

Line 3: ‮אַלבַּאקִיַא[תִ]‬‎ (al-bāqiyyāti, “the remaining”) apparently ends with a ḥîreq, although it is not clear why the vocaliser would put a case vowel here and nowhere else. It may indicate an epenthetic vowel rather than a grammatical case.

Line 5: The pointing on ‮זִדְּת‬‎ suggests a pronunciation of the 1cs perfect form as zidat, zidət, or zidt.

Line 5: There is a miniature sāmek or mêm on the left side above the rêsh in ‮קַדְּ[רַ]א‬‎ (qadran, “wealth”). It may be a correction to make this phrase ‮וּזִדְּת קַדְּר מא‬‎, “and I gained some amount.”

Line 5: There may be a qāmeṣ beneath the ʾālep in ‮[אָלּ]דִין‬‎ (ʾɔlladhīna?), but it is difficult to be sure. It would be the only instance of qāmeṣ in the manuscript, and does not match the expected pronunciation of ʾalladhīna or ʾelladhīna. The scribe may have added a qāmeṣ as an orthoepic reminder to separate the beginning of this word from the final vowel of the previous word (i.e. ʿălayya).

Line 5: The translator glosses ‮ירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם‬‎ (“Jerusalem”) as ‮דַאר אַלסְלַם‬‎ (dār al-salām, “the house of peace”), using a defective spelling (possibly, al-salam).

Line 9: ‮[וּהוּ]א‬‎ (wa-huwā? “and he”) may be the Hebrew pronoun ‮הוא‬‎, or a plene spelling of the Arabic pronoun like ‮هوا‬‎.61

Line 11: The scribe reduplicates the geminated nūn in ‮אִנְּני‬‎ (ʾinnī or ʾinnanī, “indeed I”), likely on analogy with the Hebrew forms ‮הִנֶּנִּי‬‎ (hinnennî) and ‮הִנְנִי‬‎ (hinĕnî).

Line 11: The 1cs perfect verb ‮צְנַעְתֻּה‬‎ (ṣanaʿtuh, “he made it”) appears to be marked like the CA 1cs perfect verb (faʿaltu), but the final /u/ in the Judaeo-Arabic is actually part of the 3ms pronominal object suffix. This suffix appears regularly as -uh.62

4.2 Ar.53.12 F1 Verso



Westminster Leningrad




to the wealth I had acquired and won—and oh,

‮וּבֶֽעָמָ֖ל שֶׁעָמַ֣לְתִּי לַעֲשׂ֑וֹת וְהִנֵּ֨ה‬‎

….. what of it I had made. I found that all of it was

‮.....מַא מִנְהּ פְעַלְתֻּהִ פוּגַדְת אַלכֻּל מִנְהּ‬‎


it was all futile and pursuit of wind; there was no real value

‮הַכֹּ֥ל הֶ֙בֶל֙ וּרְע֣וּת ר֔וּחַ וְאֵ֥ין יִתְר֖וֹן‬‎

…. vanity, without fail, nothing but the glimmer of dawn. And what of it is a certainty,

‮…[ַ]בֻּטְלַאן לַאבֻּד אילא וּמַא מִנְה יְקִינַא‬‎



under the sun!

‮תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃‬‎

persisting under the sun, debasing creation?


‮תַּחְתּ אַלשַמְס בַּאקְיַא ידוס כאינא: וּפָּֿנִיתִֿי אֲנִי וּחִינִיד‬‎


My thoughts also turned to appraising wisdom

‮וּפָנִ֤יתִֽי אֲנִי֙ לִרְא֣וֹת חָכְמָ֔ה‬‎

I turned to considering wisdom and praiseworthy deeds

‮אַקְבַּלְתּ נַאטְ̇רַא פִי אַלחִכְּמִה וּמַחְמוּדַאת אַלאַעְמַאל‬‎


and madness and folly. For what

‮וְהוֹלֵל֖וֹת וְסִכְל֑וּת כִּ֣י ׀ מֶ֣ה‬‎

and to scrutinising ignorance and repulsive acts, wanting to know

‮ומתצפחא לִלְגְהַאלִה וּמַדְמוּמַאת אַלאַפְעַאל מֻסְתַעְלִמַא‬‎


will the man be like who will succeed

‮הָאָדָ֗ם שֶׁיָּבוֹא֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י‬‎

about he who ……… following the approval of the

‮בְּאַיֻה מַא.......[לה] תַּאבְּעַא רצ̇א אל‬‎



the one who is ruling over what was built up long ago?

I found that

‮הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־כְּבָ֖ר עָשֽׂוּהוּ׃‬‎



‮וְרָאִ֣יתִי אָ֔נִי‬‎

king and ….

… regarding wisdom: in that,

‮מְלִך וּ.......64 [לִ]לְחִכְּמִה פִי דַאךּ‬‎


Wisdom is superior to folly As light is superior to darkness;

‮שֶׁיֵּ֥שׁ יִתְר֛וֹן לַֽחָכְמָ֖ה מִן־הַסִּכְל֑וּת כִּֽיתְר֥וֹן הָא֖וֹר מִן־הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ׃‬‎

it outranks {ignorance}…. outranks darkness.

‮עֲלַי אַלגְּ{הַאלִה}.... עֲלַי אַלטֻ̇לְמִה חַאלַא‬‎



A wise man has his eyes in his head,

‮הֶֽחָכָם֙ עֵינָ֣יו בְּרֹאשׁ֔וֹ‬‎

And I found ….. looking straight ahead of him, while the

‮הֶחָכָֿם עֵינָיו וּוגדּ{ת} ..... [א]מאמה נַאטִ̇רַא וּאַל‬‎


Whereas a fool walks in darkness. But I also realized that the same fate

‮וְהַכְּסִ֖יל בַּחֹ֣שֶׁךְ הוֹלֵ֑ךְ וְיָדַ֣עְתִּי גַם־אָ֔נִי שֶׁמִּקְרֶ֥ה אֶחָ֖ד‬‎

ignorant is in {darkness}…. I learned for certain that a single judgment,

‮גַּאהִל פִי אַלטֻ̇[ל]{מִה} .... עֲלִמְתּ יְקִינַא אַן עֲרְצַ̇א‬‎



awaits them both.

‮יִקְרֶ֥ה אֶת־כֻּלָּֽם׃‬‎

without fail, ……. but then I voiced a refusal.

‮וּאַחִדַּא לַא בֻּד..[ְרִצְ ֻמַא] פְקֻלְתֹּ65 חִינִיד מֻנְכִּרַא:‬‎


Line 1: The pronominal suffix at the end of ‮פְעַלְתֻּהִ‬‎ (faʿaltuhi, “I made it”) is marked with ḥîreq. It may indicate a defective spelling of the feminine pronominal suffix that has undergone some dialectal vowel raising, or it may be the equivalent of a mappiq, indicating that the is part of a pronominal suffix.

Line 1: Mappîq occurs twice in this line in the of ‮מִנְהּ‬‎ (“of it, from it”), but almost nowhere else in the text.

Line 2: Compare ‮לַאבֻּד‬‎ (lābbud or lā bud, “without fail”) with CA lā budd (“without fail”). There is no indication of gemination on the final Judaeo-Arabic consonant, but the scribe also does not mark gemination consistently elsewhere.

Line 2: The word ‮אילא‬‎ (ʾaylā?) is unvocalised, but it appears to be an Aramaic noun. The translator uses it to gloss the Hebrew word ‮רוּחַ‬‎ (“wind”), apparently drawing on an idiomatic usage of ‮אילא‬‎ as “the first glimmer of dawn,” ultimately based on the Hebrew idiom ‮אַיֶּלֶת הַשַּׁחַר‬‎, meaning “the light of dawn.”66 This usage occurs again in 2:26 and 4:16.

Line 2: We have translated ‮וּמַא‬‎ as an interrogative particle, but it may be meant as a particle of negation, equivalent to the Hebrew ‮וְאֵ֥ין‬‎. If this is the case, then the line could be translated as “nothing certain remains under the sun.”

