Advanced Syriac Text Seminar [MEDS 6922]

Course Status: 
CEU code: 
MEDS 6922
CEU credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
9 Jan 2012 - 31 Jan 2012
Non-degree Specialization: 
EMS—Advanced Certificate in Eastern Mediterranean Studies
István Perczel
Required Readings Link: 
Sebastian Brock, An Introduction to Syriac Studies (Piscataway NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006)
Sebastian Brock, A Brief Outline of Syriac Literature /Mōrān ‘Eth’ō; 9/ (Kottayam, India: SEERI, 1997)
The New Testament in Syriac (London: The British and Foreign Bible Society, 1955)
George A. Kiraz, Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels Aligning the Sinaiticus, Curetonianus, Peshîṭtâ & Ḥarklean Versions. Volume Four: John (Leiden : Brill, 1996)
A. Hahn & F. R. Sieffert, Chrestomathia Syriaca sive S. Ephraemi Carmina Selecta (Leipzig: O. Vogel, 1825)
J. Payne Smith, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary (Oxford: The University Press, 1902; reprint: Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999)
Learning Outcomes: 
This course has a number of aims: 1. to confirm and improve the knowledge of Classical Syriac of those students who have taken the Classical Syriac beginner’s class in the Fall semester and of those who have studied Syriac for a longer time; 2. to introduce students to some of the classics written in Classical Syriac ; 3. to acquire the necessary reading skills; 4. to get acquainted with Classical Syriac culture. By the end of the semester the students will have acquired such reading and understanding skills that would enable them to read Classical Syriac texts independently.
Assessment : 
The performance of the students will be assessed on the basis of their preparation and participation in the classes

The course aims at introducing the students to Classical Syriac language and culture. It will provide reading skills that can be easily developed in the future and, also, give the necessary conceptual toolbox for further studies. 

We will start the readings with the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel according to the Peshitto version. During this section of the class, questions of grammar, philology and literature will be discussed, so that the students will get an appropriate commentary on the texts. For the Gospel text a comparison with the Greek textual variants and the other two Syriac translations (Old Syriac [Evangelion damfarrēšē] and the Ḥarklean version) will be made.  This comparative reading will show the fluctuation of the Syriac text tradition and raise the question of the origins of the Gospel according to Saint John. Was the first Syriac translation made on the basis of a Greek original, or was their an Aramaic original to both? While the majority of scholars is opting for the first versions, there have been a minority holding to the second. However, those opting for the second version have often forwarded completely unscientific arguments. During the course the question of what kind of methodology should be applied to treat this problem and what the value of the Syriac witnesses is for the textual criticism of the Gospels will be touched upon without deeply entering into this issue.   

In the second part of the course hymns of Saint Ephrem the Syrian (c. 306-373 AD), perhaps the greatest among the poets who have written their poetry in Classical Syriac, will be read. This part of the class will introduce the students to poetry, metrics and the role of Saint Ephrem in the Syriac tradition, as well as to his thought.

The editions for use have not been selected according to their merit as critical editions, but in view of providing an easily readable text printed in the Serṭō script and fully vocalised. The exception to this rule is George Kiraz’s interlinear edition of the Gospel according to Saint John, which is the best tool for the intended comparative studies.


The methodology will be the simple classical methodology of text reading. Each student will read a section of the text aloud and will translate it. The instructor will then correct the translation and the questions relative to the given section will be discussed.

Conditions of Participation and Requirements

The condition for the participation is basic reading skills and a certain knowledge of Syriac grammar. It is required that students thoroughly prepare for each reading class.

The literature will be provided by the instructor.