"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).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Epistolary Sanctity

In March of this year, the University of Pennsylvania released a paperback version of a book originally published in 2004:

Derek Krueger, Writing and Holiness: The Practice of Authorship in the Early Christian East (U Penn Press, 2011), 312pp,

Krueger, editor of Byzantine Christianity (People's History of Christianity), has done important work on the concept of "holy fools" in Byzantium, including his book Symeon the Holy Fool: Leontius's Life and the Late Antique City.

About this book, whose table of contents may be viewed here, the publisher tells us:
Drawing on comparative literature, ritual and performance studies, and the history of asceticism, Derek Krueger explores how early Christian writers came to view writing as salvific, as worship through the production of art. Exploring the emergence of new and distinctly Christian ideas about authorship in late antiquity, Writing and Holiness probes saints' lives and hymns produced in the Greek East to reveal how the ascetic call to imitate Christ's humility rendered artistic and literary creativity problematic. In claiming authority and power hagiographers appeared to violate the saintly practices that they sought to promote. Christian writers meditated within their texts on these tensions and ultimately developed a new set of answers to the question "What is an author?"
Each of the texts examined here used writing as a technique for the representation of holiness. Some are narrative representations of saints that facilitate veneration; others are collections of accounts of miracles, composed to publicize a shrine. Rather than viewing an author's piety as a barrier to historical inquiry, Krueger argues that consideration of writing as a form of piety opens windows onto new modes of practice. He interprets Christian authors as participants in the religious system they described, as devotees, monastics, and faithful emulators of the saints, and he shows how their literary practice integrated authorship into other Christian practices such as asceticism, devotion, pilgrimage, liturgy, and sacrifice. In considering the distinctly literary contributions to the formation of Christian piety in late antiquity, Writing and Holiness uncovers Christian literary theories with implications for both Eastern and Western medieval literatures.
This book puts me in mind of a forthcoming volume in August to which I am eagerly looking forward: Robin Darling Young and Monica Blanchard, eds., To Train His Soul in Books: Syriac Asceticism in Early Christianity (CUA Studies in Early Christianity) (August 2011), 248pp.

About this book, Catholic University of America Press tells us:
Flourishing from the inland cities of Syria down through the Tigris and Euphrates valley, Syriac speakers in late antiquity created a new and often brilliant expression of Christian culture. Although the origins of their traditions are notoriously difficult to trace, authors of fourth-century Syrian communities achieved sophisticated forms of expression whose content little resembles the Christian culture of their neighbors to the west. From the fourth through the seventh centuries they achieved religious works of great beauty and complexity.
Increasing interest in Syriac Christianity has prompted recent translations and studies. To Train His Soul in Books explores numerous aspects of this rich religious culture, extending previous lines of scholarly investigation and demonstrating the activity of Syriac-speaking scribes and translators busy assembling books for the training of biblical interpreters, ascetics, and learned clergy.
Befitting an intensely literary culture, it begins with the development of Syriac poetry--the genre beloved by Ephrem and other, anonymous authors. It considers the long tradition of Aramaic and Syriac words for the chronic condition of sin, and explores the dimensions of the immense work of Syriac translators with a study of the Syriac life of Athanasius. Essays consider the activity of learned ascetics, with a proposal of the likely monastic origin of the Apocalypse of Daniel; the goal and concept of renunciation; and the changes rung by Syriac-speaking ascetics on the daily reality of housekeeping.
Also included in the volume are two essays on the influence of Syriac literary culture on Greek traditions, and in turn ascetic life. Finally, an original poem in Syriac demonstrates the continuing vitality of this culture, both in its homeland and in the Diaspora.
These essays seek to extend and honor the work of renowned scholar and pillar of the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages at the Catholic University of America, Sidney H. Griffith.
I look forward to having both of these 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...