The first critical editions and English translations of the two Syriac recensions of a fascinating text which narrates the story of a young Jewish child, Asher. After converting to Christianity and taking the name ʿAḇdā da-Mšiḥā (‘slave of Christ’), he is martyred by his father. In a detailed introduction, Butts and Gross challenge the use of this text by previous scholars as evidence for historical interactions between Jews and Christians, reevaluating its purpose and situating the story in its Late Antique Babylonian context.
Ruani, Flavia (ed.). 2016. Les controverses religieuses en syriaque. (Études Syriaques 13). Paris: Geuthner.
The latest volume of the series Études Syriaques, edited by Flavia Ruani is dedicated to the subject of the religious controversies in the “Syriac world”. The volume contents thirteen articles, originally presented at the 13th. symposium of the Society of Syria Studies at the l’Institut protestant de théologie in Paris in 2015. The articles (Table of Contents PDF) aim to give an overview of the debates and relations that the Syriac Christians have maintained over the centuries with other communities, among others Pagans, Jews, Manicheans, Muslims, Zoroastrians, etc. in the areas where they evolved, in order to trace the interreligious relations in the Syriac world. Two contribution from this volume address some aspects of a particular controversy and polemics between Christians in Sasanian Milieu as well as the Syriac polemics against Zoroastrianism in their Sasanian religious, cultural and political contexts:
Florence Jullien: “Les controverses entre chrétiens en milieu sassanide: un enjeu identitaire” [Polemics between Christians in Sasanian Milieu: an Identity Issue]
In Sasanian milieu, controversies among Christians have a strong identity dimension which explains the important involvement of Syriac communities in theological debates as a means of positioning strategy. The most significant disputes were organized in public at the court of Seleucia- Ctesiphon, in the sixth and early seventh centuries. These controversies were considered as a royal entertainment; but for the Christians, they involved a very real political issue, especially for the East-Syrians and the Syro-Orthodox, with regard to the consequences for the existence of their Churches. Heresiographical representation, using humour and derision, is part of the polemical discourse so as to deconstruct the image of the opponent. In the Syriac world, controversy was above all an affair of the cultural elite, trained in the ecclesiastical milieu to deal with confrontation—and monasticism played an important role in many respects.
Richard Payne: “Les polémiques syro-orientales contre le zoroastrisme et leurs contextes politiques” [East Syriac Polemics Against Zoroastrianism and Their Political Contexts]
The paper provides an account of the evolution of East Syrian polemics against Zoroastrianism from their fitful origins in late fourth- and early fifth-century hagiography to the more complex works of the late Sasanian era. It argues that the chronological correspondence between the beginning of polemical production and the institutionalization of the Church of the East in the Iranian Empire is not accidental. The shift away from Judaism to Zoroastrianism as the primary polemical concern of ecclesiastical leaders took place just as they were becoming dependent on a Zoroastrian court for patronage. With the rise of the Church of the East, East Syrian secular elites and ecclesiastical leaders could participate in the institutions of a Zoroastrian Empire qua Christians, and polemical texts aimed to define relations between Christians and Zoroastrians in the overarching political context of increasing interreligious collaboration. The early East Syrian representation of Zoroastrianism as a peculiarly Iranian form of Greco- Roman polytheism gave way, by circa 500, to more nuanced accounts of Zoroastrian ritual and cosmology—notably in the Martyrdom of Pethion, Adurohrmazd, and Anahid and the History of Mar Qardagh—that outlined political space, practices, and identities that Christians and Zoroastrians could share. At the same time, the catholicos-patriarch Mar Aba attacked Christians for adopting Zoroastrian practices necessary for the political participation of would-be aristocrats and, in so doing, distinguished ascetic ecclesiastical leaders from secular elites through their wholesale rejection of the Good Religion. Polemics emerge from this paper as instruments for the creation of the boundaries required for workable cooperation between Christians and Zoroastrians, and their development provides an index of Christian assimilation and acculturation from the fourth through early seventh centuries.
About the Editor:
Flavia Ruani (PhD) is a a scholar of Syriac Christianity and the hagiography of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. She is curently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Literary Studies at the University of Geneva.
This volume presents five vivid tales of Persian Christian martyrs from the fifth century. They provide important historical information on Christian society at this time, revealing its geographical and social divisions. Narseh is an itinerant monk from Bēth Raziqāyē who damages a fire temple that had formerly been a church. Tātāq is a high ranking courtier from Bēth Ḥadyab who abandons his position to become an ascetic. Mār ‘Abdā is a compliant bishop from Ḥuzestān drawn into conflict with the king by his confrontational and defiant priest, Hasho. Set in the Sasanian Empire in the reign of Yazdgird I (399-420 CE), these texts thematize the struggle between the martyrs’ identity as Persian subjects loyal to the king, often in the face of hostility by the Zoroastrian priesthood, and their devotion to their Christian faith.
About the Author:
Geoffrey Herman is a researcher at the Mandel Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in the Humanities and Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published extensively on the history of religious life in the Sasanian era.
Issue 26 of the Bulletin of the Asia Institute will be published in December. The information on this issue is not yet available on the journal’s website, but the content has been circulated. We are publishing the table of content based on a request by the journal.
