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A half century of Syriac studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2016

Sebastian Brock*
Wolfson College,


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.

Copyright © Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, 2016 

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1 Murray, R., Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge 1975Google Scholar; repr. with new Introduction, Piscataway NJ 2004).

2 Some other aspects, including the Syriac Bible, poetry, monastic authors and liturgy, can be found in my ‘Developments in Syriac studies over half a century (1964–2014)’, The Harp [Kottayam] 30 (forthcoming).

3 Alexander, P., The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition (Washington, DC 1985)Google Scholar.

4 Reinink, G., Die syrische Apokalypse des Pseudo-Methodius [Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium [CSCO] 540–1] (Louvain 1993)Google Scholar. An English translation of the end sections is given in Palmer, A. N., The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles (Liverpool 1993) 222–42Google Scholar.

5 Reinink, G., Das syrische Alexanderlied: die drei Rezensionen [CSCO 454–5] (Louvain 1983Google Scholar)

6 The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, trans. J. W. Watt, annotation by F. R. Trombley (Liverpool 2000).

7 Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, Chronicle, Part III (Liverpool 1996), trans. with notes and introduction by W. Witakowski. Ps.-Dionysius was the attribution of the editor of the Syriac text and has no manuscript basis; thus ‘Chronicle of Zuqnin’ (near Amid) is the preferable title.

8 The Chronicle of Zuqnin, Parts III and IV, trans. with notes and introduction by A. Harrak (Toronto 1999).

9 Greatrex, G. (ed.), The Chronicle of Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor, trans. Phenix, R. R. and Horn, C. B. (Liverpool 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 See note 4.

11 Theophilus of Edessa's Chronicle and the Circulation of Knowledge in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, trans. with introduction and notes by R. G. Hoyland (Liverpool 2011).

12 Becker, A. H., Sources for the Study of the School of Nisibis (Liverpool 2008)Google Scholar. See also his important monograph Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: the School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia (Philadelphia 2006).

13 Witakowski, W., The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre. A Study in the History of Historiography (Uppsala 1987)Google Scholar.

14 Weltecke, D., Die “Beschreibung der Zeiten” von Mor Michel dem Grossen (1126–1199) [CSCO 594] (Louvain 2003)Google Scholar. Only a few years before he was kidnapped, Mor Gregorios Y. Ibrahim, the Syrian Orthodox metropolitan of Aleppo, edited a photographic edition of the oldest surviving manuscript (of which Chabot's edition was merely a copy); this was published by the Gorgias Press (Piscataway, NJ 2009). Besides Chabot's French translation there is now an English one by M. Moosa (Teaneck, NJ 2014).

15 Debié, M., L’Écriture de l'histoire en Syriaque. Transmissions interculturelles et constructions identitaires entre hellénisme et Islam (Louvain 2015)Google Scholar.

16 Brock, S. P., ‘Syriac sources for seventh-century history’, BMGS 2 (1976) 1736Google Scholar, reprinted in Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity (London 1984), chapter VII.

17 Hoyland, R. G., Seeing Islam as Others See it: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Princeton 1997)Google Scholar.

18 Baumer, C., The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity (London 2006)Google Scholar.

19 Wilmshurst, D., The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East (London 2011)Google Scholar.

20 Wilmshurst, D., The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East 1318–1913 [CSCO 582] (Louvain 2000)Google Scholar.

21 Fiey, J.-M., Assyrie chrétienne, I-II (Beirut 1965)Google Scholar, III (Beirut 1968).

22 Fiey, J.-M., Nisibe, métropole syriaque orientale et ses suffragants des origines à nos jours [CSCO 388] (Louvain 1977)Google Scholar and Chrétiens syriaques sous les Abbassides surtout à Bagdad, 749–1258 [CSCO 420] (Louvain 1980).

23 Fiey, J.-M., Pour un Oriens Christianus Novus. Répertoire des diocèses syriaques orientaux et occidentaux (Beirut 1993)Google Scholar. How much further information can be gleaned from colophons can be seen from H. Kaufhold's review in Oriens Christianus (1995) 255–63 (on the Syrian Orthodox bishops of Jerusalem).

