Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Jeff Childers: Chrysostom in Syriac Dress

John Chrysostom’s Exegetical Homilies on the Gospel of John were translated into Syriac in the fifth century and enjoyed great popularity in Syriac-speaking churches. As instances of cross-cultural reception and recontextualization, they put the voice of the Golden Mouth into an oriental idiom, drawing him into various conversations that were fundamental to the development of the Syriac heritage. His impact on that heritage is signalled by the number of Syriac manuscripts containing the Homilies, predominantly of the 6th–7th century and significantly predating the existing Greek evidence, the controversy alleged to have surrounded his exegetical legacy in the Syriac Church of the East (i.e. “Nestorians”), and his continuing Nachleben in the broader Syriac interpretive, ascetic, and liturgical traditions. The Homilies are saturated with biblical citation and exposition, supplying early evidence pertinent to the rich Syriac biblical tradition and illuminating the ways in which Greek Antiochene exegesis was being appropriated into oriental Christian communities. The Syriac Homilies have even been heralded as a principal source of evidence for a pre-canonical form of the Greek text of John’s Gospel.

Despite the remarkable age and inherent richness of the texts, only preliminary studies have been done so far. Indeed, it has only recently become possible to gain access to portions of the extant Syriac evidence in Damascus, and due to recent work, it has also now become possible to identify previously unknown manuscripts and fragments containing portions of the text and to “reunite” formerly separated portions of important early evidence from Sinai that had been scattered across Europe. This paper briefly presents the results of a thorough analysis of these texts, including those having recently come to light, in order to clarify their significance as early evidence for Chrysostom’s Homilies and for multiple avenues of other research across a wide range of interests in Greek and Syriac patristics.

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