Syriac is the important branch of the group of Semitic languages known as Aramaic. In the time of Alexander the Great, Aramaic was the official language of all the nations from Asia Minor to Persia, from Armenia to Arabian Peninsula. It was divided into two dialects: the western, used in Palestine and Syria by the Jews, Palmyrans, and Nabateans; the eastern, spoken in Babylonia by the Jews, Mandeans, Manichaeans, and the people of Upper Mesopotamia. The Syriac language, as we know it from its literature, did not spring from the dialect spoken in Syria, but from the eastern Mesopotamian dialect. When the weakened Seleucides ceased to defend the Euphrates, small independent principalities were formed in that region. The most famous was the little Kingdom of Edessa whose capital Osrhoene was the religious centre of the country. This city also became an intellectual centre, and even then the language of its people attained great perfection. A little later under the influence of Christianity it developed considerably, and eventually became the liturgical and literary language of all the Churches from the shores of the Mediterranean to the centre of Persia. The suppleness and flexibility of this dialect and its loose and variable syntax readily lent itself to the most different constructions, and offered to Christianity a more appropriate instrument than Greek for the expression and spread of new ideas. In Syria proper and western Mesopotamia Syriac was first used simultaneously with Greek, but after the Monophysite schism Greek gradually fell into disuse. The period from the middle of the fifth century to the end of the seventh was the most brilliant period of Syriac literature. The Moslem invasion brought about the decadence by imposing Arabic as the official language; the latter rapidly came into general use, and Syriac was no longer spoken or understood by the people, although it was upheld as a literay language for four centuries longer, and until the present time as a liturgical language. Nevertheless, the destruction was not complete; Syriac, or rather Aramaic, modified according to the laws of evolution common to all languages, is still spoken in the three villages in the neighbourhood of Damascus, in Tour Abdin (Mesopotamia, between Nisibis and the Tigris), and in Kurdistan, especially in the neighbourhood of Ourmiah. The language of this city is even in process of becoming a literay tongue, through the efforts of the missionaries (American Prostestants and French Lazarists), who print numerous works in this dialect, Bibles, text-books, and even reviews.
The works transmitted to us in the Syriac language form an essentially and almost exclusively Christian religious literature. After Latin and Greek there is none more useful to the exegete, the theologian, and the ecclesiastical historian. We know of more than 150 authors who enriched it from the fourth to the thirteenth century. The libraries of Europe and those of some eastern monasteries which are of easy access possess nearly 3000 manuscripts, containing the greater part of these works. Our short list will take only the best-known authors and the most important works. Of pagan literature there remain only a few short inscriptions, most of them funereal, and a letter from Maria bar Serapion, Stoic philosopher of Samosata, to his son, written probably in course of the third century (ed. Cureton, "Spicelegium Syr.", London, 1855). The writings of the Gnostic Bardesanes of the same period, with a Gnostic hymn inserted in the Acts of St. Thomas, form a sort of transition between pagan and Christian literature. The earliest monument of the latter is the version of the Bible called the Peschitta (simple), which is treated elsewhere (see VERSIONS OF THE BIBLE). It suffices to mention also the two oldest orthodox writers, Aphraates the Persian Sage (d. 350), and St. Ephraem, the most brilliant of the Fathers of the Syrian Church (d. 373). Among the disciples of Ephraem was Mar Aba, the author of commentaries on the Gospels and of a homily on Job; Zenobius, deacon of Edessa, who wrote treatises against Marcion and Pamphylus and a "Life of St. Ephraem"; Paulius, who possibly fell into heresy after having written against Marcion and sceptics. Abamya, a nephew of Ephraem, has been wrongly identified with Cyrillona, an unknown author who wrote in 397 a poem on the two plagues of that period, the locusts and the Huns.
