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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter July 11, 2020

Manolis Papoutsakis: Vicarious Kingship: A Theme in Syriac Political Theology in Late Antiquity, Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 100, Tübingen (Mohr Siebeck) 2017, X + 227 pp., ISBN 9783161539299, € 69,–.

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Papoutsakis Manolis Vicarious Kingship: A Theme in Syriac Political Theology in Late Antiquity Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 100 Tübingen (Mohr Siebeck) 2017 X € 69,– 9783161539299 1 227

This book presents a serious attempt to study the concept of “vicarious kingship,” which was common in Late Antiquity, but especially in Syriac literature. The author successfully explores how the concept was used in Syriac biblical exegesis by Syriac Church Fathers such as Aphrahat, Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh. The argument begins by investigating its use in the Peshitta Syriac Bible and how Syriac patristic interpretations of the fourth century were able to develop the meaning of the divine king according to different historical contexts. The author demonstrates that while similarities can be easily noticed, the particularity of time also needs to be considered. What is noteworthy in this study is the use of many Syriac quotations, which help the reader to understand the Syriac terms, especially ambiguous ones.

The book is divided into three major chapters with a clear structure and a remarkable new approach taken by the author. In the first chapter, he discusses the “vicarious kingship” through Messianic language in Jacob of Serugh’s verse homily On Tamar, and then he tracks the concept of kingship in Peshitta Genesis in different passages. He observes how Syriac interpreters have commented on this concept, such as in Aphrahat’s Demonstration V and in Ephrem’s Commentary on Genesis. There is an emphasis on the relationship between the Syriac interpretations of the concept of “kingship” with Jewish Aramaic literature.

The second chapter demonstrates the Syriac key words which describe the concept of “vicarious kingship,” while trying to understand its meaning in a historical context which could influence its connotation, such as the argument regarding the expression of the “fidelity” of Abraham and David to God. The author tries in this chapter to show the link between the images of the biblical king Herod with Emperor Julian in Late Antiquity. To understand this relationship, Papoutsakis philologically analyzes many Syriac words related to the meaning of “king” as they appear in various works of that period, including Greek and Hebrew. He concludes this chapter with his endeavor to historicize biblical commentaries, offering a new perspective that opens up new areas for understanding religious concepts in a historical context.

In the third chapter, the discussion progresses to the image of the “kingship of Adam” as it is presented in the Syriac Bible—especially in light of Genesis 49:10, as observed in Jacob of Serugh’s verse homilies OnTamar 45–46 and On The Six Days of Creation (3:97–129 Bedjan[1])—and how it is linked with the concept of priesthood through the patterns of “justice” versus “perfection” and “grace.” The discussion tries to explain the reason for using the famous Delphic maxim “know yourself” in Romanos’ kontakion, while briefly attempting to connect it to the Arabic and Syriac literature of Late Antiquity. The chapter concludes by consulting Jacob of Serugh’s images of procession of imperial images in reference to “Christ the King,” a theme that can be noted even in the interpretation of the genealogy of Christ. Moreover, the chapter reveals how the image of Noah was used in Syriac poetry as the chosen one who became the savior of humanity, as the new Adam or the Christ. The author informs the reader at the end of this chapter that he is planning to prepare a monograph on the concept of priesthood. The book ends with an appendix on Jacob of Serugh’s homily on Daniel 4 (4,538.14–541.21 Bedjan), followed by helpful indexes of biblical references and of modern authors.

There are few minor details to critique, such as not using the Arabic script in Arabic quotations (such as on p. 173), especially since the author does make use of the original scripts for quotations in Syriac, Greek, Hebrew and Armenian. Moreover, it would be helpful if a list of abbreviations could be placed at the beginning of the book rather than at the end, particularly since the abbreviations are used very often even in titles. Nevertheless, the book is an excellent attempt and a helpful reference for biblical and patristic scholars, especially for those interested in contextualizing Late Antiquity images in religious poetry. Papoutsakis addresses important arguments concerning the imperial theme in Syriac exegetical works, which link imperial images in the Bible with their contemporary rulers. He concludes that the thinking of the Syriac Fathers would not have developed without a careful study of the Bible, combined with reconstructing the biblical narratives within traditional idioms.

Published Online: 2020-07-11
Published in Print: 2020-07-09

© 2020 Aboud Ishac, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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