Line 3: ‮כאינא‬‎ here refers specifically to the “created” or “existing” world, which aligns with the translator’s treatment of life as a period of “persisting” (‮בַּאקְיַא‬‎) before death.

Line 5: In CA, the form-V participle ‮מתצפחא‬‎ (mutaṣaffaḥan, “scrutinising”) indicates close examination.67 However, the ṣ-f-ḥ root is also related to “forgiveness” in certain varieties of Arabic,68 so a more accurate translation may be “I turned to considering wisdom and praiseworthy deeds, and to forgiving ignorance and repulsive acts.”

4.3 L-G Ar.I.150 F1 Recto



Westminster Leningrad





For what does a man get for all the toiling and worrying he does under the sun?

‮כִּ֠י מֶֽה־הֹוֶ֤ה לָֽאָדָם֙ בְּכָל־עֲמָל֔וֹ וּבְרַעְי֖וֹן לִבּ֑וֹ שֶׁה֥וּא עָמֵ֖ל תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃‬‎




… under the sun ……. his heart, struggling.

‮תַּחְתּ אַלשַׁמס ........ קַלְבה מֻנַאזִעא: כִּי כּ{ל}......‬‎




All his days

‮כִּ֧י כָל־יָמָ֣יו‬‎


his thoughts are grief and heartache, and even at night

‮מַכְאֹבִ֗ים וָכַ֙עַס֙ עִנְיָנ֔וֹ גַּם־בַּלַּ֖יְלָה‬‎

while sorrows are in view and ……..

‮בְּאַלאוּגַּאע משארף [וּ].......‬‎


his mind has no respite.

‮לֹא־שָׁכַ֣ב לִבּ֑ו‬‎

turning away, so his heart does not ……

‮מצר[ףִ]69 פְקַלְבֻּה לַא ......‬‎


That too is futile!

‮גַּם־זֶ֖ה הֶ֥בֶל הֽוּא׃‬‎

passing away {is turned} towards me.

‮יְכוּן אֱליַ אְלפְנַא מֻנְ[צר]{פ}.....70‬‎



There is nothing worthwhile for a man but to eat and drink

‮אֵֽין־ט֤וֹב בָּאָדָם֙ שֶׁיֹּאכַ֣ל וְשָׁתָ֔ה‬‎

… for a man who persists in what ……

‮לִלְאִנְסַאן בַאקִיַא [בִמַ̇]א71 יַ.....‬‎


and afford himself enjoyment with his means. And even that,

‮וְהֶרְאָ֧ה אֶת־נַפְשׁ֛וֹ ט֖וֹב בַּעֲמָל֑וֹ גַּם־זֹה֙‬‎

from the benefit in his likeness to himself …..

‮מִן כַיִר בִמִתְלֻה אלי נַפְסֻה מג....‬‎


I noted, comes from God.

‮רָאִ֣יתִי אָ֔נִי כִּ֛י מִיַּ֥ד הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽיא׃‬‎

I found it completely in what is from …..

‮וּגדתֻה כַּאמִלַא פִיִ מַא יְכּוּן [מִן]....72‬‎



For who eats

‮כִּ֣י מִ֥י יֹאכַ֛ל‬‎

So I never found, in my time, anyone who eats …

‮אִד כֻּנְת לַא אֲגִּד פִי זְמַאני [מן יאכֻּ]{ל} …‬‎


and who enjoys but myself?

‮וּמִ֥י יָח֖וּשׁ ח֥וּץ מִמֶּֽנִּי׃‬‎

than me, nor hastens toward {a desire} ……

‮מִנִּי וּלַא מֻסַארִעַא [אִלי] מֻ[רַא]{ד}.. {כִּ֤י לְאָדָם֙}73‬‎



To the man, namely, who pleases Him,

‮כִּ֤י לְאָדָם֙ שֶׁטּ֣וֹב לְפָנָ֔יו‬‎

Also, that {God} restores ……..

‮[שֶׁטּ֣וֹב] [וּא]ן אַ[לל]{ה} [מצלח]א קַ[.ְַ] …וּ.‬‎


4.4 L-G Ar.I.150 F1 Verso



Westminster Leningrad




He has given the wisdom and shrewdness

‮נָתַ֛ן חָכְמָ֥ה וְדַ֖עַת‬‎

…… who is before Him, completely

‮........[ְן] אמאמה צַאלִחַא‬‎


to enjoy himself;


…… and celebration according to his satisfaction;

‮......[ע] וּאַלאַחְפַאל עֲלַי רְצַאנִה‬‎


and to him who displeases, He has given the urge to gather and amass—only for handing on to one who is pleasing to God.

‮וְלַחוֹטֶא֩ נָתַ֨ן עִנְיָ֜ן לֶאֱס֣וֹף וְלִכְנ֗וֹס לָתֵת֙ לְטוֹב֙ לִפְנֵ֣י הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים‬‎

….. with agitation, and what is cheated

‮.....[חֲאִ] בהרגא וּמא74 יוּ[תִּ]ר‬‎


That too is futile and pursuit of wind.

‮גַּם־זֶ֥ה הֶ֖בֶל וּרְע֥וּת רֽוּחַ׃‬‎

…..the futility is hastening after the glimmer of dawn.

‮.....לבֻטְלַאן סְרִיעא אילא:‬‎



A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:

‮לַכֹּ֖ל זְמָ֑ן וְעֵ֥ת לְכָל־חֵ֖פֶץ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (ס)‬‎

…. {for everything under} the sun there is a time prepared, and for every

‮....75{לכל שי תחת} [אַל]שַמְס וּקְת מַחְדּוּר76 וּלִכֻל‬‎



A time for being born

‮עֵ֥ת לָלֶ֖דֶת‬‎

….. is enumerated.

A time for persisting

‮....{מַ}עְדּוּ[דּ]: עֵת לָלֶדֶת פוּקְת לִלְבְּקַא‬‎


and a time for dying, A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;

‮וְעֵ֣ת לָמ֑וּת עֵ֣ת לָטַ֔עַת וְעֵ֖ת לַעֲק֥וֹר נָטֽוּעַ׃‬‎

…. a time for planting, and a time for pulling up what is planted;

‮[וּוַקְת] לִלְ[גַּ]רְס וּוַקְת לִקַלְע אַלמְגְרוּס:‬‎



A time for slaying and a time for healing, A time for tearing down and a time for building up;

‮עֵ֤ת לַהֲרוֹג֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִרְפּ֔וֹא עֵ֥ת לִפְר֖וֹץ וְעֵ֥ת לִבְנֽוֹת׃‬‎

{a time} for killing and a time for standing down; and a time for building.

‮....77 {וַקְת} לִלְקַתְּל וּוַקְת לִתַּרְּכֻּה וּוַקְתּ לִלבִּנַא‬‎



A time for weeping and a time for laughing,

‮עֵ֤ת לִבְכּוֹת֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִשְׂח֔וֹק‬‎

A time for weeping and a time for laughing;

‮[עת] לִבְ[כוֹ]ת וּוַקְתְּ לִלְבֻכַּא וּוַקְת לַצ̇חְךּ‬‎


A time for wailing and a time for dancing;

‮עֵ֥ת סְפ֖וֹד וְעֵ֥ת רְקֽוֹד׃‬‎

….. and a time for dancing and merriment.

‮..... {וּוַ}קְת לִרַקְץ וּאַלמְרַחְ‬‎



A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces;

‮עֵ֚ת לְהַשְׁלִ֣יךְ אֲבָנִ֔ים וְעֵ֖ת כְּנ֣וֹס אֲבָנִ֑ים עֵ֣ת לַחֲב֔וֹק וְעֵ֖ת לִרְחֹ֥ק מֵחַבֵּֽק׃‬‎

……… gemstones … [for gathering them] …..