At the beginning of the fifth century there flourished at Edessa the famous school of the Persians, in which the doctrines of Theodore of Mopsuetia and Nestorius found fervent adherents. The bishop then was Rabbula, son of a pagan priest of Kenneshrin (Chalcis). He was converted by Eusebius, bishop of that city, distributed his goods to the poor, and embraced the ascetic life. In 412 Acacius of Aleppo appointed him Bishop of Edessa; he died in 435. After inclining to Nestorianism he became an ardent partisan of St. Cyril of Alexandria. His severity made him formidable to his clergy, and won for him the title "tyrant of Edessa". At Constantinople he delivered a discourse against Nestorius, which was translated into Syriac, as well as several of his letters. He himself translated the treatise "Of the Orthodox Faith" which Cyril addressed to him. His extant works were translated by Overbeck (Oxford, 1865). His successor was the famous Ibas, or Hiba, who favoured the Nestorians. Mari the Persian of Rewardashir, to whom the celebrated letter of Ibas was addressed, wrote a commentary on Daniel and a controversial treatise against the Magians. He also commentated the (lost) letters of Acadius of Amida (Diarbekir), an avowed Nestorian, less noted for his writings than for his charity, which won him a place in the Roman Martyrology (9 April). He must not be confounded with Acacius of Melytene who joined Rabbula in his warfare against Nestorianism, nor with Acacius of Seleucia, patriarch of the Nestorians (484-96), author of homilies on fasting and of treatises against the Monophysites; he also translated into Persian the treatise on faith of Osee, Bishop of Nisibis, who in 496 promulgated the statutes of the school of that city (ed. Guidi). About the middle of the century lived Isaac of Antioch, called the Great and regarded as a saint. His history is unknown. The Syrians have attached his name to a considerable collection of metrical homilies, but it is certain that the works of several authors of the same name have been attributed to him.
Among these are Isaac of Edessa, a Monophysite of the end of the sixth century, and Isaac of Amida. The last-named is the author of a poem on secular games (414) and on the taking of Rome (410). In the first half of the century lived Balai, chorepiscopus of Aleppo, the author of numerous poems which have been preserved in part. At the death of Ibas the doctors of the school of Edessa were expelled, and withdrew to the Persian Empire. Among them were Barsauma, who became Bishop of Nisibis and was noted for his despotism; we have six of his letters addressed to the Patriarch Acarius. He also wrote exhortations, funeral orations, and hymns; Narsai joined him and was the real founder of the School of Edessa; he taught there for more than forty years. He was praised in most exalted terms by his co-religionists, who called him "the Tongue of the East", "the Poet of Religion", "the Harp of the Holy Ghost". The Monophysites nicknamed him "the Leper". He died about 502. He is said to have composed commentaries on most of the books of the Old Testment, and 360 metrical discourses. Many of them have been edited by Mingana (Mossoul, 1905). Mana, who became a bishop in Persia, was distinguished at Edessa for his translation of the works of Theodore of Mopsuetia.
Eliseus bar Kozbaye and Abraham of Beit Rabban, the successors of Narsai in the direction of the school, wrote Biblical commentaries and numerous treatises against the Magians. Most of the Nestorian authors of the sixth century proceeded from this school. One of the most famous was the Patriarch Mar Aba I (540-52), a convert from Zoroastrianism; he studied at Nisibis, learned Greek at Edessa, and went to Constantinople; later he founded the School of Seleucia. He preached boldly against the Magi; Khusrau I exiled him; on his return to Seleusia he was thrown into prison, where he died. He is credited with a translation of Scriptures, but there is no trace of it; he wrote Biblical commentaries, homilies, and synodal letters. He also translated into Syriac the liturgy of Nestorius. Paul the Persian, very learned in profane philosophy, composed a treatise on the "Logic" of Aristotle, dedicated to King Khusrau (ed. Land), and several other didactic works, preserved in part. His namesake, Paul of Nisibis, a disciple of Mar Aba, was the author of Biblical commentaries. Theodore, made Bishop of Merw in 540, wrote a commentary on the Psalms and a reply to ten questions of Sergius of Reshayna. His brother Gabriel, Bishop of Hormisdardashir, wrote controversial books against the Manichæans, and the solution of difficult Scriptural questions. To Abraham bar Kardahe, of Nisibis, are attributed homilies, funeral orations, sermons, and a letter against Shisban, probably a . Another Abraham, of Kashkar, founded and governed on Mount Izla near Nisibis a famous monastery called the Great Convent. The rules he established in 571 have been published with those of Dadisko, his successor (588-604).
