Father Boulus Khano

PHOTOGRAPHY: Afif Amireh

Syriac Orthodox monk

We met him before at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he and his congregation have their own chapel: the Chapel of St Nicodemus. Then he wore a handsome purple vestment, quilted red and yellow, and led the Syriac worship service, one of the several Christian denominations that abound in Jerusalem. Now he welcomes us to his modest room at St. Mark’s Monastery: Daroyo (‘Father’) Boulus. ‘Boulus is Aramaic for Paul,’ he explains, ‘the language that Jesus spoke and that I also master.’ There are not very many people left in Jerusalem who speak Aramaic, and one of the tasks Boulos has set himself is to revive this ancient language.

“I worked ten hours a day on the translation: five hours in the morning and five hours in the evening, following the same ritual each time”

‘When COVID-19 broke out and the country went into lockdown, I sat here in my room and asked God: what do you want me to do? Shall I use my solitude to translate the gospel into Aramaic? The next day I noticed that there was a dove in my window. I understood this was a sign from God and got to work. I worked ten hours a day on the translation: five hours in the morning and five hours in the evening, following the same ritual each time. Phone off, candle lit, incense, hand on the Bible to bless it and then get to work. It took me 40 days to translate the four gospels. In total, I hand-wrote them twelve times to make sure they were perfect. The whole project took me two years. A dictionary? No need. If you search for ‘Syriac dictionary’ on Google, you will get to a translation site. I benefited greatly from that.’
In the corner of the room are huge stacks of the translated gospels: Father Boulus has printed 500 of them. All in a fourth-century font. ‘There is also a modern letter type, but I think that old font gives my translation more historical value. I want to stay as close as possible to the time when the gospels were written: in the first century.’

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