Expanding the Archive: Syriac Literature and the Study of Early Christianity Today

Oct 1, 2020
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Erin WalshUniversity of Chicago

Through the work of editing and translating Syriac manuscripts, scholars continue to enrich our historiography of the formative centuries of Christianity. This research has been particularly fruitful in the areas of biblical interpretation, asceticism, the history of doctrine, and the role of women within the church. Dr. Walsh will provide a brief overview of these developments before focusing on the importance of poetry for biblical storytelling and spiritual formation. Using examples from the poetry of Narsai and Jacob of Serugh, Dr. Walsh will explore the ways poets inherited the legacy of Ephrem and applied their own artistic brilliance to articulate a Christian worldview, exhorting believers to live with fervent faith both in their own time and today.

Professor Walsh has generously assembled a bibliography of additional resources and introductory readings for Syriac Studies:


  • Brock, Sebastian P. The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1985. 
  • Brock, Sebastian P. An Introduction to Syriac Studies. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006.
  • Brock, Sebastian P. and Susan Ashbrook Harvey. Holy Women of the Syrian Orient. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. o Also see the Gorgias Press website for the published translations of mēmrē by Jacob of Serugh and Narsai! 
  • Harvey, Susan Ashbrook. “Spoken Words, Voiced Silence: Biblical Women in Syriac Tradition.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 9, no. 1 (2001): 105-131. 
  • Harvey, Susan Ashbrook. “Revisiting the Daughters of the Covenant: Women’s Choirs and Sacred Song in Ancient Syriac Christianity.” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 8, no. 2 (2005): 125-149. 
  • Van Rompay, Lucas. “Past and Present Perceptions of Syriac Literary Tradition.” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 3, no. 1 (2000): 71-103. 
  • Van Rompay, Lucas. “Society and Community in the Christian East.” In The Cambridge Companion to Justinian, edited by Michael Maas, 239-266. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 
  • Wickes, Jeffrey. Bible and Poetry in Late Antique Mesopotamia: Ephrem’s Hymns on Faith (University of California Press, 2019). o UC Press is an important publisher for research on early Christianity and Syriac literature 

Websites and Online Resources – many of these organizations are on social media! 

  • Gorgias Press and Beth Mardutho o They also publish Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 
  • Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of Syriac Heritage – edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay 
  • Hill Museum and Manuscript Library o Follow the Syriac Manuscript Cataloger, Dr. James Walters on Twitter 
  • – The Syriac Reference Portal 
  • - The Annotated Bibliography of Syriac Resources Online 
  • Hebrew University’s Comprehensive Bibliography of Syriac Christianity 
  • To learn more about the contemporary study of ancient Judaism and Christianity, read and follow the web journal, Ancient Jew Review 


Eastern Catholic Theology in Action

Distinct in their liturgy, theology, spirituality, and discipline of Church life, 23 Eastern Churches are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council urged the Eastern Catholic Churches to cultivate and promote their unique share of the tradition. This series responds to that mandate and features leading scholars in the field to offer their theological perspectives drawn from the wisdom of Christian East. In view of broadening our understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition, this series draws attention to the vantage points of Christians who worship, think, and pray in continuity with the first 1,000 years of the undivided Church.

This series is co-presented with the Godbearer Institute and co-sponsored by the Beatrice Institute, the Calvert House Catholic Center, the Catholic Theological Union, the Institute for Faith and Culture, God With Us Online, the Harvard Catholic Forum, the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, the Nova Forum, the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, the Saint Benedict Institute, the St. Paul University Catholic CenterSt. Stephen Byzantine Catholic Church, and the Tabor Life Institute.


Upcoming Series Lectures:

Thursday, November 12, 7 p.m. CDT
Quo Vadis: the Direction of Eastern Catholic Theology, a Pastoral Perspective for the 21st Century | Archbishop Borys Gudziak (Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA)

Erin Walsh is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature in the University of Chicago Divinity School. She studies ancient and late antique Christianity with a focus on Syriac language and literature. Her current research focuses on the reception of biblical literature and the growth of asceticism within the eastern Roman and Persian Empires. Dr. Walsh is working on a book project examining the Nachleben of unnamed New Testament women in Syriac and Greek poetry, highlighting the work of Narsai of Nisibis, Jacob of Serugh, and Romanos Melodos. She teaches and writes upon a variety of topics in New Testament literature, the history of Biblical interpretation, Syriac language and literature, embodied practices, religious poetry, and multilingualism in the late antique and early Byzantine east. She is an affiliated faculty member with the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. During the 2018-2019 academic year, she was a Junior Fellow in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University. Professor Walsh also serves as the Executive Editor for Christianity at Ancient Jew Review, a non-profit web journal devoted to the interdisciplinary study of ancient Judaism.