Continuity and Innovation in the Ecclesiastical History Tradition 

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The Legitimation Criterion: An Anti-Schismatic Use

In subsection 2.1, it has been argued that Bar ‘Ebroyo shapes his historical and exegetical discourse to show the superiority of the ordained priests, due indeed to the special status the ordination confers them over the community. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the criterion which leads Bar ‘Ebroyo in establishing the lawful episcopal sequence is the validity of the ordination. This brings up, however, the tricky question of what actually makes an ordination valid. From the account of Bar ‘Ebroyo on the patriarchal elections occurred after Michael the Great’s death (1199 A.D) it emerges clearly that Bar ‘Ebroyo legitimates the election of candidates who gained the widest consensus in the episcopal community. Of course bishops could agree on a candidate for quite different motives: Athanasius Saliba Kraha was said to be rich and well versed in politics which made of him an excellent candidate to challenge the ambition of his rival Isho Seftana.188 Ignatius Rabban David was chosen out of his manifest moral virtues,189 while Dionysius ‘Angur’s familiarity with the rulers was considered an advantage.190 The common agreement upon a candidate therefore was not necessarily led by abstract, ideal models but it was rather prompted by factual circumstances.191 The exigence to maintain or recover unity in the Church could also overshadow the moral or intellectual evaluation of the candidate himself. After Athanasius Kraha’s death, the (much despised) counter-patriarch Isho Seftana was approached by his former adversary’s bishops who offered him to ratify his illegal election if he paid a third of the tribute they owned to the governor of Mardin. Isho’s refusal prompted the election of a new patriarch192 but the episode reveals that a candidate who had been previously opposed could receive a common consensus in order to restore the Church’s unity. To secure the bishops’ agreement by means of material gifts was also an accepted practice.

The Edifying Aim: Causation vs Imitation

Edification is a key-concept of hagiography since the latter is intended to teach the audience how to behave, through the spiritual model of the saint.224 As already mentioned, the edifying dimension has been considered a cornerstone of Bar ‘Ebroyo’s Chronicle. In this subsection I am going to argue that, although Bar ‘Ebroyo had surely a didactical purpose in mind, he employed typically historiographical tools to pursue this aim. In the preface to his hagiographical work Lives of the Eastern Saints John of Ephesus sets up the intention of his work, presenting the standard hagiographical topos of the imitation:
Although we may seen to be presuming to set foot in things that are too great for us, by the power of his saying and the hope of his gift we have been encouraged to approach the task of compiling histories concerning their ways of Life and their brave triumphs and the characters of their good deeds, that, we may draw, though obscurely, by means the vile and common pigments of our poor words, the pattern of their likenesses for posterity, [and] leave it in the memorial of our writings; so that, when they read and see their good  deeds and marvellous ways of life, by this means we opine that two beneficial results will be produced, one that when they see their good deeds they may  also glorify their Father who is in heaven as it is written, and the second again, that, when the light of the narratives of their ways of life shines upon souls entangled in the vanities of this world and darkened by error, they may be enlightened by the light of their triumphs and be eager to imitate them.

The Division between Syrian Orthodox and East Syrian History

The usual explanation for the omission of events relating to the East Syrian Church in Greek and Syrian Orthodox ecclesiastical histories is that by the identification of the Roman Empire with the Christian oikoumene, Eusebius provided a model which ignored any church standing outside the Roman borders.267 When in the equation of Christianity and Roman Empire the first was identified with Chalcedonism, the Miaphysite community reacted by crafting an independent identity268 which, in their mental map, led to a slow separation from the Roman political orbit. A few decades later, with the Arab conquest, they geographically found themselves out of this orbit. These two events thus prompted a change in the perception of the geographical horizons of their historiographical discourse. P. Wood has indeed shown that the geographical interest of Syrian Orthodox historiographers after the 6th century considerably contracted and that ‘there was little interest in the world of the surviving Roman Empire.’269 Accordingly, the exclusion of East Syrian affairs from Syrian Orthodox ecclesiastical histories should not be interpreted as a repetition of the Eusebian model because the new historical circumstances changed the geographical imagination of Syrian Orthodox and brought them in direct contact with East Syrians under a new common rule.270 Thus, the inclusion or not of East Syrian matter must have been motivated by other dynamics. Michael the Great largely ignores the Church of the East in his Chronicle, except for a list of catholicoi appended at the end of the work.271 It has been suggested that for Michael, Syrian Orthodox identity is defined in opposition to the Chalcedonians rather than the East Syrians.272 This is due to the fact that he lived in the region of Melitene which was barely touched by the presence of East Syrians and which had been under the Byzantine rule from the mid. 10th century until the Seljuk conquest in 1170 A.D.273 More importantly, the Syrian Orthodox and the Chalcedonians have a shared, pre- Chalcedonian past, in which they all belonged to the Imperial Church. This inevitably results in the fact that the writing of the Syrian Orthodox history cannot exclude the Chalcedonians. This is not the case for the Syrian Orthodox patriarchate and the East Syrian catholicate which knew a largely separated historical development. Bar ‘Ebroyo, though, spent the two decades of his maphrianate (1264-1286 A.D.) in the East Syrian regions, a period during which he wrote his literary works.274 As representative of the Syrian Orthodox community settled in East Syrians regions, Bar ‘Ebroyo could not refrain from giving a history of the East Syrian Church in order to show that the maphrianate was the only legitimate heir of the orthodoxy in the East. In this section, I shall argue that Bar ‘Ebroyo was concerned in shaping a history of the eastern regions which, on one side, competed with the ‘Nestorian’ tradition and, on the other, defined these regions as belonging to the Syrian Orthodox sphere whilst maintaining their regional identity.


