Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Marion Pragt: Organising exegetical knowledge and interpreting the Song of Songs in Syriac Christianity
In late antiquity, Syriac biblical interpreters collected the interpretations of their predecessors in exegetical compilations, bringing together material from diverse authors and time periods. This paper focuses on the organisation of exegetical knowledge in manuscript BL Add. 12168, an eight- or ninth-century West Syrian collection which contains extracts from patristic works. The paper concentrates on the collection's interpretation of the Song of Songs, with particular emphasis on extracts attributed to Gregory of Nyssa and John bar Aphtonia. Gregory's Homilies on the Song of Songs were transmitted in Syriac in both full and abbreviated versions, but have not yet been edited or fully studied. On the other hand, the extracts from John bar Aphtonia received some attention in scholarship focusing on texts lost in Greek. However, this paper approaches the extracts in the light of recent attention to the study of texts in their manuscript contexts. The paper examines the strategies of compiling used in BL Add. 12168 as well as the interests its section on the Song reflects. Moreover, the extracts will be compared to the margins of the Syrohexapla (Codex Ambrosianus), in which some of the same material is attested. It is argued that the selection and organisation of extracts in BL Add. 12168 create a reading of the Song fitting for its own time. As such, the collection sheds light on the role of Syriac compilers in transmitting and shaping exegetical traditions.