Syriac Literature

By | December 17, 2021

It is the complex of literary works in the Syriac language written by the Christians of Mesopotamia, the Syria and the Persian Empire. It shares the characteristic qualities of the literatures of the Christian East and is therefore essentially religious; extends from the 2nd to the 14th century. (after the 14th century we speak of late s. literature and therefore of neo-Syrian literature). In its initial period, up to the 4th century, it has a mainly autonomous and original development; an era of Greek influence follows, in which the imitation of Christian literature of the Greek language has a large part; after the Muslim conquest the influence of Arabic literature took over, which progressively increased until the end of Syriac literature. At the 2nd sec. the ‘simple’ version (Pĕshiṭtā) of the Old Testament should date back, slightly later are the first versions of the Nuovo (Taziano, ‘separate’ version) and the end of the 4th century. the Pĕshiṭtā of the New Testament.

● The first great figure of writer is Bardesane of Edessa (2nd-3rd century), author of probable Gnostic orientation and protagonist of the dialogue entitled Book of the laws of the countries, of his school; in the first half of the 4th century. Aphraates the Persian emerges, author of numerous expositions of moral and theological content; greatest among the writers of the time is Ephrem, poet, polemicist, exegete of great fruitfulness and vigor. Between the end of the 4th century. and at the beginning of the 5th the first monastic spiritual writings appear: the anonymous Liber graduum and the works of John of Apamea. For Syria public policy, please check

● The period from the 5th century. to the Arab conquest is characterized by foundation of schools of exegetical and theological studies in Edessa, Nisibi and Seleucia, which soon became famous. Rabbūlā, translator of Cyril of Alexandria and author of theological writings, belongs to the first of these schools. In this period the two great Jacobite and Nestorian Churches were formed, according to belonging to one or the other of which the authors of Syriac literature will henceforth be classified. Among the Nestorians emerge: Narsai, poet and reformer of the school of Nisibi; Mār Ābā, author of homilies and exegete; Abraham of Kashkar, author of the rule of the great monastery of Mount Īzlā; Bābai the Great, a monk of the same monastery and composer of about ninety works, including the Christological treatise On Union. Among the Jacobite writers of the same period stand out: James of Sarūg, author of famous metric homilies; Simeon of Bēt Arshām, a very skilled dialectic, called the Persian Sophist; Sergius of Reshaina, physician and philosopher; John of Ephesus, author of an Ecclesiastical History and a book of the Lives of the Oriental Blessed.

● After the Arab conquest, Nestorian literature continues no less rich. They are distinguished in it: Īshō‛yahb III, essayist, preacher and poet; the authors of monastic spiritual writings (Joseph Ḥazzāyā, Dadīshō ‛Qatraya, Isaac of Nineveh, Simon of Taibūteh, and, later, John of Dalyāthā); ‛Enānīshō‛, whose Paradise of the fathers contains a series of stories and sentences; Timoteo, writer of legal decisions, canons and letters; Teodoro bar Kōnai, famous for a commentary on the whole Bible entitled Book of scolii; Īshō ‛bar Nūn, scholar of exegesis and law; Tommaso di Marga, historian; Ḥunain bar Isḥāq, Bar Bahlūl and other lexicographers. In Jacobite literature the following are distinguished: Severo Sēbōkt, philosopher and scientist; Giacomo di Edessa, scientist, theologian and grammarian; Giorgio delle Nazioni, translator of the Aristotelian Organ; Dionysius of Tell Maḥrē, historian; Moses bar Kēfā, author of a Paradise of Eden and a Hexameron.

● Around the year 1000 begins the decline of literature s. and writers are becoming simpler and simpler compilers. Among the Nestorians emerges ‛Abdīshō‛ bar Bĕrīkā (Ebed-Iesu), among the Jacobites Dionysius bar Ṣalībī, author of commentaries on Sacred Scripture; Giorgio Wardā of Arbela, poet; Gregorio Barebreo, glory of the Jacobite Church for his very extensive and varied production.

Syriac Literature