How Did a Saiga Appear in the Church Slavonic Bible?

2019. № 3, 50-59

Alexander I. Grishchenko, Moscow State Pedagogical University, Institute for Slavic Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences), St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Russian State Library (Russia, Moscow),


The essay deals with the case of the Turkic loanword saygak ‘Saiga tatarica’ emergence in the list of clean ungulates in Deuteronomy 14:5 of the Edited Slavonic-Russian Pentateuch from the 15th century. This word was used instead of the erroneous translation vel’bud ‘a camelʼ from Greek “camelopard,” i.e., giraffe, which corresponds to Hebrew zemer ‘an antelope or rock goat.ʼ This editing originates from the Judeo-Turkic Pentateuch Targum which actually existed in that time in the East European Slavonic-Turkic contact zone. In the Turkic Targum, Deuteronomy remained only in the late Karaim versions, while the editing was made in the second half of the 15th century, apparently in the Ruthenian lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In these lands, the Russian bookmen could come into contact with the bearers of Jewish culture who were Turkic-speaking at that. From the Edited Pentateuch, based on the Old Church Slavonic translation from the early 10th century, the new word saygak — alongside the other corrections in the list of clean ungulates — fell into the succeeding versions of the Church Slavonic Bible including the Elizabeth Bible, 1751. Even more surprising is that the proper Slavic names of animals fell into the Turkic-Karaim translation of the Pentateuch contained in the Halych manuscript from 1720.