Daniel of Ṣalaḥ (fl. mid-6th cent.) [Syr. Orth.]

Biblical exegete, theologian, abbot and possibly bp. Although he is one of the most influential Syr. Orth. writers, none of Daniel’s writings have been fully edited, and the little that is known about his life is almost entirely dependent upon these texts. In a homily (on Ps. 83) in the middle of his best known work, and the only one at present thought to have been preserved in its entirety, his ‘Great Commentary on the Psalms’, he gives the current date as year of the Greeks 853, i.e., AD 542. Since J. S. Assemani erroneously identified him with a Daniel known to have corresponded with Yaʿqub of Edessa in the 8th cent., it should be emphasised that a 6th-cent. date is confirmed by Daniel’s theological concerns, his references to contemporary historical events (such as the incursions and raids of the Blemmyes, Sabirai, and Antai), and by the prefixed correspondence in which Daniel is requested to write the commentary by Abbot Yuḥanon of the monastery of Mor Eusebios of Kaprā d-Bartā (or d-Birtā) northwest of Apamea (the modern twin villages of Kefr and Bara). Abbot Yuḥanon is listed in the Chronicle of Michael Rabo (IX.14) amongst those condemned for their opposition to Chalcedon by the emperor Justinian. It appears to be the same Yuḥanon (described as ‘a wall against wolves’) for whom a copy of the Acts of the Second Council of Ephesus was produced by one of his monks in 535 (ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,530). By 567, however, Yuḥanon had disappeared from the scene, for one Qustantinos is listed as abbot of this important monastery.

Assemani also linked Daniel with the village of Ṣalaḥ in Ṭur ʿAbdin (southeast Turkey), and this has been followed by all subsequent western scholars. In the present Syr. Orth. monastery of Ṣalaḥ, however, this prestigious connection is rejected, as also by the Syr. Orth. scholar and Patr. Ignatius Afram Barsoum who instead links Daniel to Ṣaliḥiye (near modern Abū Kāmāl in Syria) on the left bank of the Euphrates just south of ancient Dura-Europos. Some support for this can be found in the Chronicle of Michael who describes him as Abbot Daniel of Bayt Ṣaliḥe (IX.34), although the exact name and location of his monastery is not given. Later tradition also links Daniel with Tella d-Mawzelat (ancient Constantina, modern Viranşehir south-west of Diyarbakır, Turkey), although in some sources he is said to have been born there and in others to have become its bishop, as a successor to the famous Yuḥanon of Tella (d. 538). Although Daniel was certainly a leading figure in the anti-Chalcedonian party he is not listed amongst those bps. ordained by Yaʿqub Burdʿoyo, and neither has any later reference to his episcopacy yet been found in any source other than the mss. of his Psalm Commentary.

Daniel’s Psalm Commentary is a vast work of erudition and spirituality, and appears to be the oldest known psalm commentary composed in Syriac. It runs to more than 1,000 ms. pages and is divided into three volumes each containing fifty psalms. Although it was long thought by western scholars to have been only partially preserved, it has in fact continued to be read and studied in the Syr. Orth. church to the present day, and so their complete mss. now make a critical edition of this important work possible.

The commentary acts as a great storehouse of Syr. Orth. exegetical traditions and theology and preserves both ideas known from earlier Syrian writers such as Ephrem and Aphrahaṭ, but also many others previously unknown. It does not appear to be dependent on any previous commentary, although there is evidence that Daniel knew Greek and even had some access to Hebrew texts and traditions. As with Ephrem’s commentary on the Diatessaron no attempt is made to expound every line or word of the Psalms, but only those which attract the author’s attention. The exegesis is also structured in the form of self-contained homilies, which makes them suitable for either private or communal reading — in contrast, for example, with the technical, philological commentary of Bar ʿEbroyo. Although Daniel often attempts to identify the historical occasions of the Psalms’ composition, he usually moves quickly on to expound their spirit-inspired references to the divine dispensation personified in Emmanuel, God the Word. He regularly engages with christological issues, and he is especially concerned to counter the teachings of Julian of Halicarnassus and his followers, often known as the ‘Phantasiasts’ or ‘Aphthartodocetae’, which were creating bitter dissension in his age within both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian parties. He clearly developed a reputation for expertise in this area since his letter to the monks of the monastery of Mar Bassus on the subject formed the basis of the official Syr. Orth. response to the edict of Emperor Justinian, issued in 565, that ‘all bishops everywhere’ should accept Julianism (Michael’s Chronicle, IX.34), and this may have been one of the key reasons that Abbot Yuḥanon requested him to write this commentary.

