Juridical literature

Juridical texts transmitted within the Syr. Christian traditions are of very diverse content and nature. In addition to texts dealing with canon law, church administration, and discipline, a number of texts deal with private law and secular matters. The reason for the latter concern is that the churches in both the Zoroastrian and Islamic societies were in charge of private law, and, therefore, created handbooks and reference works, particularly in the fields of matrimonial and hereditary law. The earliest layer of juridical literature consists of translations from Greek; indigenous Syriac material was subsequently added to this in both the W.- and E.-Syr. traditions.

The Syro-Roman Lawbook (ed. Selb and Kaufhold) is a collection of interpretations of mostly 5th-cent. imperial constitutions dealing with civil law. It probably originated in a law school in Syria, even though the Lawbook’s relationship to the academic teaching of law in the schools of Beirut and Constantinople has been questioned (Goria). We may be dealing with a 6th-cent. Syr. translation of a Greek Vorlage that no longer exists. The Syro-Roman Lawbook, therefore, is of crucial importance both for the study of late ancient Roman law and for its reception within the Syr. Christian milieu. The work underwent several revisions and found its way into W.-Syr. juridical collections from the 8th or 9th cent. onwards. It also became known in the Ch. of the E. no later than ca. 800 (Cath. Timotheos I being our earliest witness). Later Arabic and Armenian versions are based on the Syr.

A much smaller collection, named by its editor (Selb) ‘Sententiae Syriacae’, reflects a similar late Roman imperial context and the practice of a law school. Here again the Greek Vorlage is no longer extant.

Matrimonial law and hereditary law take an important place in a number of early E.-Syr. lawbooks, attributed to Cath. Mar Aba I (d. 552), to Shemʿon of Rev Ardashir (probably 7th cent.), and to Ishoʿbokht of Rev Ardashir (late 8th cent.?). These lawbooks reflect a Persian Zoroastrian context; the latter two were originally written in Persian and subsequently translated into Syriac. E.-Syr. works from the early Islamic period include the juridical decisions of Cath. Ḥenanishoʿ I (late 7th cent.), and short lawbooks by Cath. Timotheos I (d. 823), Ishoʿ bar Nun (d. 828), ʿAbdishoʿ bar Bahrīz (early 9th cent.), and Gewargis of Arbela (late 10th cent.). Specifically aimed at collecting and preserving earlier materials are works attributed to Cath. Eliya I (d. 1049) and to Eliya of Nisibis (bar Shinaya, d. 1046). While the lawbooks of Aba  I, Shemʿon of Rev Ardashir, Ishoʿbokht, Ḥenanishoʿ I, Timotheos I, and Ishoʿ bar Nun are included in E. Sachau’s Syrische Rechtsbücher (1907–14), and the one by ʿAbdishoʿ bar Bahrīz was edited by W. Selb (1970), the lawbooks of Gewargis of Arbela and Cath. Eliya I, both contained in the large collection of E. Syr. juridical texts (see Synodicon Orientale), remain unpublished. Eliya of Nisibis’s lawbook only exists in Arabic. A remarkable juridical collection, known as ‘Syriac texts on Islamic Law’ (ed. Kaufhold 1971), fully incorporates Islamic law. It exists in the E. and W.-Syr. tradition as well as in an Arabic translation. While it is sometimes attributed to Cath. Yoḥannan bar Abgare (ca. 900), its authorship remains uncertain.

The common foundation of the tradition of ecclesiastical law in all Syrian (and other Eastern Christian) churches has two major components, both originally written in Greek. The first is the ‘Corpus canonum’, i.e., a collection of canons of the 4th-cent. councils, including the ecumenical councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) along with a number of local synods (Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Antioch, and Laodicea). The second consists of several collections of canons attributed to the apostles or their immediate successors. This common foundation was expanded with other texts, some of Greek, others of Syriac origin.

In the W.-Syr. tradition, the ‘Corpus canonum’ (the earliest Syr. translation of which was produced in Mabbug in 501/2) gradually underwent a number of expansions. These included: one or two of the 5th-cent. councils; some apostolic texts (such as the ‘Apostolic canons’, an extract from Book 8 of the ‘Apostolic constitutions’); some texts of Miaphysite origin (probably translated from Greek); and indigenous Syriac rules by such authors as Rabbula of Edessa and Yuḥanon of Tella (bar Qursos). This corpus was revised and further expanded by Yaʿqub of Edessa. Around this period, in all likelihood, the ‘Didascalia Apostolorum’ began to appear in the juridical collections. One particular ms. (Dam. 8/11), belonging to a slightly later period (dated 1204), incorporates a number of further additions, esp. the canons (mostly of disciplinary content) of seven Syr. Orth. synods held between 785 and 896 (ed. of the entire ms. Vööbus 1975–76). This tradition of ecclesiastical law eventually merged with civil law in Bar ʿEbroyo’s ‘Nomocanon’ (see sub 4).

