Syriac Symposium and Christian Arabic Conference, 16-21 July 2012

Monday, November 22, 2010

This sounds like an excellent conference- time to start planning and saving :-)
Syriac Symposium and Christian Arabic Conference, 16-21 July 2012

The Committee of the Syriac Symposium and the Christian Arabic
Conference, the Aram Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies, the
Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Studies (University of Malta),
in collaboration with the Faculty of Theology (University of Malta)
announce the XIth Symposium Syriacum (16-18 July 2012) and IXth
Conference on Christian Arabic Studies (19-21 July 2012) to be held at
the University of Malta, Valletta, Malta.

Cognitive metaphor

Saturday, November 13, 2010

So much of the idea of struggle/agona/jihad is metaphorical, that I think I need to learn more cognitive linguistics. Some of the more interesting sites I've found include: and A great book I'm reading is Peter Stockwell's "Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction".

Upgrade to PhD :-)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Well my masters confirmation meeting went very well- I submitted both the masters paperwork *and* a PhD upgrade proposal (on the recommendation of my supervisors) and both were accepted. So now I have a few more years and the opportunity to go much deeper and learn much more Syriac and Arabic (and maybe some more German too).

Theodoret of Cyrrhus on jihad

Monday, August 30, 2010

Theodoret was a Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria (423-457CE), known for his extensive exegetical and theological writings. Theodoret wrote a key document on the Syrian ascetic tradition, “A History of the Monks of Syria”, known in its original Greek as “History of the Ascetic People”. His writings received wide attention in the Syrian area especially since his mindset was more aligned to the later Oriental church than to the Greek speculative tradition. Thus his descriptions of Syrian monks is indicative of the Syrian ascetic worldview and approach to spiritual struggle.

Theodoret describes Syrian monks using a cluster of terms of martyrs, athletes and struggle and war. He also uses other metaphors to affirm the great spiritual achievements of the monks, but his favourites seem to be these three martial/physical terms. The word for struggle/war (agona)is later translated as jihad.
In his praise of James of Cyrrestica, Theodoret links athletes and war in an extended metaphor.
“Now that we have proceeded through the contests of the athletes of virtue described above, narrating in summary their laborious exercises, their exertions in the contests and their most glorious and splendid victories, let us now record … the way of life of those … who contend magnificently and strive to surpass their predecessors in exertion”. James, “unceasingly under the eyes of spectators … strives in combat and repels the necessities of nature”. Note the number of terms related to jihad.

Syriac Christian medicine and Muslim patronage

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Truly fascinating reading, and an inspiration for today:
"Early in the 9th century, there was established in Baghdad a foundation called the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikmah), which had its own library. Its purpose was to promote the translation of scientific texts. The most famous of the translators was Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-`Ibadi, a Syriac-speaking Christian originally from southern Iraq who also knew Greek and Arabic. He was the author of many medical tracts and a physician to the caliph al-Mutawakkil (ruled 847-861/232-247 H), but he is most often remembered as a translator, an activity he began at the age of seventeen. He produced a truly prodigious amount of work before his death in about 873 (260 AH), for he translated nearly all the Greek medical books known at that time, half of the Aristotelian writings as well as commentaries, various mathematical treatises, and even the Septuagint." For the full article see: and there's other linked pages.

Why are Aussies anxious about Muslim refugees?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

St. Sophronius of Jerusalem

Thursday, July 8, 2010

St. Sophronius is a very interesting person. Born in Damascus, an Arab, an ascetic, and finally Patriarch of Jerusalem when the Muslims took over. He viewed the Muslim control of Palestine as "unwitting representatives of God's inevitable chastisement of weak and wavering Christians". As Wikipedia summarises... he died soon after the fall of Jerusalem to the caliph Umar I in 637, but not before he had negotiated the recognition of civil and religious liberty for Christians in exchange for tribute - an agreement known as Umari Treaty. The caliph himself came to Jerusalem, and met with the patriarch at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Sophronius invited Umar to pray there, but Umar declined, fearing to endanger the Church's status as a Christian temple. It sure would be interesting to interview him! (Oh for a TARDIS).

the Courage of Hallaj

Friday, July 2, 2010

Well my paper for the AEMA (Australian Early Medieval Association) November Conference in Perth has been accepted. I've been reading lots of Peter Brown and Hallaj at the same time and noticed some very interesting connections. The abstract:
The martyrdom of Mansur al-Hallaj in Baghdad in 922CE was the culmination of a spiritual journey involving frequent courageous provocation of the Islamic state authority. Hallaj persistently demanded martyrdom, but was only killed when his presence became too destabilizing. In many ways Hallaj is a variant of Peter Brown’s “holy man”, occupying a unique space between the community and the divine, often at odds with official religion. He is also a pivotal figure in Islam for a number of reasons, including his extremely influential marginality which defines the limits of acceptable Sufism, and his unusual death by crucifixion near the date of Easter, possibly due to his miracles and Christian sympathies. Hallaj’s peculiar position exemplifies the quest for authentic individual spirituality in the face of growing institutionalisation. His courageous martyrdom provides a significant alternative exemplar to the current stereotypical violent martyr.

How can people say Islam contributes nothing to science!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ibn al-Haytham is amazing! According to wiki ( "His contributions to number theory includes his work on perfect numbers. In his Analysis and Synthesis, Ibn al-Haytham was the first to realize that every even perfect number is of the form 2n−1(2n − 1) where 2n − 1 is prime, but he was not able to prove this result successfully (Euler later proved it in the 18th century).[10]"

And his amazing work on optics which laid the foundation for Western optical science. amazing.

Jihad and shahid cluster of terms

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Further research has uncovered a whole cluster of related words like jihad and shahid (martyr/witness); (Arabic is shahid, Syriac is sahda). These words relate to the whole conception of spiritual battle against the lusts of the flesh/passions as discussed 3 centuries before Islam by Syriac monks eg in "A History of the Monks of Syria" by Theodoret of Cyrrhus cf James 4:1.
This means the argument by David Cook in "Understanding Jihad" that jihad as a spiritual struggle was an 11th century invention meant to downplay Islam's "inherent violence" is wrong!

Syrian influence on early Sufi Muslim spiritual practice?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

So how come some elements of early Sufi Muslim spiritual practice seem quite non-Quranic and seem quite like Syriac Christian practice? (eg celibacy, renunciations, etc). I'm writing a number of papers on this area, including one right now on the idea of spiritual struggle (in Arabic- jihad, and in Syriac several words TBA). The Muslim idea of jihad as spiritual war seems derived from the earlier Syrian monastic tradition.