‮.ק......78 [ְרו] [אַל]גּוַאהר … [לגמעהא] [..רת] …‬‎


Line 2: The ‮צ‬‎ in ‮רְצַאנִה‬‎ (raḍānih) does not have a diacritical dot, but it seems that it should be read as ‮ض‬‎. Additionally, a ḥîreq clearly precedes the final ‮ה‬‎. If this word follows the trends for tāʾ marbūṭa and 3ms pronominal suffixes in the text, then it should be read as ‮رضانة‬‎, although we cannot find this Arabic form attested elsewhere. If instead it is ‮رضانه‬‎, then this possessive suffix is marked differently from the majority of other instances (-ih instead of -uh), and may suggest some influence from the CA genitive case ending.

Line 6: The translator glosses the Hebrew ‮לָלֶ֖דֶת‬‎ here as ‮לִלְבְּקַא‬‎ (li-l-baqā), indicating a time “to remain” or “to persist” rather than “to be born.” This word choice is again consistent with their idea of life as a time for “persisting” until death.

Line 11: The of ‮[אַל]גּוַאהר‬‎ (al-gawāhir, “gemstones”) is superscripted, apparently as a correction to the initial spelling.

4.5 L-G Ar.I.150 F2 Recto



Westminster Leningrad





Also, if one attacks, two can stand up to him. A

‮וְאִֽם־יִתְקְפוֹ֙ הָאֶחָ֔ד הַשְּׁנַ֖יִם יַעַמְד֣וּ נֶגְדּ֑וֹ‬‎

… two {before him} …….

‮אַלאִתְנַּאן אמ{אמה}.......‬‎


threefold cord is not readily broken!

‮וְהַחוּט֙ הַֽמְשֻׁלָּ֔שׁ לֹ֥א בִמְהֵרָ֖ה יִנָּתֵֽק׃‬‎

like the thread when ……..

‮כַּאלכיט אִדַא [.תַכַּ]......‬‎



Better a


its cord.

So {know that}…..

‮חַבְלֻה׃ טוב יל[ד] [מס] ואַ[עְל]{ם אן}.....‬‎


poor but wise youth than an old but

‮יֶ֥לֶד מִסְכֵּ֖ן וְחָכָ֑ם‬‎

being a virtuous wretch …..

‮כַּאן מַסְכִינַא כַיְרַא .....‬‎



foolish king who no longer has the sense to heed warnings.

For the former can emerge from a dungeon to become king; while the latter, even if born

‮מִמֶּ֤לֶךְ זָקֵן֙ וּכְסִ֔יל אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹא־יָדַ֥ע לְהִזָּהֵ֖ר עֽוֹד׃‬‎

a powerful king when he is ……

‮מְלִכַּא מְכִינַא אִד כַּאן......79‬‎


to kingship, can become a pauper.

‮כִּֽי־מִבֵּ֥ית הָסוּרִ֖ים יָצָ֣א לִמְלֹ֑ךְ כִּ֛י גַּ֥ם בְּמַלְכוּת֖וֹ נוֹלַ֥ד רָֽשׁ׃‬‎

descent, and he may not receive a warning …..

‮חדרא וּלַא יַקְבַּל אִ[נְ̇]דַארא80 .....‬‎


However, by bringing together, indeed, the staff …..

‮מַע דַאךְ בִגַמְ[ע] [אִ]ן אל[עצא] ......‬‎


…… his king {is}….

‮ואש[…]דַּא[דּ] מלכה יְכּ{ון} ....‬‎



[However,] I reflected about all the living who walk under the sun with that youthful successor who steps into his place.

‮רָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־כָּל־הַ֣חַיִּ֔ים הַֽמְהַלְּכִ֖ים תַּ֣חַת הַשָּׁ֑מֶשׁ עִ֚ם הַיֶּ֣לֶד הַשֵּׁנִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲמֹ֖ד תַּחְתָּֽיו׃‬‎


‮הא...[ראיתי את כל החיים]81 דַא.........‬‎


‮טַנ …........‬‎




Line 7: Here the translator may be playing off the contrast between jamʿ (gathering, bringing together) and the phrase shaqq al-ʿaṣā—literally, “splitting the staff”—an idiom which refers to a division within a tribe or the splitting off of a person from a larger group.82 Note that later (12:8) they use al-gāmiʿ (lit. “the gatherer,” “the one who brings together”) to gloss the Hebrew Qōhelet.

4.6 L-G Ar.I.150 F2 Verso



Westminster Leningrad





Unnumbered are the multitudes

‮אֵֽין־קֵ֣ץ לְכָל־הָעָ֗ם‬‎

… they … without end

‮......[עוּ] בְלַא נְהַאיִה‬‎


of all those who preceded them; and

‮לְכֹ֤ל אֲשֶׁר־הָיָה֙ לִפְנֵיהֶ֔ם גַּ֥ם‬‎

…… then from a king

‮......[ְמִ..] [ל]דַאךּ מִן מְלך‬‎


later generations will not acclaim him either. For that too is

‮הָאַחֲרוֹנִ֖ים לֹ֣א יִשְׂמְחוּ־ב֑וֹ כִּֽי־גַם־זֶ֥ה‬‎

….. they are joyful, and that all of that is not

‮..... [מ]רחון וּאַן כֻל דַאךּ לַא‬‎



futile and pursuit of wind.

Be not

‮הֶ֖בֶל וְרַעְי֥וֹן רֽוּחַ׃‬‎




…. the glimmer of dawn.

Now be

‮....{אי}[ל]א׃ שמֹר רגלך פְכֻן אַלאַן‬‎


overeager to go to the House of God: more acceptable is

‮רגליך [רַגְלְךָ֗] כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר תֵּלֵךְ֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים‬‎

…… being wary {of} overstepping, and it is

‮......{מן} אַלכְטַא מֻחְתְּרִסַא וּכַאנַת‬‎


obedience than the offering

‮וְקָר֣וֹב לִשְׁמֹ֔עַ מִתֵּ֥ת‬‎

…. seeking nearness to Him, but to me

‮.... לִלקרבא אֱליַה מֻלְתַּמִסַא וּאֱליַ‬‎


of fools, for they know nothing

‮הַכְּסִילִ֖ים זָ֑בַח כִּֽי־אֵינָ֥ם יוֹדְעִ֖ים‬‎

….. so do not always make the people

‮..... פְלַא תַּגְעַ[ל לִ]לְנַאס דַּאיִמַא‬‎


[but] to do wrong.

‮לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת רָֽע׃‬‎

…… for yourself as a guard against harm …

‮...... עֲליַךּ דַאירִה עֲלי צ̇רך‬‎



Keep your mouth from being rash,

‮אַל־תְּבַהֵ֨ל עַל־פִּ֜יךָ וְלִבְּךָ֧‬‎

So in your speech, be …..

‮........84 [פ]כן פִי קולך [ֻ …לַ]א‬‎


and let not your throat be quick to bring forth speech

‮אַל־יְמַהֵ֛ר לְהוֹצִ֥יא דָבָ֖ר‬‎

……….. an outburst

‮.......אמ..... גצ̇בה‬‎


before God. For God is in heaven and you are on earth; that is why your words should be few.

‮לִפְנֵ֣י הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים כִּ֣י הָאֱלֹהִ֤ים בַּשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ וְאַתָּ֣ה עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ עַֽל־כֵּ֛ן יִהְי֥וּ דְבָרֶ֖יךָ מְעַטִּֽים׃‬‎




Line 6: ‮קרבא‬‎ is probably an Aramaic noun (qurbā, “nearness”), and corresponds to ‮וְקָר֣וֹב‬‎ in the Hebrew text.

Line 7: ‮דַּאיִמַא‬‎ here may reflect a dialectal shift of the CA glottal stop to /y/ (dāyiman, “always”),85 although in classical Judaeo-Arabic orthography a yôd can represent any CA hamza with a seat of yāʾ.

