Paper Abstracts


The Sources of the Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel (Walter Beers, Princeton)

A relatively recently published Syriac Daniel apocalypse, the Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel (Slabczyk 2000, with Esperanto translation; Henze 2001, with English translation and commentary), has received comparatively little attention in the past decade. Unlike its better- known fellow 7th cen. apocalypse, that of ps.-Methodius, Syriac Daniel only survives in a single MS (Harvard Syr. 142, 15th cen.) and is not known to have influenced any subsequent apocalyptica. Nevertheless, the text is of considerable interest to students of Daniel apocalyptica and 7th cen. Syriac literature for a number of reasons. Not least of these is Matthias Henze’s contention that Syriac Daniel represents an instance of reception of the biblical book of Revelation in the Syriac context. If Henze is correct, then Syriac Daniel is a striking and early example of Syriac engagement with the text of Revelation, which had only been translated in the 6th cen. (the ‘Philoxenian’ text) and again in the early 7th (the Harklean). Henze’s primary argument is that structural parallels with Revelation underlie Syriac Daniel’s description of the eschatological New Jerusalem. It is the purpose of this paper to examine Henze’s claim in detail, by means of close textual analysis and reference to other Syriac reception of Revelation, namely, the anonymous commentary in British Library MS Add. 17,127 and Bar Salibi’s commentary. In turn, an answer to the question of Syriac Daniel’s connection to Revelation will shed led on the text’s relationship with OT eschatological material and possible ties to the older apocryphal texts 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra.

The Exegetical  Activity  of  Mar  Aba  I (d.  552): A first  glimpse  from  East  Syrian Commentary Tradition (Vittorio Berti, Rome)

The Catholicos Mar Aba I is a prominent personality in the history of 6th century Christianity. His origins, conversion, travels, teaching and governance raise issues about the cultural life of the Syriac churches in Late Antiquity. The knowledge of his intellectual policy, never studied with a monographic approach, can only be acquired through the analysis of different sources. Mar Aba was also a promoter of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s commentary tradition in East Syrian schools. Unfortunately, only few traces of his exegetical production at the School of Nisibis are still extant. However, although all his commentaries are lost, a certain number of his explanations are included in late exegetical collections, as for example in the biblical commentaries of Isho‘dad of Merv, in the Gennat Bussame, and in the so-called “Anonymous Commentary”. This paper presents a first glimpse of Mar Aba’s biblical interpretation. It aims at clarifying in what form and by what method could his writings have been originally composed, and at connecting his teachings to what we know of his patristic background. This paper is the first achievement of a larger research on Mar Aba’s intellectual life, which I am conducting within the framework of the Italian project on the Syriac Translations of the Greek Fathers.

The Biblical Odes in the Syriac Manuscript Tradition (Jeremiah Coogan, Oxford)

Both the three-ode collection preserved in the East Syrian (diaphysite) liturgy (especially the distinctive Syriac Ode of Isaiah) and the early odes tradition found in the paratextual headings of Syriac biblical manuscripts provide valuable and hitherto overlooked witnesses to the early Christian odes tradition. Not only do they preserve an older tradition than the sixth-century Byzantine nine-ode sequence that was eventually absorbed into the West Syrian (miaphysite) and Rûm Orthodox traditions, but they seem have been present in the Syriac milieu prior to the ecclesiastical divisions of the fifth century. These early Syriac odes traditions reflect the tannaitic ten songs midrash in ways otherwise unattested in the Christian tradition, but nonetheless remain clearly dependent on an early Greek odes tradition similar to that attested by Origen.

Greek Exegetical Traditions in the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron (Matthew Crawford, Durham)

The Syriac tradition, as evident in Ephrem and others, undoubtedly had greater contact with certain Jewish exegetical traditions than did their non-Syriac speaking contemporaries to the west. Nevertheless, there is good reason to think that already by the time of Ephrem, the Syriac world of which he was a part had been significantly infiltrated by Greek ideas. This thesis has been ably demonstrated by Ute Possekel with respect to Greek philosophical concepts in Ephrem’s corpus. In this paper I would like to extend this line of inquiry by drawing attention to the fact that certain exegetical traditions that appear in early Syriac texts are present also in Greek sources. This is far from a comprehensive survey, and I shall restrict my focus to three exegetical traditions, and their appearance in the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron, more properly called the Commentary on the Gospel, that is attributed to Ephrem. The very fact that Ephrem, or the otherwise anonymous compiler of the commentary, has chosen to exegete this peculiar gospel text, rather than comment upon Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, is itself an idiosyncrasy when compared with the Greek tradition. Nevertheless, the commentary also provides unmistakable evidence of contact with the Greek world, suggesting that already here, at the earliest recoverable stage of Syriac biblical commentary, this exegetical milieu was a mixture of both native, Syriac traditions, and ideas imported from the west.