The physician Joseph, the successor of Mar Aba (552-67), is spoken of as the author of an apocryphal correspondence attributed to the Patriarch Papa (fourth century). Joseph Houzaya of Al-Ahwaz was then teaching at Nisibis; he is credited with the oldest grammatical treatise known to Syriac literature, and is regarded as the inventor of the system of punctuation in use among the Nestorians, compiled in imitation of the Massoretic signs, perhaps with the assistence of the Jews of Nisibis. Henana of Adiabene at the end of the sixth century drew to Nisibis a large number of disciples; his teaching caused serious dissentions in the Nestorian Church, for he abandoned the doctrines of Theodore of Mopsuestia to attach himself to St. Chrysostom. His doctrine, censured by Ishoyahb I, was condemned by the Synod of Sabrisho (596). Most of his literary work consists of Biblical commentaries. They are lost, but extensive fragments are inserted in the "Garden of Delights", a twelfth-century compilation, which has preserved numerous extracts from the oldest Nestorian exegetes. Under the patriarchate of Ezechiel (570-81) Barhadbeshabba, who became Bishop of Holwan, a partisan of Henana, wrote numerous controversial and exegetical works and a treatise "On the Reason of the Schools" (ed. Scher, Paris, 1909), which throws light on the history of Nisibis. We have the synodal letters, and twenty-two questions on the sacraments of the Patriarch Ishoyahb I of Arzon (582-95).
At the end of this century the Syrians had a copious hagiographical literature, of which the oldest and most authentic portion consists of the Acts of the Martyrs of the persecution of Sapor II (see PERSECUTION). To these were added numerous passions, lives of saints, and biographies translated from the Greek, the whole forming a rich mine for the historian and the hagiographer. In this century also there were translated and were often re-written the Greek apocrypha of the Old and New Testament which have come down to us in Syriac, together with some native productions, such as the teaching of Addai. The curious romance of Julian the Apostate (ed. Hoffmann) dates from the sixth century as well as the valuable chronicle of Edessa and the large historical compilation (ed. Land) ascribed to Zacharias the Rhetorician; it consists in part of original documents and partly of Greek sources, and is of Monophysite origin.
While Mesopotamia and especially Persia was attached to Nestorianism, the Western Syrians embraced the Monophysite doctrines of Eutyches, propagated by the monk Barsauma, condemned as a heretic by the Council of Chalcedon (451), and in this they claimed to remain faithful to the traditions of St. Cyril of Alexandria (see MONOPHYSITES AND MONOPHYSITISM). All their theological and polemical literature was inspired by this doctrine, which was defended by talented writers. The foremost were James of Sarugh and Philoxenes of Mabboug. The latter was born at Tabal in Mesopotamia, studied at Edessa in the time of Ibas, and later ardently embraced the Monophysite cause. Appointed Bishop of Mabboug (Hieropolis) in 485, he went twice to Constantinople and much esteemed by the Emperor Anastasius. He presided at the council which made the famous Severus Patriarch of Antioch (512). He was exiled by Justin and died at Gangres about 523. Despite his eventful life he was one of the most prolific and elegant of Syriac writers. Of his writings we possess liturgies and prayers, thirteen homilies (ed. Budge, London, 1894) which constitute a treatise of Christian ethics, a commentary on the Gospels (preserved only in part), a treatise on the Trinity and the Incarnation (ed. Vaschalde, Paris, 1907), some discourses, professions of faith, several short polemical treatises against the Catholics and the Nestorians, and numerus letters.
James and Philoxenes wrote against Stephen bar Sudaile, a pious monk, born at Edessa; on his return from a journey to Egypt he preached pantheistic doctrines. Driven from Edessa he withdrew to Palestine, where among the Origenistic monks he found a fertile field for his ideas. None of his letters or mystical commentaries on the Bible remain, but he is the author of a book, "The Hidden Mysteries of the House of God", which he issued under the name of Hierotheus, the pretended master of Dionysius the Areopagite. This extensive treatise was very influential in the development in Syria of pseud-Dionysian literature; it was afterwards forgotten, and in the thirteenth century Barhebraeus had great difficulty in securing a copy; this copy is now in the British Museum.