Line 8: ‮דַאירִה‬‎ (dāyirih) is literally “a circle,” but here refers to the people who surround and protect a prince.86 Note also the preceding comment on ‮דַּאיִמַא‬‎.

Line 8: ‮עֲליַךּ‬‎ (ʿălayak) indicates a dialectal form of the 2ms pronominal suffix, -ak.

4.7 T-S Ar.53.12 F2 Recto



Westminster Leningrad





Thus the greatest advantage in all the land is his: he controls a field that is cultivated.

‮וְיִתְר֥וֹן אֶ֖רֶץ בַּכֹּ֣ל היא [ה֑וּא] מֶ֥לֶךְ לְשָׂדֶ֖ה נֶעֱבָֽד׃‬‎

… of all than an excellent king, and whoever is …..

‮…גְּמִיעַא מִן מלך פַאצִ̇ל וּמִן יְכּוּן.....‬‎



A lover of money never has his fill

‮אֹהֵ֥ב כֶּ֙סֶף֙ לֹא־יִשְׂבַּ֣ע‬‎

Know that the lover of money ……

‮אהב כסף וּאַעְלַם אַן מֻחִב אַלמַאל טַ …‬‎


of money, nor a lover of wealth

‮כֶּ֔סֶף וּמִֽי־אֹהֵ֥ב בֶּהָמ֖וֹן לֹ֣א‬‎

seeks to increase his money; and that likewise a lover of it ……

‮יַסְתַכְתִר מִן מַאלֻה וּאַן כֲּדַאךּ מֻחִבֻּה תּ[נַ].ַ.מַ[א] …ר‬‎


his fill of income. That too is

‮תְבוּאָ֑ה גַּם־זֶ֖ה‬‎

to put it at his disposal; and that all of that will certainly, without fail,

‮יסתאתה מִן חִלֻה וּאַן גְּמִיע דַאךּ יְקִינַא לַא בֻּד אן‬‎




As his substance increases,




pass away;

and that you are one who, just as you increase

‮יְכּוּן פַאנְיַא׃ ברבות הטובה וּאַנַךּ אַלּדִי מְתֵּי תַכְתִר בְמִתְלֻה‬‎


so do those who consume it; what, then,

‮הַטּוֹבָ֔ה רַבּ֖וּ אוֹכְלֶ֑יהָ וּמַה־כִּשְׁרוֹן֙ לִבְעָלֶ֔יהָ כִּ֖י‬‎

luxury, so too does its consumption increase ……. one of them, then,

‮נִעְמִה יכתר מתאכלהא [..פל] …אחִדְהַא חִיניד‬‎


does the success of its owner amount to but feasting his eyes?

‮אִם־ראית [רְא֥וּת] עֵינָֽיו׃‬‎

is itself righteousness, and …… and successes.

‮נַפְסֻה צְלַאחַא וּלַא[נִ]..... וַאפְלַאחַא:‬‎



A worker’s sleep is sweet,

‮מְתוּקָה֙ שְׁנַ֣ת הָעֹבֵ֔ד‬‎

And also, that its sweetness is to …… of the builder

‮מתוקה שנת וּאן עַדְבֻּה [לַ] …. ע אלצאנע‬‎


whether he has much or little to eat;

‮אִם־מְעַ֥ט וְאִם־הַרְבֵּ֖ה יֹאכֵ֑ל‬‎

who is at ease, content in ……

‮מַא כַּאן בְאַלמַיְסוּר פִי מַ …[ל] קַאנַע‬‎


but the rich man’s abundance

‮וְהַשָּׂבָע֙ לֶֽעָשִׁ֔יר‬‎

As for the wealthy man who ….. generally his habit,

‮פְאַמַּא אַלמוּסִר אַלּדִי [ת] כְתִי87....ַ..עַאם עַאדְּתֻּה‬‎


doesn’t let him sleep.

‮אֵינֶ֛נּוּ מַנִּ֥יחַֽ ל֖וֹ לִישֽׁוֹן׃‬‎

his seeking is thus certain, not … being well fulfilled.

‮פְאִלתְמַאסֻה כְּדַא יְקַינַא גַיר תַא … מֻסְתַּוּפִי טַ[יִבַּ]א‬‎


Line 2: The vocalisation of ‮אַעְלַם‬‎ (ʾaʿlam) suggests it is a 1cs imperfect verb equivalent to CA ʾaʿlamu (“I know”). However, we suspect that this word is actually an imperative verb, equivalent to CA ʾiʿlam. Similar use of the imperative of ʿalama is a common framing device for beginning new sections in medieval treatises, and the translator was likely imitating that structure here. Then the pataḥ on the ʾālep is probably a pseudo-classical correction.88

4.8 T-S Ar.53.12 F2 Verso



Westminster Leningrad





Here is a grave evil I have observed under the sun:

‮יֵ֚שׁ רָעָ֣ה חוֹלָ֔ה רָאִ֖יתִי תַּ֣חַת הַשָּׁ֑מֶשׁ‬‎

Consider the enormity of evil which I have seen under {the sun}

‮…..[ול]ה וּאַעְטַם שׁרַּא רְאַיְתֻּהִ תַּחְתּ {אלשמס}‬‎


riches hoarded by their owner

‮עֹ֛שֶׁר שָׁמ֥וּר לִבְעָלָ֖יו‬‎

…… a leftover which angers its owner excessively

‮…סַארַא יחפט89 עֲלַי צַאחִבֻּה מַאגַלא‬‎



to his misfortune,


…. relinquish it, and at a time of revelation, I abandoned it.


‮א.חִ …פוּתה וּאואן טְהוּר זַלְּתֻּה׃ ואבד העשו תֻםַ90‬‎


in that those riches are lost in some unlucky

‮וְאָבַ֛ד הָעֹ֥שֶׁר הַה֖וּא בְּעִנְיַ֣ן‬‎

one from prosperity will lose it, for some reprehensible reason—loaning it or in a loathsome

‮יֻהְלִך דַאךּ מִן יְסַאר בִּסַבַּב מדְמוּם91 יַרְכְּבֻה אוּ עֲמַל‬‎


venture; and if he begets a son,

‮רָ֑ע וְהוֹלִ֣יד בֵּ֔ן‬‎

venture—squandering it. Also, if he has a son, then that son

‮מַסְכוט יַחתַּק בִה פְאן יוּלַד אִבְּנַא יְכוְּן דַאךּ מִן אִבְן‬‎



he has nothing in hand.

‮וְאֵ֥ין בְּיָד֖וֹ מְאֽוּמָה׃‬‎

will not come {clearly}, {but rather} is concealed from him.


‮לא יגד מִנְה טַ̇א{הרא} {אלא}[ב]אטנַא׃ כאשר יצא תֻם ⟦פְהוּ⟧92‬‎


As he came out of his mother’s womb,

‮כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר יָצָא֙ מִבֶּ֣טֶן אִמּ֔וֹ עָר֛וֹם‬‎

like how …… naked, likewise

‮פְכְּמַא[ַ.].... עַארְיַא פְכְדַאךּ‬‎


so must he depart at last, naked as he came.

‮יָשׁ֥וּב לָלֶ֖כֶת כְּשֶׁבָּ֑א‬‎

he will return to …..—in what he has amassed in excess,

‮יַרְגַע אֱל[י] ....[א] לַאְ יְגִד93 פִימַא יַתְזוּדֻה‬‎


He can take nothing of his wealth to carry with him.

