Monday, May 01, 2006

A Tartar Creed

Among the papers of the famous Council of Florence in 1439, the doomed last attempt to reunite the Greek and Latin churches, is a peculiar "Confession of Faith in the Tartar language" with accompanying Latin, Arabic, and Armenian translations. The confession is written in an east Turkic language (i.e. similar to that of modern Xinjiang in China's far northwest) in the Uighur script, the same script which had been adopted in the thirteenth century by the Mongols and was their traditional script until it was replaced by the Cyrillic under Soviet Russian pressure. (It is still used as the official way to write Mongolian in Inner Mongolia, and has undergone a limited revival in independent Mongolia since 1989.)

This confession of faith, while orthodox in content, is one of the oddest ones extant, not following at all the standard Trinitarian Nicene-Constantinopolitan format, but rather a two-fold one that speaks first of God in His trinity and unity, and then of Jesus Christ as a person. Here it is, in a translation by the great Altaic philologist Nicholas Poppe (in "A Middle Turkic Text of the Apostles' Creed," Monumenta Serica 24 (1965), pp. 273-306). I have put the lines of the original "Tartar" creed on top, with the lines of the Armenian translation below it. I have left the non-Turkic words, mostly Persian or Arabic, with a few Syriac, and a few other terms in their original forms with translation:

1. I believe in one God (teng'ri) who rules over [all] minds (köng’ül-ler bildechi) [=almighty]
2. In believe in one God, in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Jani-Nur "the Life Holy").
3. I believe in one God who created the heavens (kök "the blue") and the earth and is the government (tedbir) for all in the world (düne~dünye) whomsoever.
4. I believe in one God who instituted one holy church (alghishli kilesiye), in whom is one baptism (silam) and forgiveness of all sins.
5. I believe in God who raises all the dead and deals out (qas) to each one his proper body.
6. I believe in God who will judge the world (jighan) and requite (jazasi) all according to their own deeds (bighli).

7. I believe in ‘Isa the Messiah (misiqa), the son of God, true God (aqiqat teng'ri) and the true man (aqiqat adam) in one person (surat).
8. I believe in ‘Isa the Messiah who was received His life from the Holy Spirit, became man (adam), and was born from the virgin girl (bikr qiz) Maryam.
9. I believe in ‘Isa the Messiah who truly (qaq) arose from the dead on the third day.
10. I believe in ‘Isa the Messiah whom they crucified (salib eti-ler) and buried and who descended to hell (tuzaq).
11. I believe in ‘Isa the Messiah who ascended to heaven as the apostles (alghish etken-ler) gazed at him.
12. I believe in ‘Isa the Messiah who will come at the end of time (aqir zaman) and will judge the living and the dead.

Any comments on the background of this unusual creed would be most welcome!

teng'ri: this is the Turkish form of the traditional Turco-Mongolian word for God. The Mongolian is tenggeri
jani-nur: jani is Persian for "breath of life" or "soul," nur is found in some Turkic languages as "holy," but could also be Arabic nur "light."
tedbir and dünye are Arabic words: düne "world" is what we find in this text, dünye is in other medieval Turkish Christian texts.
alghishli kilesiye: alghishli is Turkish for "holy" or "blessed," kilesiye is from Greek ekklesia.
silam: Aramaic for baptism. This is also found in a Mongolian letter, so we know it is the medieval Mongolian word for baptism.
qas, jazasi, bighli: all from Arabic words
jighan: from Persian jihan "world".
'Isa, misiqa: 'Isa is the Arabic for Jesus, misiqa is the Syriac for Messiah/Christ. Maryam is also the Arabic for Mary. Misiqa is found in Mongolian texts. 'Isa/Jesus is found also in the thirteenth century as Aise, the name of a Christian official (of Middle Eastern origin) at Kubilai Khan's court.
aqiqat: from Arabic "truth, authenticity, verily"
adam: from Arabic "man, human"
surat: from Arabic "appearance, shape, form, picture"
bikr qiz : bikr is from Arabic for "virgin," qiz is Turkish for "girl."
qaq (like aqiqat) is from Arabic haqq ("true").
salib: from the Arabic for "cross." Other Turkish Christian writings use the Persian khach.
tuzaq: this is from Persian for "hell"; other Turkish Christian writings use tamuq, which in Mongolian becomes tamu.
alghis etkenler : this is a Turkish paraphrase "those who give the blessing" for apostles.
aqir zaman are both from Arabic.