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Icons of the Heavenly Merchant


Ephrem and Pseudo-Ephrem in the Madrashe in Praise of Abraham of Qidun


A detailed study of a cycle of fourth-century liturgical poems, in Syriac, dedicated to a great pioneer of the Syriac ascetical tradition. Hayes analyzes its various portraits of the saint, shaded differently by Ephrem and his later imitators.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0414-3
  • *
Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Apr 26,2016
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 421
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0414-3
$187.00
$112.20

The fourth century saw a flowering of ascetic life in Mesopotamia under pioneers who coupled the ancient missionary-ascetic traditions of the Syriac speaking churches with more radical forms of withdrawal and seclusion. The life of one such pioneer, Abraham of Qidun (d. 367), illustrates both this transition and the powerful effect of such radical pursuit of holiness on the life and traditions of the churches. He was felt to be a “heavenly merchant” whose business was not in earthly wares, but in the very glory of heaven. His life inspired St. Ephrem the Syrian to compose a cycle of liturgical poetry in his praise—an icon in words, subsequently embellished and expanded by multiple imitators known to us now only as pseudo-Ephrem.

This monograph offers the first in-depth study of the madrasha cycle of 15 poems in praise of Abraham, with special attention to the intersection of rhetorical and poetic technique with changing ideals of holiness and ascetic practice. It looks closely at these works’ disputed authenticity, their lexicon, verbal devices, and structure, to open a new window on the fascinating environment, discourse, and thought of early Syriac asceticism in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. A complete English translation of the cycle appears in the appendix.

The fourth century saw a flowering of ascetic life in Mesopotamia under pioneers who coupled the ancient missionary-ascetic traditions of the Syriac speaking churches with more radical forms of withdrawal and seclusion. The life of one such pioneer, Abraham of Qidun (d. 367), illustrates both this transition and the powerful effect of such radical pursuit of holiness on the life and traditions of the churches. He was felt to be a “heavenly merchant” whose business was not in earthly wares, but in the very glory of heaven. His life inspired St. Ephrem the Syrian to compose a cycle of liturgical poetry in his praise—an icon in words, subsequently embellished and expanded by multiple imitators known to us now only as pseudo-Ephrem.

This monograph offers the first in-depth study of the madrasha cycle of 15 poems in praise of Abraham, with special attention to the intersection of rhetorical and poetic technique with changing ideals of holiness and ascetic practice. It looks closely at these works’ disputed authenticity, their lexicon, verbal devices, and structure, to open a new window on the fascinating environment, discourse, and thought of early Syriac asceticism in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. A complete English translation of the cycle appears in the appendix.

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Contributor Biography

Andrew Hayes

Andrew Hayes is assistant professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Christian Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from The Catholic University of America. He has contributed to scholarship on the less well-known compositions of St. Ephrem the Syrian.

  • Table of Contents (page 7)
  • Acknowledgments (page 11)
  • Abbreviations (page 13)
  • A Brief Explanation of Transliteration and Other Spelling Conventions (page 15)
  • Presenting and Re-Presenting Saints: An introduction to Ephrem the Syrian and Abraham of Qidun (page 17)
  • Chapter I: The Text and its Interpreters (page 45)
  • Chapter II: Pigments on the Palette: Language and Imagery in the Cycle (page 85)
  • Chapter III: The Pigments Remixed: Prominent Vocabulary and Imagery in the Second Half of the Cycle (page 125)
  • Chapter IV: Canons of Verbal Iconography: Rhetorical Devices & Polarity in the Cycle (page 143)
  • Chapter V: The Canons Re-Codified: Rhetorical Devices and Polarity in the Pseudo-Ephremian Portion (page 177)
  • Chapter VI: Rhetoric of the Madrasa: Rhetorical Strategy, Structural Patterns, and the Theology of the Icon (page 199)
  • Chapter VII: Strategy, Structure and Theology in the Icon of Pseudo-Ephrem (page 249)
  • Chapter VIII: Conclusions: Ephrem's Theology of Asceticism and Virtue (page 281)
  • Appendix A: Further charts (page 299)
  • Appendix B: Annotated Translation of the Cycle (page 323)
  • Bibliography (page 407)
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