Editors’ Preface

The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage is a joint venture of seventy-six students and scholars of Syriac Christianity, living in many different countries and working together over a number of years. Conceived in its present form in the mid-1990s, the plans were subsequently adjusted and revised. One result of the changes is that the present GEDSH is less ambitious and less comprehensive than had originally been planned. A number of choices were made.

The focus of GEDSH is on the Syriac Christian cultural tradition as it historically developed in the Syriac homelands of the Middle East, was carried on by a great number of religious communities of different backgrounds, and is still preserved, cherished, and studied by Syriac Christians today, in the Middle East, in India, and in the worldwide Diaspora. Without excluding manifestations of Syriac Christianity in other languages and cultures, the primary focus is on the Classical Syriac expression of Syriac Christianity. While one could legitimately argue for a much broader approach, which would give more attention to anthropological, sociological, theological, art-historical aspects (some of which have been given limited consideration), our primary focus has been on the connection between Syriac Christianity and the Syriac language. The Classical Syriac language and literary tradition are indeed the most powerful cohesive forces that join together the various communities representing Syriac Christianity.

The focus on Classical Syriac at the same time allows us to incorporate the various traditions — of an amazing linguistic, literary, and religious diversity — that are reflected in, and often intertwined with, Syriac Christianity. Several Greek writers and writings that became classics in Syriac Christianity, works of Jewish origin, authors of Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, and Malayalam background and upbringing, and a rare pagan author writing in Syriac all together contribute to the truly multilingual and multicultural foundation of Syriac Christianity. GEDSH aims to reflect this richness and diversity.

This approach explains the prominence in GEDSH of authors, literary works, scholars, and locations that are associated with Classical Syriac and the Classical Syriac literary tradition. We fully realize that authors writing in Modern Syriac and much of Modern Syriac literature continue to a large extent this same tradition. We very much hope that other scholars will be stimulated to edit a companion volume devoted to this subject. In the meantime reference can be made to R. Macuch’s Geschichte der spät- und neusyrischen Literatur (1976) along with several publications by Heleen Murre-van den Berg, Alessandro Mengozzi, Fabrizio Pennacchietti, Bruno Poizat, and others, in particular the overview provided by Hannibal J. Gevargis, Ruhaniyun-e Bar-Jestah-yi Ashuri dar do qarn-i akhir (‘Assyrian religious writers of the last two centuries’; Tehran, 2000).

In the absence of up-to-date scholarly tools and handbooks on Syriac literature, ecclesiastical history, historical geography, and prosopography, GEDSH cannot claim to offer full and balanced reports for all these fields. But it is our intention to lay at least the groundwork as well as to provide some stepping stones for further work. Fully aware of the provisional and necessarily incomplete nature of many of the GEDSH entries, we have made an effort to provide the necessary bibliographical references for each entry so as to encourage further study and exploration.

A fuller and more systematic encyclopedia would obviously include many more entries on general concepts and ideas, literary genres, liturgical key-terms, etc. While in many of the entries an effort has been made to go well beyond the level of factual description, a more deliberate conceptual approach would have required a different type of preparation which, in the present state of scholarship on Syriac Christianity, may not have been entirely compatible with our primary approach. We realize and acknowledge, however, that a more developed and expanded type of encyclopedia for Syriac Christianity remains a desideratum.

Several technical matters require comment. All dates are Common Era (i.e., AD) unless noted otherwise. For the sake of economy, a number of abbreviations have been employed in the text. These include General Abbreviations for commonly used titles (e.g., bp. = bishop), terms (e.g., NT = New Testament), churches (e.g., Melk. = Melkite), etc. These abbreviations are explained on p. XVII. In addition, frequently quoted publications are referred to by the author’s last name and a short title (full references are found on p. XXXXII).

For Syriac proper nouns, we have retained the Syriac form, e.g., Yuḥannan (E. Syr.) or Yuḥanon (W. Syr.), but not John. The only general exception to this rule is Ephrem. Similarly, we have retained the Arabic form for Arabic proper nouns. In most cases, we have provided cross-references, e.g., John see also Iwannis, Yoḥannan (E. Syr.), and Yuḥanon (W. Syr). For Greek proper names, we have adopted the most common English form, e.g., John Chrysostom.