 Human weakness: Isaac of Nineveh and the Syriac Macarian corpus (Valentina Duca, Oxford)

Macarius, a mystical writer of Syrian origin, wrote in Greek between the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century. About a century later, writings under his name were circulating in a Syriac translation. Isaac of Nineveh, an East-Syrian solitary of the 7th century, wrote in Syriac, but part of his works was translated into Greek by the 9th century. This movement of concepts across boundaries is a typical phenomenon in Syriac culture. This paper approaches this issue by focusing on a topic which is a point of contact between Isaac’s and Macarius’ thought, and which has not only a theological, but also a psychological value: that of human weakness and of its meaning in life. Isaac’s discussion of this theme clearly shows, among other scriptural and patristic influences, a strong Macarian background. This paper firstly analyses which Macarian key terms and concepts helped Isaac to shape his views on human weakness. Secondly, it explores the possibility that Isaac’s use of Macarian language and ideas might say something concerning the date and genre of the material to which he had access (abstracts, anthologies, monastic selections, or single author corpus). The Syriac Macarian writings were a source of inspiration not only for Isaac, but also for other East-Syrian mystical writers, as Beulay pointed out. This paper attempts a first investigation of the problem, through an analysis of selected passages from Isaac’s and Macarius’ works, read and compared in the original Syriac.

The Syriac Vorlage and Translation Technique of the Arabic Version of Acts in Sinai Ar. 154 (Joshua Falconer, Catholic University of America)

The Kufic manuscript Sinai Ar. 154 is known for containing the earliest extant Christian theological treatise in Arabic, later named “On the Triune Nature of God” by Margaret Gibson, dated ca. 755 in the colophon. The manuscript also contains all seven Catholic Epistles and the book of Acts. Given the fact that the four minor Catholic Epistles were not a part of the Peshitta version, John Gwynn proposed that they were translated from the now lost Philoxenian version. However, since the publication of Gibson’s 1899 edition of this manuscript, virtually no scholarship has appeared on the Arabic version of Acts it preserves. The following question stimulated this study: Does this version bear witness to the lost Philoxenian version of Acts, or to some other Vorlage? In response, this paper considers the following problems: What can we know about the Vorlage, translation technique, transmission and reception history of this version? The collation and analysis of fourteen carefully selected test passages against possible Syriac sources points to a textual affinity to a western-type Peshitta version with possible traces of revisionism along the spectrum of the Philoxenian-Harklean tradition. The translation retains a dialectical fidelity in terms of modular equivalence of translation units, while the morphology is more flexible, especially in variance of tense and aspect, and the syntax conforms to the Syriac wherever possible within the constraints of Christian Arabic. This significant early Arabic version deserves greater attention in future research on the legacy of the Syriac tradition of Acts.

Dialogues in Syriac translation: Theodotus of Ancyra Contra Nestorium (Luise Marion Frenkel, São Paulo, Brazil)

This paper presents some initial finds on the Syriac reception of Theodotus of Ancyra’s works, written in the decades around the First Council of Ephesus (AD 431) on Christological polemics. The main evidence is his treatise against Nestorius, an early example of refutation of excerpts presented as dialogue, which is preserved only in a Syriac translation found in one manuscript, which A. van Roey dated to 650-60. Theodotus was mentioned in the ecclesiastical histories about the Council of Ephesus, and often cited as a theological authority alongside, for example, Cyril of Alexandria, Proclus Constantinopolitanus and Acacius Melitensis (e.g. by Severus Antiochenus). Previous scholarship revealed the transmission and reception of Cyril’s works and ideas in Syriac, and addressed the Syriac evidence for Proclus’s homiletics and the theological disputes in his see and Armenia. The sources often reflect their canonical status, which Theodotus, whose influence in Syriac Christianity faded, did not gain. For example, only excerpts or wrongly attributed homilies were translated into Arabic. Thus, analysing his works can show more clearly the links of early Syriac translations of Christological polemical treatises with the contemporary reception of historiographical works, synodical minutes and collections of documents, and the relevance for Syriac theology of the arguments the treatises contain. Furthermore, it indicates the connection of Christological dialogues with florilegia and refutations of excerpts, and the spread of dialogues as a form of invective, that included the writing of spurious (e.g. Ps.-Cyril, CPG 5433) and later works (e.g. Abu Qurrah’s acerbic polemics).

The Harclean Syriac, the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, & the Development of the Byzantine Text: The State of Their Union (Peter Gurry, Cambridge)

Thomas of Harkel’s seventh century Syriac translation has played a key role in our understanding of the transmission of the Greek New Testament. The strict literalness of Thomas’s translation has been so closely identified with a group of Greek minuscules that they must lie very closely to the Vorlage. In the Catholic Epistles, this identification is of special importance because Klaus Wachtel has suggested that it offers a look into the development of the Byzantine text which he argues began early and proceeded over many centuries. This is in contrast to the prominent view of Westcott and Hort that the Byzantine text is the product of a late recension. More recently, however, the application of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) has raised important questions about Wachtel’s history and, simultaneously, about the nature of the CBGM itself. This paper will explore these tensions and the implications they hold both for our understanding of the Byzantine text and for the CBGM as a tool for understanding the development of the New Testament text.

