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Contextualising Syriac anathema: bridging the gap between suggestions of comparison in late antique and nineteenth century Christian ritual practice

Contextualising Syriac anathema: bridging the gap between suggestions of comparison in late antique and nineteenth century Christian ritual practice
Contextualising Syriac anathema: bridging the gap between suggestions of comparison in late antique and nineteenth century Christian ritual practice
‘Thus I beheld, at last, the goal of my journey from Luristan, and was not disappointed. Glorious indeed is this Kurdistan world of mountains, piled up in masses of peaks and precipices, cleft by ravines in which the Ashirets and Yezides find shelter, every peak snow-crested, every ravine flaming with autumn hints; and here, where the ridges are the sharpest, and the rock spires are the imposing, is the latest refuge of a Church once the most powerful in the East’.1Isabella Lucy Bird was one of a number of travel writers and missionaries, whose attraction to the allure of the Orient or whose sense of evangelical mission, had led them to traverse the mountainous and largely impervious regions of Northern Kurdistan in the Nineteenth-Century. Her travel diaries, like so many of the accounts of this Kurdish world of mountainous peaks and precipices, would describe a land of ‘antique heritage’, one which had been isolated as a consequence of its physical geography, and insulated from the influences of the Mesopotamian plains by the ‘fierce behaviour’ and ‘lawless habits’ of its marauding Kurdish tribes. 2 Up there in the mountains of Kurdistan was a window into what was perceived to have been a far older Mesopotamia; a landscape which in its antiquity “presented to the eye so many of the aspects of the biblical Eden”.3 Indeed, to travel through the environs north of the city of Mosul had been like ‘traversing lands of biblical scenes’, to view the mountains of Hakkari ‘like being carried back thousands of years on the wings of time’.4 This ‘Mesopotamia of the mountains’, would seem to have preserved a rich and evocative landscape for the imaginations of those familiar with the narratives and landscapes of Old Testament narratives, but as Bird and a number of other travellers were to imply, the isolation of this seemingly ‘antique’ landscape had also confined and thus preserved the remnants of an equally antique community, one which had professed a belief in Christ for Fourteen centuries.1 I. L. Bird, Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, (London: John Murray, 1891), p.286.2 E. L. Cutts, Christians under the Crescent in Asia, (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1877), p.1.3 L. Coleman, Ancient Christianity Exemplified in the Private, Domestic, Social and Civil Life of the Primitive Christians (London: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.,1852), p.5664 A. Grant, The Nestorians or the Lost Tribes: Containing Evidence of their Identity An Account of the Manner, Customs and Ceremonies (London: John Murray, 1841), p.26 and p.54iiPrefaceAccording to journal entries and missionary reports, those remnants of an antique Christian community among the mountains of Hakkari were ‘a very different people’ to those who had professed a faith in Christ upon the alluvial plains of the Mesopotamian valley; both on account of the nuances which defined their various doctrines, and the seemingly primitive quality of their customs, rituals and speech. Where the promise of association with a European power had converted a large number of those living on the Mesopotamian plains to the doctrines of Catholicism, this forbidding and largely inaccessible landscape of mountain peaks and precipices had seemed to preserve fragments not only of a distinctly Oriental Church, but of a Church which had maintained tangible links to the earliest threads of Christianity in Mesopotamia.5 Bird’s journals would describe largely ‘unintelligible conversations’ peppered with a vocabulary similar to that which had been spoken by Christ, and a variety of customs which had been a ‘touching reminiscence’ of those to be found within Old Testament narratives: the fantastically romanticised accounts of a Victorian orientalist perhaps, but Bird was by no means alone in suggesting that she found there to be ‘something strikingly biblical’ about so many of the customs and rituals of these ‘mountain Christians’. 6 Austin Layard, a contemporary and fellow traveller, would similarly assume that their ignorance of the ‘superstitions of the Church of Rome’ and their ‘more simple observances and ceremonies’, may ‘clearly be traced to a more primitive form of Christianity’; one which in its simplicity, seemed uniquely untouched by the ecumenical councils and creeds which had elsewhere defined the Christian faith during the centuries of its founding.75 Where the missions of the Catholic Church had been entirely confined to the urban areas of the Mesopotamian plains, particularly Amida or modern day Diyarbakir, the mountains of Kurdistan were seen by those 19th Century missionaries and explorers to be the last refuge of a Nestorian, and Oriental Christianity, one which had preserved links to a more primitive expression of the faith.6 Bird, (1891), p.242. The same assumptions were also made of those Jewish communities living within the remote and mountainous world of Kurdistan. Owing to the rugged nature of the area, as well as the al constant threat of brigandry on the few and potentially perilous roads which penetrated this otherwise inaccessible world of mountain peaks, the Jews of Kurdistan were assumed to have preserved a primitive, though somewhat debased expression of a more ancient Judaism. Those few Jewish travellers who visited Kurdistan in the 19th Century, such as I. J. Benjamin, would describe their regret at the shallow knowledge expressed by these communities in matters of Jewish Law, especially when compared with their relatively near metropolitan communities of Baghdad and Damascus, but also their excitement at the seemingly ancient practices and customs with which they expressed their Jewish faith. Benjamin writes of his excitement at having witnessed one seemingly biblical custom in particular, suggesting, ‘where I went during harvest time, I found a custom strictly observed by the Jews which brought to my mind the precepts of the bible. Neither the ears of corn, nor the grapes, nor fruits are wholly collected, but the portion of the widows and orphans is always left, it is even allowed to go into a ripe cornfield to break the sheaves, and there and then to boil the corn in water, but the ears of corn must not be cut, neither may they be carried away’. Practices such as these had derived from ancient oral traditions, and had been transmitted from generation to generation, rather than in learned abstract precepts. See I. J. Benjamin, Eight Years in Asia and Africa (Hannover: 1863), pp.130-131. For a more recent assessment of the ancient Biblical and Talmudic customs assumed to have been retained by Kurdistani Jews, see J. J. Rivlin, Sirat Yehude hat-Targum (Jerusalem 1959), pp.47-56.7 A. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains: A Narrative of an Expedition to Assyria, (London: John Murray, 1867), p.184. Theirs was an ancient story- one which spoke of the legacy of a man whose doctrines had rocked the Christian world in the Fifth Century. His name was Nestorius, a Patriarch of Constantinople, whose doctrines had attempted to negotiate some of the provocative questions facing the Christian church in its formative period, quite controversially, how one was to understand the humanity of Christ, and how one was to refer to his relationship to the Virgin Mary. At the firstiiiContextualising Syriac AnathemaAfter the lapse of a long history defined by schism, excommunication, Muslim conquest and more recently Catholic mission, here was a Church and a community high up in the mountains of Kurdistan whose ways spoke of the legacy of an entirely independent and ancient Oriental Christian tradition, one which had been born in the theological environment of Late Antiquity, and as a consequence, at least in part, of adhering to the beliefs of a ‘heresy’. Its preservation was deemed to have been nothing less than ‘a matter of wonder’; a story of almost unprecedented ancient Christian survival in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. 8 Yet, the romanticised narrative of these missionaries and explorers would also allude to another, rather more unfortunate reality: one which would describe how an antique Christian community, surrounded on all sides by the geographical impediments of a mountainous terrain as much as the human encumbrance of theological difference, had also been gradually worn down and steadily debased by the passing of time and as a consequence of its solitude. The commentary of Isabella Bird would describe a Christian community ‘at its lowest ebb’, ‘absolutely sunk in ignorance’ with ‘no exposition of the Bible and all worship performed in the ancient Syriac tongue’, whilst the notes of reverend George Percy Badger would similarly imply that its Bishops were ‘generally illiterate men, little versed in scripture, and thoroughly ignorant of ecclesiastical history. They [those bishops] scarcely ever preach, and whilst all of them can, of course, read the Syriac of their rituals, few thoroughly understand it’.9 Indeed, the lower orders of the clergy were described as more illiterate still, with an education for the priesthood limited to what Badger would describe as a mere ‘perusal’ of the Syriac rituals, whilst Bird’sCouncil of Ephesus (431 C.E), we are told how Nestorius spurned the theological convictions which described the Virgin Mary as ‘Theotokos’, for Mary was not the mother of the second person of the trinity as such an appellation would suggest, but the mother of Christ’s humanity- the ‘Christotokos’. Christ therefore had two natures, one corporeal and one divine, both united in one hypostasis, and it had been his physical body rather than his deity which had died and suffered on the cross. For how could it be any other way, ‘How could a mother give birth to her creator?’ and ‘If God died then who had the power to resurrect him?’ Such were the questions which would fuel perhaps one of the most potent schisms to have divided the ancient Christian world, such were the teachings and doctrines which widened the breach between a Western and Oriental Christian tradition, and it was in the mountains of Kurdistan that the tangible legacy of this breach had been preserved. It is perhaps worth noting at this point that this association with Nestorius was, and indeed continues to be for the contemporary Assyrian Church of the East, an enduring contention, given the mostly derogatory use of the term since the fifth century. John Joseph would describe how the Eastern Christians of Kurdistan, though having once identified with the designation ‘Nestorian’, were inclined to refer to themselves and their doctrine as belonging to the ‘Church of the East’, having been made aware by Christian missionaries of the derogatory connotations which the term was intended to convey. Indeed, the accounts of a Reverend Justin Perkins would describe how the habit of referring them as such had once inspired the bishop Mar Yohanan to threaten ‘we shall soon be at war, if you do not cease calling us Nestorians’; while those of Asahel Grant reported that they disliked the term largely because they never derived either their doctrines or their rites from Nestorius. ‘Nestorius’, said they ‘was not our Patriarch, but the patriarch of Constantinople. He was a Greek and we are Syrians. We do not even understand his language, nor did he ever propagate his doctrines in our territory’. The so-called ‘Nestorian’ church, which, it needs to be emphasised, actually preceded Nestorius, separated from the mother church of Antioch in the fifth century at the Merkabha Synod of 424. For further reading on the contention of the designation ‘Nestorian’, see J. Perkins, Residence of Eight Years in Persia among the Nestorian Christians with Notices of the Muhammedans (New York: 1843), p.180; A. Grant, The Nestorians or the Lost Tribes (Amsterdam: 1841), p.171; J. Joseph, The Nestorians and their Muslim Neighbours, (Princeton: 1961), p.14.8 Layard,, p.184.9 See, Bird, (1891), p.228. and G. P. Badger, The Nestorians and their Ritual: with the Narrative of a Mission to Mesopotamia and Koordistan in 1842-1844, 2 vols. (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), I, p.61.ivPrefacecommentary would describe the ‘Patriarch’s sister and two or three nuns’ as exceptions to a more general rule of female ecclesiastical illiteracy.10 These written testimonies; of Bird and Badger, but also of a number of 19th Century European commentators, would seem to emphasise an unusual disconnect between the theology and traditions of the Nestorian church, and a people who had continued to profess and maintain them through centuries of ever-increasing ignorance. Indeed, ‘few could distinguish the particular points on which they differed from other Christians’ and ‘fewer still were able to give a reason for the faith which they professed’.11 Such had been the inefficiency of its clergy; such was the general ignorance of the wider community, that the bewildering preservation of this distinct body of professing Christians was assumed to have had less to do with a thriving ecclesiastical tradition or intellectual energy, than with a culture of rites, oral tradition and ‘elaborate’ rituals which had defined this community since Late Antiquity.12Survival had evidently come at the cost of this community’s once prodigious ecclesiastical and intellectual vigour, yet to use the analogy of a husk or a shell; a culture of rites and traditions was assumed to have nevertheless preserved both a handful of Oriental Christians and the fragile kernel of an ancient Oriental Church. Corruptions may have crept past its nurturing protection, and the passing of time might have caused the delicate and more complex aspects of its intellectual heritage to steadily perish, but Layard implied: there are ‘no sects in the East and few in the West which can boast of such purity in their faith’. 13Badger’s detailed and valuable study sought to study them to understand and record the 19th Century face of a Christian creed which had seemed remarkably untouched by the interference of the Church of Rome, but if this isolated Christian community; its rites and its rituals were indeed antique, then what might these 19th century patterns of Christian religiosity tell us about the more ancient identity of this distinct and Oriental church? The scope of this study’s enquiry intends to illuminate one aspect of this ‘primitive’ culture of rights and rituals in particular; a pattern of Nestorian religious behaviour all but ignored or at least dismissed by the memoirs of Victorian explorers, as little more than the unfortunate and unsavoury expressions of the least enlightened. Indeed, just as missionaries and writers like Badger and Bird, Grant and Layard began publishing their romanticised memories of a primitive Christian Orient, a variety of the manuscripts10 ‘not a woman could read, and in the whole Nestorian region they were absolutely illiterate with the exception of the Patriarch’s sister and two or three nuns’, Ibid, p.6111 Badger, (1852), II, p.2712 Badger, (1852), I, p.6313 Layard, (1867), p.184vContextualising Syriac Anathemamany had brought with them, started to contribute to an understanding of the ‘antique’ patterns of Nestorian religious behaviour. Some alluded to formal aspects of the Church; including references to its liturgy, the principles of its theology and a variety of rich accounts of the lives of those who furnished its hagiography. But, amongst these literary traces of Nestorian Orthodoxy, were the literary traditions not only of a far more colourful but generally more complex pattern of religious belief and behaviour. 14 Collected and composed within small compendiums, these manuscripts from the environs North of Mosul described a frightening and fundamental reality: an ancient and well-documented Mesopotamian belief, that humans shared their world not only with visible and familiar expressions of creation but with a multitude of almost unfathomable and powerful supernatural entities. Consisting of various angels, myriads of spirits and entire hordes of evil demonic counterparts, these inexhaustible legions of supernatural beings not only inhabited this remote and rugged world of mountain peaks but exerted a powerful potential within it, often with important repercussions for the daily lives of their vulnerable and unsuspecting human neighbours. 15 The whim of a malevolent demon was considered sufficient to afflict a variety of the otherwise inexplicable and insufferable misfortunes, from illness and infertility, to the distressing and unexpected outcomes which arise in one’s personal and business affairs, whilst any one of a huge number of God’s angels might potentially bestow all kinds of unexpected blessings and divine favour. It was this dynamic of exchange between the material and supernatural worlds, between man and his afflictions and the supernatural inclination to inflict them, which many of these manuscripts sought to ritually negotiate and artificially manipulate, to allay and to counteract, but also to invite with either benevolent or rather more malevolent intent. 16 But to what extent were these patterns of religious behaviour; practised until as late14 By ‘colourful’ and ‘complex’, I have tried to avoid labelling them as ‘Unorthodox’ or even ‘less orthodox’ for not only are these terms culturally self-serving, but one cannot necessarily be certain of the extent to which these patterns of religious behaviour were indicative of deviant practices or part of an accepted religiosity. For Hunter’s description of these practices as ‘less Orthodox’, see E. Hunter, ‘Saints in Syriac Anathemas: A Form-Critical Analysis of Role’, Journal of Semitic Studies, 32:1, (1987), p.83.15 Nine manuscripts and Codices are available to the scholar at present, including; Mingana MSS Syr. 316, 583 (Selly Oak Library); British Library MS Or. 6673 (British Library); Sachau MS 95 (Staatsbibliothek, Berlin); Sachau MS Oct. 553 (Staatsbibliothek, Berlin); Cambridge MS Add. 3086 (University Library), Harvard MD Syr. 159 (Houghton Library, Harvard College). 16 It is perhaps with an understanding of the active verb (‘asr) ‘ܪܣܐ', so frequently articulated by the authors of these texts that one might begin to interpret this aspect of Nestorian religious behaviour, preserved in the mountains of Kurdistan. Indeed, in a world where the problems of disease, inexplicable misfortune and even the mundane frustrations like the stubbornness of an unruly cow were understood according to the demonic inclination to cause mischief and misery, these manuscripts sought to offer an equally potent supernatural solution, one which contractually bound (ܪܣܐ) but also physically incarcerated the malevolent and malicious entity with the terms of its efficacious utterances. As the modern day contract binds the signees to the terms which have been agreed and stipulated, the incantation of these texts demanded that the identified demon or malignant spirit comply with the will of its author, albeit according to the threat of potential reprisal rather than the written agreement of the offending entity. In much the same way as authority of the law and the promise of reprisal ensures that each signee honours the terms of a modern contract, so the divine power of a variety of angels, archangels and on occasion even God himself, ensured the efficacy of these incantations againstviPrefaceas the Nineteenth-Century, part of the fabric of rites and rituals assumed to have defined this Christian community since Late Antiquity?17 To what extent were these codices of written recipes for ritual incantation, indicative of an ecclesiastical dialogue with the divine and the demon, which had extended throughout the centuries? 