Key to the Kingdom


Arabic Gospel
Arabic manuscripts
Christian Arabic
Middle Arabic


This paper takes a fresh approach to the study of the Arabic Gospel manuscripts. Although considerable success has been achieved at mapping out macro-families, there are still large lacunae in our knowledge of the Arabic Gospels as well as of the linguistic and scribal cultures that produced them. Arabic Gospel manuscripts notoriously vary at every level, and much of the variation is idiosyncratic. In previous work, this variation has by and large been considered background noise to be filtered out. In this paper, I study variation in the lexical, grammatical, and orthographic domains in the Gospel of Matthew as attested in twenty-two manuscripts belonging to multiple manuscript families. I use a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) to detect possible patterns in the variation. At each level, the variation is patterned in ways that contribute to our understanding of the manuscripts and their production. Most significantly, I argue that grammatical variation is not random, as previously assumed, and that several distinct grammatical traditions are detectable. I thus show that far from being an obstacle to the study of the Arabic Gospels, variation is in fact key to fully understanding them.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Phillip W. Stokes