Arabic-Speaking Christians and the Bible

East of Byzantium Lecture

Jack Tannous
Princeton University


Arabic is commonly seen as the language of Islam, and the Qur’an has long been viewed as the first book to have ever been written in Arabic.  But there were Arabic-speaking Christians long before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and for much of the medieval period, the Middle East was a largely Christian region.  In this lecture, I will discuss the status of Arabic as a Christian language, focusing especially on the question of the Bible in Arabic. Was there a pre-Islamic translation of the Bible into Arabic?

Jack Tannous is Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University. His research focuses on the cultural history of the eastern Mediterranean, in the Late Antique and early medieval period, particularly the Syriac-speaking Christian communities of the Near East. Professor Tannous’s research interests include manuscripts and the editing of Syriac and Arabic (especially Christian Arabic) texts. His forthcoming book is titled Lovers of Labor at the End of the Ancient World: Syriac Scholars Between Byzantium and Islam. Among his recent publications are “The Life of Simeon of the Olives: A Christian Puzzle from Islamic Syria” in Motions of Late Antiquity: Essays on Religion, Politics, and Society in Honour of Peter Brown, edited by J. Kreiner and H. Reimitz (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016), and “Greek kanons and the Syrian Orthodox liturgy” in Prayer and Worship in Eastern Christianities, 5th to 11th centuries, edited by B. Bitton-Ashkelony and D. Krueger (New York: Routledge, 2016). With Scott Johnson, Dr. Tannous created and maintains the site syri.ac, an online resource for Syriac studies, originally hosted at Dumbarton Oaks and now at the University of Oklahoma.


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