Among the other Monophysite writers of the sixth century were: Simeon of Beit Arsham, a skilful dialectician who combatted the Nestorians. He died at Constantinople in the reign of Justinian. His letters on the propagation of Nestorianism and the Christian martyrs of Yemen (Himyarites) are famous. John bar Cursus, Bishop of Tella, expelled from his see in 521, died at Antioch in 538. He is the author of exhortations to the clergy and a commentary on the Trisagion. Paul, Bishop of Callinicus, deposed in 519, translated into Syriac the works of Severus of Antioch. Jacob Barbuadaeus, the real founder of the Monophysite Church, from whom it derived its name of Jacobite, died in 578. His letters and profession of faith are preserved in Syriac translations. The lives of all these men are more or less well-known through numerous monographs which can not be enumerated here, and through the valuable historical works of John of Ephesus.
Sergius of Reshaina was a physician and a distinguished scholar; his friendship with the Nestorians and the part he played at the end of his life caused him to be suspected of having abandoned Monophysite doctrines. He studied at Alexandria, where he learned Greek. In 535 he was sent to Rome by Ephrem, Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, and escorted Pope Agapetus to Constantinople. Here Sergius sought to expel the patriarchs Severus of Antioch, Theodosius of Alexandria, and Anthinus, who had met there. He died there in 536. His considerable literary work consists almost entirely of Greek translations remarkable for its fidelity; his versions of the works pseudo-Areopagite greatly influenced the theology of the western Syrians, and his translations of profane authors (Porphyry, Aristotle, Galen, etc.) hold a special place in the body of Syriac translations. A number of the works of Sergius have reached us; they have been published in part; mention must also be made of Rhoudemeh of Tagrit (d. 575), who left philosophical and grammatical works; Moses of Aghel, translator of the works of Cyril of Alexandria; and the Patriarch Peter of Callinicus (578-91), whose theological writings against Damian of Alexandria and the Tritheists have reached us, together with some letters.
Among the Nestorians the literature of the seventh century begins with Babai the Great, Abbot of Mount Izla, who governed the Church of Persia during the vacancy of the patriarchal see (608-29) brought about by the hostility of Khusrau II. He composed many works; his treatise on the union of the two natures of Christ which we possess is one of the most important works of Nestorian theology. There are extant a hymn and a dogmatic letter by the Patriarch Ishoyahb II of Gedala (628-43). Ishoyahb III of Adiabene (648-60) was a prolific writer, and remarkable for his studied style; he composed controversial treatise, funeral orations, hymns, numerous liturgical works, and the history of martyr Ishosabran. We have a collection of 104 of his letters (ed. Duval, Paris, 1904), which is important for the religious history of this period. Ishoyahb energetically opposed Sahdona (Martyrius), Bishop of Mahoze, his former friend and his companion in the embassy from Boran to the Emperor Heraclius in 630. Sahdona became converted to Catholicism. The extant portion of his numerous writings has been edited by Bedjan (Leipzig, 1902; it consists mainly of the end of a treatise in moral and dogmatic theology of which the first seventeen chapters were assailed by Iahoyahb. To this period belong the two most original ascetic writers, Isaac of Nineveh and John of Phanek (often called John Saba); the works of the latter, many of which have been preserved, embrace all subjects relating to religious perfection. Under the patriarchate of George (661-80) the monk Enanisho composed the work entitled "Paradise"; it consists of two parts, the first a translation of the "Lausiac History" of Palladius and the "Monastic History" of Rufinus, the second a collection of apothegms from the Fathers, and questions concerning the ascetic life (ed. Bedjan, Leipzig, 1897). This work must not be confounded with the "Paradise of Orientals", which contains the lives of Eastern ascetics and compiled by Joseph Hazaya (the Seer), an austere monk, the author of numerous ascetical treatises, and the warm partisan of Henana, with whom he was condemned; he lived at the beginning of the seventh century.
The Jacobite writers of this period are less numerous: John I, Patriarch of Antioch 631-48, is the author of numerous liturgical prayers; and Maranta of Tagrit (d. 649) left a liturgy, and commentaries; Severus Sebokt, his contemporary, devoted himself in the celebrated convent of Kenneshre on the banks of the Euphrates to philosophical and scientific studies; his works, which are partly preserved, exercised great influence on the following centuries. His letters deal with theological subjects. His disciple Athanasius of Balad, who became patriarch (634-88), likewise devoted himself to Greek philosophy. All these names were eclipsed by another of his disciples, James of Edessa, a writer as distinguished for the extent and variety of his knowledge as for his literary talent.
