This course is aimed at linguists, historians, archeologists, art historians, students of religious studies, and anyone interested in Syriac language and literature. In order to take part one needs to have passed the exam for Syriac I or reached a similar level.
Syriac is the language of one of the oldest Bible versions, the language in which apocrypha such as the Apocalypse of Baruch have come down to us, the language of a host of patristic sources, including the large oeuvre of Ephrem the Syrian, and for centuries it has been the language of liturgy, literature, and science for Christians in large parts of the Middle East. Up to this day Syriac has been used by Syriac Christians of various denominations in the Middle East and elsewhere (including the Netherlands). From a linguistic point of view Syriac is interesting as it is the most important form of Aramaic, a language with a continuous history from the tenth century BCE until now.
This course is aimed at those who have already acquired a basic knowledge of the phonology, morphology, and syntax of Syriac. The stress will be on acquiring further reading skills. To this end, some important early Syriac texts will be selected: a number of chapters from Genesis and Isaiah according to the Peshitta (the Syriac version translated in the second century CE on the basis of a Hebrew text), a fragment of Ephrem’s Commentary on Genesis, a couple of his hymns, and part of Bardaisan’s Book of the Laws of Countries. The latter text is not just one of the most extensive compositions in the Syriac from before the time that many Greek works were translated, it also shows a glimpse of the variety of religious forms within the earliest phases of eastern Christianity.
- Acquiring reading skills using accessible compositions in various representative genres. – Knowledge of the Syriac language of the third and fourth centuries, that is, before the translation movement. – A survey of Syriac literature until the mid-seventh century. – An impression of the variety of forms within the earliest phases of eastern Christianity.
See Time table
Mode of instruction
Written exam with a translation assignment and open questions.
No, texts will be handed out in class.
J.F. Coakley, Robinson’s Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar (fifth edition; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Texts will be handed out. Background literature:
Sebastian Brock, A Brief Outline of Syriac Literature (Kottayam: SEERI, 1997), pp. 7-53.
Bas ter Haar Romeny, ‘The Syriac Versions of the Old Testament’, in Maroun Atallah (ed.), Sources syriaques 1. Nos sources : arts et littérature syriaques (Antélias: CERO, 2005), pp. 75-105.
Han J.W. Drijvers, ‘Bardesanes’, in Theologische Realenzyklopädie 5 (Berlin-New York: De Gruyter, 1980), pp. 206-212;
Edward G. Mathews, Joseph P. Amar and Kathleen McVey, St. Ephrem the Syrian: Selected Prose Works (The fathers of the Church 91; Washington: CUA Press, 1994), pp. 3-56.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.
This course will be taught in English except when all participants have a solid knowledge of Dutch.