For a historian who approaches the social, cultural, and religious history of the Near Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire in the period between Constantine and Mahomet, it does not take long to become painfully aware of having had few predecessors, or of the reasons why this might be so. For the evidence—literary, epigraphic, and archaeological—is immense, and in the sixth century, though not earlier, it is joined by two major collections of papyri, from Nessana and, very recently, Petra. 1 "Literary" in this context refers not just to vast ranges of text, in Latin, Greek, Syriac, and Jewish Aramaic, as well as retrospective narratives in Arabic, but to a truly remarkable series of original manuscripts in Syriac, starting with one, now in the British 156Museum, written in Edessa in a.d. 411. 2 The corpus of inscriptions from this region and period, never collected or analysed, includes examples written in Latin, Greek, Syriac, Jewish Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic; and within this corpus two categories perhaps stand out as being of exceptional importance: the extensive mosaic inscriptions from Palestinian synagogues, written in varying combinations of Hebrew, Jewish Aramaic, and Greek (which thus represent the fullest documentary evidence for "Talmudic Judaism"); and the small, but extremely significant, corpus of pre-Islamic Arabic texts. The most important of these are both explicitly Christian, and date from the sixth century: a trilingual inscription of a.d. 511 from Zebed in northern Syria, in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic; and a bilingual one of a.d. 568 from the Lejrja south of Damascus. 3