18The questions alluded to in this preface are significant echoes of those similarly posed by Sir Herman Gollancz and his enquiry of three Syriac codices, known collectively in their 1913 publication as ‘The Book of Protection’. Indeed, in many ways the genesis of this investigation; these codices had all alluded to the premise of a similar dynamic of interaction between ‘men’ and the ‘supernatural’, all had contained a selection of varying ritual recipes with which to command the attention of the divine or to contractually bind those demonic entities synonymous with a variety of human maladies, yet for Gollancz, the true value of these texts and indeed the premise of his enquiry, was to be discerned not just from the ideas they articulated but from the language in which those ideas had been couched. To use the words of one contemporary review, ‘every kind of literature has, as it were, a language of its own; none so pronounced as that of charms and conjurations, for very old material is preserved with great tenacity, and corruptions will be transmitted from generation to generation…the more barbarous the words, the more efficacious they are deemed tothe invisible forces of adversity, all of whom are called upon to enforce cosmological justice, should the demon or malignant spirit in question be inclined or tempted to transgress. It was an and expedient solution- one which assumed that any human being, albeit one with the knowledge of divine names and celestial words of power might fight back against the supernatural cause of any adversity by commanding the culprit to stop. Within their incantations we find words believed to have been spoken by God as part of the act of creation, as well as divine names which, as formal representations of the divinity on earth, were assumed to offer the practitioner an earthly manifestation of its power. These words held much more than simple, worldly semantic meaning. These words could do things, for they were earthly articulations of divinity. Recite them correctly, as so many of these incantations do, and one might wield the divine power with which they were imbued, ensuring a harmonious and benevolent world order and with it, the elimination of all demonic woes. For further reading on the assumption of the innate power of words, especially those of the deity, see S. J. Tambiah, Culture, Thought and Social Action: An Anthropological Perspective (Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1985). Tambiah implies that the assumption can be found underlying a number of biblical texts, including Psalms 33:6-9 and Ecclesiastes 43:5, but also and more importantly the creation story of Genesis. This biblical text above all others, implied to ancient readers that speech could create literal reality, and it is within these Christian incantation texts that we can begin to discern something of the pragmatic application of the deities words for human application. For further reading on the translation of the term ܪܣܐ’ within this context, see M. Sokoloff, A Syriac Lexicon: A Translation from the Latin, Correction, Expansion, and Update of C. Brockelmann's Lexicon Syriacum (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009), where Sokoloff translates this synonymous of incantatory terms to denote not only contractual obligation, but physical incarceration and even excommunication from the vulnerable.17 Hunter’s study of these manuscripts suggests that the colophons of these compendiums hint at the very late date of their composition, between C. 1777 and 1817 C.E , alluding to a pattern of Nestorian ritual which had shape Nestorian Christianity until relatively recent times. See. Hunter, (1987), 83-104.18 Budge would suggest that the authors of these charms were certainly Christian and that it was quite possible that they were priests or officer of the Nestorian Church to whom men made application for bans or spells and incantatory prayers, and formulae of blessing to help them spiritually and physically. More recently, Hunter has suggested that the supplicatory nature of the charms, as well as the profound knowledge of those legends of the saints and holy writ all hint at the ecclesiastical contexts within which these charms were produced, See. E. A. Wallis Budge, ‘Syriac Amulets’ in Amulets and Talismans (New York: University Books, 1961), p.272. & E. C. Hunter, ‘Saints in Syriac Anathemas’ in Journal of Semitic Studies, 32:1 (1987), 83-104. The copyists of manuscripts ‘British Library MS Or. 6673’ and ‘Codex B’ claim to have been sons of priests ( ܪܒ ܐܫܝܫܩ ), whilst the copyist of ‘Mingana MSS Syr. 316’ states that he was a deacon (ܐܢܐܫܡܫܡ), perhaps implying that this was a pattern of behaviour circulating amongst even the higher reaches of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.viiContextualising Syriac Anathemabe’.19 As a consequence of the sanctity ascribed to the incantation, and the belief that its efficacy depended upon the fixed wording of its formula, these manuscripts and the ritual incantations to which they refer, were understood by Gollancz to have preserved an ‘archaic’ language through which a more ancient pattern of Nestorian religious behaviour had found its practical expression.20 Indeed, all three codices were evidently of relatively recent composition, though to Gollancz and Gaster, these manuscripts were assumed to allude to the ritualised mechanics a religious praxis far older than the 17th-19th Century mediums upon which they’d been preserved:‘It is evident that demonology has, to a certain extent, survived through many centuries with very little change, and that it has even found shelter in the cell of the monk. The only change which has taken place in those which are of a very ancient origin, is the substitution of the Christian element, such as Christ, the Apostles, and saints for the ancient Gods, who were appealed to for protection against the old shiddim’.21The sentiment of this conjecture was only espoused further by the comments of J. A. Montgomery, author of the 1913 publication ‘Aramaic Incantation texts from Nippur’, who assumed that he’d identified aspects of resonance between the inscriptions of those Forty, Late Antique, earthen-ware Bowls discovered in the excavations of Nippur, and Gollancz’s relatively more recent Syriac codices.22 Both, he assumed, had alluded to similar belief in the pervasive supernatural presence within the affairs of man; both had prescribed a practical and ritualised methodology for preventing or orchestrating its impact, and while the considerable disparity between the dates of these sources had contributed to a variety of nuances- notably the emphasis of those more recent charms upon descriptions of biblical and hagiographical legend, and the evocation of saintly names in place of the largely Jewish angelic names evoked within the older incantations of Nippur- to Montgomery, these Syriac codices were nevertheless:19 Gollancz, H. ‘The Book of Protection. Being a Collection of Charms’ (Review) by: M. Gaster, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 45 (1913), p.45320 Gollancz, (1897), p.78.21 ibid22 Montgomery would date these earthen ware Bowls to C. 5th-8th Centuries C.E. See J. A., Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Museum Press, 1903), pp.102-105 [102-103].viiiPreface‘the direct heir of the earlier incantations of the Mesopotamian Valley, familiar to us in the bowl texts of the earliest Christian centuries, and going back to the Babylonian magical texts. Jewish scholars will recognise many points of contact with charms still current in Jewish households’.23Suggestions of comparability and even direct descendance between the codices of a relatively recent Christian culture of charms and talismans in the mountains of Kurdistan, and the adjurational incantation devices uncovered amongst the ancient ruins of Nippur, pose a variety of interesting questions, and not only about the antiquity of this particular pattern of Nestorian ritual. John Punnet Peters, chief excavator of the 1888/1889 archaeological expedition which had uncovered those Late Antique Earthen-ware incantations of Nippur, would describe how most had been found within the ruins of a distinctly Jewish settlement indeed, ‘the whole surface of one hill was covered with a Jewish settlement, and in almost every house we found one, or more, Jewish incantation bowls’. 24 These areas of Jewish settlement had almost been identifiable simply through the unique presence of these unusual artefacts, most of which were found to contain what he would describe as the ‘Jewish Aramaic’ script.25 Montgomery’s texts were not only far older than the Nineteenth-Century Christian charms published by Gollancz; they would also seem to have been a predominantly Jewish phenomenon. That Montgomery should have discerned aspects of comparability between these seemingly unlikely sources begs us to question not only the extent to which these relatively recent Christian incantation charms are indicative of far older patterns of Nestorian religious behaviour, but to what extent do they reveal something of the ancient relationship and interaction between Mesopotamia’s various Jewish and Christian communities.Resonance between Nestorian rituals and the incantations of Late Antique Nippur has been noted and discussed by a number of scholars since Montgomery; including Budge and Gaster and more recently Shaked, Naveh and Hunter, yet I would propose that few have sought to engage with the obvious questions and problems which then arise from their suggestion of comparison, namely: ‘how does one begin to23 J. A. Montgomery, The Jewish Quarterly Review, 4: 3 (1914), p.49324 J. P. Peters, Nippur, or Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates. The Narrative of the University of Pennsylvania Expedition to the Babylonia in the years 1888-1890, 2 vols. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York and London, 1897). P. 18225 Montgomery would refer to it as the ‘Rabbinic Dialect’, comparable to that found in another great and contemporary textual source produced by the Jewish communities of Mesopotamia- the Babylonian Talmud. He describes how this name was a convenient handle for distinguishing the dialect of the majority of these sources, from the few written in Syriac Aramaic and Arabic. See Montgomery (1903), p.26.ixContextualising Syriac Anathemaexplain the relationship of sources divided not only by centuries but by communal boundaries’?26 The problem of qualifying the appearance of their comparability is only further added to when we consider that not a single Nestorian Charm or amulet, whether from private collections or in public Libraries, would seem to date from before the 18th Century. If these relatively recent Christian charms and talismans did indeed maintain the threads of a tradition which had extended from Late Antiquity, as so many have argued, then where are those Christian charms and talismans written within the intermittent centuries which divide these sources? 27 In light of the apparent obstacle of their absence, one might assume that any suggestion of the relationship between these sources is, if not impossible, then at least premature, until such times as older manuscripts might begin to contribute to the story of these Mesopotamian charms. Here in this thesis, I argue that this is precisely the conclusion which need not be drawn. Despite the dearth of earlier textual evidence, this study intends to show how the beliefs and mentality which had defined these practices of incantation had permeated the beliefs and identity of the Mesopotamian Church, and how those nineteenth-century charms published by Gollancz were remaining vestiges not only of an ancient dialogue between the Christian and the demon, but of a dialogue between the Christian and Jewish communities of Mesopotamia which had extended throughout the centuries.These enigmatic and seemingly self-effacing textual traditions may offer the historian precious little in terms of understanding their socio-historical trajectory and milieu, but here I propose that we might trace some of its contours by juxtaposing some analogous literary materials from a related tradition. If, as we are told, the composition of these albeit relatively recent Syriac codices ought to be dated to sometime in the latter centuries of the Late Antique period, then it seems sensible to me to look in the same chronological and geographical neighbourhood for points of26 Hunter would suggest that whilst Ms. Syr. 3086. is of relatively recent production, the ‘action’ of these charms draws attention to the origins of the genres in the ancient heritage of magical literature, by linking them with pagan texts of Greco-Roman provenance, as well as those incantation Bowl texts from Mesopotamia. Naveh and Shaked’s study would draw upon those manuscripts published by Gollancz not only as a relevant sources for comparison, but at times to look at Gollancz’s translation/interpretation of certain words to confirm the meaning of words from those much older, Jewish and Christian incantations with which they worked. See. Hunter, ‘Genres of Syriac Amulets: A Study of Cambridge Ms. Syr. 3086’, Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 236 (1991), pp.355-368 and Naveh & Shaked, (1993).27 In his discussion of the surprising lack of Nestorian manuscripts more generally, Grant would assume that in a community where only a few ecclesiastics could read, there must surely have been little encouragement to multiply the textual traditions by the slow process of transcribing, especially when such sources were likely to be lost on the perishing scrolls of parchment. What’s more, Grant would suggest that those manuscripts which had survived were often victim to damage and destruction, notably those ancient manuscripts of the Patriarch, which Grant suggests had been destroyed by water some sixty years prior to his visit, whilst crossing the river Zab. Badger echoes Grant’s description of the plight of the manuscripts and textual traditions of the communities he encountered, suggesting that the Manuscripts of the Convent of Rabban Hormizd had been torn in pieces or burned with fire by the men of the Kurdish Pasha’s, whilst those at Deir Zaaferan were found covered with dust and generally disregarded. For further reading, see Grant, (1841) p.121 & Badger, (1852) p.102 and 51.xPrefacecomparison. Indeed, it is when we begin to look beyond the remains and manuscripts of charms and talismans and begin to navigate through the countless textual traditions which surround the ‘Lives’ of those Christian and rabbinic Holy Men of Late Antiquity, that we are acquainted with a literature not only furnished with the concepts of ritual adjuration, but all too frequently articulated according to the same vocabulary. Their narratives were frequently shaped by a consistent theme, describing how a perfect devotion to the ascetic principles taught by Christ or through one’s search for the meaning of ‘the law’ and a life in pursuit of its teaching, brought Christian and rabbinic Holy men into spiritual proximity with the ‘the father’- expressed here both in terms of cognitive insight and celestial apotheosis. Yet, personal sacrifice and an assumed subsequent spiritual purity would seem to have bought these Holy Men much more than an understanding and affinity with the divine and celestial realm. Indeed, to be proximate to the divine through the endeavour of ascetic devotion; was invariably to be made familiar with the power of its potential, which in the contexts of these narratives, was assumed to have been articulated through the occasional and sometimes spectacular ‘coup de theatre’.28 Through a knowledge of Divine names and a ritual rehearsal of other divine utterances, Christian Holy men would negotiate miracles of exorcism and divine blessings in abundance, whilst a dedication to ‘the law’ had furnished rabbis like R. Nehunya b. Haqanah, R. Ishmael and R. Akiba with a knowledge of the adjurations, seals and celestial names with which to ‘ascend on high’ and command the divine. In the unfortunate absence of more direct evidence, I am convinced that it’s by exploring these literary traditions; their suggestion of the privileged position of the pious and the particular way in which some were assumed to have made their needs known in heaven by means of elaborate ritual performance, that we might begin to better understand how ritual practices divided by centuries could possibly have bared a meaningful resemblance.29Here, this enquiry will draw upon a range of disparate monastic and mystic sources, both Jewish and Christian, from the earliest generations of documentary and literary evidence of Jewish and Christian ascetic ideals through to the later centuries of the Late Antique period. Its discussion and choice of sources has by no means aimed for28 See P. Brown, Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982) p.10529 Marco Moriggi has recently discussed a similar line of thought in M. Morrigi, ‘And the Impure and Abominable priests fled for help to the Names of the Devils’ in Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, 19:2 (2016), pp.371-384. Drawing upon a Memra likely to have been authored by Ishaq of Antioch (5th Century C.E), Moriggi illustrates how evidence of magical ritual practices outlined by the text, can also be found in contemporary Syriac Incantation bowls, which he also argues then found their way into the kind of nineteenth-century Syriac Christian amulets published by Gollancz By looking beyond the resonances of Late Antique incantation text and more contemporary Christian charms, and instead to the kinds of Late Antique ecclesiastical literature exemplified by hagiography and theological Memra, Moriggi argues that we might begin to understand the evolution and meaning of those resonances, and what role Christian clergy and the monastic environment played in the process of its transmission.xiContextualising Syriac Anathemacomprehensiveness, indeed there are, to be sure, both relevant texts and aspects of discussion not treated here, either at all or in the detail that a given reader might prefer. I have drawn sparingly and not systematically, generally when aspects of late antique narrative are relatable intertextually or conceptually to the patterns of nineteenth-century Christian ritual alluded to by Gollancz’s Syriac codices. A more systematic investigation of these various hagiographical and Hekhalot narratives on their own terms, and in all their complexity, might well reward the researcher. It may even take the investigations begun here in new and exciting directions, but this is by no means the objective of this enquiry or even the desire of its author. This, of course, is not to say that my selection of texts has been arbitrary, but rather based upon their interconnectedness; both inter-textual and thematic. Neither is it a confession of this enquiry’s rudimentary parameters, but instead an open and frank recognition of the incredible complexity of the subject which it tries, and perhaps only begins to comprehend and fully articulate. This is an enquiry which attempts to build bridges; between sources which other scholars, having discerned their connection, have so far largely failed to fully articulate. It does so with full consideration of the almost intangible nature of the relationships it tries to discuss, and an over-bearing sense of the methodological unorthodoxy of seeking to do so. Lacking the aid of an accompanying scholastic framework, and conscious of the complexity of those things which scholastic enquiry attempts to delineate, this study represents a frustratingly tentative and therefore admittedly limited foray in the hope of offering cautious, but therefore also meaningful conclusions: unravelling and discerning, but also analysing the common threads of ideas, woven deeply into the fabric of sources divided not only by centuries, but by communal boundaries, and even literary genre. By exploring Late Antique literary assumptions of the efficacy of ritual adjuration, this study contemplates whether we are better positioned to understand the remaining textual fragments of a nineteenth-century Christian ritual practice, and indeed, whether a nineteenth-century ritual practice in turn truly reflects upon a tradition which had extended throughout the centuries.
