Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and Christian Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia

Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and Christian Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia

Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and Christian Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia

Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and Christian Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia

Synopsis

The School of Nisibis was the main intellectual center of the Church of the East in the sixth and early seventh centuries C.E. and an institution of learning unprecedented in antiquity. Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom provides a history both of the School and of the scholastic culture of the Church of the East more generally in the late antique and early Islamic periods. Adam H. Becker examines the ideological and intellectual backgrounds of the school movement and reassesses the evidence for the supposed predecessor of the School of Nisibis, the famed School of the Persians of Edessa. Furthermore, he argues that the East-Syrian ("Nestorian") school movement is better understood as an integral and at times contested part of the broader spectrum of East-Syrian monasticism.

Becker examines the East-Syrian culture of ritualized learning, which flourished at the same time and in the same place as the famed Babylonian Rabbinic academies. Jews and Christians in Mesopotamia developed similar institutions aimed at inculcating an identity in young males that defined them as beings endowed by their creator with the capacity to study. The East-Syrian schools are the most significant contemporary intellectual institutions immediately comparable to the Rabbinic academies, even as they served as the conduit for the transmission of Greek philosophical texts and ideas to Muslims in the early 'Abbasid period.

Excerpt

This book delineates an intellectual and institutional history of the scholastic culture of the Church of the East in the late antique and early Islamic periods. the primary focus will be on the School of Nisibis, the major intellectual center of the Church of the East in the sixth and early seventh centuries C.E. and an institution of learning unprecedented in antiquity. the significance of the School of Nisibis has been appreciated by some scholars, but only a few have studied its sources. However, like Nisibis itself, sitting on the border between the Roman and Sasanian Empires, the sources from the School—and Syriac studies in general— stand at the convergence of several diverse fields and therefore deserve far greater consideration.

Aside from the interest that this book may have to scholars who work in Syriac studies and on “Oriental” Christianity more broadly, it is my hope that the analysis contained herein will be of use to scholars in closely related but unfortunately often intellectually and institutionally separate fields. the study of the East-Syrian school movement promises to shed light on the development of Christian paideia in Late Antiquity, the rise of the Babylonian Jewish academies, and the background to the burgeoning Muslim intellectual culture of the early ʿAbbāsid period.

I am aware that a synthetic study such as this is premature due to the amount of foundational work that still needs to be done in the Syriac sources (such as editing of texts). I hope that my intellectual saltation from source to source and from topic to topic will be indulged by those who work within the field of Syriac studies and that this work will direct scholars of other fields towards examining the fascinating sources of the Church of the East.

The current scholarly project of erasing the false boundaries created by early Christian notions of heresy contains in its historiographical paradigm an implicit political critique of an approach to human social life that fails to accept the inevitability of difference in the past as well as in . . .

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