The Ecclesiastical Chronicle of the Syriac Orthodox polymath Bar Hebraeus (†1286), an important Syriac text written in the last quarter of the 13th century, has long been recognised as a key source for the history of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Church of the East. Bar Hebraeus describes the eventful history of the “Jacobite” and “Nestorian” Churches, as they were then called, from their earliest beginnings down to his own time, against the background of christological controversies, Roman?Persian wars, the Arab Conquest, the Crusades and the 13th-century Mongol invasions. Two continuators bring the story down to the end of the 15th century, shedding valuable light on a relatively obscure period in the history of both Churches. The Ecclesiastical Chronicle was translated into Latin between 1872 and 1877, but has never before been fully translated into English. Gorgias Press is proud to publish the first complete English translation of this influential text, by respected Syriac scholar David Wilmshurst.
This elegant translation of the Ecclesiastical Chronicle captures the flavour of Bar Hebraeus’s style, and is complemented by a facing Syriac text. Wilmshurst also provides a detailed introduction, setting the chronicle in its historical and literary context. His translation is accompanied by five maps, showing the dioceses of the two Churches and the towns, villages and monasteries of Tur ‘Abdin and the Mosul Plain. A helpful bibliography and index are also provided.
David Wilmshurst was educated at Worcester College, Oxford, where he took a first-class BA degree in Classics (1979) and a D Phil degree in Oriental Studies (1998). He has spent much of his life in Hong Kong, and is one of the few modern scholars of the Church of the East who can read Syriac, Arabic and Chinese. He is the author of The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318–1913 (Louvain, 2000), a study of the Christian topography of Iraq and Iran, and The Martyred Church (London, 2011), a general history of the Church of the East. Both books have been warmly praised by leading scholars.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents (page 5)
Introduction (page 7)
Preliminary Remarks (page 7)
The Career of Bar Hebraeus (page 9)
The Literary Achievement of Bar Hebraeus (page 12)
The Chronicle of Bar Hebraeus (page 16)
The Ecclesiastical Chronicle as Literature (page 19)
The Ecclesiastical Chronicle as History (page 27)
Text and Translation (page 41)
Section One (page 42)
Section Two (page 350)
Appendix One: The Patriarchs and Maphrians of the Jacobite Church (page 547)
Appendix Two: The Patriarchs of the Church of the East (page 551)
Many works of Syriac literature were translated into Sogdian, a Middle Iranian language originating in the region of Samarkand and widely spoken along the so-called “Silk Road”. This Christian Sogdian literature, which includes biblical, liturgical, ascetic and hagiographic texts, is chiefly known from a cache of manuscripts discovered in 1905 at the site of the ruined monastery of Bulayïq in the Turfan oasis. It is important for Syriac studies, since the Sogdian translations were often made on the basis of earlier recensions than those which survive in Syriac and since some texts are no longer extant in Syriac. It is no less important for Sogdian and Middle Iranian studies, since those texts whose Syriac originals can be identified provide a firm basis for the understanding of the Sogdian language; moreover, the material in Syriac script, with its elaborate system of vocalic points, is a unique source of information on the pronunciation of Sogdian.
The present Dictionary is designed to be accessible both to Iranists, whether or not they know Syriac, and to Syriacists, whether or not they know Sogdian. It consists of two main sections followed by a comprehensive English index. Part 1, arranged by Sogdian lemmata, provides a complete listing of all words attested in published Christian Sogdian texts, both in Syriac and in Sogdian script, including variant spellings, full parsing of all inflected forms, and details of their equivalents in the most closely corresponding Syriac parallel text. In Part 2 the same material is arranged by Syriac lemmata. The two parts together make it possible to see what Syriac form or forms any Sogdian word can represent and how any Syriac word or idiom is translated into Sogdian. The dictionary thus fulfils a range of functions. Firstly, it will provide a reliable guide for anyone who wants to read the extant Christian Sogdian texts; secondly, it will assist future editors in identifying, restoring and translating Christian Sogdian texts; and thirdly, it will contribute to the study of the transmission of literature from Syriac into Sogdian and the techniques of the translators.
Brock, Sebastian. 2016. A half century of Syriac studies. Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 40(1). 38–48.
In 1964, when Anthony Bryer and I both started teaching at Birmingham University, Syriac studies were generally considered to be little more than an appendage to Biblical Studies, and any idea of a journal or a conference specifically focused on them was unthinkable. Fifty years later the situation has changed dramatically for the better, although the number of universities (at least in Britain) where Syriac is taught has lamentably decreased.
Survey of historical writing by and about Syriac-speaking peoples. It aims to lay equal stress on West Syrian and East Syrian contributions. And it emphasises the fact that both groups wrote as subjects of larger imperial systems (Roman, Persian, Arab), of which they were just a part.
This is a draft article posted with the author's permission.
Based on a corpus coming from the Turfan oasis (in present-day Xinjiang, People’s Republic of China) and consisting of Christian Middle Iranian literature in several languages (Middle Persian, Syriac and Sogdian) and scripts (East Syriac, Pahlavi and secular Sogdian), the present paper is aimed at identifying and outlining the translation techniques for the transmission of religious knowledge, based on a literary tradition as well as on a manuscript tradition, from one context to another. The religious knowledge is that which belongs to the “Church of the East” and which is written in its official liturgical language, i.e. Syriac in East Syriac script. The general context is that of the missionary activities of the “Church of the East” along the Silk road between late Antiquity and early Middle Age. The particular context is that of the converted Iranian communities.
About the Author:
Chiara Barbati (PhD 2009) is a scholar of Ancient and Middle Iranian languages in the Institute of Iranian Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna (ÖAW).