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FW: [agade] REVIEWS: Of "Ephraem der Syrer"

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    ... From: agade@listserv.unc.edu [mailto:agade@listserv.unc.edu] On Behalf Of Jack Sasson Sent: Monday, May 04, 2009 10:51 AM To: The Agade mailing list.
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      From: agade@... [mailto:agade@...] On Behalf Of Jack Sasson
      Sent: Monday, May 04, 2009 10:51 AM
      To: The Agade mailing list.
      Subject: [agade] REVIEWS: Of "Ephraem der Syrer"

      From <http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2009/2009-05-10.html>:

      Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.05.10
      Christian Lange (ed.), Ephraem der Syrer: Kommentar zum Diatessaron I.
      Fontes Christiani Bd. 54/1. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008. Pp. 366.
      ISBN 9782503519746. €37.29 (pb).
      Christian Lange (ed.), Ephraem der Syrer: Kommentar zum Diatessaron
      II. Fontes Christiani Bd. 54/2. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008. Pp. viii,
      332. ISBN 9782503528694. €37.29 (pb).

      Reviewed by Daniel King, Cardiff University (kingdh@...)
      Word count: 2796 words

      Two branches of research within Early Christianity converge in the
      text here translated into German. The first is the problem of the
      Diatessaron, a harmony of the four gospels written by Tatian in the
      second century which had a long afterlife in many parts of Europe and
      the Near East but which can be reconstructed only from quotations and
      late translations.1 The other is the religious oeuvre of Ephrem the
      Syrian, one of the most fascinating of the 'Fathers of the Church'. As
      well as a highly productive poet of elegant and vivid Christian poetry
      in Syriac, Ephrem wrote prose commentaries, including this commentary
      on the Diatessaron, in his day the standard version of the Gospels
      within the Syrian church. For a long time known only through an
      Armenian version, the Syriac original of Ephrem's Commentary was
      gradually made known through the discovery and publication of a
      sixth-century Syriac ms in the Chester Beatty collection.2 It has
      since been the object of a number of studies, both
      literary/philological and theological. The present two volume work by
      Christian Lange in the Fontes Christiani series adds a German
      translation to the existing Latin, French and English versions
      available,3 though perhaps its most important contribution will be
      found in the Einleitung, in which Lange seeks to resolve the various
      difficulties that surround the text, especially the disagreements
      between the two recensions and the undoubted presence of secondary
      interpolations within both branches of the tradition. Chapter I is an
      overview of Ephrem's life and religious background in which Lange goes
      over the basic questions, such as that of Ephrem's coenobitic status.
      He follows Beck and others in using for the most part references from
      within the genuine works rather than external testimony for the
      reconstruction of Ephrem's career. Important questions are briefly
      raised, such as the source of Ephrem's 'Jewish' exegeses and his
      anti-semitic polemics (p.17f.).

      Brief descriptions of the Marcionites, Bardesanites and Manichaeans
      are to be found in the section on the Nisibene period, although they
      might be more appropriately placed under the section on Edessa, since
      the Hymns against the Heresies is more likely to date from that later
      period, as Lange himself will argue (p.41f.).

      There is an interesting discussion on the question of whether the
      Nicene homoousios was really (as Beck claimed) the basis of Ephrem's
      theology, a suggestion which Lange refutes on the basis that Ephrem is
      more interested in plurality in the Godhead than in unity, and never
      mentions the Nicene buzzwords (p.26ff.). He suggests that the Ephremic
      theology found in the Commentary is rather closer to that found in the
      creed of the Synod of Antioch (341), and it is notable that the
      Emperor Constantius is not vilified as an Arian but praised as a
      Christian Emperor who defended Nisibis against the Persians. In the
      later Edessene period, by contrast, Ephrem was clearly aware both of
      Nicaea and of the later Antiochene schism (p.32-4).

      In Chapter II, Lange tries to map out the chronological order of
      Ephrem's works as a means of tracing the development of his thought
      over time, an approach that has unfortunately (he believes) not often
      been tried before. This approach, as he admits, involves the
      (dangerous) assumption that the hymn cycles found in the tradition
      represent groupings designed by Ephrem himself rather than by later
      editors. The Diatessaron Commentary is to be placed among the late
      works on account of the nature of the doctrinal debates which underlie
      much of its text.