24 Hunter, E. C. D. and Dickens, M., Syriac Texts from the Berlin Turfan Collection [Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, 2] (Stuttgart 2014)Google Scholar.

25 Borbone, P. G., Un ambassadeur du Khan Argun en Occident. Histoire de Mar Yahballaha et de Rabban Sauma (1281–1317) (Paris 2008)Google Scholar; a later edition (2009), in Italian, also contains the Syriac text.

26 Menze, V., Justinian and the Making of the Syrian Orthodox Church (Oxford 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 Alpi, F., La route royale. Sévère d'Antioche et les Églises d'Orient (512–518), 2 vols (Beirut 2009)Google Scholar.

28 Suermann, H., Die Grundungsgeschichte der Maronitischen Kirche (Wiesbaden 1998)Google Scholar.

29 Hage, W., Die syrisch-jakobitische Kirche in frühislamischer Zeit nach orientalischen Quellen (Wiesbaden 1966)Google Scholar.

30 Teule, H. et al. (eds), The Syriac Renaissance (Louvain 2010)Google Scholar. The term was promoted by Kawerau, P., in the title of his Die jakobitische Kirche im Zeitalter der syrischen Renaissance (Berlin 1960).Google Scholar

31 Brock, S. P. and Taylor, D. G. K. (eds), The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian Orthodox Church and its Ancient Aramaic Heritage (Rome 2001)Google Scholar, accompanied by 3 documentaries.

32 Jullien, F., Le monachisme en Perse, La réforme d'Abraham le Grand [CSCO 622] (Louvain 2008)Google Scholar and Chialà, S., Abramo di Kashkar e la sua communita. La rinascità del monachesimo siro-orientale (Magnano 2005)Google Scholar.

33 Escolan, P., Le monachisme syrien du IVe au VIIe siècle: un monachisme charismatique (Paris 1999)Google Scholar.

34 Palmer, A., Monk and Mason on the Tigris Frontier: the Early History of Tur ‘Abdin (Cambridge 1990).Google Scholar

35 Horn, C., Asceticism and Christological Controversy in Fifth-Century Palestine: the Career of Peter the Iberian (Oxford 2006).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

36 Others are Agathangelos (Gregory the Illuminator), Barshabba of Merv, Candida, John of Dailam, John of Nhel, Ma‘in, Paul of Qentos, Phokas, and Samuel, Simeon and Gabriel of Qartmin. Editions of three important saints are in preparation: Barsauma, Simeon of the Olives and Theodotos. Several improved editions, with translations, of texts already published have also appeared (e.g. Aba, Gewargis, Mahdukht and companions, Mari, Peter the Iberian, Simeon bar Sabba‘e).

37 Shahid, I., The Martyrs of Najran, New Documents (Brussels 1971).Google Scholar

38 The problems are well set out in several of the contributions in Beaucamp, J., Briquel-Chatonnet, F. and Robin, C. J. (eds), Juifs et chrétiens en Arabie aux Ve et VIe siècles: regards croisés sur les sources (Paris 2010)Google Scholar.

39 Brock, S. P., ‘An early Syriac Life of Maximus the Confessor’, AB 91 (1973) 299346Google Scholar, repr. in Syriac Perspectives, chapter XII.

40 A good discussion is provided by Booth, P., Crisis of Empire: Doctrine and Dissent at the End of Late Antiquity (Berkeley 2014) 144–55Google Scholar.

41 Draguet, R., Les Formes syriaques de la matière de l'Histoire lausiaque [CSCO 389–90, 398–9] (Louvain 1978)Google Scholar and La vie primitive de S. Antoine conservée en syriaque [CSCO 417–8] (Louvain 1980).

42 See Brock, S. P., ‘Saints in Syriac: a little-tapped resource’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 16 (2008) 181–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 Toda, S., Vie de S. Macaire l’Égyptien. Édition et traduction des textes coptes et syriaque (Piscataway, NJ 2012)Google Scholar.