‮וּמְא֙וּמָה֙ לֹא־יִשָּׂ֣א בַעֲמָל֔וֹ שֶׁיֹּלֵ֖ךְ בְּיָדֽוֹ׃‬‎

from righteous work ….. the gathering of his hands—from that, he will not find

‮מִן עֲמַל צְלַא{חַ} ….. {ת}חוִּיה יְדַּאהּ מִן דַאךּ‬‎



Another grave evil is this: He must depart

‮וְגַם־זֹה֙ רָעָ֣ה חוֹלָ֔ה כָּל־עֻמַּ֥ת‬‎


….. caused the worst of evils to occur,

‮פְלַא[חַא]..וגם זה [רעה] חולה ....ךּ אַגְלט̇ אַלשְרוּר מוּקְעַא‬‎


and I will gather it ….. to me those who were together; then just as

‮וּאַגְמְעֻה לְאִ[צ] ..[אלַיַ] .{אל}[דַ]ין מְעַא אד כאן כְמַא‬‎


just as he came.94 So what is the good of his toiling for the wind?

‮שֶׁבָּ֖א כֵּ֣ן יֵלֵ֑ךְ וּמַה־יִּתְר֣וֹן ל֔וֹ שֶֽׁיַּעֲמֹ֖ל לָרֽוּחַ׃‬‎

he came …



Line 1: The ‮ט‬‎ of ‮וּאַעְטַם‬‎ (u-ʾaʿẓam, “consider the enormity”) should be read as ‮ظ‬‎. This verb is another imperative form, following the same discourse structure and classicising hypocorrection that occurred with the imperative of ‮علم‬‎ (“know”) in 5:9 (and probably 4:13).

Line 1: The ink spot below the in ‮רְאַיְתֻּהִ‬‎ (raʾaytuh, “I have seen [it]”) is probably accidental. Based on comparisons with other 3ms suffixes, it is unlikely that the scribe meant to record a final vowel here.

Line 2: ‮יחפט‬‎ is one of only a few unpointed words, which seems odd given the potential ambiguity of this sentence. Read as form IV, yuḥfiẓ (“it angers, annoys”).

Line 3: In ‮טְהוּר‬‎ (ẓuhūr, “revelation”), shĕwă appears to represent /u/ in an unstressed, open syllable.

Line 3: The expected CA form of ‮זַלְּתֻּה‬‎ is ziltuhu, but the text reads zaltuh. This interchange of /a/ for /i/ is likely a pseudo-classical correction.

Line 6: ‮טַ̇א{הרא}‬‎ (ẓāhiran, “apparent”) and ‮[ב]אטנַא‬‎ (bāṭinan, “concealed”) are notably antonyms.95 Compare the same root in verse 5:12: ‮טְהוּר‬‎ (ẓuhūr, “revelation”).

Line 9: ‮יְדַּאהּ‬‎ (yadāh, “his hand”) is an irregular form in Arabic, and seems to mimic the corresponding Hebrew word (‮בְּיָדֽוֹ‬‎).

Line 12: The word ‮גא‬‎ (, “he came”) appears as a catchword in the margin below the text, near the end of the final line. It marks the end of the bifolium, and completes the previous clause (‮אד כאן כְמַא גא‬‎, “then just as he came”).

4.9 T-S Ar.27.55 F1 Recto



Westminster Leningrad





Even if a man lives many years, let him enjoy himself in all of them, remembering how many the days of darkness

‮כִּ֣י אִם־שָׁנִ֥ים הַרְבֵּ֛ה יִחְיֶ֥ה הָאָדָ֖ם בְּכֻלָּ֣ם יִשְׂמָ֑ח וְיִזְכֹּר֙ אֶת־יְמֵ֣י הַחֹ֔שֶׁךְ‬‎



… they gladdened {him} with joys, remembering the darkened {days}.

‮בְאלאַפְרַאח גדל[ו]{ה} יכּון לִּ[לְ]{איאם} אלמט̇למִה דאכִרַא‬‎


are going to be. The only future is nothingness!

‮כִּֽי־הַרְבֵּ֥ה יִהְי֖וּ כָּל־שֶׁבָּ֥א הָֽבֶל׃‬‎

Indeed, they are those which are most numerous among …. remaining days.

‮אַנְּהא אַלּתִּי תְּכּוּן מִן מְּ … איאם בּ[אק]יִה אַכְתְרַא‬‎



O youth, enjoy yourself while you are young!

‮שְׂמַ֧ח בָּח֣וּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶ֗יךָ‬‎

So then, O mankind, be joyous in your youth

‮שמח בחור תֻם פְכֻן אַיֻהַא אַלאִנְסאן פִי חַאל חֲדַאתְתַּךּ‬‎


Let your heart lead you to enjoyment in the days

‮וִֽיטִֽיבְךָ֤ לִבְּךָ֙ בִּימֵ֣י‬‎

and in your affairs. May your musings be very beautiful, in those days

‮בִשַאנךּ פְרחַא וּלּיַחְסֻן מִנךּ פִ[כרך̇] פי תִּלְךּ מִן אַיַאם‬‎


of your youth. Follow the desires of your heart and the glances of your eyes—

‮בְחוּרוֹתֶ֔ךָ וְהַלֵּךְ֙ בְּדַרְכֵ֣י לִבְּךָ֔ וּבְמַרְאֵ֖י עֵינֶ֑יךָ‬‎

of your youth. When …… your mind,

‮[ש]באבַךּ גִדא וחְינִיד …… עַקְלַךּ‬‎


but know well that God will call you to account for all such things—

‮וְדָ֕ע כִּ֧י עַל־כָּל־אֵ֛לֶּה יְבִֽיאֲךָ֥ הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים בַּמִּשְׁפָּֽט׃‬‎

{then} do well in what He will reckon …… which is

‮{פ}אִחְסַן ממא יַחִסֻה …..מַא בְּאַן‬‎



………. well.

‮….א לַ[א] …[כד] ….ךּ חַסְנַא׃ והסר‬‎


and banish care from your mind, and pluck sorrow out of your flesh! For youth and black hair are fleeting.

‮וְהָסֵ֥ר כַּ֙עַס֙ מִלִּבֶּ֔ךָ וְהַעֲבֵ֥ר רָעָ֖ה מִבְּשָׂרֶ֑ךָ כִּֽי־הַיַּלְד֥וּת וְהַֽשַּׁחֲר֖וּת הָֽבֶל׃‬‎

………. anger

‮{כַּ֙עַס֙}…מא....... גְצַ̇בַּא‬‎


………. upon

‮..........לא עֲלַי‬‎






So appreciate your vigor in the days of

‮וּזְכֹר֙ אֶת־בּ֣וֹרְאֶ֔יךָ בִּימֵ֖י‬‎




Line 6: The second mêm of ‮ממא‬‎ is superscripted, apparently correcting to be mimmā (“from what, in what”).

4.10 T-S Ar.27.55 F1 Verso



Westminster Leningrad




your youth, before those days

‮בְּחוּרֹתֶ֑יךָ עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹא־יָבֹ֙אוּ֙ יְמֵ֣י‬‎

your youth, before … days … and you lose

‮שַׁבּתַּך קַבְל … [אַיַאם] ....ו פְתַצְ̇עַף מִן‬‎


of sorrow come and those years arrive of which you will say,

‮הָֽרָעָ֔ה וְהִגִּ֣יעוּ שָׁנִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֹּאמַ֔ר‬‎

your strength, when …….. at it from the attainment

‮קוּתַךּ אִד תַּבְלֻ[ִ …נעֻ …] עִנְדֻּה מִן בְלוג‬‎



“I have no pleasure in them”;


‮אֵֽין־לִ֥י בָהֶ֖ם חֵֽפֶץ׃‬‎



‮עַ֠ד אֲשֶׁ֨ר‬‎

of your desire, as you intended.

