Qarqaphto, Monastery of [Syr. Orth.]

The Qarqaphto (‘Skull’) Monastery was located near the town of Magdal on the Khabur river southeast of Reshʿayna, in the Jazīra region of Syria. According to tradition, a certain Mor Shemʿun was the founder of this monastery. The Qarqaphto Monastery blossomed between the 8th and 10th cent. and was famous as a center for biblical philology.

There is little direct archeological or ms. evidence from the Qarqaphto Monastery. One surviving ms. from this monastery is dated to 839 (Brit. Libr. Add. 17,215). The fragments of this ms. contain comments on Greek philosophical vocabulary in Syriac. References to the monks of the Qarqaphto monastery are also found in mss. of the so-called Syriac Masora. A small number of these mss. (Vat. Syr. 152, Brit. Libr. Add. 7183, and Damascus Patr. 12/22) attribute vocalized selections from the OT and NT to the ‘Qarqaphian tradition’ (mašlmonutho qarqphoyto). Most Syriac Masora mss. also contain marginal notes attributed to monks of the Qarqaphto Monastery (qarqphoye) along with notes by other philologists.

Bar ʿEbroyo is the best-known source of information for writings associated with the Qarqaphto Monastery. In the introduction to his grammar ‘The Book of Splendors’ (Ktobo d-ṣemḥe), Bar ʿEbroyo attributes the development of W.-Syr. Greek vowel signs to Qarqaphto monks. He also includes qarqphoye biblical readings in his Scriptural commentary the ‘Storehouse of mysteries’ (Awṣar roze). In his ‘Candelabrum of the sanctuary’ (Mnorat qudše), Bar ʿEbroyo lists the qarqphoyto as a ‘version’, or ‘translation’, (mappaqto) of the NT used by the Syr. Orth., along with the Peshitta and the Ḥarqlean (PO 31.1, 120). At times Bar ʿEbroyo disagrees with the biblical readings of the Qarqaphto monks.

Scholars working before the mid-19th cent. such as J. S. Assemani and N. Wiseman believed that these references to the mašlmonutho qarqphoyto and qarqphoye in the Syriac Masora and in the works of Bar ʿEbroyo were allusions to a ‘version’ or ‘revision’ of the Bible. The inclusion, in these same writings, of the term mašlmonutho in reference to the ‘versions’ of the Ḥarqlean and Syro-Hexapla seemed to legitimize the translation ‘version’ when used for qarqphoyto. In the late 19th-cent. J. P. P. Martin argued that mašlmonutho qarqphoyto was not a ‘version’ of the Bible, but a ‘tradition’ of vocalizing and pointing the biblical text transmitted by the monks of the Qarqaphto Monastery. Martin’s conclusions were eventually accepted by the majority of scholars, although some disagreed. One of the most vocal opponents of Martin was Isaac Hall who fought against what he called ‘Abbé Martin’s hoax’ (Hall 1885) in published articles and in presentations to the newly-minted Society of Biblical Literature. It is now generally understood that the works of eminent philologists from the Qarqaphto Monastery influenced the compilers of Syriac Masora mss. But the exact role monks from Qarqaphto played in the composition and transmission of all or part of the existing masoretic mss. remains unclear.


  • Assemani, BibOr, vol. 2, 283.
  • C.  Brovender, The Syriac SHEMAHE manuscripts: A typological and comparative study (Ph. D. Diss., Hebrew University; 1976). (in Hebrew)
  • I.  Hall, ‘On some Syriac manuscripts recently acquired by the Union Theological Seminary, New York’, Journal of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis 5 (1885), 100.
  • I.  Hall, ‘A note in reference to the “Masora among the Syrians”’, Hebraica 2 (1886), 967.
  • G.  Hoffmann, in ZDMG 32 (1878), 745.
  • G.  Hoffmann, ‘Zur Geschichte des syrischen Bibeltextes’, ZAW 1 (1881), 159–60.
  • J.  Khoury, Le candélabre du sanctuaire de Grégoire Abou’lfaradj dit Barhebraeus (PO 31.1; 1964).
  • P.  Martin, ‘Tradition karkaphienne, ou la massore chez les Syriens’, JA 6.14 (1869), 245–379.
  • P.  Martin, ‘Histoire de la ponctuation ou de la Massore chez les Syriens’, JA 7.5 (1875), 81–208.
  • N.  Wiseman, Horae syriacae (1828).

How to Cite This Entry

Jonathan A. Loopstra , “Qarqaphto, Monastery of,” 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:

Jonathan A. Loopstra , “Qarqaphto, Monastery of,” 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:

Loopstra, Jonathan A. “Qarqaphto, Monastery of.” 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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