Thursday, December 05, 2019

Ancient Aramaic in Bahrain?

ARAMAIC WATCH? Experts find first archaeological evidence of Christianity in Bahrain. Experts have found the first archaeological evidence showing Christianity was practised in Bahrain, a discovery which sheds light on a missing part of the country’s history (University of Exeter).
The archaeological remains were found late last month in the village of Samahij, on the northern coast of Muharraq island. Samahij was probably the location of the episcopal seat of Meshmahig mentioned variously in historical sources between 410 and 647, and one of the centres of the country’s pearl trade.

Also found at the site were the remains of wine jars, glass goblets and pottery, which dates from the 7th century. One of the wine jars is inscribed in what is thought to be an Aramaic language called Psalter Pahlavi.

The work was led by Professor Insoll and Dr Rachel MacLean of the University of Exeter and Dr Salman Almahari of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, with additional input from Professor Robert Carter who studied the ceramics found.

The substantial building, measuring 17m x 10m, was probably part of a monastery or large house. The building was likely occupied in the 7th century just before the people converted to Islam. The building has several rooms and was decorated with carved plaster. A cross has been found carved onto a piece of stone and another cross was found painted on a pot sherd.

It is likely that the Christians who used the building were part of the Nestorian Church which flourished in the Gulf between the 4th/5th and 7th centuries.
My emphasis. I am confused by this report. Pahlavi is Middle Persian (an Indo-European language), not Aramaic (a Semitic language). Psalter Pahlavi is a Pahlavi script named after the script in the Pahlavi Psalter. It is connected with the Nestorians, but it is not itself Aramaic or Syriac. If anyone knows more about this jar inscription from Samahij, please drop me a note.

For more on ancient Aramaic inscriptions found in the pre-Islamic Arabic-speaking world, start here and follow the links. This is the first I've heard of an Aramaic inscription — if that's what it is — being discovered in Bahrain. But there were Nestorians there, so I would not be surprised to see evidence for the use of Syriac.

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