The History of Mar Behnam and Sarah tells the story of two siblings who convert to Christianity under the tutelage of Mar Mattai, a monastic leader and wonderworker from the Roman Empire. After the children refuse to worship pagan gods, they are killed by their own father, the Persian king. Strangely, he is identified as Sennacherib the Assyrian, a pre-Christian ruler better known from the biblical Book of Kings. This is not the only chronological oddity with the text. Although Behnam and Sarah is set in the fourth century, during the golden age of martyrdom in the Sasanian Empire, the text was not composed until hundreds of years later. The composition of the narrative about the two martyrs seems to have coincided with the construction of a twelfth-century shrine that was built in their honor by Syrian Orthodox monks on the Nineveh Plain, near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The beautiful martyrium, which housed intricate relief sculptures and inscriptions in several languages, was an important pilgrimage site for Christians, Muslims, and Yezidis until it was destroyed in 2015.
In this volume of the “Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac” series, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent and Kyle Smith provide the first critical edition and English translation of this fascinating martyrdom narrative, a text that was once widely popular among numerous communities throughout the Middle East.
Persian Martyrs Mar Behnam and Sarah
Saint-Laurent, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon & Kyle Smith (eds.). 2018. The history of Mar Behnam and Sarah. Martyrdom and monasticism in medieval Iraq (Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac: Text and Translation 7). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.