Aphrahaṭ (fl. first half of 4th cent.)

Syriac author of 23 ‘Demonstrations’, known as ‘the Persian Sage’. The name Aphrahaṭ, by which he is known today, is first found in Ishoʿ bar Nun (d. 828). In the early 8th cent. Giwargi, bp. of the Arab tribes only knew of him as ‘the Persian Sage’ (V. Ryssel, Georgs des Araberbischofs Gedichte und Briefe [1891], 44–54), though the oldest ms. of his works (ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 17,182, dated 474) names the author ‘Yaʿqub, the Sage of Persia’. Confirmation of Yaʿqub as his name comes from the early Armenian translation and from the Latin author Gennadius (ca. 500), though both have mistakenly taken him to be Bp. Yaʿqub of Nisibis (d. 338), which is impossible, since the Demonstrations are provided with exact dates: 1–10 are dated to 336/7, 11–22 to 343/4, and 23 to August 345. They were clearly written in the Persian Empire, and by a person in some sort of authority (the late identification of him as a bp. of Dayro d-Mor Matay is baseless). The first group deals largely with ascetic topics, and Dem. 6–7 are particularly important witnesses to the role of the bnay qyāmā and iḥidāye in the Syriac proto-monastic tradition. Many of the second group concern Judaism and are aimed to combat Judaising tendencies among Christians. The long Dem. 14 stands apart, being described as a letter addressed to the bishops, priests, and people in Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Dem. 21 has as its background Shapur II’s persecution. The final Dem. 23 provides a reply to certain questions posed to the author concerning the ‘blessing hidden in the cluster of grapes’ (Isaiah 65:8). The Demonstrations constitute the first major literary work in Syriac: the opening words of Dems. 1–22 provide an alphabetic acrostic, and several Demonstrations contain lengthy passages of carefully balanced artistic prose. Besides their literary interest, the Demonstrations are of great importance for the light they shed on many different topics, in particular: the character of Christianity in the Persian Empire and its ascetic developments, relations with Judaism, the early stages of Shapur’s persecution, and the history of the Syriac biblical text, together with its exegesis and Christology.

The Demonstrations are preserved in four mss., three of which date from the 5th and 6th cent. The 5th-cent. Armenian translation (1–19, attributed to Yaʿqub of Nisibis), was first published in 1756, over a century before the Syriac became known. There are translations of individual Demonstrations into Arabic (parts of 2–4, 6, 9; attributed to Ephrem), Ethiopic (5, 8; attributed to Yaʿqub of Nisibis), and Georgian (6; attributed to Hippolytus).

    Primary Sources

    • P. Bruns, Aphrahat. Demonstrationes / Unterweisungen (2 vols.; FC 5:1–2; 1991–2). (GT)
    • G. Lafontaine, La version arménienne des œuvres d’Aphraate le Syrien (3 vols.; CSCO 382–3, 405–6, 423–4; 1977, 1979, 1980).
    • A. Lehto, The Demonstrations of Aphrahat, the Persian sage (2010). (ET)
    • J.  Parisot, Aphraatis Sapientis Persae Demonstrationes (PS I.1–2; 1894, 1907). (Syr. with LT)
    • M.-J. Pierre, Aphraate, le sage persan. Les Exposés (2 vols.; SC 349, 359; 1988–9). (FT with extensive bibliography)
    • K.  Valavanolickal, Aphrahat, Demonstrations (2 vols.; Moran Etho 23–4; 2005). (ET)
    • W.  Wright, The Homilies of Aphraates, the Persian Sage (1869). (Syr.; the section numbers do not fully correspond in the editions of Wright and Parisot)

    Secondary Sources

    • T. Baarda, The Gospel quotations of Aphrahat the Persian Sage, vol. 1. Aphrahat’s text of the fourth Gospel (1975).
    • P. Bruns, Das Christusbild Aphrahats des Persischen Weisen (1990).
    • E. J.  Duncan, Baptism in Aphrahat (1945).
    • S. H.  Griffith, ‘Monks, “Singles,” and the “Sons of the Covenant.” Reflections on Syriac Ascetic Terminology’, in Eulogema. Studies in Honor of R. Taft, S.J., ed. E. Carr et al. (Studia Anselmiana 110; 1993), 141–60.
    • D. Juhl, Die Askese im Liber Graduum und bei Afrahat (1996).
    • R. Murray, ‘The exhortation to candidates for ascetical vows at baptism in the ancient Syrian Church’, NTS 21 (1974), 59–80.
    • R. Murray, ‘Hellenistic-Jewish rhetoric in Aphrahat’, in SymSyr III, 87–96.
    • J. Neusner, Aphrahat and Judaism. The Christian-Jewish argument in fourth-century Iran (1971).
    • R. J. Owens, The Genesis and Exodus citations of Aphrahat (MPIL 3; 1983).
    • M.-J. Pierre, ‘Un synode contestataire à l’époque d’Aphraate le Sage persan’, in La controverse religieuse et ses formes, ed. A. Le Boulluec (1995), 243–79. (on Dem. 14)
    • K.  Valavanolickal, The use of the Gospel Parables in the writings of Aphrahat and Ephrem (1996).


How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Aphrahaṭ,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Aphrahat.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Aphrahaṭ,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Aphrahat.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Aphrahaṭ.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Aphrahat.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Aphrahat/tei.

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