Lexica, Dictionaries, and Glossaries

Notes to Readers

  • The use of lexica in pdf format can in fact be faster than using them in the traditional book format.  This requires, however, bookmarking the pdf, at least according to letter of the alphabet, if not in an even more granular fashion.
  • Beth Mardutho has fully integrated Mrs. Margoliouth's (i.e. J.P. Smith) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary (see below) in SEDRA. 2017 [Online]. Available: https://sedra.bethmardutho.org/lexeme/get. One can search by lexeme and each entry is tagged as well having the relevant digitized images available from A Compendious Syriac Dictionary
  • Dukhrana Biblical Research. [Online]. Available: http://dukhrana.com has a wonderful search engine which allows you to type in a Syriac word and get back results from a number of Syriac dictionaries: Bar Bahlul, J. Payne Smith (Mrs. Margoliouth), Jennings, Costaz, Manna, and Audo.
  • Costaz is also searchable online at Dukhrana Biblical Research. [Online]. Available: http://dukhrana.com (also here and here).

Works Cited  

Manuscripts of Historic Lexica

Major Lexica


  • J. P. Smith, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903 [Online]. Available: https://archive.org/details/ACompendiousSyriacDictionary2 

    • Even with the appearance of Sokoloff’s English translation of Brockelmann’s second edition, the Compendious Syriac Dictionary remains in many ways the best available Syriac dictionary in English. There is the occasional lapse — shroro/shrara (“truth”) somehow got left out, for example — but it contains definitions of idioms and phrases which often cannot be found in other dictionaries written in western languages. Unfortunately, citations for texts cited in the Compendious Syriac Dictionary are not given, so if one sees a passage and wants to know the source, recourse must be made to the corresponding entry in the Thesaurus.3 When it was published, it was criticized for, among other things, not including all the vocabulary to be found in the Syriac Bible. Also, if you find a Greek word in Syriac, you will often have to go to Brockelmann for help.4 Whatever its shortcomings, this dictionary has been the first choice of students of Syriac for over a century and it has exerted an enormous influence on the field of Syriac studies.



  • C. Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum, 1st ed. Edinburgh; Berlin: T&T Clark; Reuther & Reichard, 1895 [Online]. Available: https://archive.org/details/lexiconsyriacum00brocuoft 

    • This was greatly surpassed by the second edition of Brockelmann’s magisterial work,6 but the first edition is not completely without merit: the Latin-Syriac glossary at the back, which gives the Syriac word next to the Latin, rather than pointing the reader to the page where the Syriac equivalent can be found, is much more convenient than the Latin reverse index of the Second edition. The first edition, too, is no small feat of lexicography. R.D. Wilson’s review of Mrs. Margoliouth’s Compendious Syriac Dictionary7 compared the Compendious Syriac Dictionary unfavorably with Brockelmann’s first edition: he preferred the organization according to root, rather than alphabetically, and suggested that Brockelmann had better coverage of biblical (and other) vocabulary. Brockelmann completed this first edition of his lexicon before he turned 30, a humbling fact to contemplate.


  • L. Costaz, Dictionnaire syriaque-français / Syriac-English dictionary. Beirut: Dar el-Machriq, 1963 [Online]. Available: https://archive.org/details/Syriac-French-English-Arabic-Dictionary

    • Based on Brockelmann;8 until the appearance of Sokoloff’s English translation, Costaz’s dictionary functioned as a back door into that great lexicon for those who either found Brockelmann intimidating or for whom the Latin was too cumbersome. It is a student’s version of Brockelmann in much the same way that Hava’s Arabic dictionary was meant to provide easier access to the riches found in Kazimirski (see below). Costaz has a very useful appendix on proper names as well, which is a quick and easy place to go when one is not sure how to vocalize a name or what the English (or Arabic or French) equivalent of a Syriac name is. The third edition of Costaz's dictionary is searchable at Dukhrana Biblical Research. [Online]. Available: http://dukhrana.com.





