Book Review From Ephrem to Romanos: Interactions between Syriac and Greek in Late Antiquity / Sebastian Brock

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Book Review
From Ephrem to Romanos: Interactions between Syriac and Greek in Late Antiquity

Sebastian Brock. From Ephrem to Romanos: Interactions between Syriac and Greek in Late Antiquity. Variorum Collected Studies Series CS664. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing, 1999. Pp. xi + 352. $106.95.
Those who are familiar with the work of Professor Sebastian Brock will not be surprised to learn that this is his third volume of essays in the Collected Studies Series. The previous volumes, Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity (1984) and Studies in Syriac Christianity (1992), covered a range of topics and interests that, in a majority of cases, have come to be defined by Brock’s pioneering scholarship. The present collection is organized around such a topic that has occupied much of Brock’s research in recent years: the interaction between Greek and Syriac literary cultures. Following this category, one finds essays that deal with texts and genres of writing. Especially well represented is the extensive literature of dialogues and disputes, a flourishing genre in Syriac, with Sumero-Babylonian antecedents. Here, too, Brock’s own prodigious scholarship defines the field. Essays on a selection of wider issues complete the volume.
Chapter 1 traverses the complex intersections between language and geography in the eastern Roman Empire, where Greek continued to function as the language of political power, but where major dialects of Aramaic (Nabataean, Palmyrene, Emesan Hatran, and Syriac) reasserted themselves around the beginning of the common era. Recent discoveries of Syriac mosaic inscriptions confirm the ethnic, linguistic, and political links among these dialects and the populations who used them.
Chapter 2 surveys the textual tradition and underlying interests of the founding legend of Edessene Christianity, the “Teaching of Addai”; first recorded by Eusebius, and expanded in subsequent Syriac recensions. Closely related is the matter of the obscure origins of Syriac-speaking Christianity, specifically, whether Christianity arrived in Edessa by way of missionaries from Greek-speaking Antioch, the position defended by Hans J. W. Drijvers, or if it made its way across western Syria in Aramaic, as Brock has consistently argued.
In chapter 3, Brock maps the intellectual and literary trajectories between the thought-world of the Syriac East and the Britain of Theodore of Tarsus. Sparked by a period of flourishing activity in the seventh century, the use of Syriac spread [End Page 115] to areas west of the Euphrates where it continued to develop lexically even as the prestige and influence of Greek were expanding in the region.
Chapter 4, “From Ephrem to Romanos,” the title-essay of the volume, proposes areas of literary interaction between Syriac and Greek. Brock demonstrates the debt of Romanos, an author of Jewish origins in bilingual Emesa, to Syriac literary sources. Following both Maas and Peterson, Brock locates the antecedent of the Greek kontakion in the Syriac madrasha.
Chapters 5 through 9 treat a variety of metrical compositions, verse homilies (mimre), and dispute poems, all areas into which Brock has spearheaded research: chap. 5, “Ephrem’s Verse Homily on Jonah”; chap. 6, “Two Syriac Verse Homilies on the Binding of Isaac”; chap. 7, “Syriac Dispute Poems”; chap. 8, “A Dispute of the Months and Some Related Syriac Texts”; and chap. 9, “Tales of Two Beloved Brothers: Syriac Dialogue between Body and Soul.” Monastic exegetical concerns fuel the debate in “The Baptist’s Diet in Syriac Sources,” in chapter 10. Chapter 11 explores unique East Syrian treatments of the ever-popular and widespread legend of the Finding of the Cross.
The seventh-century Syriac monastic writer Isaac of Nineveh, the subject of a recent monograph by Brock (The Wisdom of St. Isaac the Syrian, 1997) is the focus of chapter 12, “Some Uses of the Term Theoria in the Writings of Isaac of Nineveh.” Brock charts the expanding semantic range of theoria among Syriac ascetical writers who borrowed the term from Evagrius, and then developed it to accommodate their unique understanding of the spiritual life.
Chapters 13 and 14 are concerned with the role played by Syriac in the transmission of Greek philosophical and medical texts into Arabic. Brock demonstrates how the use of Syriac to bridge Greek and Arabic greatly increased as a result of growing Arab interest in philosophical and medical texts from the ninth century onwards.
Chapter 15 considers the phenomenon of Syriac lexical borrowings from Greek as one measure of the growing influence of Greek on Syriac, especially in the sixth and seventh centuries when Greek increasingly served as the model for Syriac authors who adopted Greek genres, types of syntax, and even vocabulary. The result could be as obscure to readers of Syriac as it was to readers of Greek.
Chapter 15 fittingly closes the collection with the essay “The Scribe Reaches Harbor,” in which Brock examines this distinctive nautical topos employed by Greek and Latin scribes, but whose earliest attestations are in Syriac.
In this volume, some of the most recent and defining work of Professor Brock’s career, heretofore often available only with difficulty outside Europe or the Middle East, is conveniently gathered. However, at over a hundred dollars, the price will be prohibitive to many, including graduate students, who could profit most from this valuable resource.
Joseph P. Amar 
University of Notre Dame