44 Walker, J., The Legend of Mar Qardag. Narrative and Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq (Berkeley 2006)Google Scholar.

45 Thus Brock, S. P. and Fitzgerald, B., Two Early Lives of Severos, Patriarch of Antioch (Liverpool 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 Thus Brock, S. P. and Harvey, S. A., Holy Women of the Syrian Orient (Berkeley 1987)Google Scholar, and Doran, R., The Lives of Simeon Stylites (Kalamazoo 1992)Google Scholar, Stewards of the Poor: The Man of God, Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth-Century Edessa (Kalamazoo 2006).

47 Wiessner, G., Untersuchungen zur syrischen Literaturgeschichte I. Zur Märtyrerüberlieferung aus der Christenverfolgung Schapurs II (Göttingen 1967)Google Scholar. A summary guide to the Persian martyrs is given in an appendix to Brock, S. P., The History of the Holy Mar Ma‘in (Piscataway, NJ 2008) 77125Google Scholar.

48 Fiey, J.-M., Les saints syriaques, ed. Conrad, L. I. (Princeton 2004)Google Scholar.

49 Zanetti, U., ‘Projet d'une Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca’, Aram 5 (1993), 657–70Google Scholar. A chapter on Syriac hagiography is included in Efthymiadis, S. (ed.), The Ashgate Companion to Byzantine Hagiography, I (Farnham 2011) 259–83Google Scholar.

50 Hugonnard-Roche, H., La logique d'Aristote: du grec au syriaque. Études sur la transmission des textes de l'Organon et leur interprétation philosophique (Paris 2004)Google Scholar. A summary guide to the Syriac texts of the Organon that survive is given in my ‘The Syriac Commentary tradition’, in C. Burnett (ed.), Glosses and Commentaries on Aristotelian Logical Texts (London 1993) 3–18, repr. in From Ephrem to Romanos: Interactions between Syriac and Greek in Late Antiquity (Aldershot 1999), ch. XIII.

51 Aydin, S., Sergius of Reshaina. Introduction to Aristotle and his Categories, Addressed to Philotheos (Uppsala 2015)Google Scholar.

52 Ed. Brock, S. P., ‘The earliest Syriac translation of Porphyry's Eisagoge , Journal of the Iraqi Academy, Syriac Corporation 12 (1988) 316–66Google Scholar.

53 King, Ed. D., The Earliest Syriac Translation of Aristotle's Categories (Leiden 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 Ed. Fiori, E., ‘L’épitomé syriaque du Traité sur les causes du tout d'Alexandre d'Aphrodise attribué à Serge de Resh‘aina’, Le Muséon 123 (2010) 127-58CrossRefGoogle Scholar. (A study of this translation, by D. King, features in the same number of Le Muséon, 159–91).

55 Teixidor, J., Aristote en syriaque. Paul le Perse, logicien du VIe siècle (Paris 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Hugonnard-Roche, H., ‘Sur la tradition tardo-antique du Peri hermeneias d'Aristote. Paul le Perse et la tradition d'Ammonius’, Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013) 37104Google Scholar.

57 Hugonnard-Roche, H., ‘Questions de logique au VIIe siècle: Les Épitres de Sévère Sebokht et leurs sources grecques’, Studia Graeco-Arabica 5 (2015) 53104Google Scholar.

58 Villey, É., ‘Ammonius d'Alexandrie et le Traité sur l'astrolabe de Sévère Sebokht’, Studia Graeco-Arabica 5 (2015) 105–28Google Scholar.

59 Watt, J., Rhetoric and Philosophy from Greek into Syriac (Farnham 2010)Google Scholar.

60 Watt, J. (ed.), The Fifth Book of the Rhetoric of Antony of Tagrit [CSCO 480–1] (Louvain 1986)Google Scholar.

61 Joosse, N. P. (ed.), A Syriac Encyclopaedia of Aristolelian Philosophy: Barhebraeus (13th C.), Butyrum Sapientiae, Books of Ethics, Economy, and Politics (Leiden 2004)Google Scholar.

