#6 Syriac Encounters

From the opening address by prof. Lukas Van Rompay ©MvdB
From the opening address of the Symposium in 2011 by prof. Lukas Van Rompay ©MvdB

It has arrived, the volume with the papers of the Sixth North American Syriac Symposium that took place four years ago at Duke University. The conference, organized by Luk van Rompay together with Maria Doerfler, Emanuel Fiano and Kyle Smith (see his Academia page for an overview of its contents), was a real event in Syriac Studies (as, I heard, was this year’s in Washington, unfortunately I was not able to attend) – and now much of all the good work has been published in our Eastern Christian Studies series (Peeters: Louvain, volume 20).

Though there’s little on the modern period (just my own ‘Classical Syriac and the Syriac Churches: A Twentieth-Century History’), and not that much on the 12-14th century (Alessandro Mengozzi on Khamis bar Qardaḥe and Andy Hilkens on Michael the Great’s Chronicle), what it offers on the earlier period is a great overview of the current interests of Syriac studies, a field that reflects the enduring dialogue of Syriac literature and culture with what was surrounding it, Greek, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic – the languages and the cultures that were expressed in these languages. Indeed, as Van Rompay notes in his Foreword, ‘the theme of “Syriac Encounters” aptly serves to express the presence of multiple voices within Syriac Christianity’. Or, put differently, though the term ‘globalization’ surely is out of place for most of the period that is addressed in this volume, terms like ‘entangled histories’ and ‘ever-changing boundaries’ between what we like to see as ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Christianity, between Europe and the rest, or between the Eastern Christian traditions themselves, accurately reflect the rather murky and fluid world in which Syriac Christianity was born and developed itself. Reading through the volume brings this entangled world to life.

On a final note: two papers resonate with the vernacular religion theme addressed earlier, those of Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent on relics of the saints, and of Stephanie Bolz on magic bowls. In addition, Sidney Griffith’s thorough overview of the discussions on Syriac Christianity’s influence on the origins of Islam is important not only in this light of vernacular religion discussions, but also in view of the recent discussions on the Quranic leaves rediscovered in Birmingham. Notably, Griffith discusses one of the same passages as were found in the Mingana-collection. As an aside, the whole discussion raises the intriguing question that I think has not been answered as yet, how, where and why Alphonse Mingana, whose primary interest was in Christian manuscripts, acquired these leaves – knowingly or unknowingly.

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