In the E.-Syr. tradition, the acts and canons of synods between 410 and 776 are preserved in the Synodicon Orientale (ed. Chabot). The canons of two additional synods (790 and 1318) are preserved as well. The canons of the 4th-cent. Greek councils became known to the E. Syr. in the early 5th cent., as is reflected in the Synodicon Orientale. The existing canons attributed to the Council of Nicea (325), however, appear to be a later collection of 73 (pseudo-Nicene) canons (ed. Vööbus 1982; GT in Braun 1898). The ‘Apostolic canons’ are included in the E.-Syr. tradition as well. Our main source for the E. Syr. juridical tradition is a large collection of texts that probably was constituted in the 13th cent. (see Synodicon Orientale); not unlike Bar ʿEbroyo’s ‘Nomocanon’ this included both ecclesiastical law and civil law. But whereas Bar ʿEbroyo’s editorial work introduced an important unifying dimension to the work, no such deliberate policy of unification and classification seems to underlie the E.-Syr. collection (Kaufhold 2005, 231).

Systematic collections in which civil law and ecclesiastical law are deliberately brought together can be traced back to a much earlier period than the 13th cent. Such works have sometimes been called ‘Nomocanones’ (reflecting the title of somewhat similar Greek collections containing secular nomoi ‘laws’ and ecclesiastical ‘canons’). The earliest collection of this comprehensive type is the one that is (partly) preserved under the name of Gabriel of Baṣra (late 9th cent.). In the E.-Syr. tradition two further systematic collections of this type are preserved, both by ʿAbdishoʿ bar Brikha: his ‘Nomocanon’ (Kunnāšā d-qānone sunhādiqāye, ed. A. Mai) and his ‘Ordo iudiciorum’ (Tukkās dine ʿedtānāye, LT by J. M. Vosté; for both works, see Kaufhold 2005, 231–5). In the W.-Syr. tradition, Bar ʿEbroyo’s ‘Nomocanon’ (Kthobo d-hudoye ‘Book of directions’, ed. P. Bedjan) belongs to the same genre. Chapters 1–8 contain ecclesiastical law (also including matrimonial law); chapters 9–40 deal with civil law (Kaufhold 2005, 219–20). Syriac ‘Nomocanons’ are reflected in some of the Arabic collections, such as Ibn al-Ṭayyib’s Fiqh al-Naṣrāniyya.

The large collections in which the E-. and W.-Syr. juridical traditions reached their fullest development, those of ʿAbdishoʿ bar Brikha and Bar ʿEbroyo, have remained authoritative to the present day, in the Ch. of E. and in the Syr. Orth. Church respectively (Kaufhold 2005, 220–21 and 235; 2007, 242–3 and 247).

    Primary Sources

      (For editions and translations of individual authors, see under the respective entries.)
    • O. Braun, De sancta Nicaena Synodo. Syrische Texte des Maruta von Maipherkat (1898).
    • E.  Sachau, Syrische Rechtsbücher (3 vols.; 1907–14).
    • Sacra Congregazione per la Chiesa Orientale, Fonti: Ser. II, fasc. 8–9 (Syro-Malankara), 15–7 (Chaldean); 26–8 ( Syr. Cath. ).
    • F.  Schulthess, Die syrischen Kanones der Synoden von Nicaea bis Chalcedon nebst einigen zugehörigen Dokumenten (Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Philologisch-historische Klasse. N.F. 10.2; 1908).
    • W.  Selb, Sententiae Syriacae. Eingeleitet, herausgegeben, deutsch übersetzt, mit einem syrischen und griechischen Glossar versehen und kommentiert (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Klasse, Sitzungsberichte 567; 1990).
    • W.  Selb and H.  Kaufhold, Das syrisch-römische Rechtsbuch (3 vols.; Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Klasse, Denkschriften 295; 2002).
    • A.  Vööbus, The Synodicon in the West Syrian tradition (CSCO 367–368, 375–6; 1975–76).
    • A.  Vööbus, The Canons ascribed to Maruta of Maipherqat and related sources (CSCO 439–40; 1982).

    Secondary Sources

    • J.  Dauvillier, ‘Chaldéen (Droit), in Dictionnaire de droit canonique 3 (1942), col. 292–383.
    • F.  Goria, ‘Un’ipotesi sulla destinazione didattica del Libro siro-romano di diritto’, in Atti dell’Accademia Romanistica Costantiniana. XVI Convegno internazionale in onore de M. J.  García Garrido (Università degli studi de Perugia. Faccoltà di Giurisprudenza; 2007), 153–66.
    • H.  Kaufhold, ‘Die syrische Rechtsliteratur’, in Sources syriaques, vol. 1. Nos sources: Arts et littératures syriaques, ed. M. Atallah et al. (2005), 211–35.
    • H.  Kaufhold, ‘Kirchenrecht, orientalisches’, in KLCO (2007), 238–52.
    • H.  Kaufhold, ‘Rechtsbücher’, in KLCO (2007), 422–5.
    • W.  Selb, Orientalisches Kirchenrecht, vol. 1. Die Geschichte des Kirchenrechts der Nestorianer (von den Anfängen bis zur Mongolenzeit); vol. 2. Die Geschichte des Kirchenrechts der Westsyrer (von den Anfängen bis zur Mongolenzeit) (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-hist. Klasse, Sitzungsberichte 388, 542; 1981–89).
    • A.  Thazhath, The juridical sources of the Syro-Malabar Church (1987).
    • A.  Vööbus, Syrische Kanonessammlungen. Ein Beitrag zur Quellenkunde, vol. 1. Westsyrische Originalurkunden (CSCO 307 and 317; 1970).


How to Cite This Entry

Lucas Van Rompay, “Juridical literature,” 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/Juridical-literature.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Lucas Van Rompay, “Juridical literature,” 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/Juridical-literature.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Van Rompay, Lucas. “Juridical literature.” 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/Juridical-literature.

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