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Transmitting Theodore to the Church of the East: The Contribution of Thomas of Edessa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2020

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Thomas of Edessa (d. c. 540), author of Explanations of the Nativity and of Epiphany, flourished as a teacher at the School of Nisibis in Sasanid Persia. By analysing his understanding of salvation history, exegesis and the idea of the human being as ‘bond of creation’, this article shows how Thomas took up and popularised concepts central to the theology of Theodore of Mopsuestia. The article posits that the Nisibene school theology of Thomas and others constituted – alongside liturgy, canonical decrees and biblical commentaries – one of the principal avenues by which Theodore's theology was transmitted to the Church of the East.

Research Article
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I would like to thank Dr. J. F. Coakley for comments on an earlier draft of this article, as well as for ongoing conversations as we prepared our edition of Thomas of Edessa's treatises.


1 On the Church of the East generally see D. W. Winkler, Ostsyrisches Christentum: Untersuchungen zu Christologie, Ekklesiologie und zu den ökumenischen Beziehungen der Assyrischen Kirche des Ostens, Münster 2003, and C. Baumer, The Church of the East: an illustrated history of Assyrian Christianity, London 2006. Principal studies of Theodore's theology include R. Devreesse, Essai sur Théodore de Mopsueste, Vatican City 1948; F. G. McLeod, The roles of Christ's humanity in salvation: insights from Theodore of Mopsuestia, Washington, DC 2005, and Theodore of Mopsuestia, London 2009; and Jansen, T., Theodor von Mopsuestia, De incarnatione: Überlieferung und Christologie der griechischen und lateinischen Fragmente einschliesslich Textausgabe, Berlin 2009CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 N. Kavvadas observes that the Sitz im Leben of this translation project was the Edessan school; he considers Ibas of Edessa as the project's patron: ‘Translation as taking stances: the emergence of Syriac Theodoranism in 5th century Edessa’, ZAC xix (2015), 89–103. The endeavour to render Theodore into Syriac constituted ‘an intentional, orchestrated venture, rather than a natural development’ (p. 93). On the Syriac translations of Theodore see J.-M. Vosté, ‘De versione syriaca operum Theodori Mopsuesteni’, OCP viii (1942), 477–81, and P. Yousif, ‘Traduzioni siriache de Teodoro di Mopsuestia’, in G. Fiaccadori (ed.), Autori classici in lingue del Vicino e Medio Oriente: atti del III, IV e V seminario sul tema: ‘Recuperato di testi classici attraverso recezioni in lingue del Vicino e Medio Oriente’, Rome 1990, 141–62.

3 W. F. Macomber, ‘The theological synthesis of Cyrus of Edessa, an East Syrian theologian of the mid sixth century’, OCP xxx (1964), 5–38, 363–84 at pp. 5–6. On Narsai's reception of Theodore see N. Kavvadas, ‘Narsais Homilie “Über die Väter, die Lehrer Diodor von Tarsos, Theodor von Mopsuestia und Nestorios”’, Sacris Erudiri li (2012), 215–32, and F. G. McLeod, ‘Narsai's dependence on Theodore of Mopsuestia’, Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies vii (2007), 18–38. McLeod's article focuses on Christology and on the subject of Adam and Christ's humanity as God's image.

4 Synod of Mar Aba, 543/4, canon 40: Synodicon orientale: ou, Recueil de synodes nestoriens, ed. J.-B. Chabot, Paris 1902, 550:20–4; trans. into German by O. Braun as Das Buch der Synhados oder Synodicon orientale: die Sammlung der nestorianischen Konzilien, zusammengestellt im neunten Jahrhundert, Vienna 1900; repr. Amsterdam 1975, 144–5. The Synod of Ishoʿyahb i in 585, canon 2, gives a lengthy apologia of Theodore: Synodicon orientale, 136–8; Buch der Synhados, 196–8. A few years later, in 596, the Synod of Sabrishoʿ once again affirmed the normativity of Theodore: Synodicon orientale, 196–9; Buch der Synhados, 282–6. The synods of 585 and 596 reflect the controversy that had arisen about the degree to which Theodore's thought ought to be regarded as authoritative and in which the Nisibene scholar Ḥenana, among others, was involved: G. J. Reinink, ‘“Edessa grew dim and Nisibis shone forth”: the School of Nisibis at the transition of the sixth-seventh century’, in J. W. Drijvers and A. A. MacDonald (eds), Centres of learning: learning and location in pre-modern Europe and the Near East, Leiden 1995, 77–89. Reinink (p. 80) regards Ḥenana less ‘as an instigator of difficulties, but rather as an exponent of a historically complex cultural world’.