      Chapter III is a little disparate - it begins by highlighting the
      importance the Diatessaron had in the Syrian churches of the fourth
      and fifth centuries, and also its importance to modern research as a
      witness to the second century state of the gospel text; the
      reconstruction of the Diatessaron itself from quotations in Ephrem
      therefore constitutes one of the principal interests of the present
      text and the justification for its publication in a modern
      translation, although this possibility is not further explored within
      these volumes. This chapter also reviews the history of research,
      especially on the questions of the authenticity and unity of the text.
      Although Lange positions himself very much in the research trajectory
      of Beck in his attempts to distinguish the authentic Ephremic sections
      within the text, he nonetheless evidently feels some sympathy for the
      view of Carmel McCarthy that Ephrem's name should not be removed from
      the text, since he himself has not, in this translation, done so. We
      shall return to this problem at the end of this review.

      There is one minor error here: the date of the Chester Beatty ms is
      given by Leloir as late fifth or early sixth century, not the first
      half of the fifth (p.52).

      Chapter IV provides a useful table of the passages that are extant in
      the different recensions (Syriac and Armenian) followed by the results
      of an analysis of these passages (a fuller version of how these
      results are achieved can be found in Lange's monograph).4 On the
      whole, passages to be found only in the Syriac (b) have different
      exegeses from parallel passages which were undoubtedly in the Urtext
      (because found in both recensions) and these must therefore be
      interpreted as interpolations. Sections only in Armenian are also in
      general shown to be interpolations, though some such passages may
      reflect original material omitted from the extant Syriac. The
      important conclusion is that both recensions include additions to the
      basic Urtext.

      The next critical question is whether, assuming the Urtext to be
      recoverable, it is a unified text. Certainly not, argues Lange, for
      "der Urtext stellt eher eine Sammlung verscheidener Vorlagen dar, die
      ein syrischer Herausgaber zusammengestellt hat." (p.67). This
      conclusion is reached largely through literary analysis (internal
      contradictions, misplaced passages, variation of styles etc.) and
      occasionally through a comparison of the Commentary with exegeses in
      the 'genuine Ephrem', i.e. in the authentic poetic cycles. In this,
      Lange falls largely on the side of Leloir in seeing evidence of
      multiple authorship where others (e.g. Petersen and McCarthy) see only
      variation in literary style.

      Once the basic homogeneity of the Urtext has itself been called into
      question, it is slightly unclear exactly what the next investigation,
      into the 'authenticity' of the text, is meant to achieve, since a text
      which comes from different hands can hardly be described as
      'authentic' or 'inauthentic'. The discussion of the significance of
      Jesus' baptism (p.71-2) is anyway from a passage which matches a
      lacuna in the Syriac ms and which cannot therefore with any certainty
      be ascribed to the Urtext. The discrepancy found here between the
      theology of the Commentary and the theology of Ephrem does not prove
      the inauthenticity of the Urtext, since the latter has been shown to
      be a collection - rather one would be interested to hear Lange's
      opinion on which parts of the text do go back to Ephrem himself and
      which to his students.

      Lange's conclusion to this section is then depicted in a stemma of the
      recension in which the original commentary of Ephrem is assumed to
      have been edited and expanded by a pupil of Ephrem's school, to
      produce the Urtext. If there is a weakness here, it is in the implicit
      assumption that something like a coherent text from the hand of Ephrem
      himself ever existed. The perceptive conclusion (quoted from p.67 in
      the last paragraph but one) surely casts doubt on whether his [S1] is
      a hypothetical textual product at all rather than merely an oral
      tradition deriving from the school of the master. Even if some of the
      exegeses do derive from a literary tradition, need that have been a
      coherent Ephremic 'Diatessaron Commentary'?

      As to the date of the Urtext [U], Lange detects a number of references
      to the ongoing Trinitarian disputes within the Greek-speaking world at
      the time. He suggests from passages attributable to the post-Ephremic
      compiler, that the latter was a follower of Meletius of Antioch,
      writing between 381 and 394.

      Most of the rest of the Introduction consists of an overview of the
      theological ideas contained within the Commentary,by which Lange means
      the Urtext of the extant recensions insofar as they can be recovered,
      rather than the parts which go back to Ephrem himself. This is a
      reasonable procedure since the recovery of U is relatively
      straightforwardly achieved by treating only those passages present in
      both recensions, whereas the isolation of the exegeses of Ephrem
      himself would require a more thorough and uncertain source analysis.

