Thursday, 7 February 2019

Erin Walsh: Brazen Faith: The Theme of Boldness in Narsai and Jacob of Serugh

Narsai and Jacob of Serugh inherited and transformed the legacy of Ephrem, composing memre(narrative poems) on a variety of biblical and doctrinal themes. While Narsai and Jacob are often studied as representatives of contrasting Christological positions, comparative treatments of their poetry can also yield insights into the reception history of biblical texts and the development of poetic rhetoric in the fifth and early sixth centuries. Within their poetry, the theme of boldness and self-assertion appears frequently. Through attributing boldness to female figures from both the Christian Old and New Testaments, authors played with the paradoxes of idealized feminine deportment and gendered vices. Using the same vocabulary for the impudence of Eve and the zeal of faithful New Testament women, poets expanded the semantic range of these terms, rendering boldness an ambiguous role in the life of faith. The subject of this communication will be their treatments of 1 Kings 3:16-28, the narrative of the women before Solomon. While Jacob’s memraexists in English translation, Narsai’s Memra75 “On Solomon and his Choice and his Judgment,” has neither been translated nor examined previously. In the course of preparing a translation I have found Narsai differs from Jacob in his extensive treatment of the women’s boldness, which I will draw out in a comparison of their re-narrations of the narrative. Within these didactic works, one finds the construction of idealized motherhood and faithful boldness, adding to our understanding of women and gender within Syriac Christianity.

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