The Bible, the Quran, and Their Interpretation: Syriac Perspectives

By Bertaina, David | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2017 | Go to article overview

The Bible, the Quran, and Their Interpretation: Syriac Perspectives


Bertaina, David, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The Bible, the Quran, and Their Interpretation: Syriac Perspectives. Edited by CORNELIA HORN. Eastern Mediterranean Texts and Contexts, vol. 1. Warwick, RI: ABELIAN ACADEMIC, 2013. Pp. xix + 271. S24.95 (paper).

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. …

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