5 Cf. Brade, L., Untersuchungen zum Scholienbuch des Theodoros bar Konai: die Übernahme des Erbes von Theodoros von Mopsuestia in der nestorianischen Kirche, Wiesbaden 1975Google Scholar; C. Leonhard, Ishodad of Merw's exegesis of the Psalms 119 and 139–147: a study of his interpretation in the light of the Syriac translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia's commentary, CSCO dlxxxv/Subs. cvii, Louvain 2001. Theodore bar Koni's use of Theodore of Mopsuestia's commentary on John is traced by F. Thome in Studien zum Johanneskommentar des Theodor von Mopsuestia, Bonn 2008, 10–13. A synopsis of the commentaries on John by Theodore and Ishoʿdad can be found in The commentaries of Ishoʿdad of Merv, ed. and trans. M. D. Gibson, with an introduction by J. R. Harris, i, Cambridge 1911, pp. xxxiii–xxxvi and passim in the margins of the translation. On the anonymous commentator's reliance upon Theodore see Le Commentaire sur Genèse-Exode 9,32 du manuscrit (olim) Diyarbakır 22, ed. and trans. L. Van Rompay, CSCO cdlxxxiii–cdlxxxiv/Syr. ccv–ccvi, Louvain 1986, esp. cdlxxxiv, pp. i–xii.

6 The name ‘school theology’ is used here to refer to those writings by teachers at the schools of Nisibis, Seleucia-Ctesiphon and elsewhere that were composed with a clear didactic intent. On the history of the School of Nisibis and its routines, as well as on the East Syriac school movement more broadly see A. H. Becker, Fear of God and the beginning of wisdom: the School of Nisibis and Christian scholastic culture in late antique Mesopotamia, Philadelphia, Pa 2006; A. Vööbus, History of the School of Nisibis, CSCO cclxvi/Subs. xxvi, Louvain 1965; U. Possekel, ‘Selbstverständnis und Bildungsauftrag der Schule von Nisibis’, ZAC xix (2015), 104–36; G. J. Reinink, ‘The School of Seleucia and the heritage of Nisibis, the “mother of sciences”’, in C. Noce, M. Pampaloni and C. Tavolieri (eds), Le vie del sapere in ambito siro-mesopotamico dal III al IX secolo: atti del convegno internazionale tenuto a Roma nei giorni 12–13 maggio 2011, Rome 2013, 115–31; and Bettiolo, P., ‘Scuola ed economia divina nella catechesi della Chiesa di Persia: appunti su un testo di Tommaso di Edessa († ca 542)’, in Felici, S. (ed.), Esegesi e catechesi nei padri (secc. IV–VII), Rome 1994, 147–57Google Scholar; ‘Contrasting styles of ecclesiastical authority and monastic life in the Church of the East at the beginning of the seventh century’, in A. Camplani and G. Filoramo (eds), Foundations of power and conflicts of authority in late-antique monasticism: proceedings of the international seminar Turin, December 2–4, 2004, Louvain 2007, 297–331; and ‘Le scuole nella Chiesa siro-orientale: status question[i]s e prospettiva della ricerca’, in Noce, Pampaloni and Tavolieri, La vie del sapere, 17–46.

7 This date is approximate. Thomas died about 540, and his encounter with Mar Aba in Edessa probably occurred several decades previously.

