Plenary Lectures

Plenary Lectures

Sunday, June 16, 5:30pm

"Cities, disciples, and virgins as symbols of the church in Ephrem's Hymns on Virginity."

Kathleen E. McVey, Princeton Theological Seminary
Kathleen E. McVey is J. Ross Stevenson Professor of Church History, Emerita, at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Her research interests extend to the intellectual, spiritual and social engagement of early Christians with their cultural contexts within the Roman Empire and beyond.  Presently her focus is on St. Ephrem's writings in the wider framework of Greek and Syriac Christian literature.

In his Hymns on Virginity, Ephrem weaves a tapestry of symbols to represent the church in its many dimensions.  Cities, lands, and other important places mentioned in Scripture and personages associated with them in both Testaments figure in these hymns.  For example, the personified city of Shechem represents the Church of the Gentiles.  Into three hymns (Virg 17-19), Ephrem weaves virtually every figure associated with this city and its environs in the Torah.  They are also linked with prominent figures and events from the New Testament - in this case, the woman of Samaria who spoke with Jesus at Jacob's well.  He also embeds into the hymns many notions of holy place current in his fourth-century Christian world, and he links them with Biblical symbols of the presence of a holy God such as the Ark.  In subtle - and sometimes not so subtle - ways, Ephrem's reading tilts the entire Biblical narrative away from Judah and Judea toward Ephraim and Manasseh and the lands they inherited so that both Jews and Gentiles have equal roots in Hebrew Scripture and, consequently, equal standing in the Church.

Monday, June 17, 11:00am

"Syriac Manuscripts, New Philology and the Ethics of Textual Scholarship"

Liv Ingebord Lied, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society
Liv Ingeborg Lied is Professor of Religious Studies at MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo.  She specializes in the Christian transmission history of early Jewish texts.  She is currently finishing a book about the engagement with 2 Baruch among Syriac Christians, taking the manuscripts that contain this text as her point of departure.  Lied is the author of The Other Lands of Israel: Imaginations of the Land in 2 Baruch (Brill, 2008) and co-editor of the volumes Snapshots of Evolving Traditions: Jewish and Christian Manuscript Culture, Textual Fluidity, and New Philology (De Gruyter, 2017) and Bible as Notepad: Tracing Annotations and Annotation Practices in Late Antique and Medieval Biblical Manuscripts (De Gruyter, 2018).

Many of the writings scholars of early Judaism commonly ascribe to Jewish antiquity are only preserved in manuscripts produced much later by Christian communities.  This is the case for most texts categorized as Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, as well as for writings associated with Josephus and Philo.  Thus, when we study these writings, we depend on the cultural products of other communities than those to which we ascribe the texts.  On many occassions, these other communities were Christian minority communities in the Middle East.  We know these writings because members of these communities copied them and cared for the manuscripts that contain them.  And frequently, these manuscripts continue to matter to their stewards today.  In short, the manuscripts in which we find these texts are someone else's manuscripts.  They belonged to someone, they mattered to someone and they are part of cultural heritage discourses among contemporary communities.

The predominantly medieval, Christian manuscript transmission of early Jewish texts has been recognized as a methodological challenge to the study of Jewish antiquity since the 1950s, but the ethical challenges are still going under the radar.  Inspired by the New Philology, and exploring the Syriac manuscripts that preserve the (assumedly 1st/2nd century, Jewish) writings 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra, this paper invites you to join in an interdisciplinary conversation about the ethics of applying medieval Syriac manuscripts solely to gain access to early Jewish texts.  How can textual scholars treat expressions of historical manuscript-steward relationships and traceable aspects of them in surviving manuscripts?  How can we relate to expressions of contemporary manuscript-steward relationships, often expressed as heritage claims? And, how do we deal with the complexities of potential multiple claims, acknowledging the material heritage of the manuscript producing party, without simultaneously erasing the traces of Jewish, immaterial, pasts?

Monday, June 17, 5:45pm

"Discovering a New World in the Old: Revealing, Preserving, and Sharing the Syriac Manuscript Heritage in the Near East and India."

Columba Stewart, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John's University
Columba Stewart is the Executive Director of the Hill Museum and Monastery Library (HMML) and Professor of Theology at Saint John's School of Theology and Seminary, Collegeville, MN.  Since 2003 FR. Columba has overseen the expansion of HMML's manuscript preservation projects from one project in Lebanon to projects located in more than a dozen countries.  HMML has given priority to preserving the manuscript collections of persecuted or endangered minorities, and has conducted quiet but extensive projects to digitize the manuscripts belonging to remnants of the Armenian and Syriac Christian communities that survived the 1915-1922 massacres in Turkey.  Since 2009, FR. Columba has been working with Iraqi church leaders to digitize manuscripts displaced by war and its aftermath.  Under his leadership, HMML has developed vHmml Reading Room, which allows registered users to browse free of charge tens of thousands of digitized manuscripts from HMML's projects.  Most of these are otherwise inaccessible, and many have been relocated or even destroyed in recent conflicts.  The author of numerous scholarly publications in early Christian monasticism, Fr. Columboa's current book project is titled, "Between Earth and Heaven: Interpreting the Origins of Christian Asceticism and Monasticism." 