Its great size has led to at least four major attempts to reduce it to a manageable format; the best known of these is an edition (produced before 1515) of approximately 250 pages which is usually described as the commentary of ‘Daniel (or David) of Tella’, and which also includes some material and interpretation not found in the original work, and to this can be added a collection of short extracts, plus editions by Patr. Ignatius V (Behnam Ḥadloyo, d. 1454) and by Dawid Puniqoyo (d. 1500), none of which has yet been published. It is also cited by the monk Severos, Anṭun of Tagrit, and Bar ʿEbroyo, and was one of the major sources for the psalm commentary of Dionysios bar Ṣalibi. An important Armenian translation was commissioned by Catholicos Grigor Vkayaser in the late 11th cent., and an Arabic version was made in 1730 by ʿAbd al-Nūr Amīdī.

In addition to the Great Psalm Commentary, and the letter written to the monks of Mar Bassus (elements of which may survive in the large unedited collections of anti-Julianist material still preserved in the mss. of the British Library and the Vatican), citations of a commentary on Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) have also been preserved, and Daniel himself (in his homily on Ps. 78) refers to an earlier homily on the plagues which afflicted the Egyptians in the time of Moses. Complete texts of these writings are not yet known, but it is to hoped that the publication of the Psalm Commentary will encourage others to look for copies in the great Syr. Orth. libraries and in the ms. collections of the west.

    Primary Sources

    • G.  Diettrich, Eine jakobitische Einleitung in den Psalter (Beihefte zur ZAW 5; 1901).
    • L.  Lazarus, ‘Ueber einen Psalmencommentar aus der ersten Hälfte des VI. Jahrhunderts p. Chr.’, WZKM 9 (1895), 85–108, 181–224.
    • Y. Manquriyūs and Ḥ. Jirjis, al-Rawḍ al-nadīr fī tafsīr al-mazāmīr (Cairo, 1902). (short extracts from the Arabic version)
    • E. Nestle, Brevis linguae Syriacae grammatica, litteratura, chrestomathia cum glossario (Porta Linguarum Orientalium 5; 1881), 86–90. (Syr.)
    • I. E. Rahmani, Studia Syriaca, vol. 1 (1904), 27–29 (Syr.); 26–27 (LT), 61 (notes).
    • D. G. K.  Taylor (first two volumes of a six-volume edition and ET of the Great Psalm Commentary); forthcoming (CSCO).

    Secondary Sources

    • Barsoum, Scattered pearls , 294–6.
    • Baumstark, Literatur, 179.
    • Assemani, BibOr, vol. 1, 487–95.
    • P. Cowe, ‘Daniel of Ṣalaḥ as Commentator on the Psalter’, in StPatr , vol.20 (1989), 152–59.
    • D. G. K.  Taylor, ‘The manuscript tradition of Daniel of Ṣalaḥ’s Psalm Commentary’, in SymSyr VII, 61–9.
    • D. G. K.  Taylor, ‘The great Psalm Commentary of Daniel of Ṣalaḥ’, Harp 11–12 (1998–99), 33–42.
    • D. G. K.  Taylor, ‘The Christology of the Syriac Psalm Commentary (AD 541/2) of Daniel of Ṣalaḥ and the Phantasiast controversy’, in StPatr , vol. 35 (2001), 516–23.
    • D. G. K.  Taylor, ‘The Psalm Commentary of Daniel of Salah and the formation of sixth-century Syrian Orthodox identity’, in Religious origins of nations? The Christian communities of the Middle East, ed. R. B. ter Haar Romeny (2010), 65–92.


How to Cite This Entry

David G. K. Taylor, “Daniel of Ṣalaḥ,” 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/Daniel-of-Salah.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

David G. K. Taylor, “Daniel of Ṣalaḥ,” 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/Daniel-of-Salah.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Taylor, David G. K. “Daniel of Ṣalaḥ.” 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/Daniel-of-Salah.

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

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