The Syriac Legend of Alexander’s Gate

Tesei, Tommaso. 2023. The Syriac legend of Alexander’s gate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This book is the first monographic study entirely consecrated to the Syriac text entitled Neṣḥānā d-Aleksandrōs (also known as the Syriac Alexander Legend), a seminal text for later Christian and Muslim apocalyptic traditions. While the scholarly consensus commonly dates the Neṣḥānā to the time of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641 CE), this study demonstrates that an earlier version of the text was produced during the reign of Justinian I (r. 527–565). This new historical contextualization of the text enables one to better delineate the development of politicized forms of apocalypticism during Late Antiquity, a process in which the Neṣḥānā played a decisive role. By analyzing the contents and the ideology of the text, the book explores the origins and developments of important literary motifs of medieval literature worldwide, including the characterization of Alexander as a pious prophet-king (in both Christianity and Islam alike), and the story of the gate that he erects to confine the eschatological nations of Gog and Magog. Moreover, the book sheds light on lesser-known aspects of political debates in the sixth-century Near East and offers historians a valuable insight into important aspects of Justinian’s reign, as seen by an author who was not on the emperor’s payroll.