  • Y. 'qub A. Manna, Qāmūs kaldānī-‘arabī / Vocabulaire chaldeen-arabe / Chaldean Arabic Dictionary. Beirut: Markaz Bābil, 1975 [Online]. Available: http://dukhrana.com/lexicon/Manna/

    • This is an outstanding dictionary. Its main defect is that Manna does not provide citations to let one know what texts he is deriving his words and definitions from, but Syriac scholars have often made recourse to this dictionary and always with profit. For instance, Brockelmann’s second edition12 is extraordinary in its coverage of rare words — it is a not uncommon experience to be reading an off-the-beaten-track text, come across an unknown or unfamiliar word, not find it in Mrs. Margoliouth’s Dictionary or the Thesaurus, and then to find its meaning in Brockelmann, with a citation from precisely (and sometimes, only) the passage being read. Brockelmann also has meanings which you cannot find in Payne Smith (but, it should be noted, the opposite is sometimes true), and reading an author like Jacob of Sarugh is much easier when done with Brockelmann at one’s side.  With all this said, however, we have, on a number of occasions, found meanings in Manna that are in neither Brockelmann nor in Payne Smith. This can be especially true when reading unpublished texts in manuscript. Manna is definitely a lexical resource that is worth keeping ready to hand. It is Syriac-Arabic, but even a person with a basic grasp of the Arabic alphabet and a lexicon like F. J. Steingass, English-Arabic dictionary: For use of both travellers and students. London: W.H. Allen, 1882 [Online]. Available: https://archive.org/details/englisharabicdi01steigoog nearby (which lists words alphabetically rather than by root) can profit from using Manna. It is a real gem and an underappreciated resource in the world of Syriac dictionaries. This is a re-typing of Manna, in modern Arabic and Syriac fonts. It is also searchable at Dukhrana Biblical Research. [Online]. Available: http://dukhrana.com



  • C. Schaaf, Lexicon Syriacum Concordantiale, 2nd ed. Leiden: Mullerus, Boutesteyn, Luchtmans, 1717 [Online]. Available: https://archive.org/details/SchaafLexiconSyriacumConcordantiale1709

    • This is a wonderful resource. It is a Syriac-Latin Lexicon to the NT. What makes it so useful is that it also functions as a concordance of the entire NT as well. For each word, it gives every time it occurs in the New Testment. A great tool for tracking down a Biblical citation in an author — but keep in mind, the coverage here is for the Peshitta; if an author is citing the Old Syriac or Harklean, and you use Schaaf to try to locate the reference, you may not find what you are looking for.





Other Lesser-Known Syriac Lexical Instrumenta


Lexica in Neighboring Languages


  • B. H. Cowper, The Alphabet of Bardesanes, Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record, vol. 6, no. 12, pp. 465-466, 1865 [Online]. Available: https://archive.org/details/JournalOfSacredLiterature

    • For Christian Palestinian Aramaic, but very useful to students of Syriac who want to know usages and resonances of words in other Aramaic dialects.  This lexicon is dated now, because of the appearance of new texts after its publication.  But it's still useful to have on hand. 




  • E. William Lane and Lane-Poole, S., An Arabic-English Lexicon. London: Williams and Norgate, 1863 [Online]. Available: www.tyndalearchive.com//TABS/Lane/index.htm

    • Still the best dictionary for classical Arabic in existence; it draws upon the great classical Arabic dictionaries for its information. Using Hans Wehr to read classical/medieval texts can be a dangerous (and misleading) game. Hava,19 Dozy,20 and most of all Kazimirski21. Kazimiriski, Hava, and Dozy can be much surer guides. Hava is based on Kazimirski and will often do the trick when one is looking for a quick and dirty definition. Steingass is a dictionary which is quite useful but frequently overlooked,22 which is a pity; it is essentially an English version of Wahrmund.23 Arranged alphabetically, Steingass is especially useful when one is feeling lazy and does not want to spend time hunting for a root.  Freytag24 is an old dictionary, but there are some who still make occasional use of it and do so with profit.