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Brock -- Introduction to Syriac Studies

Brock -- Introduction to Syriac Studies

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Published by: Arthur Logan Decker III on Apr 25, 2012
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 A I  S S
Sebastian Brock I. What Is Syriac?II. Why Study It?a. Biblical Studiesb. Patristic Studiesc. Liturgical Studiesd. Early Syriac Christianity e. Syriac Poetry f. Syriac as a Bridge CultureIII. Te Scope of Syriac LiteratureIV. Te Place of Syriac among the Aramaic DialectsV. oolsa. Grammarsb. Anthologies of exts (Chrestomathies)c. Dictionariesd. Main Editions of the Syriac Biblee. Histories of Syriac Literaturef. Te Historical Backgroundg. Bibliographical Aidsh. Series of exts and PeriodicalsVI. Epilogue: Te Delights of ManuscriptsAppendix: Te Syriac Churches* Tis article is reproduced, with the kind permission of the Department of Teology at the University of Birmingham, from J.H. Eaton, ed.,
Horizons in Semitic Studies: Articles for the Student,
University Semitics Study Aids 8 (Birmingham: Dept. of Teo-logy, University of Birmingham, 1980). Page numbers of the original volume are givenin square brackets. A revised and updated version of the article is planned by theauthor. In the meantime, a more recent introductory bibliography may be found in:. Muraoka,
Classical Syriac: A Basic Grammar with a Chrestomathy [With a select bib-liography compiled by Sebastian Brock],
Porta linguarum orientalium, Neue Serie 19(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997). Further bibliography may be found in: Sebastian P.Brock,
Syriac Studies: A Classified Bibliography (1960-1990)
(Kaslik: [Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik], 1996).
I. W I S[1] A five-minute walk from South Ealing underground station in London willbring you to “Assyrian House,” where on a Sunday the Liturgy of the Church of theEast is celebrated in Syriac. One of the first things that a visitor will be told is thatSyriac is a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus in first-century Palestine, a fact of  which all members of this Church are extremely proud.Syriac in fact continues today in use as the liturgical language of two OrientalOrthodox churches, the “Assyrian” Church of the East (better known to westernChristians under the misleading title of the “Nestorian” Church) and the SyrianOrthodox Church (again more familiar under the nick-names of the “Jacobite” or“MonophysiteChurch).
o a lesser extent Syriac is also used in the Liturgy of theMaronite Church, but in recent decades Arabic has been making rapid inroads thereat the expense of Syriac.But classical Syriac is by no means just a “dead” liturgical language: it is stillemployed as a literary language, especially among the Syrian Orthodox, and in somecircles it is even spoken (it is the normal language of communication, for example,in the Syrian Orthodox monastic school of Mar Gabriel in ur Abdin, in SE urkey, where the children may come from Arabic, urkish, Kurdish or uroyo (modernSyriac) speaking backgrounds). Within the present century several European worksof literature have been translated into Syriac—including Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Dickens’ ale of wo Cities.II. W S IBut just as people do not learn Hebrew in order to read the Hebrew translationof Goethe’s Faust, so no one is going to learn Syriac for the purpose of reading Dick-ens; nor is anyone today likely to find it useful (as St. Hilarion did, according to hisbiographer Jerome) for exorcizing possessed Bactrian camels. Tere are, however, otherincentives, for there exists an extensive range of native Syriac literature, as well as of translations into Syriac from Greek and other languages, dating from the second cen-tury up to the present day. What is commonly regarded as the best of this literature,however, was written in the 300–400 years prior to the advent of Islam, and with oneor two exceptions it is the literature of this “golden age” that has attracted the greatestattention among western scholars. It is worth looking at some of the areas which haveclaimed their particular interest. .  Te study of Syriac has long been seen as an important adjunct to biblical stud-ies. Te first printed edition of the Syriac New estament goes back to 1555 (the earli-est European Syriac grammar dates from 1539), and the standard Syriac version of both Old and New estaments, known as the Peshitta, features in the great Paris andLondon polyglot [2] Bibles of the seventeenth century alongside the other ancient ver-sions.Te Old estament books were translated into Syriac directly from Hebrew, nodoubt at different times and perhaps in different places. It is striking that Syriac tradi-
tion has no account of the origins of its biblical versions such as we have for the Sep-tuagint in the Letter of Aristeas. Certain books, in particular those of the Pentateuch,have close links with the extant Aramaic argumim, and it is now generally agreedthat in these books there must be some sort of direct literary relationship between thePeshitta and argumim, even though the exact nature of this relationship still remainsvery obscure. In the case of one book, Proverbs, the relationship is, remarkably enough,reversed, for the extant argum of this book is evidently derived from the Peshitta,rather than
vice versa
.Since the oldest Syriac translations of Old estament books probably only goback to the period of the stabilization of the Hebrew text in the first century ..,the Peshitta Old estament is of less interest than the Septuagint to textual critics of the Hebrew Bible, although it does nevertheless offer number of interesting readings which feature in the apparatus of Biblia Hebraica and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia.Besides the standard version of the Old estament, the Peshitta, there is a furthertranslation, this time made from Greek in Alexandria around .. 615. Known as theSyrohexapla and made by Paul of ella, this is a very literal translation of Origen’srevised Septuagint text in the Hexapla, together with his critical signs (asterisks andobeli) and many marginal readings derived from Aquila, Teodotion and Symmachus.Not quite the whole of the Syrohexapla survives, but since very little of Origens Hexa-pla remains in Greek the Syrohexapla is of prime importance for Septuagint studies.It is interesting to see that in the history of translation into Syriac (whether of bibli-cal or of non-biblical texts) there is a continuous move away from the free to the very literal, a process which reaches its climax in the seventh century.Tere are several versions of the Syriac New estament of which the oldest, datingfrom the second half of the second century .., is probably atian’s Diatessaron orharmony of the Four Gospels (he appears occasionally to have used some other sourcesas well). Tis work enjoyed wide popularity in the early Syriac church (it is notcertain whether it was originally written in Greek or in Syriac), but was subsequently suppressed, with the result that no complete Syriac text of it survives: the nearest wehave is Ephrems Commentary on it. Although little is known of its original form, theinfluence of the Diatessaron was very widespread and we have medieval adaptations inPersian and Arabic, as well as in medieval German, Dutch, Italian and English.[3] Te earliest Syriac Gospel text that survives is known as the Old Syriac, and ispreserved in two very old manuscripts, the Curetonian (in the British Library) and theSinaiticus (at the monastery of St. Catharine on Mt. Sinai). extually it is of very greatinterest, exhibiting a number of “Western” readings. Along with the Old Latin it isthe oldest surviving translation of the Greek Gospels. It is likely that the Old Syriaconce covered the whole Syriac New estament Canon (which excludes Revelation, 2Peter, 2 and 3 John and Jude), but only quotations from books other than the Gospelssurvive.Te standard New estament version, the Peshitta, is a revision of the Old Syriac,completed probably in the early fifth century. Te work of revision has sometimes beenassociated with the name of Rabbula, bishop of Edessa, but this is far from certain. Tedistribution of the revised text was evidently very effective for Peshitta manuscripts (of 

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