And before

‮מֻרַאדַּך מִן דַאךּ מֻקַצִדַא ע{ד} אשר לא וּקַבְל אַן תַט̇לִם‬‎


sun and light and

‮לֹֽא־תֶחְשַׁ֤ךְ הַשֶּׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ וְהָא֔וֹר‬‎

the sun and all the lights darken over you, and hidden from you are

‮עֲלַיך אַלשַׁמְס וּאַלאַנְוַאר גמִיעַא ותכפִי עַנְךּ אַל‬‎


moon and stars grow dark,

‮וְהַיָּרֵ֖חַ וְהַכּוֹכָבִ֑ים וְשָׁ֥בוּ‬‎

the planets and the {moon}, ….. at that from the {earth},

‮כְּוַאכִב וּאַל{קמר}..... עִנְדּ דַאךּ מִן אַלאַר{ץ̇}..‬‎


and the clouds come back again after the rain:

‮הֶעָבִ֖ים אַחַ֥ר הַגָּֽשֶׁם׃‬‎

like the clouds ……

And likewise, without

‮כְּאַלגְיום אַל[תַ]..... ביום וַדאךּ ל{א}‬‎



When the guards of the house become shaky, And the men of valor are bent,

‮בַּיּ֗וֹם שֶׁיָּזֻ֙עוּ֙ שֹׁמְרֵ֣י הַבַּ֔יִת וְהִֽתְעַוְּת֖וּ אַנְשֵׁ֣י הֶחָ֑יִל‬‎

a doubt, it shall be in the ….

‮שַׁךּ יְכוּן פִיאַל.....[פ]ט̇[ה] אַל....‬‎


And the maids that grind, grown few, are idle, And the ladies that peer

‮וּבָטְל֤וּ הַטֹּֽחֲנוֹת֙ כִּ֣י מִעֵ֔טוּ‬‎

from it ………….

‮מִ[נֻ]ה96 אַרְ...........‬‎


through the windows grow dim,

‮וְחָשְׁכ֥וּ הָרֹא֖וֹת בָּאֲרֻבּֽוֹת׃‬‎

and darken ……….

‮וּתַט̇לם ..........‬‎



And the doors to the street are shut—With the noise of the hand mill growing fainter,

‮וְסֻגְּר֤וּ דְלָתַ֙יִם֙ בַּשּׁ֔וּק בִּשְׁפַ֖ל ק֣וֹל הַֽטַּחֲנָ֑ה‬‎




And the song of the bird growing feebler, And all the strains of music dying down;

‮וְיָקוּם֙ לְק֣וֹל הַצִּפּ֔וֹר וְיִשַּׁ֖חוּ כָּל־בְּנ֥וֹת‬‎




Line 6: In ‮כְּאַלגְיום‬‎ (ka-ʾal-ghuyūm, “like the clouds,” 12:2), shĕwă appears to represent /u/ in an unstressed, open syllable.

4.11 Ar.27.55 F2 Recto



Westminster Leningrad





When one is afraid of heights




‮גַּ֣ם מִגָּבֹ֤הַּ יִרָ֙אוּ֙‬‎

… ugly things.

Thus …… they always

‮קבַּאיִחַא: גם מִ[ג]בה וּדַ[אְ]ךּ [אַ....ל.]ן הם דַּאיְמא‬‎


And there is terror on the road.—

‮וְחַתְחַתִּ֣ים בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ‬‎

fear God on their paths …. terrified of Him;

‮מִן אַללַה יְכַאפוּן [פִי] טְרַאיִקְהֻ{ם} ..[ַ]דַּא מִנְה [יַ]רְעֲדֿוּן‬‎


For the almond tree may blossom, The grasshopper be burdened,

‮וְיָנֵ֤אץ הַשָּׁקֵד֙ וְיִסְתַּבֵּ֣ל הֶֽחָגָ֔ב‬‎

and with Him, certainly, everyone is among the [rejected things], clinging to them, hurriedly seeking

‮וּעִנְדֻּה יְקִינַא [.כל] מן [אל]{מ}[נפאת] לַאזִמְהַא וּיַסְתַּרְסל‬‎


And the caper bush may bud again;

‮וְתָפֵ֖ר הָֽאֲבִיּוֹנָ֑ה‬‎

to recombine them as their composition rapidly dissolves.

‮אַלקטב מעגלא [מַעְהַא] וּ[תַנְחל]ל [מ]תְּעַאדְּיאת עַן‬‎


But man sets out for his eternal abode,

‮כִּֽי־הֹלֵ֤ךְ הָאָדָם֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית עוֹלָמ֔וֹ‬‎

But the always-righteous man is admirable,

‮תַרְכִּיבְּהַא [ויְ]כּוּן אַלאִ[נְ]סַאן [אלצאלח] אלדּא[יִ]ם {כַיִ}[רַ]א97‬‎



With mourners all around in the street.—

‮וְסָבְב֥וּ בָשּׁ֖וּק הַסֹּפְדִֽים׃‬‎

and his mourners, in voices ……

‮[ונוַאדבה] פי [אלאסואט]...... עד אשר לא ירתֵק‬‎


Before the silver cord snaps,

‮עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־ירחק [יֵרָתֵק֙] חֶ֣בֶל הַכֶּ֔סֶף‬‎

………… the back

‮.............[מַ]ן אלט̇הְר‬‎


And the golden bowl crashes, The jar is shattered at the spring,

‮וְתָרֻ֖ץ גֻּלַּ֣ת הַזָּהָ֑ב וְתִשָּׁ֤בֶר כַּד֙ עַל־הַמַּבּ֔וּעַ‬‎

…………. the living

‮.............ע אַלחֲיַאה98‬‎


And the jug is smashed at the cistern.

‮וְנָרֹ֥ץ הַגַּלְגַּ֖ל אֶל־הַבּֽוֹר׃‬‎

…………. dwelling.

‮............. [ח]צַ̇ארַא:‬‎



And the dust returns to the ground As it was, And the lifebreath

‮וְיָשֹׁ֧ב הֶעָפָ֛ר עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּשֶׁהָיָ֑ה וְהָר֣וּחַ‬‎

………….. {was} in the first place,

‮..............{כ}אן אֵנִפַא‬‎


returns to God Who bestowed it.

‮תָּשׁ֔וּב אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר נְתָנָֽהּ׃‬‎

………….. previously.

‮............... סַאלִפַֿא:‬‎


Line 2: There is a rāfê above the dālet of ‮[יַ]רְעֲדֿוּן‬‎, but the reading is almost certainly with dāl rather than dhāl: ‮يرعدون‬‎ (yarʿadūn, “they are terrified”).

Line 11: The in ‮סַאלִפַֿא‬‎ (sālifan, “previously”) has one of only three rāfês in the manuscript. Another is in ‮[יַ]רְעֲדֿוּן‬‎ on this page (see comment above), and the last is on the in ‮אללףֿ‬‎ (ʾallaf, “he composed”) in verse 12:9. It is interesting that two of the three occur in a word that contain ʾālep, lāmed, and . This usage may be a reminder not to confuse these words with similar Aramaic words that also have ‮אלף‬‎, but which can be pronounced with a stop (/p/) rather than the Arabic fricative (/f/).

4.12 Ar.27.55 F2 Verso



Westminster Leningrad





Utter futility—said Koheleth –

‮הֲבֵ֧ל הֲבָלִ֛ים אָמַ֥ר הַקּוֹהֶ֖לֶת‬‎

And that is what al-Gāmiʿ said from the beginning, that

‮הבל הבלים ודַ[אְ]ךּ מַא קַאלֻה אַלגַּאמִע בְּדִּיַא מִן אַן אל‬‎



All is futile!

A further word:

‮הַכֹּ֥ל הָֽבֶל׃‬‎






everything is like those who pass away: {only}, without fail, passing away.

And al-

‮כֻּל כַאלפַאנין אֵ{נְמַא} לַא בֻּדּ פֵאניא: ויֹת֕ר שהיה וּכַאן אל‬‎


Because Koheleth was a sage, he continued to instruct the people.

‮שֶׁהָיָ֥ה קֹהֶ֖לֶת חָכָ֑ם ע֗וֹד לִמַּד־דַּ֙עַת֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם‬‎

Gāmiʿ was thus wise and distinguished, so he taught the people

‮גַּאמִע אִד דַאךּ חֲכִּימַא פַאצ̇לא פְעַלִם אַלשַעְב‬‎


He listened to and tested the soundness of many maxims.

