Preliminary account on the identification and deciphering of the Caucasian Albanian text discovered on the Mount Sinai. Zaza Alexidze14.04.2012
In 1996, in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai were found Georgian manuscripts with the Albanian text (N/Sin-13, N/Sin-50) on the lower layer. The Albanian text represents a Lectionary that is a basic part of the Holy liturgy. Lectionary is a collection of the Liturgical Lessons read throughout a year and it mainly consists of the readings from the Old and New Testaments.
The existing Albanian palimpsests represent the Lessons from the Gospels (chapters from Mathew, Luke and John), Catholic Epistles of the Holy Apostles (Peter’s, Jacob’s and John’s Epistles), Epistles of the Holy Apostle Paul (I and II Corinthians, Ephesians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy, Titus and Hebrews). One chapter might be attributed to the Old Testament (Maccabees?) and some other headlines are so badly washed away that the technical equipment at my disposable does not permit to read them: The discovery of complete Lectionary in Albanian language and script directly indicates on the existanse of the higly developed Christian Ecclesiastic writing in The Caucasian Albania. The discovery of the Albanian Lectionary in the same time proves the information given in some sources concerning Albanian translations of the Books of the Prophets, Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and Epistles of the Apostles. Obviously, only those people who have the entire Bible on their native language can have the Lectionary. It is noteworthy that some Lessons given in the Albanian Lectionary are not found in ancient Armenian and Georgian Lectionaries. This may indicate that the Albanian Lectionary has not been translated from any other languages and was composed independently basing on the Greek Lectionary which is lost at present.
The headlines of all the Lessons are written in comparatively shorter graphemes as compared with the main text (such as the tradition in ancient Georgian and Armenian Lectionaries). Almost every word of the headline begins with an uncial letter (such as the tradition in the Armenian Lectionaries). In many cases the headlines comprise brief references on the reading of text; very infrequently on Psalms and quite often (before reading Apostle Paul’s Epistles) on the necessity of “Hallyluia” conducting. On the left handside margin one can find a headline written in small letters without any uncial initial lettering, given next to the main headline. The lessons from the Gospels are followed with relatively extended liturgical commentaries then the Lessons from the other New Testament books. Some very small-sized numbers are also present on the margins. Presumably, they represent the division of New Testament introduced into Christian practice since 4th century and known as Ammonios’ “Perricopes”.
Albanian “Lectionary” comprises only Holy Divine feast days. It bears no evidence to the calendar system; no mentioning of any Saints or of ecclesiastic Fathers; no indications on liturgical processions to the holy places in Jerusalem and the stops at relevant churches. There are very meagre hymnographical indications which means that it is the oldest Lectionary dating back to the end of the 4th and the beginning of 5th centuries. Albanian Lectionary stands very close to Georgian, the so-called “Khanmeti” Lectionary that is represented in very scanty fragments. The discovery of Albanian “Lectionary” permits to set new chronology of the existing ancient Lectionaries in Christian world: Greek (is lost) > Georgian (“Khanmeti”) and Albanian – Armenian – Syrian – Great Georgian Lectionary.
The language of the Albanian Lectionary is undoubtedly closer to Udian language in its lexis, phonetics and in grammar forms, though still different from what we had thought of it when analysing the epigraphical monuments. Nevertheless, the rebuilding of ancient Albanian language is quite real by means of comparative study of the ancient Albanian text with the modem Udian and in general with the south Daghestanian group of languages. This new discovery permits to introduce the reconstructed old Albanian written language as the liturgical language of the present Albanian Church service.
Zaza Alexidze Nikolayevich corresponding member of the Georgian Academy of Sciences