University of Southampton
Barnes, Bradley
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Barnes, Bradley
b8123107-bcb4-47cb-8a4c-6937b09983cc
Levene, Dan
fdf6fd40-020a-4cbb-b953-d5c2dcc6a002
Spurling, Helen
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Barnes, Bradley (2016) Contextualising Syriac anathema: bridging the gap between suggestions of comparison in late antique and nineteenth century Christian ritual practice. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 296pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

‘Thus I beheld, at last, the goal of my journey from Luristan, and was not disappointed. Glorious indeed is this Kurdistan world of mountains, piled up in masses of peaks and precipices, cleft by ravines in which the Ashirets and Yezides find shelter, every peak snow-crested, every ravine flaming with autumn hints; and here, where the ridges are the sharpest, and the rock spires are the imposing, is the latest refuge of a Church once the most powerful in the East’.1Isabella Lucy Bird was one of a number of travel writers and missionaries, whose attraction to the allure of the Orient or whose sense of evangelical mission, had led them to traverse the mountainous and largely impervious regions of Northern Kurdistan in the Nineteenth-Century. Her travel diaries, like so many of the accounts of this Kurdish world of mountainous peaks and precipices, would describe a land of ‘antique heritage’, one which had been isolated as a consequence of its physical geography, and insulated from the influences of the Mesopotamian plains by the ‘fierce behaviour’ and ‘lawless habits’ of its marauding Kurdish tribes. 2 Up there in the mountains of Kurdistan was a window into what was perceived to have been a far older Mesopotamia; a landscape which in its antiquity “presented to the eye so many of the aspects of the biblical Eden”.3 Indeed, to travel through the environs north of the city of Mosul had been like ‘traversing lands of biblical scenes’, to view the mountains of Hakkari ‘like being carried back thousands of years on the wings of time’.4 This ‘Mesopotamia of the mountains’, would seem to have preserved a rich and evocative landscape for the imaginations of those familiar with the narratives and landscapes of Old Testament narratives, but as Bird and a number of other travellers were to imply, the isolation of this seemingly ‘antique’ landscape had also confined and thus preserved the remnants of an equally antique community, one which had professed a belief in Christ for Fourteen centuries.1 I. L. Bird, Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, (London: John Murray, 1891), p.286.2 E. L. Cutts, Christians under the Crescent in Asia, (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1877), p.1.3 L. Coleman, Ancient Christianity Exemplified in the Private, Domestic, Social and Civil Life of the Primitive Christians (London: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.,1852), p.5664 A. Grant, The Nestorians or the Lost Tribes: Containing Evidence of their Identity An Account of the Manner, Customs and Ceremonies (London: John Murray, 1841), p.26 and p.54iiPrefaceAccording to journal entries and missionary reports, those remnants of an antique Christian community among the mountains of Hakkari were ‘a very different people’ to those who had professed a faith in Christ upon the alluvial plains of the Mesopotamian valley; both on account of the nuances which defined their various doctrines, and the seemingly primitive quality of their customs, rituals and speech. Where the promise of association with a European power had converted a large number of those living on the Mesopotamian plains to the doctrines of Catholicism, this forbidding and largely inaccessible landscape of mountain peaks and precipices had seemed to preserve fragments not only of a distinctly Oriental Church, but of a Church which had maintained tangible links to the earliest threads of Christianity in Mesopotamia.5 Bird’s journals would describe largely ‘unintelligible conversations’ peppered with a vocabulary similar to that which had been spoken by Christ, and a variety of customs which had been a ‘touching reminiscence’ of those to be found within Old Testament narratives: the fantastically romanticised accounts of a Victorian orientalist perhaps, but Bird was by no means alone in suggesting that she found there to be ‘something strikingly biblical’ about so many of the customs and rituals of these ‘mountain Christians’. 6 Austin Layard, a contemporary and fellow traveller, would similarly assume that their ignorance of the ‘superstitions of the Church of Rome’ and their ‘more simple observances and ceremonies’, may ‘clearly be traced to a more primitive form of Christianity’; one which in its simplicity, seemed uniquely untouched by the ecumenical councils and creeds which had elsewhere defined the Christian faith during the centuries of its founding.75 Where the missions of the Catholic Church had been entirely confined to the urban areas of the Mesopotamian plains, particularly Amida or modern day Diyarbakir, the mountains of Kurdistan were seen by those 19th Century missionaries and explorers to be the last refuge of a Nestorian, and Oriental Christianity, one which had preserved links to a more primitive expression of the faith.6 Bird, (1891), p.242. The same assumptions were also made of those Jewish communities living within the remote and mountainous world of Kurdistan. Owing to the rugged nature of the area, as well as the al constant threat of brigandry on the few and potentially perilous roads which penetrated this otherwise inaccessible world of mountain peaks, the Jews of Kurdistan were assumed to have preserved a primitive, though somewhat debased expression of a more ancient Judaism. Those few Jewish travellers who visited Kurdistan in the 19th Century, such as I. J. Benjamin, would describe their regret at the shallow knowledge expressed by these communities in matters of Jewish Law, especially when compared with their relatively near metropolitan communities of Baghdad and Damascus, but also their excitement at the seemingly ancient practices and customs with which they expressed their Jewish faith. Benjamin writes of his excitement at having witnessed one seemingly biblical custom in particular, suggesting, ‘where I went during harvest time, I found a custom strictly observed by the Jews which brought to my mind the precepts of the bible. Neither the ears of corn, nor the grapes, nor fruits are wholly collected, but the portion of the widows and orphans is always left, it is even allowed to go into a ripe cornfield to break the sheaves, and there and then to boil the corn in water, but the ears of corn must not be cut, neither may they be carried away’. Practices such as these had derived from ancient oral traditions, and had been transmitted from generation to generation, rather than in learned abstract precepts. See I. J. Benjamin, Eight Years in Asia and Africa (Hannover: 1863), pp.130-131. For a more recent assessment of the ancient Biblical and Talmudic customs assumed to have been retained by Kurdistani Jews, see J. J. Rivlin, Sirat Yehude hat-Targum (Jerusalem 1959), pp.47-56.7 A. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains: A Narrative of an Expedition to Assyria, (London: John Murray, 1867), p.184. Theirs was an ancient story- one which spoke of the legacy of a man whose doctrines had rocked the Christian world in the Fifth Century. His name was Nestorius, a Patriarch of Constantinople, whose doctrines had attempted to negotiate some of the provocative questions facing the Christian church in its formative period, quite controversially, how one was to understand the humanity of Christ, and how one was to refer to his relationship to the Virgin Mary. At the firstiiiContextualising Syriac AnathemaAfter the lapse of a long history defined by schism, excommunication, Muslim conquest and more recently Catholic mission, here was a Church and a community high up in the mountains of Kurdistan whose ways spoke of the legacy of an entirely independent and ancient Oriental Christian tradition, one which had been born in the theological environment of Late Antiquity, and as a consequence, at least in part, of adhering to the beliefs of a ‘heresy’. Its preservation was deemed to have been nothing less than ‘a matter of wonder’; a story of almost unprecedented ancient Christian survival in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. 8 Yet, the romanticised narrative of these missionaries and explorers would also allude to another, rather more unfortunate reality: one which would describe how an antique Christian community, surrounded on all sides by the geographical impediments of a mountainous terrain as much as the human encumbrance of theological difference, had also been gradually worn down and steadily debased by the passing of time and as a consequence of its solitude. The commentary of Isabella Bird would describe a Christian community ‘at its lowest ebb’, ‘absolutely sunk in ignorance’ with ‘no exposition of the Bible and all worship performed in the ancient Syriac tongue’, whilst the notes of reverend George Percy Badger would similarly imply that its Bishops were ‘generally illiterate men, little versed in scripture, and thoroughly ignorant of ecclesiastical history. They [those bishops] scarcely ever preach, and whilst all of them can, of course, read the Syriac of their rituals, few thoroughly understand it’.9 Indeed, the lower orders of the clergy were described as more illiterate still, with an education for the priesthood limited to what Badger would describe as a mere ‘perusal’ of the Syriac rituals, whilst Bird’sCouncil of Ephesus (431 C.E), we are told how Nestorius spurned the theological convictions which described the Virgin Mary as ‘Theotokos’, for Mary was not the mother of the second person of the trinity as such an appellation would suggest, but the mother of Christ’s humanity- the ‘Christotokos’. Christ therefore had two natures, one corporeal and one divine, both united in one hypostasis, and it had been his physical body rather than his deity which had died and suffered on the cross. For how could it be any other way, ‘How could a mother give birth to her creator?’ and ‘If God died then who had the power to resurrect him?’ Such were the questions which would fuel perhaps one of the most potent schisms to have divided the ancient Christian world, such were the teachings and doctrines which widened the breach between a Western and Oriental Christian tradition, and it was in the mountains of Kurdistan that the tangible legacy of this breach had been preserved. It is perhaps worth noting at this point that this association with Nestorius was, and indeed continues to be for the contemporary Assyrian Church of the East, an enduring contention, given the mostly derogatory use of the term since the fifth century. John Joseph would describe how the Eastern Christians of Kurdistan, though having once identified with the designation ‘Nestorian’, were inclined to refer to themselves and their doctrine as belonging to the ‘Church of the East’, having been made aware by Christian missionaries of the derogatory connotations which the term was intended to convey. Indeed, the accounts of a Reverend Justin Perkins would describe how the habit of referring them as such had once inspired the bishop Mar Yohanan to threaten ‘we shall soon be at war, if you do not cease calling us Nestorians’; while those of Asahel Grant reported that they disliked the term largely because they never derived either their doctrines or their rites from Nestorius. ‘Nestorius’, said they ‘was not our Patriarch, but the patriarch of Constantinople. He was a Greek and we are Syrians. We do not even understand his language, nor did he ever propagate his doctrines in our territory’. The so-called ‘Nestorian’ church, which, it needs to be emphasised, actually preceded Nestorius, separated from the mother church of Antioch in the fifth century at the Merkabha Synod of 424. For further reading on the contention of the designation ‘Nestorian’, see J. Perkins, Residence of Eight Years in Persia among the Nestorian Christians with Notices of the Muhammedans (New York: 1843), p.180; A. Grant, The Nestorians or the Lost Tribes (Amsterdam: 1841), p.171; J. Joseph, The Nestorians and their Muslim Neighbours, (Princeton: 1961), p.14.8 Layard,, p.184.9 See, Bird, (1891), p.228. and G. P. Badger, The Nestorians and their Ritual: with the Narrative of a Mission to Mesopotamia and Koordistan in 1842-1844, 2 vols. (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), I, p.61.ivPrefacecommentary would describe the ‘Patriarch’s sister and two or three nuns’ as exceptions to a more general rule of female ecclesiastical illiteracy.10 These written testimonies; of Bird and Badger, but also of a number of 19th Century European commentators, would seem to emphasise an unusual disconnect between the theology and traditions of the Nestorian church, and a people who had continued to profess and maintain them through centuries of ever-increasing ignorance. Indeed, ‘few could distinguish the particular points on which they differed from other Christians’ and ‘fewer still were able to give a reason for the faith which they professed’.11 Such had been the inefficiency of its clergy; such was the general ignorance of the wider community, that the bewildering preservation of this distinct body of professing Christians was assumed to have had less to do with a thriving ecclesiastical tradition or intellectual energy, than with a culture of rites, oral tradition and ‘elaborate’ rituals which had defined this community since Late Antiquity.12Survival had evidently come at the cost of this community’s once prodigious ecclesiastical and intellectual vigour, yet to use the analogy of a husk or a shell; a culture of rites and traditions was assumed to have nevertheless preserved both a handful of Oriental Christians and the fragile kernel of an ancient Oriental Church. Corruptions may have crept past its nurturing protection, and the passing of time might have caused the delicate and more complex aspects of its intellectual heritage to steadily perish, but Layard implied: there are ‘no sects in the East and few in the West which can boast of such purity in their faith’. 13Badger’s detailed and valuable study sought to study them to understand and record the 19th Century face of a Christian creed which had seemed remarkably untouched by the interference of the Church of Rome, but if this isolated Christian community; its rites and its rituals were indeed antique, then what might these 19th century patterns of Christian religiosity tell us about the more ancient identity of this distinct and Oriental church? The scope of this study’s enquiry intends to illuminate one aspect of this ‘primitive’ culture of rights and rituals in particular; a pattern of Nestorian religious behaviour all but ignored or at least dismissed by the memoirs of Victorian explorers, as little more than the unfortunate and unsavoury expressions of the least enlightened. Indeed, just as missionaries and writers like Badger and Bird, Grant and Layard began publishing their romanticised memories of a primitive Christian Orient, a variety of the manuscripts10 ‘not a woman could read, and in the whole Nestorian region they were absolutely illiterate with the exception of the Patriarch’s sister and two or three nuns’, Ibid, p.6111 Badger, (1852), II, p.2712 Badger, (1852), I, p.6313 Layard, (1867), p.184vContextualising Syriac Anathemamany had brought with them, started to contribute to an understanding of the ‘antique’ patterns of Nestorian religious behaviour. Some alluded to formal aspects of the Church; including references to its liturgy, the principles of its theology and a variety of rich accounts of the lives of those who furnished its hagiography. But, amongst these literary traces of Nestorian Orthodoxy, were the literary traditions not only of a far more colourful but generally more complex pattern of religious belief and behaviour. 14 Collected and composed within small compendiums, these manuscripts from the environs North of Mosul described a frightening and fundamental reality: an ancient and well-documented Mesopotamian belief, that humans shared their world not only with visible and familiar expressions of creation but with a multitude of almost unfathomable and powerful supernatural entities. Consisting of various angels, myriads of spirits and entire hordes of evil demonic counterparts, these inexhaustible legions of supernatural beings not only inhabited this remote and rugged world of mountain peaks but exerted a powerful potential within it, often with important repercussions for the daily lives of their vulnerable and unsuspecting human neighbours. 15 The whim of a malevolent demon was considered sufficient to afflict a variety of the otherwise inexplicable and insufferable misfortunes, from illness and infertility, to the distressing and unexpected outcomes which arise in one’s personal and business affairs, whilst any one of a huge number of God’s angels might potentially bestow all kinds of unexpected blessings and divine favour. It was this dynamic of exchange between the material and supernatural worlds, between man and his afflictions and the supernatural inclination to inflict them, which many of these manuscripts sought to ritually negotiate and artificially manipulate, to allay and to counteract, but also to invite with either benevolent or rather more malevolent intent. 16 But to what extent were these patterns of religious behaviour; practised until as late14 By ‘colourful’ and ‘complex’, I have tried to avoid labelling them as ‘Unorthodox’ or even ‘less orthodox’ for not only are these terms culturally self-serving, but one cannot necessarily be certain of the extent to which these patterns of religious behaviour were indicative of deviant practices or part of an accepted religiosity. For Hunter’s description of these practices as ‘less Orthodox’, see E. Hunter, ‘Saints in Syriac Anathemas: A Form-Critical Analysis of Role’, Journal of Semitic Studies, 32:1, (1987), p.83.15 Nine manuscripts and Codices are available to the scholar at present, including; Mingana MSS Syr. 316, 583 (Selly Oak Library); British Library MS Or. 6673 (British Library); Sachau MS 95 (Staatsbibliothek, Berlin); Sachau MS Oct. 553 (Staatsbibliothek, Berlin); Cambridge MS Add. 3086 (University Library), Harvard MD Syr. 159 (Houghton Library, Harvard College). 16 It is perhaps with an understanding of the active verb (‘asr) ‘ܪܣܐ', so frequently articulated by the authors of these texts that one might begin to interpret this aspect of Nestorian religious behaviour, preserved in the mountains of Kurdistan. Indeed, in a world where the problems of disease, inexplicable misfortune and even the mundane frustrations like the stubbornness of an unruly cow were understood according to the demonic inclination to cause mischief and misery, these manuscripts sought to offer an equally potent supernatural solution, one which contractually bound (ܪܣܐ) but also physically incarcerated the malevolent and malicious entity with the terms of its efficacious utterances. As the modern day contract binds the signees to the terms which have been agreed and stipulated, the incantation of these texts demanded that the identified demon or malignant spirit comply with the will of its author, albeit according to the threat of potential reprisal rather than the written agreement of the offending entity. In much the same way as authority of the law and the promise of reprisal ensures that each signee honours the terms of a modern contract, so the divine power of a variety of angels, archangels and on occasion even God himself, ensured the efficacy of these incantations againstviPrefaceas the Nineteenth-Century, part of the fabric of rites and rituals assumed to have defined this Christian community since Late Antiquity?17 To what extent were these codices of written recipes for ritual incantation, indicative of an ecclesiastical dialogue with the divine and the demon, which had extended throughout the centuries? 