8 These details are recounted in the Life of Mar Aba, in Histoire de Mar-Jabalaha, de trois autres patriarches, d'un prêtre et de deux laïques, nestoriens, ed. P. Bedjan, Paris 1895, sections 1–6 at pp. 210–18, trans. into German in O. Braun, Ausgewählte Akten persischer Märtyrer, Kempten 1915, 188–92. The text is now also available in Histoire de Mār Abba, catholicos de l'Orient; martyres de Mār Grigor, général en chef du roi Khusro Ier et de Mār Yazd-panāh, juge et gouverneur, ed. and trans. F. Jullien, CSCO dclviii–dclix/Syr. ccliv–cclv, Louvain 2015.

9 Life of Mar Aba 7 (Bedjan edn, 218–19; Braun trans. 192–3).

10 Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian topography ii.2, in Cosmas Indicopleustès, Topographie chrétienne, ed. W. Wolska-Conus, SC cxli, Paris 1968, 307. Cosmas calls Aba by the Greek version of his name, Patrikios. For an English translation of Cosmas see J. W. McCrindle, The Christian topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian monk, London 1897; for a German translation see H. Schneider, Kosmas Indikopleustes, Christliche Topographie; Textkritische Analysen, Übersetzung, Kommentar, Turnhout 2010.

11 Life of Mar Aba 7 (Bedjan edn, 218–19; Braun trans. 192). It has sometimes been stated that Thomas taught Aba Greek, an opinion first found in the Chronicle of Seert 27 (ed. and French trans. in Histoire nestorienne (Chronique de Séert), seconde partie [I], ed. A. Scher, PO vii/2, 155–6) and taken over by later authors; however, the sixth-century Life of Mar Aba makes no such a claim. For further discussion see U. Possekel and J. F. Coakley, Thomas of Edessa's Explanations of the Nativity and Epiphany, Oxford 2020, 3–4, 13–16.

12 This date can be inferred from the fact that Thomas in his treatises calls Aba ‘exegete’ (mpashqana) but does not title him catholicos, as one would expect him to do after Aba's elevation to this rank in 540. That Thomas died in Constantinople is recorded by Cosmas: Christian topography ii.2 (Wolska-Conus edn, 307).

13 On the closure of the School of Edessa see Becker, School of Nisibis, 70–5.

14 For Cyrus' works see Six Explanations of the liturgical feasts by Cyrus of Edessa: an East Syrian theologian of the mid sixth century, ed. and trans. W. F. Macomber, CSCO ccclv–ccclvi/Syr. clv–clvi, Louvain 1974. On Cyrus’ theological project see Macomber’s introduction at CSCO ccclvi, pp. xiv–xxii, and ‘Synthesis’; and Th. Hainthaler, ‘Cyrus von Edessa und seine Erklärungen liturgischer Feste’, in R. Voigt (ed.), Akten des 5. Symposiums zur Sprache, Geschichte, Theologie und Gegenwartslage der syrischen Kirchen, Aachen 2010, 43–57 (with a focus on his Christology). Cyrus’ treatises proceed by and large in the same vein as those of Thomas, but they also have distinct features. Cyrus is, for example, less focused on pedagogical illustrations than is Thomas, and he is more critically disposed towards Judaism which Thomas, remarkably, hardly references.

15 Rabbula's opposition to Theodore, after his volte-face from Antiochene to Alexandrian allegiance, is remarked by Barḥadbeshabba who claims that Rabbula ordered Theodore's books to be burnt: Explanation of the foundation of schools, ed. with French translation in Mar Barḥadbšabba ʿArbaya, évêque de Ḥalwan, Cause de la fondation des écoles, ed. A. Scher, PO iv/4, Paris 1908, 380–1; English translation in A. H. Becker, Sources for the history of the School of Nisibis, Liverpool 2008, 94–160. As several scholars have noted, Barḥadbeshabba's comments should not be taken as indication that most of Theodore's works were already available in Syriac translation at this point; any volumes committed to fire will likely have been in Greek; cf. L. Van Rompay, ‘Quelques Remarques sur la tradition syriaque de l‘oeuvre exégétique de Théodore de Mopsueste’, in H. J. W. Drijvers and others (eds), IV Symposium Syriacum 1984: literary genres in Syriac literature, Rome 1987, 33–43, esp. pp. 36–7. Van Rompay points out (p. 43) that features of the Syriac versions of Theodore indicate a fifth-century translation. See also Kavvadas, ‘Translation’, 98–9, and G. G. Blum, Rabbula von Edessa: der Christ, der Bischof, der Theologe, CSCO ccc/Subs. xxxiv, Louvain 1969, 182–95.