Sources for the History of the Western Priesthood

The Chronicle of Bar ‘Ebroyo has long been recognized as largely dependent on Michael the Great’s Chronicle.4 Though Bar ‘Ebroyo gave an original contribution in organizing and filtering his material, Michael the Great was responsible for the vast majority of the information included in the first section of the Ecclesiastical History. Given the tendency of Bar ‘Ebroyo to report almost verbatim his main source, the textual comparison allows to make major corrections on both texts. The only extant manuscript of Michael’s Chronicle is the so-called Edessa-Aleppo codex (1598 A.D) a copy by the scribe Barsoum on the basis of a manuscript that Moses of Mardin5 had copied from Michael’s autograph,6 likely between 1556 and 1576 AD.7 As D. Weltecke has shown, it was especially the complicated layout of Michael’s Chronicle that underwent distortions in the copying process,8 and ultimately results in the fact that the extant manuscript does not reproduce accurately the original layout. Beside the Syriac original, there are two Armenian adaptations based on Michael’s autograph. The first one was written by the priest Isho‘ of Ḥesno d-Kifo in 1229 (Version I). The second one was written by the historian Vardan Areweltsi (d. 1271) in 1248 (Version II) at the request of the Armenian patriarch Constantine Bardzrbertsi (1221-1267).9 The Armenian translators omitted much material involving specifically the Syrian Orthodox Church and gave a narrative format to the chronological canons. The complicated textual transmission of these adaptations and the unsatisfactory extant editions10 impose some caution in their use to reconstruct Michael’s original. In 1759, John Shuqair al-Sahadi, bishop of Damascus translated Michael’s Chronicle into Arabic directly using the Moses of Mardin’s copy or another independent manuscript.11 This textual transmission is illustrated in fig. 3. (lost manuscripts are written in italics).

Table of contents :

Part 1: Historiographical Study
Chapter 1 Textual Tradition
1.1 The Manuscripts as Philological Sources
1.1.1 Manuscript Overview
1.1.2 The Division between Chronography and Ecclesiastical History
1.1.3 The Continuations
1.1.4 Stemma codicum
1.2 The Reception History
1.2.1 The Reception in the Nachleben
1.2.2 The Linguistic Factor in the Textual Tradition
1.3 Conclusions
1.4 Annex : Notes and Colophons
Chapter 2 Continuity and Innovation in the Ecclesiastical History Tradition 
2.1 The Tradition
2.1.1 The Division between Civil and Ecclesiastical Matter
2.1.2 The Stylistic Conventions
2.2 The Patriarchal Succession
2.2.1 Where to Start: The Conceptualization of the Priesthood
2.2.2 The Continuity Criterion
2.3 The Hagiographical Dimension
2.3.1 The Diegesis
2.3.2 The Macro-Structure
2.4 The Division between Syrian Orthodox and East Syrian History
2.4.1 The Apostolic Foundation
2.4.2 A Political Schism
2.5 Conclusions
Chapter 3 Sources
3.1 Sources for the History of the Western Priesthood
3.1.1 The Chronological Backbone
3.1.2 The Narrative Material
3.2 Sources for the History of the Eastern Priesthood
3.2.1 An East Syrian Patriarchal History
3.2.2 Complementary Material
3.3 Conclusions
3.4 Annex


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