18The questions alluded to in this preface are significant echoes of those similarly posed by Sir Herman Gollancz and his enquiry of three Syriac codices, known collectively in their 1913 publication as ‘The Book of Protection’. Indeed, in many ways the genesis of this investigation; these codices had all alluded to the premise of a similar dynamic of interaction between ‘men’ and the ‘supernatural’, all had contained a selection of varying ritual recipes with which to command the attention of the divine or to contractually bind those demonic entities synonymous with a variety of human maladies, yet for Gollancz, the true value of these texts and indeed the premise of his enquiry, was to be discerned not just from the ideas they articulated but from the language in which those ideas had been couched. To use the words of one contemporary review, ‘every kind of literature has, as it were, a language of its own; none so pronounced as that of charms and conjurations, for very old material is preserved with great tenacity, and corruptions will be transmitted from generation to generation…the more barbarous the words, the more efficacious they are deemed tothe invisible forces of adversity, all of whom are called upon to enforce cosmological justice, should the demon or malignant spirit in question be inclined or tempted to transgress. It was an and expedient solution- one which assumed that any human being, albeit one with the knowledge of divine names and celestial words of power might fight back against the supernatural cause of any adversity by commanding the culprit to stop. Within their incantations we find words believed to have been spoken by God as part of the act of creation, as well as divine names which, as formal representations of the divinity on earth, were assumed to offer the practitioner an earthly manifestation of its power. These words held much more than simple, worldly semantic meaning. These words could do things, for they were earthly articulations of divinity. Recite them correctly, as so many of these incantations do, and one might wield the divine power with which they were imbued, ensuring a harmonious and benevolent world order and with it, the elimination of all demonic woes. For further reading on the assumption of the innate power of words, especially those of the deity, see S. J. Tambiah, Culture, Thought and Social Action: An Anthropological Perspective (Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1985). Tambiah implies that the assumption can be found underlying a number of biblical texts, including Psalms 33:6-9 and Ecclesiastes 43:5, but also and more importantly the creation story of Genesis. This biblical text above all others, implied to ancient readers that speech could create literal reality, and it is within these Christian incantation texts that we can begin to discern something of the pragmatic application of the deities words for human application. For further reading on the translation of the term ܪܣܐ’ within this context, see M. Sokoloff, A Syriac Lexicon: A Translation from the Latin, Correction, Expansion, and Update of C. Brockelmann's Lexicon Syriacum (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009), where Sokoloff translates this synonymous of incantatory terms to denote not only contractual obligation, but physical incarceration and even excommunication from the vulnerable.17 Hunter’s study of these manuscripts suggests that the colophons of these compendiums hint at the very late date of their composition, between C. 1777 and 1817 C.E , alluding to a pattern of Nestorian ritual which had shape Nestorian Christianity until relatively recent times. See. Hunter, (1987), 83-104.18 Budge would suggest that the authors of these charms were certainly Christian and that it was quite possible that they were priests or officer of the Nestorian Church to whom men made application for bans or spells and incantatory prayers, and formulae of blessing to help them spiritually and physically. More recently, Hunter has suggested that the supplicatory nature of the charms, as well as the profound knowledge of those legends of the saints and holy writ all hint at the ecclesiastical contexts within which these charms were produced, See. E. A. Wallis Budge, ‘Syriac Amulets’ in Amulets and Talismans (New York: University Books, 1961), p.272. & E. C. Hunter, ‘Saints in Syriac Anathemas’ in Journal of Semitic Studies, 32:1 (1987), 83-104. The copyists of manuscripts ‘British Library MS Or. 6673’ and ‘Codex B’ claim to have been sons of priests ( ܪܒ ܐܫܝܫܩ ), whilst the copyist of ‘Mingana MSS Syr. 316’ states that he was a deacon (ܐܢܐܫܡܫܡ), perhaps implying that this was a pattern of behaviour circulating amongst even the higher reaches of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.viiContextualising Syriac Anathemabe’.19 As a consequence of the sanctity ascribed to the incantation, and the belief that its efficacy depended upon the fixed wording of its formula, these manuscripts and the ritual incantations to which they refer, were understood by Gollancz to have preserved an ‘archaic’ language through which a more ancient pattern of Nestorian religious behaviour had found its practical expression.20 Indeed, all three codices were evidently of relatively recent composition, though to Gollancz and Gaster, these manuscripts were assumed to allude to the ritualised mechanics a religious praxis far older than the 17th-19th Century mediums upon which they’d been preserved:‘It is evident that demonology has, to a certain extent, survived through many centuries with very little change, and that it has even found shelter in the cell of the monk. The only change which has taken place in those which are of a very ancient origin, is the substitution of the Christian element, such as Christ, the Apostles, and saints for the ancient Gods, who were appealed to for protection against the old shiddim’.21The sentiment of this conjecture was only espoused further by the comments of J. A. Montgomery, author of the 1913 publication ‘Aramaic Incantation texts from Nippur’, who assumed that he’d identified aspects of resonance between the inscriptions of those Forty, Late Antique, earthen-ware Bowls discovered in the excavations of Nippur, and Gollancz’s relatively more recent Syriac codices.22 Both, he assumed, had alluded to similar belief in the pervasive supernatural presence within the affairs of man; both had prescribed a practical and ritualised methodology for preventing or orchestrating its impact, and while the considerable disparity between the dates of these sources had contributed to a variety of nuances- notably the emphasis of those more recent charms upon descriptions of biblical and hagiographical legend, and the evocation of saintly names in place of the largely Jewish angelic names evoked within the older incantations of Nippur- to Montgomery, these Syriac codices were nevertheless:19 Gollancz, H. ‘The Book of Protection. Being a Collection of Charms’ (Review) by: M. Gaster, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 45 (1913), p.45320 Gollancz, (1897), p.78.21 ibid22 Montgomery would date these earthen ware Bowls to C. 5th-8th Centuries C.E. See J. A., Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Museum Press, 1903), pp.102-105 [102-103].viiiPreface‘the direct heir of the earlier incantations of the Mesopotamian Valley, familiar to us in the bowl texts of the earliest Christian centuries, and going back to the Babylonian magical texts. Jewish scholars will recognise many points of contact with charms still current in Jewish households’.23Suggestions of comparability and even direct descendance between the codices of a relatively recent Christian culture of charms and talismans in the mountains of Kurdistan, and the adjurational incantation devices uncovered amongst the ancient ruins of Nippur, pose a variety of interesting questions, and not only about the antiquity of this particular pattern of Nestorian ritual. John Punnet Peters, chief excavator of the 1888/1889 archaeological expedition which had uncovered those Late Antique Earthen-ware incantations of Nippur, would describe how most had been found within the ruins of a distinctly Jewish settlement indeed, ‘the whole surface of one hill was covered with a Jewish settlement, and in almost every house we found one, or more, Jewish incantation bowls’. 24 These areas of Jewish settlement had almost been identifiable simply through the unique presence of these unusual artefacts, most of which were found to contain what he would describe as the ‘Jewish Aramaic’ script.25 Montgomery’s texts were not only far older than the Nineteenth-Century Christian charms published by Gollancz; they would also seem to have been a predominantly Jewish phenomenon. That Montgomery should have discerned aspects of comparability between these seemingly unlikely sources begs us to question not only the extent to which these relatively recent Christian incantation charms are indicative of far older patterns of Nestorian religious behaviour, but to what extent do they reveal something of the ancient relationship and interaction between Mesopotamia’s various Jewish and Christian communities.Resonance between Nestorian rituals and the incantations of Late Antique Nippur has been noted and discussed by a number of scholars since Montgomery; including Budge and Gaster and more recently Shaked, Naveh and Hunter, yet I would propose that few have sought to engage with the obvious questions and problems which then arise from their suggestion of comparison, namely: ‘how does one begin to23 J. A. Montgomery, The Jewish Quarterly Review, 4: 3 (1914), p.49324 J. P. Peters, Nippur, or Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates. The Narrative of the University of Pennsylvania Expedition to the Babylonia in the years 1888-1890, 2 vols. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York and London, 1897). P. 18225 Montgomery would refer to it as the ‘Rabbinic Dialect’, comparable to that found in another great and contemporary textual source produced by the Jewish communities of Mesopotamia- the Babylonian Talmud. He describes how this name was a convenient handle for distinguishing the dialect of the majority of these sources, from the few written in Syriac Aramaic and Arabic. See Montgomery (1903), p.26.ixContextualising Syriac Anathemaexplain the relationship of sources divided not only by centuries but by communal boundaries’?26 The problem of qualifying the appearance of their comparability is only further added to when we consider that not a single Nestorian Charm or amulet, whether from private collections or in public Libraries, would seem to date from before the 18th Century. If these relatively recent Christian charms and talismans did indeed maintain the threads of a tradition which had extended from Late Antiquity, as so many have argued, then where are those Christian charms and talismans written within the intermittent centuries which divide these sources? 