The Old Testament and Invention of Holy Places in Syria-Mesopotamia during Late Antiquity (Sergey Minov, Oxford)

In my presentation I would like to focus on one particular aspect of the reception of biblical material in Syria-Mesopotamia during Late Antiquity, namely identification of particular geographical places with events and/or figures from the Old Testament. I will present a brief overview of such cases, which include the mountains of Tur ‘Abdin (the location, where Noah’s ark rested), Edessa (the location of Jacob’s tent), Harran (a location associated with Abraham and Jacob), Damascus (a location associated with Abel and Abraham), Palmyra (the location of David’s victory over Goliath), Heliopolis-Baalbek (the location of a palace built by king Solomon), Ctesiphon (the burial place of the three young men of Daniel 1-3). I will analyze the phenomenon of the invention of these lieux de mémoire within a broader context of the development of sacred geography among the Jews and Christians of the late antique Near East, while addressing the question how the Bible contributed to the process of formation of cultural memory among Christians of Syria-Mesopotamia. In addition to that, attention shall be paid to the question of whether there is a continuity between these Christian traditions and Jewish apocryphal lore concerning biblical figures.

“A shevet shall not cease from Judah”: On translation, polemic and theology in Syriac and Greek (Yifat Monnickendam, Hebrew University)

Ephrem’s Commentary on Genesis is one of the earliest systematic Syriac biblical commentaries known to date. Being written in the fourth century, prior to the massive wave of translations from Greek into Syriac, the growth in the use of Greek loan-words and transliterations, and the increase of Syrians writing in Greek, the Commentary on Genesis was a basis for studies focusing on the influence of Semitic and Jewish traditions on Ephrem. These studies highlighted the possible ties between the Jewish – sectarian or rabbinic – and the Syriac Christian communities, and revealed the unique Semitic character of Syriac Christianity.

In recent years, new studies seek to re-emphasize the importance of Greek literature and language for the study of Syriac Christianity, and the study of Ephrem’s literature in particular. These studies address the question whether Syriac Christianity of the fourth century was truly ‘purely Semitic’, and whether Ephrem was really unacquainted with any Greek Christian theology and practice, or the Greek language. These studies draw a hybrid picture of Syriac Christianity in the fourth century, influenced by both Semitic and Greek literary and linguistic heritage.

In this paper I will focus on one example from Ephrem’s Commentary on Genesis, on Genesis 49:10, Jacob’s blessing to Judah. In this example Ephrem uses an exegetical comment in Greek, fully cited by Diodore yet probably earlier than him. The transmission into Syriac of this exegetical comment led Ephrem to an obscure and enigmatic adaptation. Revealing this adaptation, as in similar cases, sheds light on the extent of influence Greek Christian traditions had on Ephrem, and the means by which he adopted and adapted Greek traditions. As a result, it nuances Ephrem’s commitment to Greek Christianity, and his ability, or will, to adopt and adapt Greek biblical exegesis.

Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica in Syriac and Latin: a first comparison (Carla Noce, Rome)

The present paper is part of a larger project, which aims to investigate and make accessible the translations of Greek Patristic texts (2nd-6th century C.E.) both in the Latin West and Syriac East, between the 3rd and the 8th century C.E, through a reference book on the Latin and Syriac translations of the Greek Patristic works and an ongoing database. The project also intends to foster the discussion on the methodologies, techniques and strategies of translation in the Late Antique and early Medieval period, starting from a concrete analysis of Latin and Syriac texts judged particularly significant.

In this regard, the contemporary (Vth century) Latin and Syriac translations of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica offer a great opportunity for a close and never investigated comparison which will highlight the different linguistic and cultural patterns underlying the translations produced by Rufinus and by his contemporary Syriac colleague but also will reveal many similarities between them. The paper is not concerned in using the translations for reconstructing the original Greek text, but in trying to understand, by the analysis of some selected parallel passages, the theological, ideological and cultural identities of the Latin and Syriac contexts which requested the translations of Eusebius’Historia Ecclesiastica.

The Syriac Nachleben of Jewish Apocrypha: The case of Joseph and Aseneth (Jonathon Wright, Oxford)

The story of Joseph and Aseneth appears to be an expansion of Genesis 41.45, 50; 48. It deals with how the Patriarch Joseph came to marry the presumably idolatrous daughter of Potiphar, priest of ‘On. It was probably first written in Greek, though its provenance is disputed. By the mid-sixth century it had been translated into Syriac, in which it is extant in two very different manuscripts. One of these dates back to c.600 CE and provides the earliest witness to the story. The Nachleben of this story in Syriac presents a case study of how one of the so-called ‘Jewish Pseudepigrapha’ was translated and came to be read in different ways. This is particularly noticeable when compared to the manuscript tradition of other versions of the story.

This paper will consider how the Nachleben of the Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth affects our understanding of the story. It will argue two points: first, that scholarship on Joseph and Aseneth needs consider more seriously variance within the textual tradition when making statements about the theology of the story; and secondly, that the textual variance needs to be considered within the manuscript context.