During the seventh century public events had created new conditions in the lands where Syriac was spoken. The end of the Roman domination in Syria almost coincided with the fall of the Persian dynasty of the Sassanides, and the Moslem rule enforced the use of the Arabic tongue. These new conditions introduced a new character in literature, among Nestorians as well as Jacobites. Theological treatises were thenceforth more didactic than polemic, and Biblical exegesis became chiefly grammatical and philological. The eighth century began a period of decadence. Among Nestorian writers were Babai of Gebilta, a reformer of religious music in the time of the Patriarch Salibazekha (714-28); he was the author of the author of funeral orations, hymns, and letters, preserved in part; Bar Sahdê, of Karka of Beit Slok, the author of an ecclesiastical history and of a treatise against Zoroastrianism, both lost; he lived in the time of the Patriarch Pethion (731-40).
About the same time David of Beit Rabban wrote "The Little Paradise", a kind of monastic history from which Thomas of Marga borrowed. Abraham bar Daschandad, a disciple of Babai, was the author of a book of exhortations, homilies, letters, "The Book of Royal Way", and a commentary on the writings of the monk Marcus. Mar Aba II, who became patriarch at the age of 100 (741-51), wrote a commentary on the works of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and another on the Dialectics of Aristotle, a "Book of Military Governors", demonstrations, and letters. His compatriot, Simeon bar Tabbakhê, treasurer of the Caliph al-Mansur, was the author of an ecclesiastical history.
Surinus, Bishop of Nisibis and later of Holwan, elected patriarch in 754 and immediately deposed, is regarded as the author of a treatise against the heretics. Cyprian, Bishop of Nisibis (741-67), composed a commentary on the theological discourses of St. Gregory of Nazianzus and a treatise on ordination. Abu Noah of Anbar, secretary of the Governor of Mosul at the end of this century, wrote a refutation of the Koran, a refutation of heretics, and a life of John of Dailam. The Patriarch Henanisho II (775-79) is the author of letters, hymns for the dead, metrical homilies, and canonical questions. He was succeeded by Timotheus, whose literay work excels that of all his contemporaries.
Timotheus I, a native of Hazza (near Arbelles), a disciple of Abraham bar Daschandad, became Bishop of Beit Bagash; at the death of Henanisho he was elected patriarch by intrigue and the favour of the Governor of Mosul; he quieted the rivalry and was installed in 780, dying in 823. During his patriarchate the Nestorian missions in Central Asia received powerful encouragement, and he introduced important disciplinary reforms into his church. His literary work comprises an astronomical treatise entitled "Book of the Stars" (lost), two volumes of canonical questions, a controversy concerning the Christian faith maintained before the Caliph Al-Mahidi, a commentary on the works of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and about 200 letters. Sixty of these letters, the controversy, and a large proportion of the questions are extant in various manuscripts. Through him was made the first collection of the Nestorian councils, which under the name "Synodicon Orientale" (ed. Charbot, Paris, 1903) comprises the acts of thirteen synods convened by his predecessors from 410 to 775. It is the basis of the Nestorian canon law and the official exposition of its creed. About this time lived Theodorus bar Kônî, the author of a book of scholia (ed. Scher, Paris, 1908-11), which contains scholia on the Old and New Testament, a treatise against the Monophysites one against the Arians, a colloquy between a pagan and a Christian, and a treatise on heresies. Ishodenah (or Denahisho), Bishop of Bassorah, composed an ecclesiastical history (lost), and the "Book of Chastity" (ed. Chabot, Rome, 1898), which contains 150 notices of the founders of Oriental convents.