27 In light of the apparent obstacle of their absence, one might assume that any suggestion of the relationship between these sources is, if not impossible, then at least premature, until such times as older manuscripts might begin to contribute to the story of these Mesopotamian charms. Here in this thesis, I argue that this is precisely the conclusion which need not be drawn. Despite the dearth of earlier textual evidence, this study intends to show how the beliefs and mentality which had defined these practices of incantation had permeated the beliefs and identity of the Mesopotamian Church, and how those nineteenth-century charms published by Gollancz were remaining vestiges not only of an ancient dialogue between the Christian and the demon, but of a dialogue between the Christian and Jewish communities of Mesopotamia which had extended throughout the centuries.These enigmatic and seemingly self-effacing textual traditions may offer the historian precious little in terms of understanding their socio-historical trajectory and milieu, but here I propose that we might trace some of its contours by juxtaposing some analogous literary materials from a related tradition. If, as we are told, the composition of these albeit relatively recent Syriac codices ought to be dated to sometime in the latter centuries of the Late Antique period, then it seems sensible to me to look in the same chronological and geographical neighbourhood for points of26 Hunter would suggest that whilst Ms. Syr. 3086. is of relatively recent production, the ‘action’ of these charms draws attention to the origins of the genres in the ancient heritage of magical literature, by linking them with pagan texts of Greco-Roman provenance, as well as those incantation Bowl texts from Mesopotamia. Naveh and Shaked’s study would draw upon those manuscripts published by Gollancz not only as a relevant sources for comparison, but at times to look at Gollancz’s translation/interpretation of certain words to confirm the meaning of words from those much older, Jewish and Christian incantations with which they worked. See. Hunter, ‘Genres of Syriac Amulets: A Study of Cambridge Ms. Syr. 3086’, Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 236 (1991), pp.355-368 and Naveh & Shaked, (1993).27 In his discussion of the surprising lack of Nestorian manuscripts more generally, Grant would assume that in a community where only a few ecclesiastics could read, there must surely have been little encouragement to multiply the textual traditions by the slow process of transcribing, especially when such sources were likely to be lost on the perishing scrolls of parchment. What’s more, Grant would suggest that those manuscripts which had survived were often victim to damage and destruction, notably those ancient manuscripts of the Patriarch, which Grant suggests had been destroyed by water some sixty years prior to his visit, whilst crossing the river Zab. Badger echoes Grant’s description of the plight of the manuscripts and textual traditions of the communities he encountered, suggesting that the Manuscripts of the Convent of Rabban Hormizd had been torn in pieces or burned with fire by the men of the Kurdish Pasha’s, whilst those at Deir Zaaferan were found covered with dust and generally disregarded. For further reading, see Grant, (1841) p.121 & Badger, (1852) p.102 and 51.xPrefacecomparison. Indeed, it is when we begin to look beyond the remains and manuscripts of charms and talismans and begin to navigate through the countless textual traditions which surround the ‘Lives’ of those Christian and rabbinic Holy Men of Late Antiquity, that we are acquainted with a literature not only furnished with the concepts of ritual adjuration, but all too frequently articulated according to the same vocabulary. Their narratives were frequently shaped by a consistent theme, describing how a perfect devotion to the ascetic principles taught by Christ or through one’s search for the meaning of ‘the law’ and a life in pursuit of its teaching, brought Christian and rabbinic Holy men into spiritual proximity with the ‘the father’- expressed here both in terms of cognitive insight and celestial apotheosis. Yet, personal sacrifice and an assumed subsequent spiritual purity would seem to have bought these Holy Men much more than an understanding and affinity with the divine and celestial realm. Indeed, to be proximate to the divine through the endeavour of ascetic devotion; was invariably to be made familiar with the power of its potential, which in the contexts of these narratives, was assumed to have been articulated through the occasional and sometimes spectacular ‘coup de theatre’.28 Through a knowledge of Divine names and a ritual rehearsal of other divine utterances, Christian Holy men would negotiate miracles of exorcism and divine blessings in abundance, whilst a dedication to ‘the law’ had furnished rabbis like R. Nehunya b. Haqanah, R. Ishmael and R. Akiba with a knowledge of the adjurations, seals and celestial names with which to ‘ascend on high’ and command the divine. In the unfortunate absence of more direct evidence, I am convinced that it’s by exploring these literary traditions; their suggestion of the privileged position of the pious and the particular way in which some were assumed to have made their needs known in heaven by means of elaborate ritual performance, that we might begin to better understand how ritual practices divided by centuries could possibly have bared a meaningful resemblance.29Here, this enquiry will draw upon a range of disparate monastic and mystic sources, both Jewish and Christian, from the earliest generations of documentary and literary evidence of Jewish and Christian ascetic ideals through to the later centuries of the Late Antique period. Its discussion and choice of sources has by no means aimed for28 See P. Brown, Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982) p.10529 Marco Moriggi has recently discussed a similar line of thought in M. Morrigi, ‘And the Impure and Abominable priests fled for help to the Names of the Devils’ in Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, 19:2 (2016), pp.371-384. Drawing upon a Memra likely to have been authored by Ishaq of Antioch (5th Century C.E), Moriggi illustrates how evidence of magical ritual practices outlined by the text, can also be found in contemporary Syriac Incantation bowls, which he also argues then found their way into the kind of nineteenth-century Syriac Christian amulets published by Gollancz By looking beyond the resonances of Late Antique incantation text and more contemporary Christian charms, and instead to the kinds of Late Antique ecclesiastical literature exemplified by hagiography and theological Memra, Moriggi argues that we might begin to understand the evolution and meaning of those resonances, and what role Christian clergy and the monastic environment played in the process of its transmission.xiContextualising Syriac Anathemacomprehensiveness, indeed there are, to be sure, both relevant texts and aspects of discussion not treated here, either at all or in the detail that a given reader might prefer. I have drawn sparingly and not systematically, generally when aspects of late antique narrative are relatable intertextually or conceptually to the patterns of nineteenth-century Christian ritual alluded to by Gollancz’s Syriac codices. A more systematic investigation of these various hagiographical and Hekhalot narratives on their own terms, and in all their complexity, might well reward the researcher. It may even take the investigations begun here in new and exciting directions, but this is by no means the objective of this enquiry or even the desire of its author. This, of course, is not to say that my selection of texts has been arbitrary, but rather based upon their interconnectedness; both inter-textual and thematic. Neither is it a confession of this enquiry’s rudimentary parameters, but instead an open and frank recognition of the incredible complexity of the subject which it tries, and perhaps only begins to comprehend and fully articulate. This is an enquiry which attempts to build bridges; between sources which other scholars, having discerned their connection, have so far largely failed to fully articulate. It does so with full consideration of the almost intangible nature of the relationships it tries to discuss, and an over-bearing sense of the methodological unorthodoxy of seeking to do so. Lacking the aid of an accompanying scholastic framework, and conscious of the complexity of those things which scholastic enquiry attempts to delineate, this study represents a frustratingly tentative and therefore admittedly limited foray in the hope of offering cautious, but therefore also meaningful conclusions: unravelling and discerning, but also analysing the common threads of ideas, woven deeply into the fabric of sources divided not only by centuries, but by communal boundaries, and even literary genre. By exploring Late Antique literary assumptions of the efficacy of ritual adjuration, this study contemplates whether we are better positioned to understand the remaining textual fragments of a nineteenth-century Christian ritual practice, and indeed, whether a nineteenth-century ritual practice in turn truly reflects upon a tradition which had extended throughout the centuries.

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Contextualising Syriac Anathema: Bridging the Gap between Suggestions of Comparison in Late Antique and Nineteenth Century Christian Ritual Practice - Version of Record
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Published date: December 2016
Organisations: University of Southampton, History

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Local EPrints ID: 411172
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/411172
PURE UUID: 29995c24-5895-4df7-a2bc-c52ac3282f64

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Date deposited: 15 Jun 2017 16:31
Last modified: 13 Mar 2019 19:47

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Author: Bradley Barnes
Thesis advisor: Dan Levene
Thesis advisor: Helen Spurling

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