‮וְאִזֵּ֣ן וְחִקֵּ֔ר תִּקֵּ֖ן מְשָׁלִ֥ים הַרְבֵּֽה׃‬‎

complete knowledge. He composed for them whenever they would listen, and he considered sayings,

‮עִלְמַא כַאמִלַא אללףֿ פִיה מִמּא סְמִעוּ אַעְתַבַּר אַקְוַּאלא‬‎




‮בִּקֵּ֣שׁ קֹהֶ֔לֶת‬‎

organising them […..], he achieved [greatness].

Long he

‮יֲנְתְטִ̇מְהַא [אל..ל] נּאל [כבר]: בקש קה[לֶ]ת וטְוּ[יִ]לַא מַא‬‎


sought to discover useful sayings

‮לִמְצֹ֖א דִּבְרֵי־חֵ֑פֶץ‬‎

sought the ...... he would reveal it, desiring it, and

‮אַלתְּמַס פִי אַל....ל. יביחה וּמְרַאדֻּה פְכַאן‬‎


and recorded genuinely truthful sayings.

‮וְכָת֥וּב יֹ֖שֶׁר דִּבְרֵ֥י אֱמֶֽת׃‬‎

what he found was [written] ..........

‮מַא וּ[גְּ]דֻּה מַכְּ[תִ..] ..........{דברי}‬‎



The sayings of the wise are like goads, like nails fixed in prodding sticks. They were given by one Shepherd.

‮דִּבְרֵ֤י חֲכָמִים֙ כַּדָּ֣רְבֹנ֔וֹת וּֽכְמַשְׂמְר֥וֹת נְטוּעִ֖ים בַּעֲלֵ֣י אֲסֻפּ֑וֹת נִתְּנ֖וּ מֵרֹעֶ֥ה אֶחָֽד׃‬‎

He said: with ………….

‮חכמים {כד} פְקַאל עִנד̇.............‬‎


a rule in .................

‮חֻכְּמַא פִי חצר ...............‬‎



A further word: Against them, my son, be warned! The making of many books is without limit. And much study is a wearying of the flesh.

‮וְיֹתֵ֥ר מֵהֵ֖מָּה בְּנִ֣י הִזָּהֵ֑ר עֲשׂ֨וֹת סְפָרִ֤ים הַרְבֵּה֙ אֵ֣ין קֵ֔ץ וְלַ֥הַג הַרְבֵּ֖ה יְגִעַ֥ת בָּשָֽׂר׃‬‎

drawing together ..............

‮תַחְוִּיה מֻעְ...............‬‎



‮אֲסַאבּף מ..............‬‎


Line 2: There is a superscripted miniature yôd above the yôd of ‮כַאלפַאנין‬‎ (ka-ʾal-fānīn, “like those who pass away”), possibly indicating that the writer perceived a consonantal yāʾ here.

Line 4: A reduplicated lāmed marks the gemination in ‮אללףֿ‬‎ (ʾallaf, “he composed”).

Line 6: The second pataḥ in ‮אַלתְּמַס‬‎ (ʾaltamas, “he sought”) suggests that the final syllable is stressed.

Line 11: This reading of ‮אֲסַאבּף‬‎ is relatively clear, but it is not an Arabic word. It may be a mispelling of ‮אסאבק‬‎ (ʾăsābiq, perhaps “premeditations?”),99 which could result from the writer mistranscribing an unpointed Arabic-script vorlage. Alternatively, it could be ‮אסאכף‬‎ (ʾăsākif, “thresholds”),100 with the mistake coming in an interchange of ‮ב‬‎ for ‮כ‬‎. There is not enough context to know for certain without more of the text.

Line 11: It appears that there is only enough space on this leaf for the text to run through verse 12. The scribe may have omitted the final two verses in order to fit the end of the book on this piece of parchment, or there may be another leaf with 4–6 additional lines of text.

5 Conclusion

The combination of near-complete vocalisation and the palaeographic provenance makes this manuscript a strong source for the historical dialectology of twelfth-century Egyptian Judaeo-Arabic. It also offers a glimpse into the culture of a well-trained scribe, clearly familiar with the Tiberian recitation tradition and yet comfortable copying a biblical book in a highly non-standard way. Moreover, it contains a translation of Ecclesiastes that varies considerably from the original Hebrew text. This translation does not seem to match any well-known Arabic Bible translation from the early medieval period, suggesting it could be the writer’s own version, meant for personal use.

This study is not an exhaustive treatment of the linguistic features of this manuscript, nor has it explored the meaning of the Ecclesiastes translation in any significant depth. Rather, we have only aimed to produce a guide for future inquiry. In particular, the text requires further investigation with respect to its syntax, inflectional morphology, and lexical inventory.

As a potential example of a personal translation of Ecclesiastes, this manuscript also presents a unique opportunity for scholars of Bible translations. While medieval Judaeo-Arabic Bible translations by writers like Saʿadya Gaon were certainly more well-known, personal translations like the one in this manuscript deserve closer examination.101 Indeed, this manuscript shows that while such translations might remain largely unexplored, they have the potential to offer a wealth of information on the history of both Hebrew scribal culture and the Arabic language.


This work was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [OPP1144]. We would like to thank Ben Kantor and Joseph Habib for their insightful observations on the transcription, Nadia Vidro for her editorial comments, and Judith Olszowy-Schlanger for her comments on the palaeography.


See Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” pp. 201–218; idem, “Orthography and Reading in Medieval Judaeo-Arabic,” pp. 395–404; Vidro, “Arabic Vocalisation in Judaeo-Arabic Grammars,” pp. 341–351; Blau and Hopkins, “A Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Letter,” pp. 417–476.


Baker and Polliack, Arabic and Judeo-Arabic Manuscripts, nos 2155 and 7728.


Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” pp. 204–205, 208–209; idem, “Orthography and Reading,” pp. 400–401; idem, “The Function of the Shewa Sign,” p. 105.


In any case, it does not match the translations of Ecclesiastes by Saʿadya Gaon, Salmon ben Jeroham, or Yephet ben ʿAli. See Vajda, Deux Commentaires Karaïtes and Bland, The Arabic Commentary of Yephet ben ʿAli. A cursory comparison reveals some lexical similarities between these versions and the translation discussed in this article, likely due to no more than their shared Hebrew source material.


Many thanks to Judith Olszowy-Schlanger for her assistance in clarifying the date of the script style. For comparative references which generally match this manuscript’s script, see Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, “Eastern Book-Hand” (chart 24); David, The Hebrew Letter, examples 5A–6B; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 92–93, 184–189; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 1–36.


Comparative examples: Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, charts 23, 24, fig. 208; David, The Hebrew Letter, figs 5B, 6A, 6B; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 184, 186, 188; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 5, 35–36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 23; David, The Hebrew Letter, fig. 5A; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 92, 93; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, chart 2.


The closest overall comparison is Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 8, 35.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 23, fig. 208; David, The Hebrew Letter, fig. 5A; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 184–186.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 23, fig. 208; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 1, 3, 4, 35.


See especially, Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 24 and fig. 108, and Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, chart 35.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, charts 23, 24; David, The Hebrew Letter, fig. 5A; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plate 184; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 3, 5.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 23, fig. 208; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 35, 36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 23, fig. 208, Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 35, 36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, charts 23, 24, fig. 208. Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 186, 189.


Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plate 92; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 35, 36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 24, fig. 208; David, The Hebrew Letter, figs 5A, 6A; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 92, 189; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 1, 3, esp. 36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 24, fig. 208; David, The Hebrew Letter, fig. 6A; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 93, 189; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 35, 36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 23; David, The Hebrew Letter, fig. 5A; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 92, 186; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, chart 36.


David, The Hebrew Letter, fig. 6A; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plate 189; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 1, 5, but esp. 35, 36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 24, fig. 208; David, The Hebrew Letter, chart 6; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plates 93, 186, 189; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, chart 11 and especially charts 13, 36.