The share of the Jacobites in the literary work of this period is far inferior to that of the Nestorians. With the exception of George, Bishop of the Arabs, a disciple of James of Edessa who is treated elsewhere (see MONOPHYSITES AND MONOPHYSITISM), the writers are of only secondary interest. Of Elias, Patriarch of Antioch (709-24), we have an apology explaining why he abandoned the Diophysite doctrine; it is addressed to Leo, Diophysite Bishop of Harran and author of controversial writings. Daniel of Salah wrote an extensive commentary on the Psalms, in three volumes; the first to have reached us in the original text and the third in an Arabic version. David bar Paulos left a grammatical work, letters, a commentary on Chapter 10 of Genesis, a dialogue on the addition of the words "who was crucified for us" to the Sanctus. To him are also ascribed poems which seem to belong to a later period. A celebrated author was Theophilus of Edessa, called Maronite by Bar-Hebraeus, and Chalcedonian by Michael the Syrian; this distinguished astronomer, who was much esteemed by the Caliph al-Madhi, died in 785. His works include astronomical treatises, a history, and a Syriac version of Homer, several quotations from which have been found. About 775, Lazarus of Beit Kandasa compiled a commentary on the New Testament, a portion of which (St. Mark, St. John, and ten Epistles of St. Paul) is extant. George of Beelthan, a monk of Kenneshre who became patriarch (758-90), is the author of a discourse and of some homilies (lost) and of a commentary on the Gospel of St.Matthew (partly preserved). His successor Syriacus (793-817) left a liturgy, canons, some homilies, and letters.
The ninth century witnessed a renaissance in scientific and historical studies. Among the Nestorians there was a series of Christian physicians who enjoyed the favour of the caliphs of Bagdad; Gabriel Boktisho (d. 828), John bar Maswai (d. 857), Honein (d. 873), and at the end of the century John bar Serapion were famous among Christians and Moslems for their medical works and their translations into Syriac and Arabic of the Dioscorides, Hippocrates, Galen, and Paul of Agima. Honein was at once physician, philosopher, historian, grammarian, and lexicographer. His disciple Isho bar Ali is the author of a voluminous lexicon (ed. Hoffmann, Kiel, 1874; Gottheil, Rome, 1910). The patriarch, Isho bar Noun (823-27), was esteemed as a theologian and canonist; of his numerous works there remain juridical questions, questions of Scripture, funeral orations, and letters. Ishodad of Merw, Bishop of Haditha, about the middle of the century composed commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, which are of great interest in the history of exegesis. In 840 Thomas, Bishop of Marga, a former monk of Beit Abê, wrote the history of that famous convent which was located in his diocese, and fortunately he inserted therein numerous documents which would not otherwise be known to us; hence he work sheds much light on the history of the whole Nestorian Church during a period of three centuries. It has been edited by Budge (London, 1893) and by Bedjan (Leipzig, 1901).
The less numerous list of Jacobite writers of the ninth century opens with the name of Dionysius of Tell Mahre, who was elected patriarch in 815 and died in 845. He wrote an ecclesiastical history in two parts, each consisting of eight books divided into chapters. It extended from 581 to 833; unfortunately it is lost but is made known to us by the copious extracts which Michael inserted in his own chronicle (see below). This work is quite different from the chronicle which Assemani incorrectly ascribes to Dionysius. The latter, which stops at the year 775, is divided into four parts. The first (ed. Eulberg, Upsala, 1851) goes as far as Constantine, and relies chiefly on Eusebius; the second, as far as Theodosius the Younger, mainly follows Socrates; the third reproduces the second part (lost) of the history of John of Asia and the chronicle of Josue the Stylite (ed. Wright, London, 1882); the fourth (ed. Chalot, Paris, 1895) is the personal work of the author, probably a monk at the convent of Touknin in Tour Abdin. The work of Dionysius was dedicated to Iwannis (John), Bishop of Dara, one of the most esteemed Monophysite theologians, of whom we possess a treatise on the priesthood, one of the Resurrection, one of the soul, and a commentary on the books of the Pseudo-Areopagite. Theodosius of Edessa, brother of the Patriarch Dionysius, executed a version of the poems of Gregory of Nazianzus. He was the close friend of a monk of Tagrit, Antonius, surnamed the Rhetorician, author of a treatise on rhetoric, a treatise on Providence, of panegyrics, letters, hymns, and prayers. Lazarus bar Sabtha, Bishop of Bagdad, deposed in 828, was the author of a liturgy and an explanation of the offices of the church. Nonnius, Archdeacon of Nisibis, about the middle of the century wrote a controversy against Thomas of Marga and some polemical letters. The monk of Romanus, who took the name of Theodosius when he became patriarch (887-96), compiled a medical collection (lost), a copious commentary on the book of Hierotheus, and a collection of Pythagorean maxims (ed. Zotenberg, Paris, 1876). No writer of this century was so prolific as Moses bar Cephas who took the name Severus when he became bishop.
