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Introduction to Ancient Syriac Documents

Introduction to Ancient Syriac Documents


1. The preceding Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents were inserted in vol. 20 of the Edinburgh series, quite out of place as it seems to me; and the more so, as other Syriac fragments were to follow.

2. In vol. 22, equally out of place, and mixed up with incongruous material, followed the very interesting work of Bardesanes, to which I now assign a natural collocation with the Edessene Memoirs.

3. In vol. 24, with the Liturgies and other mixed material, comes the third Syriac fagot, another valuable and very interesting contribution severed from its due connections.

The reader of this volume will rejoice to find Mr. Pratten's scattered but most instructive translations here brought together, and arranged in less confused sequence and relations one with another. The several announcements prefixed to each have, in like manner, been here gathered and set in order.

It may be worth while, just here, to direct attention to the latest views of scholarship upon Syria, its language and its antiquities. A learned critic, who often supplies one of our weekly newspapers with articles on the Oriental languages worthy of the best reviews, has directed attention24 to a searching critique of Mommsen's recent addition to his Roman History, of a chapter which "deals with Bible-lands in New-Testament times." Professor Nöldke of Strasburg, a leading Semitic scholar, in the Zeitschrift of the German Oriental Society, thus takes him to task:-

"Syria enjoyed a higher prosperity under the Romans than Mommsen concedes, and this continued down into the Christian period. The Hellenization made rapid strides, but not in such a manner that the Greek language or Greek culture spread to a considerable degree; but rather, in such a way that European arts and manners of life were established, and that a number of elements of Occidental culture became powerful in the thinking and language of the educated. Mommsen, according to my conviction, considers the Hellenization of Syria to have advanced much farther than it actually had. That the language of the country had been entirely banished from the circles of the educated, and that it had assumed the position in reference to the Greek which the Celtic in full had assumed over against the Latin, is certainly an exaggerated view. The Aramaic was an old developed language (Cultursprache), which was already written before a single letter was seen in Latium. In the days of the Achaemenidian rulers this was the official language of Egypt, and even of Asia Minor, and was accordingly spread far beyond the original territory. Again we find this language in the days of the Roman emperors not only in Palmyra, but spread also in the whole country of the Nabatheans, and down to almost Medina; here again beyond its native limits, as the official written language. And that this was not merely a remnant of the former political supremacy is evident from the fact that the documents of Palmyra and those of the Nabatheans, in an equal manner, show a younger stage of development of language than that of the Achaemenidian period; this stage being virtually the same as is seen in the various Jewish literary works of that time."

As Mommsen is continuing his irreligious elaborations of history, it may be well to bear in mind his superficial ideas on such subjects, especially when he is reaching the affairs of early Christianity.

1. Our translator (Mr. Pratten) makes the following announcements:-

"The translation of the Syriac pieces which follow25 is based on a careful examination of that made by Dr. Cureton, the merits of which are cordially acknowledged. It will, however, be seen that it differs from that in many and important particulars.

"Many thanks are due to the Dean of Canterbury for his kindness in giving much valuable help."

2. He thus introduces the treatise of Bardesanes:-

"Bardesan, or Bardesanes, according to one account, was born at Edessa in 154 a.d., and it is supposed that he died sometime between 224 and 230. Eusebius says that he flourished in the time of Marcus Aurelius. He was for some time resident at the court of Abgar VI., King of Edessa, with whom he was on intimate terms. He at first belonged to the Gnostic sect of the Valentinians; but abandoning it, he seemed to come nearer the orthodox beliefs. In reality, it is said, he devised errours of his own. He wrote many works. Eusebius attributes the work now translated, The Book of Laws, or On Fate, to Bardesanes. Many modern critics have come to the conclusion that it was written by a scholar of Bardesanes, but that it gives us the genuine opinions and reasonings of Bardesanes. The question is of interest in connection with the Clementine Recognitions, which contain a large portion of the work. The Syriac was first published by Cureton in his Spicilegium."

3. In introducing the Mara bar Serapion and the Ambrose,26 he thus refers to his friend Dr. Payne Smith:-

The text of the two following short pieces27 is found in the Spicilegium Syriacum of the late Dr. Cureton. This careful scholar speaks of the second of these compositions as containing "some very obscure passages." The same remark holds good also of the first. Dr. Payne Smith describes them both as "full of difficulties." So far as these arise from errors in the text, they might have been removed, had I been able to avail myself of the opportunity kindly offered me by Dr. Rieu, Keeper of the Oriental the British Museum, of inspecting the original ms.As it is, several have, it is hoped, been successfully met by conjecture.

To Dr. R. Payne Smith, Dean of Canterbury, who, as on two previous occasions, has most kindly and patiently afforded me his valuable assistance, I beg to offer my very grateful acknowledgments.

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