The Syriac consonants are transliterated ʾ, b, g, d, h, w, z, , , y, k, l, m, n, s, ʿ, p, , q, r, š, and t. In personal names and geographic names, šin is transliterated sh instead of š. Ālap, waw, and yud are not indicated when they serve as matres lectionis. In addition, ālap is not indicated when it is word initial, e.g., alāhāʾit. Spirantization (i.e., rukkākā) is generally not marked, though in several more well-known words it is marked (e.g., beth). Gemination of consonants is represented for E. Syr. but not for W. Syr. The vowels are transliterated a, ā, e, ē (i.e., rbāṣā karyā), i, o, and u for E. Syr. and a, o, e, i, and u for W. Syr. The distinction between a and ā is not indicated in the transliteration of Syriac geographic names. The E.-Syr. transliteration system has been used in entries pertaining to material prior to the East/West division as well as for entries that span both the E.- and W.-Syr. traditions. Schwa is not generally marked, except in certain proper names, for which the more common transliteration with schwa is used. The Arabic consonants are transliterated ʾ, b, t, th, j, , kh, d, dh, r, z, s, š, , , , ẓ̣, ʿ, gh, f, q, k, l, m, n, h, w, and y. Arabic ḥamza (ʾ) is not indicated when it is word initial. The Arabic vowels are transliterated a, ā, i, ī, u, and ū.

Entries are alphabetized according to the Latin alphabet. Personal names that are normally accompanied by a Roman number (in particular names of patriarchs) go before the simple names (e.g., Aba I and Aba II before Aba). In composite names the English preposition ‘of’ is not counted in the alphabetization; the Syriac noun ‘bar’, however, is counted. Diacritics do not register in alphabetization, nor do ʾ or ʿ.

With regard to the illustrations, as we had limited means and resources, we selected some images from existing publications (to the extent that we were able to secure permission), adding to them a number of images from private collections, kindly and generously put at our disposal by colleagues and friends. The way in which the illustrations were collected, therefore, is once again a testimony to the collegial and collaborative effort on which GEDSH is built. All images were edited and digitally enhanced by Douglas Ojala.

GEDSH is about Syriac Christianity as it historically developed and as it has been transmitted throughout the centuries, up to the present day. Syriac Christianity today is both the object of academic study and an essential part in the lives of communities and individuals. Both realities are part of GEDSH and will be appreciated, we are confident, by our diverse readership. It is our conviction that for a balanced study of Syriac Christianity the involvement of people with different backgrounds is required, reflecting not only the multi-faceted nature of Syriac Christianity itself, but also the world in which we want to preserve and cherish Syriac Christianity’s treasures.

While a more detailed report of the various phases of the preparation of GEDSH is offered in the preceding essay by G. A. Kiraz, it is appropriate to name here a few institutions and individuals whose contributions, particularly in the final stage of the work, have been crucial. As a Beth Mardutho project, GEDSH received all due care and attention from the skilled staff of Gorgias Press. Robert A. Kitchen (Saskatchewan, Canada), Witold Witakowski (Uppsala), and James (Chip) F. Coakley (then Cambridge, MA and more recently Cambridge, UK) have all been instrumental, each in his own way, in helping (G)EDSH make the transition and the transformation from the twentieth century into the twenty-first. For (G)EDSH’s short-lived but significant WikiSyriaca existence (giving us a foretaste of what a Syriac encyclopedia in the twenty-first century should look like) credit goes to Gareth Hughes (Oxford). Over the last couple of years we approached a number of colleagues with the request to write, often at short notice, new entries or rewrite existing ones, or to provide information that was otherwise difficult to come by. While responses to such requests were overwhelmingly prompt and positive, we would like to single out some colleagues who, at that late hour, far beyond their individual entries, provided us essential feedback and help in bringing the entire project to a successful conclusion: Adam H. Becker (New York, NY), Jeff W. Childers (Abilene, TX), Maria E. Doerfler (Durham, NC), Emanuel A. Fiano (Durham, NC), Bas ter Haar Romeny (Leiden), Amir Harrak (Toronto), Mat Immerzeel (Leiden), Karel Innemée (Leiden), Andreas Juckel (Münster), Hubert Kaufhold (München), Alessandro Mengozzi (Torino), Craig E. Morrison (Rome), Heleen Murre-van den Berg (Leiden), István Perczel (Budapest), Ute Possekel (Boston), Gerrit J. Reinink (Groningen), Hidemi Takahashi (Tokyo), Jack B.V. Tannous (Washington, DC), and Herman G.B. Teule (Nijmegen). Duke University’s Department of Religion provided a research assistantship allowing us to enlist the help of Sam Burleson, and contributed to the project in other ways as well. For the maps we were fortunate to work with Richard Talbert, Brian Turner, and Ross Twele of the Ancient World Mapping Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Now that this important stage of the GEDSH project is coming to an end, we dedicate its publication to the victims of Sayfo, the centenary of which is approaching. Respectfully remembering all victims, we particularly cherish and celebrate the memory of the lost generations of Syriac writers. May their voices resonate in our hearts!

August 2010


How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, “Editors’ Preface,” 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/Editors-Preface-print.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay, “Editors’ Preface,” 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/Editors-Preface-print.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay. “Editors’ Preface.” 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/Editors-Preface-print.

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