"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Late Antique Historiography

Ever since I began reading the greatest Byzantine liturgical historian Robert Taft, especially his article "Eastern Presuppositions and Western Liturgical Renewal," I have been increasingly fascinated with historiographical questions. Too often today many in the Christian East have "invented" a version of history that bears little relation to reality, and the process of how they do that, and even more the reasons why, are fascinating indeed. As Taft says in his article, he has often been tempted to write a book called "Inventing Eastern Orthodoxy," one chapter of which would be "Inventing Eastern Liturgy."

Other scholars who have recently treated such question include the Anglo-Canadian Margaret MacMillan (author of the wonderfully thrilling Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World) in her short but important book Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History (Modern Library Chronicles). Such questions are inescapable in the Christian East and have profound bearing on many matters of great importance, not least the search for East-West unity, as David Bentley Hart, inter alia, has argued with great persuasiveness, or the search for Oriental-Byzantine Orthodox unity, as Kenneth Yossa has cogently demonstrated. Questions of historical method and hermeneutics are front and centre in the on-going struggle to describe and understand relations between Eastern Christians and Muslims.

Now a recently published  book has emerged to look at just these sorts of questions:  Arietta Papaconstantinou, Muriel Debie, Hugh Kennedy, eds.,  Writing 'True Stories': Historians and Hagiographers in the Late-Antique and Medieval Near East (Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages) (Brepols, 2010), 240pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us:

The papers in this volume examine the interaction between history and hagiography in the late-antique and medieval Middle East, exploring the various ways in which the two genres were used and combined to analyse, interpret, and recreate the past. The contributors focus on the circulation of motifs between the two forms of writing and the modifications and adaptations of the initial story that such re-use entailed. Beyond this purely literary question, the retold stories are shown to have been at the centre of a number of cultural, political, and religious strategies, as they were appropriated by different groups, not least by the nascent Muslim community. Writing 'True Stories' also foregrounds the importance of some Christian hagiographical motifs in Muslim historiography, where they were creatively adapted and subverted to define early Islamic ideals of piety and charisma.

I look forward to seeing this reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...