"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).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Missionary Stories and Syriac Churches

We are living in boom times for the study of Syriac Christianity--relative, of course, to the previous neglect. A pioneering generation of scholars--Sidney Griffith, Sebastian Brock, Susan Ashbrook Harvey and others--is still around, but as they age they have fortunately have been training a younger generation, several of whom I have met, including the author of this forthcoming study, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, who finished her doctorate under Harvey at Brown University and for the last few years has been teaching at Marquette. I met Saint-Laurent at a conference in Washington, DC in 2011 and she was very lovely and gracious. Her scholarly acumen is matched by a deep faith from what I could tell, and Marquette is thus very lucky to have her.

Set for release in the middle of next month is her Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches (U California Press, 2015, 232pp).
About this book the publisher tells us:
Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches analyzes the hagiographic traditions of seven missionary saints in the Syriac heritage during late antiquity: Thomas, Addai, Mari, John of Ephesus, Simeon of Beth Arsham, Jacob Baradaeus, and Ahudemmeh. Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent studies a body of legends about the missionaries’ voyages in the Syrian Orient to illustrate their shared symbols and motifs. Revealing how these texts encapsulated the concerns of the communities that produced them, she draws attention to the role of hagiography as a malleable genre that was well-suited for the idealized presentation of the beginnings of Christian communities. Hagiographers, through their reworking of missionary themes, asserted autonomy, orthodoxy, and apostolicity for their individual civic and monastic communities, positioning themselves in relationship to the rulers of their empires and to competing forms of Christianity. Saint-Laurent argues that missionary hagiography is an important and neglected source for understanding the development of the East and West Syriac ecclesiastical bodies: the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East. Given that many of these Syriac-speaking churches remain today in the Middle East and India, with diaspora communities in Europe and North America, this work opens the door for further study of the role of saints and stories as symbolic links between ancient and modern traditions.
I'm hoping to arrange an author interview with this book once the publisher sends me a copy.

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