62 Takahashi, H., Aristotelian Meteorology in Syriac: Barhebraeus, Butyrum sapientiae, Books of Mineralogy and Meteorology (Leiden 2004)Google Scholar. Takahashi has also provided an invaluable guide to Barhebraeus’ works: Barhebraeus: a Bio-Bibliography (Piscataway NJ 2005).

63 Watt, J. (ed.), Aristotelian Rhetoric in Syriac: Butyrum sapientiae, Book of Rhetoric (Leiden 2005)Google Scholar.

64 Book I in Gregory Barhebraeus, Ethicon (Mēmrā I), ed. H. Teule [CSCO 534–5] (Louvain 1993).

65 Conveniently collected by Degen, R., ‘Galen im syrischen’, in Nutton, V. (ed.), Galen: Problems and Prospects (London 1981) 131-66Google Scholar.

66 Degen, R., ‘Ein Corpus Medicorum Syriacorum’, Medizinhistorisches Journal 7 (1972) 114–22Google ScholarPubMed.

67 W. Selb and H. Kaufhold, Das syrisch-römische Rechtsbuch, I. Einleitung, II. Texte und Übersetzungen, III. Kommentar (Vienna 2002).

68 Selb, W., Sententiae Syriacae (Vienna 1990)Google Scholar.

69 Selb, W., Orientalisches Kirchenrecht, 2 vols (Vienna 1981–9Google Scholar).

70 Kaufhold, H., Syrische Texte zum islamischen Recht. Das dem nestorianischen Katholikos Johannes V. bar Abgare zugeschriebene Rechtsbuch (Munich 1971)Google Scholar; Die Rechtssammlung des Gabriel von Basra und ihr Verhältnis zu den anderen juristischen Sammelwerken der Nestorianer (Berlin 1976).

71 English translation in Rousseau, P. and Papoutsakis, M. (eds), Transformations of Late Antiquity. Essays for Peter Brown (Farnham 2009) 5161Google Scholar.

72 Perczel, I. (ed.), The Nomocanon of Abdisho of Nisibis (Piscataway, NJ 2005)Google Scholar.

73 Vööbus, A., Syrische Kanonessammlungen: Westsyrische Originalurkunden [CSCO 307, 317] (Louvain 1970)Google Scholar.

74 Vööbus, A., The Synodicon in the West Syrian Tradition, I-II [CSCO 367, 375] (Louvain 1975-6)Google Scholar.

75 Brock, S. P., Butts, A. M., Kiraz, G. A. and van Rompay, L. (ed.), The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ 2011)Google Scholar.

76 Intended as a continuation of C. Moss’ Catalogue of Syriac Printed Books and Related Literature in the British Museum, my Classified Bibliographies in Parole de l'Orient are now collected together in two volumes, Syriac Studies: a Classified Bibliography, I (1960–1990) and II (1991–2010), published in 1996 and 2014. There is also ‘A comprehensive bibliography on Syriac Christianity’, compiled by Sergey Minov ( A specific guide to ‘Syriac sources and resources for Byzantinists’ features in the Proceedings of the 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies, London 2006, I (Aldershot 2006) 193–210.

77 den Biesen, Notably K., Bibliography of Ephrem the Syrian (Giove in Umbria 2002Google Scholar; 2nd edn 2011), and Kessel, G. and Pinggéra, K., A Bibliography of Syriac Ascetic and Mystical Literature (Louvain 2011)Google Scholar.

78 For an initial guide see Heal, K. S., ‘Corpora, ELibraries and Databases’, Hugoye 15 (2012) 6578Google Scholar.

79 Sako, L., Le rôle de la hiérarchie syriaque orientale dans les rapports diplomatiques entre la Perse et Byzance aux Ve-VIIe siècles (Paris 1986)Google Scholar.

80 Especially welcome is the revival of Syriac studies in Russia.