History and Religion in Late Antique Syria

Article excerpt

History and Religion in Late Antique Syria. By Han J.W Drijvers. [Variorum Collected Studies Series, 464.] (Brookfield, Vermont: Variorum, Ashgate Publishing Co. 1994. Pp. xii, 305. $87.50.)

Professor Drijvers has had a remarkable career at the University of Groningen. Beginning with his groundbreaking study of Bardaisan (1966), he has labored to transform the study of Syriac Christianity from the stepchild of theology to a subdiscipline of the study of Late Antiquity.The present volume contains a reprint collection of nineteen articles originally published between 1983 and 1992. This was a remarkably fruitful decade of scholarly enterprise. The first section includes ten articles in which aspects of problems related to the roots of Syriac Christianity were re-examined. He studied the relationships between Jews and Christians, pseudepigraphical literature produced and/or transmitted in Syriac, the theology and influence of Tatian, and Syriac Christian spirituality. He argued throughout that the roots of early Syriac Christianity are to be found in middle-Platonic thought and not in some sentimental theory of Jewish Aramaic origins.

Another group of articles in this collection dealt with Marcion and the Marcionites who were competitors of Bardaisan and the Manichaeans as well as Ephrem of Syria. In articles which have yet to receive serious consideration in early Christian studies, Drijvers, correctly I would argue, identified Marcion's philosophical system as dependent upon a particular middle-Platonic perspective.This analysis which goes against the standard fare found in generations of textbooks on early Christianity will require significant re-examination of the relevant texts.

The third branch of the collection presents two of Drijver's most controversial articles.These deal with Manichaeism.What has offended many scholars of Syriac studies, although few have made serious efforts to present arguments to the contrary, is the identification of the Doctrina Addai as a "Christian" response to the challenge posed by a letter of Mani to Manichaean believers at Edessa rather than a treatise reporting on the evangelization of Edessa by one of the Apostles. …