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Scribes, language, and education in Petra in the 6th century CE

Marja Vierros

Petra, the metropolis of the province of Palaestina Tertia Salutaris in Southern Transjordan, yielded a surprising papyrus find in 1993. The publication of this carbonized papyrus dossier is on the home straight (the volumes 1–4 of The Petra Papyri are published and the final 5th volume is on its way). This paper will study the language and education of the scribes and other writers appearing in these documents.

The papyri were found in a side chamber of a church and they are documents concerning the property and taxation of the archdeacon of the church, Theodoros, son of Obodianos and his family. The contracts were written in Greek by notaries and signed by the people concerned; the taxation documents were possibly written by the authorities. The material provides us a wealth of literate people managing their daily businesses – a rare case from Palaestine along with the papyri from Nessana. The total number of people whose writing is attested is roughly 60 (in the currently published texts). It is therefore worthwhile to examine the language of the Petra papyri and compare it with the synchronic material from Nessana, and Egypt, in order to see if we can trace differences in the literate education and traces of the vernacular. In the case of Petra, the closest hub of education was Gaza (indeed, one papyrus found in Petra was written in Gaza). Were the notaries locally trained in Petra, or could they have learnt their trade in such a centre? The documentary formulas very often are similar to the ones in the papyri from Egypt – however, differences exist.

I will present a short linguistic analysis of the Petra papyri: 1) the phonology seen through the various orthographies of different writers (sometimes individuals can be identified through their names and/or handwriting); 2) morphology and syntax.The fragmentary state of the papyri make morphological and syntactic analysis sometimes difficult, but we can see that most of the writers were fairly well educated. The syntactic features will be compared with the texts of the same genre: documents from Nessana and Egypt as well as with the contemporary prose writers, for example John Malalas, whose text is known to be not as Atticising as many others, even if closer to the administrative Koine than the vernacular. Due to the limitations of time, I will focus on the widening range of participial usage (in subordinations, noun derivations, genitive absolutes etc., cf. Horrocks 2010, 245–6).

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Receptions of Classical Literature in Premodern Scholarship

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