Melkite literature in Syriac

Melkites ceased writing in Syriac around the 9th cent., turning to Arabic instead, though translations into Syriac of Greek monastic literature, and especially of liturgical texts continued to be made for rather longer, and Syriac remained a liturgical language in certain areas of Syria until the 17th cent. when there was a sharp decline in its use, though in a few places it continued into the early 18th cent. Thus only a small amount of Melkite writing in Syriac survives, and most of this has been preserved in mss. of the Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai. The contents fall into several different categories:

1. Theological and polemical literature from the 7th cent., both dyothelete (ed. P. Bettiolo, CSCO 403–4, 1979) and monothelete (such as the Life of Maximus). What survives is probably only a very small proportion of what once existed. Three 7th-/8th-cent. authors, George of Martyropolis, Constantine, and Leon of Ḥarran, are known from the Letter of Eliya, addressed to Leon; Constantine was also a translator and copyist (ms. Brit. Libr. Or. 8606, of 723). Theodoros Abū Qurra (early 9th cent.), who normally wrote in Arabic, states that he also composed a work in Syriac (J. C. Lamoreaux, Theodore Abu Qurrah [2005], 119).

2. Translations of theological literature, including a letter of Sophronius (translated by Constantine in 721; ed. M. Albert, PO 39.2, 1978), and several homilies by Pantoleon, Anastasius, and others; a few of these were subsequently taken over into Syr. Orth. homiliaries.

3. Translations of Chalcedonian hagiography and monastic literature, notably John Climacus’s Ladder and the XL Martyrs of Sinai; the ‘New Finds’ at St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, have produced evidence of Syriac translations of Cyril of Scythopolis’s Lives of Sabas and Euthymios (Sinai Syr. M11 and 13N, Fragments no. 36), and of the Life of Symeon the Younger Stylite (M15=76N); the last was translated in Antioch in 827/8. Two further Lives, by Leontios of Neapolis, of Symeon the Fool and John the Almoner, transmitted in Syr. Orth. mss., must have originated in Melkite circles.

4. A single short 7th-cent. Melkite Chronicle survives (ed. A. de Halleux, in LM 91 [1978], 5–44); either it or its source was used by some later Syr. Orth. chronicles.

5. A small number of monastic texts of Syr. Orth. or Ch. of E. provenance are transmitted in Melkite mss.; the unique ms. of Sahdona’s ‘Book of Perfection’ was copied in 837 specifically for St. Catherine’s Monastery. The monastic anthology in Sinai Syr. 14 (10th cent.) includes excerpts from a number of different E.-Syr. authors, in particular Isḥaq of Nineveh and Shemʿon d-Ṭaybutheh. A Syriac ms. of the ‘First Part’ of Isḥaq’s writings survives, copied in the very Monastery of St. Sabas where it was subsequently translated into Greek (Sinai Syr. 24, with parts in Milan and Paris).

6. Liturgical texts; this constitutes by far the largest category. The oldest mss. sometimes still retain the original Antiochene rite, before it was altered to that of Constantinople, a process which probably took place over the 10th–11th cent. and during the period of the Byzantine reconquest of northwest Syria (968–1089). This change of rite involved the major undertaking of translating into Syriac (and Arabic) all the various Greek liturgical books that had developed by the end of the first millennium; the course of this massive enterprise still remains to be properly charted. Earlier, and perhaps already in the 8th cent. a considerable amount of Palestinian hymnography was translated, including canons by John of Damascus, Cosmas of Jerusalem, and others. From about the 13th cent. onwards many of the Syriac liturgical mss. also contain a good deal of Arabic as well.

7. For the small amount that survives of Christian Palestinian Aramaic literature, all Melkite, see that entry.

Almost all Melkite literature in Syriac was produced in western Syria, and important centers for its transmission were monasteries on the Black Mountain, northwest of Antioch, the region of the Kalamun, in particular Qara, and Ṣaydnāyā. Melkite copyists at St. Catherine’s Monastery (particularly active in the 13th cent.) were mostly from these locations. By the 13th cent. a distinctive Melkite form of Syriac script had developed.


  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Syriac on Sinai: The main connections’, in Eukosmia. Studi miscellanei per il 75o di Vincenzo Poggi S.J., ed. V. Ruggieri and L. Pieralli (2003), 103–17.
  • C. Charon (Korolevsky), History of the Melkite Patriarchates, III.1 (ET of 1910 ed., 2000), 29–58. (with list of 190 mss.)
  • H.  Husmann, ‘Die syrischen Handschriften des Sinai-Klosters, Herkunft und Schreiber’, Ostkirchliche Studien 24 (1975), 281–308.
  • J. Nasrallah, Histoire du mouvement littéraire dans l’Église Melchite du Ve au XXe siècle, II.1 (1996), 161–72 (Syriac writings); III.1 (1983), 359–86; III.2 (1981), 162–5, 167–71; IV.1 (1979), 261–6 (on liturgical mss.).

How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Melkite literature in Syriac,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Melkite literature in Syriac,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Melkite literature in Syriac.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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