Turfan, Syriac texts from

German excavations (1904–7), conducted near Bulayıq, north of Turfan, brought to light numerous fragmentary mss. evidently from the library of an E.-Syr. monastery. These texts are in several different languages and are often bilingual. At present there is no published catalogue of them all, though a project based in the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, plans to produce one.

There are said to be 400–500 small fragments in Syriac (Gillman and Klimkeit 1999, 251), very few of which have yet been published. They probably range in date from 9th to 12th/13th cent. Besides some biblical fragments, there are many liturgical ones; these include some of the earliest witnesses to the Ḥudrā (ET, from Sachau’s edition of 1905, in P. Y. Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China [1951], 337–47). Hagiographical texts include the Acts of St. George, and the Life of Barshabba, first bp. of Merv. Otherwise unknown texts include a dialogue between a Jew and a Christian, and a historical narrative concerning Nisibis. Two non-literary texts have been published (by Maroth), both in Serṭo and dating from ca. 10th cent.: one contains recipes for medical concoctions (one is against loss of hair), while the other is a draft of a letter, evidently to a high Byzantine official, written in very florid language.

Bilingual texts are liturgical (mostly NT lectionary texts and Psalms). The majority are Syriac and Sogdian (in alternating sentences, or with opening Syriac words only), but there is also one Syriac and New Persian (Psalms), several Syriac and Uighur-Turkish, and (surprisingly) one Greek and Sogdian, suggesting the presence of Melkites, too.

The great majority of the Christian texts are in Sogdian, and all are evidently translations from Syriac. Among the biblical (almost all, NT lectionaries) and liturgical texts are the Nicene Creed (in a Psalms ms., anticipating later usage), the Gloria in excelsis, an early form of a commentary on Baptism and the Eucharist, known in both E.- and W.- Syr. tradition, and a verse text by Babai of Nisibis (‘On the final evil hour’, not extant in Syriac). Hagiography is well represented, with fragments of the following: Barshabba, Cyriacus and Julitta, Eugenius, Eustathius, Finding of the Cross, Yoḥannan of Dailam, Acts of Peter, Pethion, Sarapion, Sergius and Bacchus, four martyrdoms under Shapur II (Shahdost, Tarbo, 120 martyrs, and Barbaʿshmin), and the Sleepers of Ephesus. Also prominent are monastic texts, which include Evagrius’s Antirrheticus, Dadishoʿ’s Commentaries on Isaiah of Scetis and the Paradise of the Fathers, some Sayings of the Fathers, and some unidentified texts, including parts of a homily on the three periods of the solitary life.

In Middle Persian there is one fragment of a Psalter, and some forty or more in Uighur Turkish; these include a fragment on St. George (ed. W. Bang, in LM 39 [1926]).

In contrast to the ms. finds from the Turfan area, Syriac is barely represented at all at Dunhuang, further east: only two fragments have so far come to light, one of a Pauline Lectionary (W. Klein and J. Tubach, in ZDMG 144 [1994], 1–3; cf. H. Kaufhold, in ZDMG 146 [1996], 49–60), and the other of a Psalter (D. Qing, in OC 87 [2001], 84–93). Two Syriac fragments of liturgical texts were also found at Kara Khoto, a center of the Tangut (N. Pigulevskaya, in ROC 30 [1938], 3–46).


  • J. P.  Asmussen, ‘The Sogdian and Uighur-Turkish Christian literature in Central Asia’, in Indological and Buddhist Studies. Volume in Honor of Prof. J. W. de Jong (1982), 11–29.
  • C. Baumer, The Church of the East. An illustrated history of Assyrian Christianity (2006), ch. 8. (for background)
  • M.  Dickens, ‘The Syriac Bible in Central Asia’, in The Christian Heritage of Iraq,ed. E. C. D.  Hunter (2009), 92–120.
  • I.  Gillman and H.-J.  Klimkeit, Christianity in Asia Before 1500 (1999), ch. 9. (for background)
  • M.  Maroth, ‘Die syrischen Handschriften in der Turfan-Sammlung’, in Ägypten, Vorderasien, Turfan, ed. H. Klengel and W. Sundermann (1991), 126–8.
  • N.  Sims-Williams, The Christian Sogdian Manuscript C2 (Berliner Turfantexte XII, 1985).
  • N.  Sims-Williams, ‘Die christlich-sogdischen Handschriften von Bulayiq’ in Ägypten, Vorderasien, Turfan, ed. H.  Klengel and W.  Sundermann (1991), 119–25. (partly the same in English: ‘Sogdian and Turkish Christians in the Turfan and Tun-Huang manuscripts’, in Turfan and Tun-Huang. The Texts, ed. A. Cadonna [1992], 43–61)
  • N.  Sims-Williams, [Christianity] ‘In Central Asia and Chinese Turkestan’, EIr , vol. 5 (1992), 530–7.
  • N.  Sims-Williams, ‘Christian Sogdian texts from the Nachlass of O. Hansen’, BSOAS 58 (1995), 50–8, 288–302.

How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Turfan, Syriac texts from,” 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, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Turfan-Syriac-texts-from.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Turfan, Syriac texts from,” 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), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Turfan-Syriac-texts-from.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Turfan, Syriac texts from.” 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. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Turfan-Syriac-texts-from.

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