Shemʿon bar Ṣabbaʿe (d. 341 or 344) [Ch. of E.]

Bp. of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and martyr. Shemʿon was probably the immediate successor of Papa bar ʿAggai (d. between 327 and 335), but nothing is known about his tenure as bp. prior to his arrest. His name ‘son of the dyers’ may refer to the profession of textile dying. Our main sources about Shemʿon are two interrelated Syriac texts: 1. the ‘Martyrdom of Shemʿon’ (first published by E. Assemani, Acta sanctorum martyrum I [1748]); and 2. the longer ‘History of Shemʿon’ (first published by P. Bedjan, Acta martyrum et sanctorum II [1891]). Both texts were published by M. Kmosko in 1907, who called them MS1 ‘Recensio antiquior’ and MS2 ‘Recensio recentior’, respectively. Both texts are preserved in mss. that contain larger collections of E.-Syr. martyrdoms, which mostly are joined together with hagiographies and martyrdoms of the W.-Syr. tradition. One of the primary mss. for the ‘Martyrdom’, Vat. Syr. 160, is of disputed date (some parts of the ms. are from the 6th cent., but for this particular part Assemani proposed a 10th-cent. date, which seems too late); the other mss. are from the 9th cent. and later, belonging to either the E.-Syr. or the W.-Syr. tradition. Dayr al-Suryān played an important role in the transmission of the texts, as mss. Vat. Syr. 160 and 161 (the latter containing portions of both texts) were kept there, and ms. Brit. Libr. Add. 14,645 (which contains the ‘Martyrdom’) was written there in 932. Ms. Brit. Libr. Add. 12,174, an important witness of the ‘History’ was written in the time of Michael Rabo, at the expense of a deacon from Dayro d-Mor Barṣawmo. The ‘Martyrdom’, or a text closely related to it, was known to Sozomen, who incorporated some information on Shemʿon in his Ecclesiastical History (II.9–10), which was written ca. 445. Among the later sources, Shemʿon receives attention in the Arabic Chronicle of Siirt and ‘Book of the Tower’, as well as in Bar ʿEbroyo’s Chronicle (see Wiessner, 79–94). The E.-Syr. Breviary attributes to Shemʿon some hymns (ed. with LT Kmosko, 1048–55).

According to both Syriac texts, Shemʿon was arrested when he refused to comply with a royal order to raise a double tax from the Christian community. This happened probably in 340, when the Sasanian king Shapur II (309–379) was engaged in warfare with the Romans and the Persian Christians came under the suspicion of sympathizing with the Romans. In the introduction to the ‘Martyrdom’ the predicament of the Christians is compared with the oppression of the Jews in the time of the Maccabees, and the ‘two priests’, Judas (Maccabaeus) and Shemʿon, are portrayed as fighting for the same cause. Arrested in Seleucia, Shemʿon was transported to Karka d-Ledan, in Beth Huzaye, where he had several meetings with the king. A long subplot (in both Syr. texts and in Sozomen) concerns Shemʿon’s encounter with the defector Gushtazad, who upon seeing Shemʿon decided to return to his Christian faith and became a martyr even before Shemʿon. After having been given ample opportunity to rescind his position and to pay homage to the king and his gods, Shemʿon is executed. While the ‘History’, to a certain extent, expands on the ‘Martyrdom’, Wiessner has argued convincingly that the author of the ‘History’ had access to additional sources and in some cases deliberately updated the ‘Martyrdom’ theologically and ideologically. For both the ‘Martyrdom’ and the ‘History’ the question arises as to what extent they may be used as historical sources, a question that becomes even more pertinent if one takes into consideration that there were several decades between the events that are reported and the redaction of the texts. The final redaction probably took place in the early 5th cent., or — in the case of the ‘History’ — well into the 5th cent.

Several other martyr texts deal with the persecution under Shapur II. Among the texts that are most closely related to the Shemʿon texts are the Martyrdom of Tarbo, Shemʿon’s sister (ed. Bedjan, AMS 2, 254–60) and the Martyrdom of Pusay (or Pusayk) and Marta (ibid., 208–32 and 233–41).

See also Martyrs and persecutions.

    Primary Sources

    • J. Bidez and G. C.  Hansen, Sozomenus. Kirchengeschichte (GCS 50; 1960), 61–65 (II.9–10). (Greek)
    • J. Bidez, B. Grillet, and G. Sabbah, Sozomène. Histoire ecclésiastique. Livres I–II (SC 306; 1983), 266–77. (Greek and FT)
    • M.  Kmosko, S. Simeon bar Sabbaʿe (PS I.2; 1907), 715–78 (= MS1); 759–960 (= MS2); 1048–55 (ʿonyāthā and qāle). (Syr. with LT)
    • Braun, Ausgewählte Akten persischer Märtyrer, 5–57. (partial GT of ‘History’)

    Secondary Sources

    • S. P. Brock, The History of Mar Maʿin, with a Guide to the Persian Martyr Acts (2008), 78–79 and 88.
    • R. W. Burgess, ‘The dates of the martyrdom of Simeon bar Simeon bar Sabbaʿe and the “Great Massacre” ’, AB 117 (1999), 9–47.
    • P. Devos, ‘Sozomène et les actes syriaques de S. Syméon bar Sabbāʿe’, AB 84 (1966), 443–56.
    • Fiey, Saints syriaques, 177–78 (no. 421).
    • Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire perse, 43–69.
    • G.  Wiessner, Zur Märtyrerüberlieferung aus der Christenverfolgung Schapurs II (1967).

| Shemʿon bar Ṣabbaʿe |


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