• Demonstration 14 and the Historiography of Fourth-Century Persia

    James Walters (see profile)
    Late Antiquity, Syriac Studies
    Syriac language, Syriac literature, Church history--Primitive and early church, Christian literature, Early, Fathers of the church
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Eighth North American Syriac Symposium
    Conf. Loc.:
    Brown University
    Conf. Date:
    June 17-19, 2019
    Syriac, Early Christianity, Early Christian literature, Sasanian Empire, Patristics
    Permanent URL:
    Original Abstract: The sources for the history of Christianity in the early fourth century in the Persian Empire are notoriously sparse. And the sources that are available, such as the Demonstrations of Aphrahat, are vague and difficult to correlate with other sources. Historians of early Christianity have often incorporated these scant sources into larger narratives of the spread of Christianity into Persia, yet these narratives often rely on tenuous constellations of data for the reconstruction of historical events. Demonstration 14, part of the corpus attributed to Aphrahat, provides an intriguing example of how texts with questionable historical details are used in the construction of historical accounts of Persian Christianity. This demonstration, which presents itself as a synodal epistle, offers very little specific information, and this lack of details has allowed historians to interpret the synod that it supposedly represents in various ways. In the history of scholarship on Aphrahat, questions have been raised about the authenticity of Dem. 14 and whether it was originally part of the Demonstrations corpus, but other scholars have soundly rejected these arguments. However, these arguments largely assume that Dem. 14 represents, in some form, a historical ecclesiastical synod. Moreover, they take for granted that Dem. 14 is a single literary document. In this paper, I will critically re-examine Dem. 14 as a historical source by focusing on these scholarly narratives of early Syriac Christianity and, more broadly, I will offer observations on the tenuous nature of using the Demonstrations as part of such reconstructions. Furthermore, I will challenge the authenticity of Dem. 14 as a unified literary production and its place within the corpus of the Demonstrations.
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    4 years ago
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