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THE COPTIC SYNDROME OF TRYING TO FIND COPTIC ORIGIN TO ARAB WORDS: NAYROUZ AS AN EXAMPLE

September 14, 2015

Pyramid at floodThe pyramids during the Nile flood. 1 Tout=11 September (Coptic New Year Day or the Crown of the Year) occurs at the height of the flood season.

The Copts would frequently want to find a Coptic origin to Arabic words as they are spoken in Egypt today; and sometimes this takes them to ridiculous ends to try to prove it. No doubt some words that are used now in Egypt have Coptic origin, such as “ikh” and “pikh”; and that is good to know, but that is it. It does not help the Coptic language at all to find that some words spoken in Egypt today has originated from it – at best, the exercise is a study in Arabic words etymology. It seems that the Copts, who lost their language through negligence, but nevertheless mourn its demise, are somehow relieved by seeing that the language of their oppressors that they had to speak instead of their beautiful and sacred language has borrowed some words from it: this is a very odd situation akin to that of the parents whose daughter had been raped and killed by others, and find in the knowledge that the women of their enemy wear some of the gems of their slaughtered daughter some weird pleasure.

Knowledge is good, but to try to find some relieve out of this particular knowledge, is unhealthy; and that is why I call it a syndrome. Those who are obsessed with such exercise of trying to find a Coptic origin to Arabic words, do misdirect their energy and waste it – instead of working to resuscitate Coptic, they satisfy themselves with Egyptian Arabic, and what they perceive as Coptic in it. And the syndrome sometimes takes them to the fantastic world of absurdity: consider the effort to explain the etymology of the Arabic word “nayrouz نيروز”, which Copts currently use to indicate their New Year: I came across this recently, and it appears it has already had its way into Wikipedia![1] According to this theory, the word “nayrouz” is derived from “ni-yarwou”,[2] which means in Coptic “the rivers”. When the Greeks entered Egypt, they added the letter ‘cima’ to the end of the word, and so it became “ni-yarwous”; and when the Arabs arrived in Egypt, they confused the Graecized Egyptian word “ni-yarwous” with the Persian word “Nowruz”! According to this theory, then, the word “nayrouz” is essentially Coptic; and the idea that it came from the Persian language is wrong.

Now, the Arabs are responsible for so much misunderstanding and confusion, but I cannot accuse them of this one. The Copts of today use the word “Nayrouz”, as I said, to indicate their New Year Day, which falls on the first of Tut,[3] and which marks the beginning of the Coptic calendar. In Coptic language, New Year Day is called, “Pi iklom ente ti rompi”,[4] which means “The Crown of the Year”: the expression is included in the Coptic liturgy, which is rooted in Egypt’s soil and the Nile, in the Litanies of Waters (prayed from 12 Paoni to 9 Paopi),[5] Sowing (from 10 Paopi to 10 Tobi),[6] and Harvest (from 11 Tobi to 11 Paoni)[7]. These Litanies cover the Egyptian inundation and agricultural cycle; and after each Litany, the priest adds: “Bless the crown of the year with Your goodness for the sake of the poor of Your people, the widow, the orphan, the traveller, the stranger, and for the sake of us all, who entreat You and seek Your Holy Name.”[8] This is a strong evidence of how “Pi iklom ente ti rompi” got well established in Coptic language.

There is no evidence that the Copts used the word “ni-yarwou” in their literature to mean New Year. One would expect to find the word “nayrouz”, or any derivative of it, to be included in the Coptic Synaxarium, as it covers all days of the Coptic calendar year; but, there is no mention of it at all. In fact, instead, we find the mention of “رأس السنة : Head of the Year” and “إكليل السنة : Crown of the Year”, which are fundamentally the same, at the beginning of the Synaxarium, under 1 Tout: “Let us make this day a sacred day a sacred day in all holiness and purity, because it is the head of the blessed Coptic year; and let us avoid every wicked deed, and start it off with good and acceptable work.”[9] I then it adds Psalm 65:11: “Thou hast blessed the crown of the year by Thy grace; and Thy lands are full with fatness.”[10] [11]

The wordnayrouz” is completely foreign to the Coptic language: it became familiar to the Copts only after the Arab occupation of Egypt in the 7th century; and only after the Abbasids had established their dynastic rule in 750 AD, and the Muslim Caliphate came increasingly under the influence of the Persians, who converted to Islam. Ancient Iran celebrated its New Year on the first day of spring, or the Equinox, and called it Nowruz, meaning “New Day”, which fell on the 21 March and marked the beginning of the Persian year. It had been a holy feast in Zoroastrianism, celebrated by people with certain popular and religious rituals; and, with the Persianisation of the Caliphate, Muslim rulers joined in the non-religious aspects of the celebrations of Nowruz. Arab writers called it “يوم النيروز (Yoam al-Nayrouz)”, which means “The Day of the Nowruz”; and, in time, the specific word came to be generalised, and the Coptic New Year, celebrated with equal zeal, pomp and ritual, became known as the “Coptic nayrouz”, or simply “nayrouz”.[12] And from these Arabs, the word passed on to the Copts: as they abandoned their language and replaced it with Arabic in the Middle Ages, they replaced “pi iklom ente ti rompi” by “nayrouz”; as they had replaced many other words, even sacred ones, by Arabic ones, such as “ipchois: Lord”, “ephnouti: God”, “isous: Jesus”, and “maria: Mary”.[13]

If anything, it is the Copts who confused the matter by abandoning their language and accepting the language of the Hijra.[14] And now, feeling guilty of neglecting their language, they try to take the easy way by convincing themselves that “nayrouz”, after all, is Coptic! This demonstrates the ridiculousness of the syndrome.

I say, “nayrouz” is not Coptic – our forefathers, in all probabolity, never uttered the word before it found its way out of our mouths in the Middle Age through Arabisation. I add, ditch the word; and replaced it by “pi iklom ente ti rompi”!

[1] For the Wikipedia article, go here; and see also this article.

[2] Nyarowou

[3] Corresponds to 29 August, in the Julian calendar; 11 September, on the Gregorian calendar.

[4]  pi iklom ente ti rompi

[5] 6 June – 7 October (Julian); 19 June – 20 October (Gregorian). This period corresponds to the season of Akhet.

[6] 8 October – 6 January (Julian); 21 October – 10 January (Gregorian). This period corresponds to the season of Peret.

[7] 7 January – 5 June (Julian); 20 January – 18 June (Gregorian). This period corresponds to the season of Shemu.

[8] See كتاب الخولاجي المقدس – الطبعة الأولى 1902

جمع وتحقيق القمص عبد المسيح المسعودي

[9] See Synaxaire Arabe-Jacobite, Arabic with a French translation, by Réne Basset, in Patrologia Orientalis (P.O.), Tome 1 (1907), p. 223.

[10] This is a literal translation: the verse in Arabic as in the Synaxarium is: “بركة اكليل السنة بنعمتك تمتلى بقاعك سمنا”.

[11] The Synaxarium also quotes 2 Cornithians 5:17 and Isiah 61:1-2.

[12] See Les Fêtes des Coptes par Taqi ed-Din Ahmad ibn ‘Ali Al-Maqrizi in Patrologia Orientalis, Tome 10 (1915), pp. 333-343.

[13] These became, “rabb”, “allah”, “Yaso’a”, and “Mariam”, respectively.

[14] Hijra refers to the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. Copts in the past used to call Arabic, “language of the hijra”.

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