      A survey of the Christology of the Commentary (Chapter VII) highlights
      the importance the compiler attached to certain issues such as the
      pre-existence of Christ (against the Arians) and His complete and full
      incarnation. It is in general the Arians who are predominantly in view
      throughout the work and the compiler deals with many of the
      commonplaces of the Arian debates. This marks an interesting
      distinction between the Compiler and Ephrem, whose later works
      (written in Edessa) tend to focus rather on Marcionites and
      Bardesanites than Arians (who were the object of his earlier attacks).
      This perhaps reflects the fact that the Compiler was working after the
      rise of the so-called Neo-Arian party, when these issues had become
      urgent once again. The old chestnut of Prov 8.22, however, is never

      It is interesting to note that the text uses both the idiomatic Syriac
      metaphor for the incarnation, he took a body, while at the same time
      using what is more a calque upon the Greek, he was embodied
      (ethgsham). Although the compiler stresses that the different aspects
      of Christ can be perceived in different parts of the Gospels, he
      retains some sense of Christological unity by asserting the single
      subjectivity of the Word. As was by the late fourth century common
      practice amongst many Greek theologians, so for the compiler of the
      Commentary, Christology is rooted in the need to express a coherent
      soteriology. The Compiler is shown to represent the theology of the
      late Ephrem rather than the early.

      When Lange turns to the Trinitarian teaching of the Commentary, the
      Compiler's various opponents come more clearly into view. As well as
      Arians, they include Bardesanites, whose cosmology is roundly opposed,
      and Marcionites, whose docetism, for example, is countered in the
      exegesis of Christ's baptism. Both these groups figured prominently in
      Ephrem's own polemic in Edessa. He is also keenly aware of the
      Pneumatomachi, those who denied divinity to the Holy Spirit, an issue
      which arose within Greek theological debate too late for Ephrem to
      have engaged in it, but which must have been a significant problem for
      his immediate followers.

      Lange shows how the Compiler is thoroughly Ephremite in many of his
      ideas and expressions but also goes far beyond the master. He "erweist
      sich durch seine theologische Fachbegrifflichkeit nicht nur als
      erstaunlich gut über die Diskussionen im griechischsprachigen Westen
      informiert, sondern integriert diese auch in sein Werk." The student
      is thus as worthy an object of study as the master.

      The Introduction concludes with a number of short sections on other
      issues of interest. Thus (Chapter VIII) it is shown that Ephrem/the
      Compiler had access to a non-Diatessaronic text of the New Testament
      which approximates to that of the Vetus Syra; Chapter IX discusses the
      varied styles to be found in the text, sometimes homiletic, sometimes
      more discursive; Chapter X briefly discusses the exegetical method of
      the Compiler which follows that of Ephrem in using types and symbols
      to bridge the gap between the outer/historical text and the
      inner/spiritual one - this in contrast to the neo-Arian tendency to
      maintain a strong metaphysical gap between creator and created.
      Chapter XI discusses the various opponents that are in view in the
      text, an issue mentioned more than once already.

      Finally, Chapter XII introduces us to the German translation itself,
      which he hopes will be a smooth and 'verständlichen deutschen Text'.
      The translation follows the Syriac of the Chester Beatty ms where
      extant (with only the more significant variations in the Armenian
      being noted in the footnotes) and the Armenian version where the
      former is missing. One finds that one has to keep a careful eye on the
      footnotes in order to keep track of when the text being translated
      comes from one of these lacunae - a marginal notation of some kind
      might have been more helpful. The four small sections towards the end
      of the Commentary which are in the Armenian but certainly missing from
      the Syriac are included in the translation, though the fact is again
      marked only in the footnotes.

      The German translation is, as mentioned, designed to flow smoothly and
      to be easily comprehensible to the occasional reader not accustomed to
      the idioms, circumlocutions, and abbreviations of the Syriac. A few
      examples will illustrate the style. "Why did you not reckon with your
      mind?' becomes simply 'warum hast du nicht eingesehen?" [3,1]; again,
      (lit.) "Pharaoh, however, because he did not know his lineage and his
      mother and the time at which the redeemer of the Hebrews would be
      born, killed the children, so that along with many would be killed
      that one who was being sought by him" is rendered as "Der Pharao
      hingegen tötete alle Kinder, weil er die Abstammungslinie, die Mutter
      und die Zeit, zu der der Erlöser der Hebräer geboren warden sollte,
      nicht kannte, damit er mit den vielen, die er tötete, auch zugleich
      den einen, den er suchte, umbrachte," [3,5] and finally (lit.) "this
      [one], where he says that they should be silent, [is] so that the
      disciples might learn" is translated with "als er zu Jüngern sagte,
      sie sollten schweigen, geschah dies, damit er sie lehre" [7,27b]. The
      terms he uses are sometimes rather more graphic than their Syriac
      equivalents, e.g. 'unbarmherzig' for 'awala' (evil) [3,1]. At other
      times he unifies lexical variation, thus 'Böses' for both 'mesrah' and
      'bishta' [3,5], while elsewhere the opposite happens: 'täuschen...in
      die Irre zu führen...blenden', where there is only the single Syriac
      term 'ta'a' [3,5].