16 Kavvadas argues that the Syriac translation of Theodore's works must have been a collaborative endeavour that took several decades: ‘Translation’, 94f. On this see also Van Rompay, ‘Quelques Remarques sur la tradition syriaque’, 37. Kavvadas observes that according to the Chronicle of Seert ii.1, 9 (Scher edn, 116–17) Maʿana of Rew Ardashir was still working on the translations of Diorore and Theodore in the period between about 457 and 484: ‘Translation’, 94 n. 15.

17 Both Jacob of Sarug (d. 521) and Philoxenus of Mabbug (d. 523) studied in Edessa and were to some extent influenced by Antiochene theology (as exemplified by Diodore and Theodore), even though they ultimately would turn against it. See Jacob of Sarug, Letter 14, in Iacobi Sarugensis epistulae quotquot supersunt, ed. G. Olinder, CSCO cx/Syr. lvii, Paris 1937, 58–9. See also L. Van Rompay, ‘Humanity's sin in paradise: Ephrem, Jacob of Sarug, and Narsai in conversation’, in G. A. Kiraz (ed.), Jacob of Serugh and his times: studies in sixth-century Syriac Christianity, Piscataway, NJ 2010, 199–217, and L. Abramowski, ‘Die nachephesinische Christologie der edessenischen Theodorianer’, in L.Greisiger, C. Rammelt, and J. Tubach (eds), Edessa in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit: Religion, Kultur und Politik zwischen Ost und West, Würzburg 2009, 1–9.

18 Kavvadas, ‘Translation’, 96–103.

19 ʿAbdishoʿ, Catalogue 63, in Bibliotheca orientalis, ed. J. S. Assemani, iii/1, Rome 1725, 86–7.

20 Jamil found the manuscript in the library of the Monastery of Mar Jacob near Seert. The specifics of his find are detailed in the colophon that was included in his personal and subsequent copies (see n. 23 below), for example, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, ms Hyvernat syr. 8, fo. 176r; translation in Macomber at CSCO ccclvi, p. v.

21 Cyrus composed explanations of the Fast, Maundy Thursday, the Passion, the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost: Six Explanations. Clearly, these were meant to continue the project of Thomas who had envisioned treatises on all the dominical feasts: Thomas, Epiphany 1.4; 5.7; Cyrus, On the fast, preface 1 (Macomber edn, 1:10–13). The other treatises in this manuscript are by Ḥenana of Adiabene on the Friday of Gold, Ḥenana on Rogation, Posi on the Fast, Ishai on a feast for the martyrs, and an anonymous explanation of a Marian feast.

22 Six Explanations, CSCO ccclv, p. xii.

23 Jamil immediately ordered a copy to be produced (ms Alqosh 155, dated 1886) from which in turn was made another copy (ms Alqosh 156, dated 1887): J. Vosté, Catalogue de la bibliothèque syro-chaldéenne du couvent de Notre-Dame des Semences près d'Alqoš (Iraq), Rome 1929, 57–8. As soon as scholars took notice of Jamil's find, in quick succession further copies were produced for several notable Syriacists of the day: Baumstark, Hyvernat, Budge, Mingana and Diettrich. These copies are extant and accessible: Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, ms Hyvernat syr. 8 (1889); British Library, London, ms Oriental 9360A (1894); Academy of Sciences, Oriental Institute, St Petersburg, ms Diettrich 7 (1894); Collegio Teutonico, Vatican City, ms Baumstark 44 (1897); Selly Oak Colleges Library, Birmingham, ms Mingana syr. 195 (1928). Stemma at Six Explanations, CSCO ccclv, p. xxiii. The first scholar to survey the content of these treatises was A. Baumstark, ‘Die nestorianischen Schriften “de causis festorum”’, OrChr i (1901), 320–42.

