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The History of Mar Behnam and Sarah


Martyrdom and Monasticism in Medieval Iraq


Edited and Translated by Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent & Kyle Smith
The History of Mar Behnam and Sarah tells the story of two siblings who convert to Christianity under the tutelage of Mar Mattai, a monastic leader and wonderworker from the Roman Empire. In this volume, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent and Kyle Smith provide the first critical edition and English translation of this fascinating martyrdom narrative.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-3914-5
Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Sep 9,2018
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 166
Languages: English, Syriac
ISBN: 978-1-4632-3914-5
$58.00
$34.80

The History of Mar Behnam and Sarah tells the story of two siblings who convert to Christianity under the tutelage of Mar Mattai, a monastic leader and wonderworker from the Roman Empire. After the children refuse to worship pagan gods, they are killed by their own father, the Persian king. Strangely, he is identified as Sennacherib the Assyrian, a pre-Christian ruler better known from the biblical Book of Kings. This is not the only chronological oddity with the text. Although Behnam and Sarah is set in the fourth century, during the golden age of martyrdom in the Sasanian Empire, the text was not composed until hundreds of years later. The composition of the narrative about the two martyrs seems to have coincided with the construction of a twelfth-century shrine that was built in their honor by Syrian Orthodox monks on the Nineveh Plain, near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The beautiful martyrium, which housed intricate relief sculptures and inscriptions in several languages, was an important pilgrimage site for Christians, Muslims, and Yezidis until it was destroyed in 2015.

In this volume of the “Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac” series, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent and Kyle Smith provide the first critical edition and English translation of this fascinating martyrdom narrative, a text that was once widely popular among numerous communities throughout the Middle East. 

The History of Mar Behnam and Sarah tells the story of two siblings who convert to Christianity under the tutelage of Mar Mattai, a monastic leader and wonderworker from the Roman Empire. After the children refuse to worship pagan gods, they are killed by their own father, the Persian king. Strangely, he is identified as Sennacherib the Assyrian, a pre-Christian ruler better known from the biblical Book of Kings. This is not the only chronological oddity with the text. Although Behnam and Sarah is set in the fourth century, during the golden age of martyrdom in the Sasanian Empire, the text was not composed until hundreds of years later. The composition of the narrative about the two martyrs seems to have coincided with the construction of a twelfth-century shrine that was built in their honor by Syrian Orthodox monks on the Nineveh Plain, near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The beautiful martyrium, which housed intricate relief sculptures and inscriptions in several languages, was an important pilgrimage site for Christians, Muslims, and Yezidis until it was destroyed in 2015.

In this volume of the “Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac” series, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent and Kyle Smith provide the first critical edition and English translation of this fascinating martyrdom narrative, a text that was once widely popular among numerous communities throughout the Middle East. 

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Contributor Biography

Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent

Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent (Ph.D., Brown University, 2009) is a scholar of Syriac Studies and Early Christianity, with special interests in hagiography and sacred narrative.

Kyle Smith

Kyle Smith is an assistant professor of Historical Studies and Religion at the University of Toronto.

Acknowledgments (vii) 
Map (ix) 
Introduction (1)
   Summary of the Text (6) 
   Historicity and Origins (16) 
   Literary Context (20) 
   Editions, Translations, and Manuscripts (26)
      Editions (26)
      Translations (26) 
      Manuscripts (27) 
      Further Notes on the Manuscripts and Apparatus (34)
   Stemma (38) 
   Synopsis (38)
Text and Translation (43) 
Bibliography (141) 
   Primary Sources (141) 
   Secondary Sources (142)
Index of Biblical References (151)
Index of People and Places (153)

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