Yardeni, Book of Hebrew Script, chart 24; Birnbaum, The Hebrew Script, plate 189 (but longer and less angular); Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, charts 5 (closest match), 8 (but shorter), 10; Beit-Arie et al., Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, chart 35.


See Khan, “Judaeo-Arabic,” p. 156.


Blau, Handbook, pp. 29, 68–71; Violet, “Ein zweisprachiges Psalmfragment,” pp. 384–403, 425–441, 475–488.


Blau, Handbook, pp. 29, 155–167; Sobhy, “New Coptic Texts,” pp. 234–267.


Blau, Handbook, pp. 29, 136–154; see also, Blau and Hopkins, Ha-ʿAravit ha-yehudit ha-qedumah; and Blau and Hopkins, “On Early Judaeo-Arabic Orthography.”


Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” pp. 201–218; Khan, “The Function of the Shewa Sign,” pp. 105–111; Blau and Hopkins, “A Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Letter,” pp. 417–476.


In 5:10, 12:7, and 12:8 twice.


Khan, “Orthography and Reading,” p. 397; but see also, Blau, Handbook, p. 36.


For a similar phenomenon in Tiberian Hebrew, see Khan, The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition, section I.1.6.


For example, MS Cambridge, University Library, T-S AS 64.206 vocalises the definite article ‮(הַ-)‬‎ with shĕwă ‮(הְ-)‬‎. See Arrant, “Standard Tiberian.”


Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” pp. 208–209; idem, The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition, section I.2.5.2.


See Lentin, “The Levant,” pp. 185–186.


Khan, “The Function of the Shewa Sign,” pp. 105–111.


Janet Watson, The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic, p. 18.


See Fassberg, A Grammar of the Palestinian Targum Fragments, p. 27.


For more on this feature, see Blapp, The Non-Standard Tiberian Hebrew Language Tradition, pp. 47–48; Arrant, “An Exploratory Typology;” Yeivin, Keter, p. 17; Morag, “The Vocalization of Codex Reuchlinianus,” p. 233.


Levin, “The Imāla in the Arabic Dialects,” pp. 1–2, XIII; Levin, “ʾImāla.”


Lentin, “The Levant,” pp. 180–181; Levin, “The Imāla in the Arabic Dialects,” pp. 62–78; al-Nassir, Sībawayh the Phonologist, pp. 91–103.


Khan, “Judaeo-Arabic,” pp. 150–151; Hopkins, “On Imāla of Medial and Final ā,” pp. 195–214.


Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” p. 204.


Levin, “ʾImāla.”


Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” p. 206; idem, “Orthography and Reading,” p. 402. Compare T-S Ar.8.3 F16 verso: ‮אַנְמַא‬‎, ʾannamā.


Lentin, “The Levant,” p. 185; Hinds and Badawi, A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic, p. 845.


Hinds and Badawi, A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic, p. 835.


This word is probably a misspelling; see comments on transcription below.


Similar lexical specificity occurs in non-standard Tiberian bible manuscripts. For example, T-S NS 68.22 and T-S NS 78.47 have shĕwă for ḥāṭēp sĕgōl only on the ʾālep of the divine name (e.g., ‮אְלֹהֶ֔יךָ‬‎). See Arrant, “An Exploratory Typology.”


See Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” pp. 205–206; idem, “Orthography and Reading,” pp. 400–401.


This type contrasts the earlier “phonetic” orthographic system, which saw use until the first half of the tenth century. Khan, “Judaeo-Arabic,” pp. 150–151; Blau and Hopkins, “On Early Judaeo-Arabic Orthography.”


Khan, “Judaeo-Arabic,” p. 150; idem, “Orthography and Reading,” p. 397; Blau and Hopkins, “On Early Judaeo-Arabic Orthography.”


Khan, “Orthography and Reading,” p. 397.


e.g. ‮כַיִר‬‎ (khayr, “good,” 2:24) and ‮אלכיט‬‎ (al-khayṭ, “the thread,” 4:12).


Connolly, “Revisiting the Question of Ğīm,” pp. 165, 168–169.


Some Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts suggest it persisted in certain dialects until at least the sixteenth century; Connolly, “Revisiting the Question of Ğīm,” pp. 162–163, 178–179. See also, Behnstedt and Woidich, “The Formation of the Egyptian Area,” pp. 69–70.


Berlin, Brettler and Fishbane (eds), The Jewish Study Bible, pp. 1606–1622.


The nûn in this word may have qāmeṣ instead of pataḥ.


This word is ملاذّ, a relatively uncommon plural of ملذّة (“joy, pleasure, comfort”); Wehr, The Hans Wehr Dictionary, p. 1013; Kazimirski, Dictionnaire Arabe-Français, p. 985; Blau, Dictionary, p. 628.


It appears that the scribe began the qibbûṣ here too close to the tāw, and then wrote the full three dots under the erroneous first.


There is an oblique stroke above the mêm in this word.


Khan, “Orthography and Reading,” p. 399.


For example, see 2:12, 2:23, 2:24, 5:10, 5:11, 5:12, and 12:3.


JPS reverses the order of the two sentences in this verse “for clarity.” We have switched them back to demonstrate the differences between the versions of this passage.


The incipit for verse 2:13 was most likely in this lacuna.


There is a dot above this tāw that looks like a ḥōlem, but it is unlikely that the scribe placed it there intentionally.


See the CAL entry on ‮אילא‬‎:


Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, p. 1695.


Hinds and Badawi, A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic, pp. 504–505.


There is a ḥîreq below the in this word, probably marking an epenthetic vowel that separates it from the following .


The incipit for 2:24 was most likely in this lacuna.


There is a dot above the mêm in this word.


The incipit for 2:25 was most likely in this lacuna.


Incipit for 2:26 reconstructed based on the following line.


It is not clear that there is a space between this word and the next.


The incipit for 3:1 was probably in this lacuna.


Read maḥḍūr.


The incipit for 3:3 was probably in this lacuna.


The incipit for 3:5 was probably in this lacuna.


The incipit for 4:14 was probably in this lacuna, but the Judaeo-Arabic arrangement differs drastically from the Hebrew.


There is a dot above the nûn in this word.


The scribe wrote this incipit as two lines, taking up some of the interlinear space between lines 9 and 10.


See Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, p. 2068.


The original Judaeo-Arabic likely had more text here than would be necessary for a literal translation.


The incipit for 5:1 was probably in this lacuna.


Blau, Handbook, pp. 32–33.


See Kazimirski, Dictionnaire Arabe-Français, p. 747.


The beginning of this word appears to be אל overwritten with ת.


See Khan, “Vocalized Judaeo-Arabic Manuscripts,” pp. 204–206.


One of only a few unvocalised words, which seems odd given the ambiguity of this sentence. Read as form IV, yuḥfiẓ (“it angers, annoys”).


There is an oblique stroke above the mêm of this word. See also, Ar.53.12 F1 recto, line 11.


Read madhmūm.


Scribal error corrected on following line; omit.


It is difficult to tell whether the sign below the gîmel of this word is ḥîreq or ṣērê.


The NJPS translation moves this sentence up to verse 14, but we have moved it back to show the contrast between the different versions of the text.


Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, pp. 219–221.


The nûn here may have shĕwă or qibbûṣ. Both forms are attested elsewhere in the manuscript.


The vowels of this word are visible, but the first two letters are not clear.


There is an ʿayin in the margin after this word.


See Blau, Dictionary, p. 286; although he does not list this particular form.


This would be an irregular form of the plural, rather than the expected ʾaskāf; see Blau, Dictionary, pp. 302–303; Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, p. 1392.


Griffith notes that partial Judaeo-Arabic translations of the Bible existed as early as the ninth century, and Saʿadya may have utilised some of them in his own work. See Griffith, The Bible in Arabic, pp. 123–124, 156, 163. For a recent study that discusses some early translations and commentaries, see Blau and Hopkins, Ha-ʿAravit ha-yehudit ha-qedumah, esp. pp. 59–112.


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