The Bible, the Quran, and Their Interpretation: Syriac Perspectives.
The edited volume under review, which deals with the textual history of Syriac literature in the late antique world, consists of papers presented at SBL meetings. The book opens with a summative introduction by the editor. Unfortunately, the chapters that follow are not numbered for conveniences sake. The bibliographies for the chapters have been condensed into a single collection at the conclusion of the volume, along with a list of contributors and an index of biblical and late antique texts.
The authors approach their subjects using methods such as philology, biblical textual criticism, comparative literature, reception history, and quantitative measures. The book is not meant to be a comprehensive survey, but reflects the particular concerns of its authors on "the critical contribution of Syriac studies to understanding important aspects of reading and hearing Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sacred texts in historical contexts" (p. xii). Despite its provenance, the collection fits together nicely, with nearly equal attention given to the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and late antique literature.
The books organization operates using two chronologies. The first factor that determines its structure is the dating of the biblical and late antique texts under study. The earliest chapters deal with Genesis, Leviticus, and the Psalms. The middle chapters cover the Gospels and Acts. The later chapters cover late antique Christian sermons, Gnostic and Manichaean texts, the Quran, the Syriac massora, and Maronite biblical lectionaries. The second determining factor is the date of the appearance of the Syriac authors in history, moving from early Syriac literature in pre-Islamic times through the early modern period. With the exception of Gaby Abou Samras contribution, all of the chapters are concerned with the significance of Syriac Christian interpretation of sacred texts from late antiquity.
A short synopsis of each chapter follows:
(1) Robert R. Phenix investigates the tradition that Cain and Abel each had twin sisters whom they disputed over regarding which one to marry, and argues that the "Arabic Apocryphal Gospel of John," and its Syriac Vorlage, was the vehicle for transforming the interpretation of Cain and Abel's sacrifice away from a ritualistic/Eucharistic model into a marital/legalistic model for the purpose of evaluating interreligious marriages. (2) James D. Moore examines past scholarly critiques of the Syriac Peshitta translation of Leviticus 1-7. Against most scholars, who have concluded that the translator(s) had an imperfect knowledge of the Hebrew Vorlage and sacrificial terminology, Moore convincingly argues that the Syriac translator employed dynamic equivalent translation technique. (3) Herrie F. van Rooy examines Ishodad of Merv's interpretation of Psalms 2, 8, and 45, and demonstrates that Syriac translations of Theodore of Mopsuestia's work played a prominent role in Ishodad's commentary, while he also incorporated more New Testament Christological material than has been previously acknowledged. (4) In her chapter on Jesus' healing miracles in Syriac literature, Cornelia Horn traces their presentation in the Abgar Legend, Aphrahat's letters, Ephraems poems, the Pseudo-Clementine literature, and epigraphic evidence. She explains how interreligious debates with Jews transformed the presentation of Syriac Christian arguments that Jesus' miraculous healings were connected with his divine nature. (5) Ilaria L. E. Ramelli argues that Luke 23:34a ("Jesus said, 'Father, do not impute to them this sin.'") is not an addition to the Gospel but a verse belonging to the earliest stages of its redaction, excised from some manuscripts because it implied that Jews were absolved from blame in Jesus death. Showing the verse's connections with theological concepts in Acts 7:60 and evidence of the verse in the writings of the second-century author Hegesippus, along with Luke-Acts theology concerning the restoration (apokatastasis) of all beings, Ramelli compellingly makes the passage integral to Lukes text and theology.
(6) Investigating the Syriac reception of John Chrysostom's homilies, Jeff W. Childers shows that they have important differences compared to the Greek versions, which suggests that the Syriac texts may be closer to the earliest versions of his writings although they include Syriac idioms with their own exegetical, liturgical, and ascetic-spiritual purposes. (7) Alexander Toepel surveys the concept of "Paraclete" and "seal" in the Syriac Bible, late antique apocryphal and Gnostic traditions, the writings of Mani, and early Muslim literature, and concludes that both were eschatological terms used for baptismal liturgies in the Syriac tradition that Gnostics, Mani, and later Muslim biographers transformed in context and meaning for their own concerns. (8) Mark Whitters explores the Quranic legend of the Companions of the Cave (18:9-26) and its connections with Syriac and Jewish antecedents in earlier scholarship, and argues for a Jewish presence based upon the Assumption of Moses and its story of Taxos and his sleepers. I do not find Whitters' conclusion entirely convincing because the Quranic passages can be explained without recourse to the Jewish legends. Syriac variants regarding the Sleepers of Ephesus (e.g., the total number of sleepers) and the fact that the Syriac Christian "Legend of Alexander" is recounted in detail later in the sura are evidence that Syriac Christian texts--perhaps contrasted with Jewish legends, as Whitters argues--prompted a Quranic response to a debate. (9) In her chapter on the Syriac massora, or system of accents, Ulrike-Rebekka Nieten posits that diacritical marks, likely written in texts for musical intonations for Syriac Psalmody or to guide readers in a particular melody, preserved the orality and poetic nature of Syriac biblical texts, making them essential in the study of Syriac biblical interpretation. Finally, (10) Gaby Abou Samra examines two Maronite liturgical manuscripts from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. After codicological study he explains the transition of liturgical texts from Syriac into Karshuni (Arabic written with Syriac characters) and into Arabic, which came in part due to interreligious factors, concluding that the Maronite tradition included only fragmentary commentaries on the biblical texts, introduced piecemeal for pragmatic reasons, but no flourishing commentary tradition.
Overall, the collection demonstrates that Syriac Christians have made an underappreciated contribution to the reception, interpretation, and transmission of sacred texts in pre-Islamic and post-Islamic times. A better title might have been "Syriac Perspectives on Sacred Texts, Their Reception, and Their Interpretation," as, for instance, the Quran only appears in two chapters (once directly, the other time for comparative purposes) and in both instances it is because the Quran contains biblical and/or late antique Syriac material.
Given that another collection of papers is planned for publication in this series, there are some production issues to be mentioned for future collections. First and most importantly, each occurrence of the letters s and t together has a tilda between them ([s.sup.~]t), which is very distracting; this should be omitted in the future. Second, the chapters should be numbered for accessibility.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, SPRINGFIELD
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|Publication:||The Journal of the American Oriental Society|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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