Since 2003 the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, has been partnering with Syriac-tradition communities throughout the Near East and South India to digitize, catalog, and share their manuscript heritage. HMML’s work with Syriac manuscripts is part of a broader effort that began on the eve of the US-led invasion of Iraq and continued throughout subsequent tragedies, particularly the rise of Daesh (ISIS) in 2014, when Christians were uprooted from Mosul and villages throughout the Nineveh plain.

The result has been the digitization of more than 15,000 Syriac and Garshuni manuscripts from five countries (India, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey) and the Old City of Jerusalem. These include manuscripts from the Chaldean Catholic, Malankara Orthodox, Maronite, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syro-Malabar Catholic and Syro-Malankara Catholic traditions. Together these represent a largely unstudied array of manuscript material complementing the well-known collections in Europe and North America. Most of these manuscripts were previously inaccessible to scholars. In recent years some collections have been moved or hidden because of war, while others have been destroyed. Complete digital versions are now coming online through vHMML Reading Room, with more than 4000 Syriac manuscripts already freely accessible.

This presentation will provide an overview of the projects, introduce the major partners, and suggest ways in which these manuscripts may provide new paths into the many “Syriac worlds.”

Tuesday, June 18, 9:00am

"Local Knowledge: The Order of the World at the End of Late Antiquity"

Ellen Muehlberger
Ellen Muehlberger is Associate Professor of Christianity in late antiquity in the departments of Middle East Studies and History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on ancient history, contemporary religious traditions, scholarly methods, and Coptic and Syriac language.  Muehlberger has edited Practice, a 2017 collection of newly-translated primary sources about early Christian education, asceticism, and reading for the series Cambridge Editions of Early Christian Writings, and her new book, Moment of Reckoning: Imagined Death and Its Consequences in Late Ancient Christianity, will appear with Oxford in Spring 2019.

In studies of late ancient knowing, the notion of empire frequently structures the investigation.  In the last ten years, scholars have written on how knowledge production aids the exercise and maintenance of imperial power, how intellectual networks grow and wither along lines of imperial influence, and more specifically, how the prospect of order in knowledge is related to Roman identity.  In Jacob of Edessa, we meet a writer on the periphery of all this, both temporally and geographically - working at the latest edge of the period known as "late antiquity" and far in the eastern reaches of a seemingly shrinking world.  His situation invites us to consider the production and preservation of knowledge apart from empire.  Jacob's massive work On the Six Days, left unfinished at his death, is an open catalog of what can be known.  In it, camels mingle with angels and birds; meterology sits alongside geography and biology.  On the Six Days reads differently, and reflects a different world, when it is considered an artifact of local knowledge, read apart from the traces of empire.  To comprehend its ambitions will be to expand the study of ancient knowledge beyond its implicit imperial, Mediterraean, and classical frames.

Tuesday, June 18, 6:00pm

"Big Data About Little Things: Digital Paleography and Syriac Manuscripts."

Michael Penn
Michael Penn is the Teresa Hihn Moore Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University.  He is the author of Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church; Envisioning Islam: Syriac Christians in the Early Muslim World; and When Christians First Met Muslims: A Source Book of the Earliest Syriac Writings on Islam.  His current projects include digital paleography, helping compile a source book of Syriac literature, a social network analysis of Thomas of Marga's Book of Governors, and a study on the "social lives" of Syriac manuscripts.

The Digital Analysis of Syriac Handwriting project is a set of on-line paleographical tools that can assist specialists in their study of Syriac manuscripts.  It contains images from thousands of securely dated manuscript pages and almost 100,000 hand-trimmed individual letter forms with associated metadata.  This image database connects to a robust on-line manuscript viewer and an automatic script chart generator helping researchers estimate a given manuscript's composition date and trace-out the development of Syriac script.  This public launch will not only introduce conference participants to a new digital paleography tool.  It will also present some of the first research results obtained through its use as well as solicit suggestions for future avenues of project development. 

Wednesday, June 19, 11:00am

"The Reception and After-Life of the Teaching of Addai." 

David G.K. Taylor, Oxford University 
David Taylor is Associate Professor of Aramaic and Syriac, and Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Oxford.  His primary research interests are in Syriac language, history, and literature, and in language contact in the Late Antique Near East.  In addition to a number of critical editions of Syriac texts, he co-authored with Sebastian P. Brock the three-volume work, The Hidden Pearl: the Syriac Orthodox Church and its Ancient Aramaic Heritage (Trans World Film Italia, 2001; published in multiple languages).  He has published studies on multilingualism diglossia in Late Antique Syria and Mesopotamia, Syriac Christology, and a diversity of other topics.  He is currently producing editions of early Syriac Gospel texts, and of the sixth-century Psalter commentary of Daniel of Salah.  

Abstract Forthcoming