The next two centuries mark the lowest point of the period of decadence. Most of the ecclesiastical dignitaries and the rare authors who concerned themselves with learning wrote chiefly in Arabic. There was not a single Jacobite writer during the whole of the tenth century; among the Nestorians those worthy of mention were Henanisho bar Seroshwa, Bishop of Hira at the beginning of the century; he composed Scriptural disquisitions, and a lexicon, now lost, but included almost in its entirety in that of Bar Bahlul; Elias, Bishop of Perozshabur (c. 920), wrote letters, homilies, an apology, and a collection of maxims known as "Centuries"; George, Metropolitan of Arbella (d. 987) is the author of a canonical collection and some hymns. To him is also attributed an interesting "Explanation of the liturgical offices". Emmanuel bar Shahharé (d. 980) wrote a treatise "On the six days of creation and Providence", divided into four parts and twenty-eight books; the second book is missing in all known manuscripts. Towards the end of the century Andrew, a grammarian, composed a treatise on punctuation and some hymns. At the same period at Bagdad where he taught Abu' l' Hassan, known as Bar Bahlul, compiled his famous "Lexicon", a small encyclopedia in which he collected, together with the lexicographical works of his predecessors, numerous notices on the natural sciences, philosophy, theology, and Biblical exegesis (ed. Duval, Paris, 1888-1901). At the end of the century John Bar Khaldon wrote the life of the monk Joseph Bosnaya, in which he inserted a curious treatise on mystical theology. The following are the foremost Nestorian writers of the eleventh century. Elias of Tirhan, who became patriarch (1028-49), is famous for his treatise on grammer; he completed the canonical collection made by Timotheus, adding later decisions, and wrote legal treatises. Elias bar Shinaya, Metropolitan of Nisibis, is the most remarkable writer of this century. Appointed Bishop of Beit Nouhadre in 1002, and of Nisibis in 1008, he occupied the see more than forty years and survived the Patriarch Elias. He is the author of a Syriac grammer, hymns, metrical homilies, letters, and a collection of canonical decisions. His most important work is his "Chronography", written in 1019; it includes a chronicle and a treatise on the calender (ed. Brooks-Chalot, Paris, 1009-10). Elias also wrote in Arabic several dogmatic and moral treatises. Abdisho bar Bahriz, who became Bishop of Arbela and Mosul in 1030, is the author of a collection of "Laws and Juridical Sentences". Among the Jacobites were: John of Maroun (d. 1003), the author of a commentary on the Book of Wisdom; and Isho bar Shoushan, Patriarch of Antioch under the name of John (1064-73). He composed a liturgy, canons, a treatise in defence of the Syrian custom of mixing salt and oil in the Eucharistic bread, four poems on the pillage of Nelitene by the Turks (1058), and several letters in Syriac or Arabic. At the time of his death he was engaged in collecting the works of St. Ephrem and Issac of Antioch.
In the thirteenth century the Nestorians also began to write in Arabic. Elias III Abuhalim, Metropolitan of Nisibis and afterwards patriarch (1176-90), composed prayers and wrote letters. John bar Malkon, who took the name of Ishoyahb when he became Bishop of Nisibis (1190), is the author of a grammatical treatise. The monk Simeon of Shanklawa about the same period wrote a chronological treatise and a poem in enigmatic style. He is probably the author of the "Book of the Fathers", which has been ascribed to Simeon bar Sabbaê (fourth century). His disciple John bar Zoubi is chiefly known for his grammatical works.
The Jacobites had able writers. John, Bishop of Harran and Mardin, wrote on the capture of Edessa by Zangui (1144). James bar Salibi is the most prolific writer of the century. He took the name of Dionysius when he became Bishop of Marash in 1154; in 1166 Michael transferred him to Amida, where he died in 1171. His most important work is his commentary on the Old and New Testament, a vast compilation in which he cites or recapitulates the exegesis of the Western Syrians. Among his other writings were: a commentary on the "Centuries" of Evagrius, a commentary on dialectics, letters, an abridgment of the histories of the Fathers, saints, and martyrs, a collection of canons, several theological treatises, two liturgies, an explanation of the Mass (ed. Labourt, Paris, 1903), a voluminous treatise against the heresies, a treatise on Providence, homilies, and of occasional verses. His commentaries and most of his other works are extant. Michael the Syrian (Michael the Great), the son of a priest of Nelitene, was Abbot of Barasuma when he was elected patriarch (1166-99). He is the author of several liturgical works, but his chief work is his "Chronicle" (ed. Chalot, Paris, 1898-1911). It is the most voluminous historical compilation transmitted to us by the Syrians; that of Bar Hebraeus is generally only a faithful abridgement of it. Many earlier documents are inserted or summarized in it; the author furnishes valuable information concerning the historians who preceded him, and for his own period furnishes interesting details concerning the occupation of Edessa by the Crusaders and the wars of the Moslem princes who occupied Asia Minor, especially Cappadocia. Michael's "Chronicle" begins with the Creation and stops with the death of Saladin (1196). Theodore bar Wahboun a disciple of Michael, who rebelled against him and had himself named patriarch by the dissatisfied bishops, is the author of a liturgy.
