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Monday, October 14, 2019

Was the Edessene King Abgar V an Aramean?

Vat.sir.117, fol. 551r
Was the Edessene King Abgar V an Aramean? A recently published manuscript making that suggestion dates to the seventh-century CE. Attributed to the famed poet-theologian Mōr Yaʿquḇ Sruḡōyō (c. 451-521 CE) and preserved in the Vatican Archives under the reference no Vat.sir.117, fol. 551r— the manuscript contains an intriguing line. The reference to Abgar bar-Ārāmāyē “Abgar, the son [of the] Arameans” is inscribed in a fine West-Syriac script. This claim, however, has attracted doubt due to conflicting near-contemporary claims. For instance, in his History of the Armenians, the famed historian Movses Khorenatsi (c. 410-490 CE) identifies Abgar as an Armenian who reigned as king of Armenia and Edessa. [1] Khorenatsi's claim, nonetheless, has been rebuked by various esteemed scholars and dubbed a fabrication. Alternatively, most scholars propose a Nabatean (Arab) origin on the basis of the various recognizable Arabisms. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] It is noteworthy, one of the earliest mosaic depiction of King Abgar V excavated in Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) bares an Aramaic inscription reading Abgar bar-Ma'nū “Abgar, the son [of] Ma'nū”. (see. Drijvers 1982, fig.1)

What historical evidence (if any) can attest a Nabatean identification?

Following the decline of the Seleucids by the second-century BCE, the city of Edessa was transformed into a capital that served as the seat of a line of kings that came to be known as the Abgarid dynasty. This term is justified by the frequency of the name Abgar among the kings list. According to Armenian sources, however, Edessa formed an integral part of the broader Armenian historical tradition (see. Warwick Ball, 2016, 96). Its earliest ruling class certainly held Armenian (or Parthian) names (i.e. Aryū*, Fradhasht, Ezad), rather than Nabatean. In fact, the archaeological evidences extant suggest a high degree of Parthian influence both in the titles of state officials and the style of clothing worn by the local population. Nonetheless, most of the monarchs appear to have been of Nabatean origin (Ma'nū**, Bakrū, Gebar'ū, Abgar, Maz'ūr, Wā'el, 'Amr).

Abdul-Qader al-Housan (2017)
Despite the fact Edessene society was one based on a multi-ethnic model, classical writers describe its ruling class invariably as Arabs. In his Natural History, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (c. 23-79 CE) informs us: “[The lands of] Arabia, above mentioned, has the cities of Edessa, formerly called Antiochia”. Furthermore, the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56-120 CE) describes Abgar V as “king of the Arabs”. [7] Be that as it may, it is evident that Aramaic served as the royal and administrative language of this dynasty. The major piece of evidence here is the survival of Aramaic legal texts and coins. Significantly, one of the earliest connections between the Nabateans and the Aramaic (script) occurs in the Library of History composed by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (first-century BCE). Diodorus informs us that the “Arabs who are called Nabataeans” wrote in “Aramaic characters”. Safaitic inscriptional evidences excavated north-east of the Jordanian desert demonstrate that the name Abgar and those employed by other Edessene monarchs were quite common among the Nabateans. In fact, One inscription that is highly significant reads Abgar son of xtl, the Nabatean. [8]

Sultan A. Maʿani (2002)
With the historical evidence pointing to a Nabatean identification, one question remains— why was King Abgar V described as the “son [of the] Arameans” by Mōr Yaʿquḇ?

In a previously published article titled Who were the ‘Arameans’ of Bēth-Ārāmāyē?, it is demonstrated that the term Aramean was commonly employed by West- and East-Syriac Christian writers in reference to the Nabateans. In the so-called Nestorian Arabic version of the Chronicle of S'irt (mod. Siirt, Turkey.), Bēth-Ārmāyē or Ārāmāyē (lit. Land of the Pagans/ or Arameans) is referred to as Balad al-Nabaṭ (lit. Country of the Nabateans) and its inhabitants as Nabaṭ al-Irāq (lit. Nabateans of Iraq). It is noteworthy that to the west of the Euphrates, flourished another community known as Nabaṭ al-Shām (lit. Nabateans of Syria). Collectively, this Nabatean population was referred to as al-Ārāmiyyūn (lit. the Arameans). The nomenclature held no ethnic implications whatsoever and was employed within a linguistic sense referring to an ethnic Nabatean populace whom employed the Aramaic-script. The connection between the so-called Arameans and the Nabateans is further confirmed in the Syriac-Arabic lexicon (c. ninth-century) composed by the famed Christian physician Ishō' bar 'Alī. In the entry for Ārmāyā or Ārāmāyā, bar 'Alī defines Arameans as Nabateans. This usage is also attested in the works of the ninth-century Islamic scholar and historian Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī. In his chronicles, al-Ṭabarī informs us that the “Arameans are the Nabateans” (see. C.E. Bosworth, 1999, p. 19). Furthermore, Abū ‘I-Hassān Bar Bahlūl, more commonly known as Bar Bahlūl was a tenth-century Christian physician, bishop and lexicographer. In his Syriac-Arabic Dictionary, Bar Bahlūl defines an Ārmāyā or Ārāmāyā as follows: Nabatean, Nabateans, Pagans, Heathens.

It is demonstrated that classical Greek, Roman, pre-modern Syriac and Arabic sources complement one another. Furthermore, it is attested that “Aramean” was a common nomenclature employed by early Syriac writers (whether they be West- or East-) in reference to the Nabateans (Arabs). By “son [of the] Arameans”, Mōr Yaʿquḇ was undoubtedly referring to a Nabatean monarch.

[1] Vrej Nersessian, Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2001), 224.
[2] The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 12, The Crisis of Empire, A.D. 193-337 (Cambridge University Press, 2005), 507-508.
[3] Fred Skolnik and Michael Berenbaum, Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition, volume 15 (Macmillan Reference USA, 2007), 506.
[4] J.M. Roberts and O.A. Westad, The History of the World, Sixth Edition (Oxford University Press, 2013), 246.
[5] http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abgar-dynasty-of-edessa-2nd-century-bc-to-3rd-century-ad [6] History of Humanity, volume III, From the Seventh Century B.C. to the Seventh Century A.D. (UNESCO, 1996), 140.
[7] The Annals and History of Tacitus (Oxford: Talboys, 1839), 240.
[8] see. Fahad Mutlaq al-Otaibi, 2015, 299

* Aryū (lit. lion) in Old-Aramaic.
** Ma'nū occurs also in Palmyrene (Stark 1971: 34); Nabatean (al-Khraysheh 1986: 111-12); Hatran (Abbadi 1983: 26); and Greek (Wuthnow 1930: 72).
*** Excavations in the city of Mafraq (mod. Mafraq Governorate, Jordan) have yielded a plethora of Nabatean-Arab inscriptions. Composed in the Safaitic script (a member of the Ancient North-Arabian 'ANA' sub-grouping of the South Semitic script family), the index of Nabatean-Arab personal names demonstrates the usage of Abgar in 11 instances from this site.
**** Most scholars agree that Safaitic inscriptions were written between the first-century BCE and the third- or fourth-century CE.