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LRC Blog

April 13, 2008

Jonathan Slocum and Todd B. Krause

Objections to OCS Lesson Statements

The email exchanges below have been edited, e.g. to remove content not essential to the main point(s) or to standardize English spelling/grammar.


N.B. Members of our audience have raised [often vehement, sometimes abusive] objections to certain statements in our lesson series, Old Church Slavonic Online. Rather than quoting from individual email(s), we list below three basic issues raised by two correspondents in early April, 2008:

  1. Macedonia did not exist (until recent times);
  2. re: Tsar Samuel of Macedonia;
  3. re: dating "the oldest Slavic text."

Our responses, below, will clarify the objections that were raised.


I refer the reader to any of various sources that discuss multiple conflicting meanings for the term "Macedonia" -- e.g. Wikipedia. Even ignoring Philip/Alexander and Greek history, the term was familiar in the Roman empire, not least as the name of a province subsequently ceded to Byzantium in the time period that generally marks the beginning of the Middle Ages. In short there is more than one referent for the name "Macedonia," both in ancient and in modern times.

J. S.

I have taken some time to review the matter with the materials I have readily at hand in my own personal library, and with scholarly materials freely available on the web. The particular phrasing of the passage in question is clearly based on a similar statement in Horace C. Lunt's Old Church Slavonic Grammar (7th revised edition, Mouton de Gruyter, 2001, p. 7):

"To these manuscripts must be added the oldest dated Slavic text, a short gravestone inscription set up by the Macedonian king Samuil in 993."

I claim no originality in my account of this inscription, nor of the OCS corpus in general, and humbly submit to the far greater scholarship of Prof. Lunt. I do not however take his work as my only source; one may find a similar account on pp. 235-236 of the wonderful work by Alexander M. Schenker, The Dawn of Slavic (Yale University Press, 1991); likewise in William R. Schmalstieg's An Introduction to Old Church Slavonic (2nd edition, Slavica Publishers Inc., 1983, p. 27).

One may understandably quibble with my decision to give priority to the scholarship of the above authors. Naturally, they are primarily concerned with the language itself, as am I, and they may not focus their scholarship on finer epigraphical points.

I would point out, however, that various accounts in fact doubt either (1) the authenticity or (2) the accuracy of the "inscription of Dobrudja" [claimed to be older by some correspondents]. In this vein I mention the following articles:

and the references cited therein. As they discuss in their works, noting the original skepticism of the eminent Roman Jakobson himself, there are several issues surrounding the Dobrudja inscription. As Schenker sums up (ibid., p. 236): "Although it is dated, the date is poorly legible and could be read as 6451 (942/943) or 6651 (1142/1143). Some scholars think that the later dating is more consistent with the graphic characteristics of the inscription."

Therefore I admit that there is room for discussion concerning the priority of the Samuel inscription, and I am glad the point has been raised. However, the lesson series is meant as an introduction, and hence presents as brief a synopsis as possible of the middle-ground of scholarly debate. It is hoped that a grounding in these lessons will allow readers to knowledgeably and effectively use more technical sources to sort out finer issues. As much as there still seems to be scholarly debate on this particular issue, with the summary expressed in the OCS lessons still generally valid -- if conservative -- in its estimation, I do not feel that the lessons must be changed with any urgency. I will however continue to search the literature, and should I come across any more recent definitive statements on this point, I will adjust the lessons accordingly.

T. K.