Another scattered pearl: I. A. I Barṣoum’s risālah fī uṣūl al ta‘rīb ‘an al siriānīah


  • Rafik Jamoussi Sohar University
  • Konstantinos Kritsis Sohar University


Translation history, translation as preservation, Syriac-Arabic translation, Barṣoum


Well into the nahḍa movement, that is the ‘Cultural Renaissance’ that spread from Egypt and Greater Syria to the rest of the Arabic-speaking world, a voice from the Middle East sounded a different note on the need for translation and the way(s) it should be undertaken.

In 1909, Ignatius Aphram I Barṣoum (1887–1957), the would-be 120th Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, wrote a treatise in Arabic on the principles that should inform translation, which he titled risālah fī uṣūl al ta‘rīb ‘an al siriānīah[Epistle on translation principles from Syriac into Arabic]. The treatise was published posthumously twice (1969 and 2011) but received little attention despite providing a genuine insight into the translation activity during a crucial period for the Syriac Orthodox community and a unique case of contemplation on the challenges of translation addressed to a domestic readership that had lost command of its native language.

The present study is an attempt to bridge this gap by providing a discussion of the author’s main foci and underlying theoretical precepts. Through an analysis of key passages, the paper delineates the sociolinguistic conditions framing Barṣoum’s writing of this document and explores some key foci in his narrative: a) his dichotomy between the content to be translated and the linguistic form through which that content is conveyed; b) his handling of the concepts of fidelity and freedom; and c) translation procedures. The study concludes by assessing the contribution this text brings to the investigation of the translation tradition in the Levant.