The thirteenth century marks the end of Syriac literature. Among the Jacobites were: James (Severus) bar Shakako, Bishop of Mosul (d. 1241), whose "Dialogues" are a philosophical course, and his "Book of Treasures" a course in theology; Aharon (John) bar Madani who was Bishop of Mardin, Maphrian (1232), later patriarch (1252-61), and the author of numerous poems; and Maphrian Gregory bar Hebraeus, a man of encyclopedic learning, whose name worthily terminates this list. Mention must be made of the book of the "Knowledge of Truth" (ed. Kayser, Leipzig, 1889), the author of which plans to assemble in one religious community Christians, Jews, and Moslems; also of the chronicle, likewise anonymous, recently discovered by Mgr Rahmani. Among the Nestorians were Solomon, Bishop of Bassora (c. 1222) whose chief work is the "Book of the Bee", an historico-theological compilation in which he inserted numerous legends (ed. Burge, Oxford, 1886); George Warda and Khamis bar Kardahe, authors of numerous hymns, in the Nestorian office. Gabriel Kamsa, author of a theological poem, and John of Mosul who wrote edifying poems, belong to the second half of the century. The history of the Patriarch Yaballaha III (1281-1318) is a very curious document; his successor Timotheus II is the author of a book on the Sacraments. Addisho bar Brika is the last writer deserving of mention. He was Bishop of Nisibis and died in 1318. His most useful work is his "Catalogue of writers", a sort of literary history of the East Syrians (ed. Assemani, "Bibli. Orientalis", III); he concludes with a list of his own numerous and various works: commentaries on the Old and New Testaments, a work on the Life of Christ, one against heresies, one on the mysteries of the Greek philosophers, twelve treatises on the sciences. These works of his have been lost, but we possess his "Nomocanon", or methodical collection of canon law, and his theological treatise called "The Pearl" (both edited by Mai, Rome, 1838), his "Rule of Ecclesiastical Judgements", a kind of code of procedure, fifty metrical homilies which form the "Book of the Paradise of Eden", and twenty-two poems on love and wisdom. From the fourteenth century Syriac literature produced no works of value. The few authors who cultivated it showed neither talent nor originality; nevertheless useful indications concerning local history may be found in their occasional writings.
The great services rendered to scholarship by translations which form a large part of Syriac literature should not be lost sight of; they include both profane and Christian works. The former were chiefly Greek scientific and theological works, principally those of Aristotle and his school. It was through this intermediary that the Arabs became acquainted with scientific culture, and came into contact with Hellenic philosophy, so that the important part they played in the propagation of the sciences during the Middle Ages had its origin in Syriac literature. The "Romance of Alexander" and that of "Kalila and Dimna" were both translated from the Pahlowi about the sixth century. A portion of the works of the most celebrated of the Greek fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries were translated into Syriac; they possess only a secondary importance where we have the original texts, but are of the greatest value when they represent lost works, as is the case with regard to the "Apology of Aristides", the festal letters of St. Athanasius, the treatise of Titus of Bosra against the Manichæans, the Theophany of Eusebius, the commentaries of Cyril of Alexandria on St. Luke, the works of Severus of Antioch, the commentary of Theodore of Mopsuestia on St. John and his treatise of the Incarnation, the Apology of Nestorius, etc.
APA citation. (1912). Syriac Language and Literature. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14408a.htm
MLA citation. "Syriac Language and Literature." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14408a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph P. Thomas. In memory of Father Placid, C.M.I.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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