Sṭephanos bar Ṣudayli (6th cent.)

Monk in the early 6th cent. to whom pantheist ideas were attributed; likely author of the ‘Book of the holy Hierotheos’. Our earliest evidence on Sṭephanos is a letter written to him by Yaʿqub of Serugh. Albeit on a friendly tone, Yaʿqub cautions against dreams and nightly visions and refutes the idea that punishment in the hereafter would not be eternal. Much harsher is Philoxenos, bp. of Mabbug, who between 512 and 518 wrote about Sṭephanos to two priests in Edessa, Abraham and Orestes, who had been in touch with Sṭephanos. They are strongly warned against Sṭephanos’s evil influence. Philoxenos portrays Stephanos as a heretic, who equates the creation with God: adopting the allegedly Jewish idea of a thousand-year rest (symbolized by the Sabbath, which comes after the sixth day, symbol of this world), he assumes that everything will come to one consummation and will be of one nature with God on the first (i.e., the eighth) day. Philoxenos also notes that Sṭephanos, who left Edessa to live near Jerusalem, had once been a follower of ‘John the Egyptian’ (whose identity cannot be established) and that he had borrowed the concept of ‘motion’ (mettziʿānutā), applied to the sixth day, from the ‘monk Evagrius’, i.e., Evagrius of Pontus. A few further details on Sṭephanos and on Philoxenos’s actions against him are provided in the Chronicle of Michael Rabo, in the Chronicle of 1234, and in Bar ʿEbroyo’s Chronicle.

That Sṭephanos is the author of the pseudepigraphic ‘Book of the holy Hierotheos’ is explicitly stated by the Syr. Orth. Patr. Quryaqos (793–817). The ‘Book’, originally written in Syriac, indeed reflects several of the ideas that Philoxenos attributed to Sṭephanos. It deals with the ascent of the mind towards God and with the final process of unification, whereby everything becomes one being. The author’s revelations are presented as being secret, and accessible only to the initiated.

While some ideas in the ‘Book’ ultimately go back to Origen, scholars have demonstrated the ‘Book’s’ dependence on the writings of Evagrius of Pontus, whose ideas, as expressed in the ‘Kephalaia Gnostica’, were interpreted in the direction of a radical pantheism. In addition, the attribution to Hierotheos links the ‘Book’ to the corpus attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, who is said to have been a student of Hierotheos. This twofold orientation has led some scholars to assume two layers in the redaction history of the ‘Book’: a first layer, which is Evagrian, and a slightly later one, which responds and makes additions to the Pseudo-Dionysian writings. While Sṭephanos in all likelihood is the author of the first layer (not yet attributed to Hierotheos), the second layer may be the work of his pupils, who used the popularity of the Pseudo-Dionysian writings to promote their master’s teachings.

In spite of the controversy about its authorship, the ‘Book’ enjoyed popularity in the Syr. Orth. Church. Commentaries on it were written by Patr. Theodosios (887–896) and later by Bar ʿEbroyo; they were intended to reinterpret the work in accordance with the teachings of the Church. Mostly combined with either one of the commentaries, or with both, and thus domesticated, the ‘Book’ exists in more than 20 mss. Read through the lens of the two later commentaries or from the vantage point of two of its main sources of inspiration, the ‘Book’ may not yet have received sufficient attention as an authentic expression of early 6th-cent. Syr. Christian spirituality in its own right.

Sources

  • A. L.  Frothingham, Stephen bar Sudaili the Syrian mystic and the Book of Hierotheos (1886).
  • A.  Guillaumont, Les ‘Kephalaia Gnostica’ d’Évagre le Pontique et l’histoire de l’origénisme chez les Grecs et chez les Syriens (Patristica Sorboniensia 5; 1962), esp. 302–32.
  • T.  Jansma, ‘Philoxenus’ Letter to Abraham and Orestes concerning Stephen bar Sudaili. Some proposals with regard to the correction of the Syriac text and the English translation’, LM 87 (1974), 79–86.
  • F. S.  Marsh, The book which is called the Book of the holy Hierotheos with extracts from the prolegomena and commentary of Theodosius of Antioch and from ‘The book of excerpts’ and other works of Gregory Barhebraeus (1927).
  • K.  Pinggéra, All-Erlösung und All-Einheit. Studien zum ‘Buch des heiligen Hierotheos’ und seiner Rezeption in der syrisch-orthodoxen Theologie (SKCO 10; 2002).
  • W.  Witakowski, ‘The Idea of Septimana mundi and the millenarian typology of the creation week in Syriac tradition’, in SymSyr V, esp. 103.


How to Cite This Entry

Lucas Van Rompay, “Sṭephanos bar Ṣudayli,” 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/Stephanos-bar-Sudayli.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Lucas Van Rompay, “Sṭephanos bar Ṣudayli,” 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/Stephanos-bar-Sudayli.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Van Rompay, Lucas. “Sṭephanos bar Ṣudayli.” 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/Stephanos-bar-Sudayli.

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

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