      This approach to translation is surely the correct one to adopt here,
      especially where the audience is not expected to be able to read the
      original text (although Fontes Christiani volumes are usually supplied
      with the original Greek or Latin, this is not done for Syriac texts),
      and the fluidity and lucidity of the translation is most welcome.

      Perhaps the most difficult issue to resolve in relation to this book
      is that of authorship. For despite the fact that throughout the
      introduction Lange is at pains to name the author of the text as the
      'Student of Ephrem' or as the 'Compiler' (in fact, he is more
      insistent on this point than many earlier scholars such as Leloir,
      McCarthy, and Petersen), it is nonetheless Ephrem's name that appears
      on the cover of the volume. Nowhere is this adequately explained. If
      it is justified of itself (and perhaps it is), then one feels that a
      greater effort needs to be expended in differentiating those parts of
      the text which may have come directly from the master's hand (or
      mouth) and those which derive from the student. If the text was thus
      divided up, it might detract from readability but it would surely then
      justify the assertion that what we have in front of us is a commentary
      by Ephrem. In view of the fact that in the title of his own monograph,
      Lange calls the work the 'Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron', it is
      possible that the appearance of Ephrem's name here is the result
      rather of editorial pressure. If so, this is to be regretted. The
      present text offers us a window into Ephrem's own world, but it is not
      a text by Ephrem, though no less interesting for that.

      As well as being a welcome new addition to the ever-growing number of
      Syriac texts available in modern languages to wider audiences
      interested in Early Christian literature, Lange has provided us with
      an excellent and up-to-date overview of the state of research into
      this fascinating but difficult text. His own research has complemented
      and added in important ways to what has gone before and set a new
      starting point for further work. The next stage is surely for a more
      thorough attempt to distinguish the true Ephremic exegeses from those
      of his school. Meanwhile, these volumes are an excellent introduction
      both to this text in particular and to the area of Syriac Biblical
      exegesis in general.
      Table of Contents of the Introduction:
      I. Das Leben Ephraems des Syrers
      II. Das literarische Werk Ephraems
      III. Der Kommentar zum Diatessaron
      IV. Die Authentizität des Diatessaronkommentars
      V. Die Abfassungszeit der Schrift
      VI. Ein Schüler Ephraems als Kompilator
      VII. Die theologischen Hauptgedanke des Kommentars
      VIII. Die biblische Textvorlage des Kommentars
      IX. Der Stil des Kommentars
      X. Die exegetische Zugangsweise
      XI. Aussagen über die Gegner des Kompilators
      XII. Anmerkungen zur Übersetzung

      1. The best overview and discussion is the late William L.
      Petersen's Tatian's Diatessaron: Its Creation, Dissemination,
      Significance, and History in Scholarship (VCSupp 25) (Brill, 1994).
      2. L. Leloir (ed.), Saint Ephrem. Commentaire de l'évangile
      concordant. Texte syriaque (Manuscrit Chester Beatty 709) (Chester
      Beatty Monographs 8) (Dublin, 1963), supplemented by a second volume,
      Saint Ephrem. Commentaire de l'évangile concordant. Texte syriaque
      (Manuscrit Chester Beatty 709). Folios additionels (Chester Beatty
      Monographs 8a) (Louvain, 1990).
      3. The Latin is to be found in Leloir's editions, as cited above;
      French in L. Leloir, Ephrem de Nisibe. Commentaire de l'évangile
      concordant ou Diatessaron, traduit du syriaque et de l'arménien
      (Sources Chrétiennes 121) (Paris, 1966); English in C. McCarthy, Saint
      Ephrem's Commentary on the Diatessaron. An English Translation of the
      Chester Beatty Syriac MS 709 with Introduction and Notes (Journal of
      Semitic Studies, Suppl. 2) (Oxford, 1993).
      4. C. Lange, The Portrayal of Christ in the Syriac Commentary on the
      Diatessaron (CSCO 616, Subs.118) (Leuven, 2005), p.36-52.

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