24 For the treatises by Ḥenana and Ishai see Traités d'Išaï le docteur et de Ḥnana d'Adiabène sur les martyrs, le vendredi d'or et les rogations, ed. with French translation by A. Scher, PO vii/1, Paris 1909. The explanation by Posi and the anonymous treatise on the Marian feast still remain unpublished. On the latter see G. J. Reinink, ‘The cause of the commemoration of Mary: author, date, and Christology’, in G. A. Kiraz (ed.), Malphono w-Rabo d-Malphone: studies in honor of Sebastian P. Brock, Piscataway, NJ 2008, 517–34.

25 S. J. Carr, Thomae Edesseni Tractatus de Nativitate Domini nostri Christi, Rome 1898.

26 A critical edition with English translation is forthcoming in Possekel and Coakley, Thomas of Edessa's Explanations. All references in this article are by chapter and section number of this edition. Earlier studies include Th. Hainthaler, ‘Thomas of Edessa, Causa de Nativitate: some considerations’, ParOr xxxi (2006), 63–85; U. Possekel, ‘Thomas von Edessa über das Epiphaniefest: erste Anmerkungen zu einer unveröffentlichten Handschrift’, in W. Kinzig, U. Volp and J. Schmidt (eds), Liturgie und Ritual in der Alten Kirche, Louvain 2011, 153–76; and Bettiolo, ‘Scuola’. The treatise on Epiphany was the subject of an unpublished doctoral dissertation by P. Y. Patros, Rome 2007.

27 Sometimes rendered as causa or ‘cause’ in older and Latinate scholarship.

28 Thomas, Nativity 2.1–2; 3.1; 4.1; 9.1; Epiphany 6.1 and passim.

29 Idem, Nativity 1.3.

30 Discussion of the genre of Explanation may be found in Six Explanations, CSCO ccclvi, Macomber's introduction at p. vi; Hainthaler, ‘Thomas of Edessa’, 64–6, and ‘The Causes of the Feast, a literary genre of the East Syriac Church, in the 6th century’, The Harp xxiii (2008), 383–400; Becker, School of Nisibis, 101–7; and Possekel and Coakley, Thomas of Edessa's Explanations, 27–31.

31 Cf. Six Explanations, CSCO ccclvi, p. vi.

32 It is sometimes stated that Elisha bar Quzbaye was the first to have written ‘Explanations’. This claim rests on the identification of Elisha bar Quzbaye, who according to Barḥadbeshabba's Explanation (Scher edn, 387) took on the ‘work of exegesis’ for seven years sometime in the first half of the sixth century, with Elisha the Interpreter (mpashqana) about whom ʿAbdishoʿ reports that he had composed an ‘Explanation on the sessions and the martyrs ()’ (Catalogue 90, Assemani edn, 166f.). While this identification is plausible enough, Elisha bar Quzbaye's directorship remains difficult to date as the sources do not agree on the details: Barḥadbeshabba, Ecclesiastical history 32 (Nau edn, 620) states that Elisha led the school for four years during Abraham's directorship. Moreover, as his discourses are no longer extant, it cannot be known if they conformed to the typical structure of the Explanations of the feasts. (The title ʿelta is attached also to other discourses that are clearly not Explanations in the sense considered here.)

33 Thomas, Nativity 1.1–2; Epiphany 1.1–2. Thomas expresses his admiration for Aba in Nativity 1.1 and Epiphany 1.2.

34 According to the library catalogue of ʿAbdishoʿ (cf. n. 19), thirteen other authors (besides those whose works are preserved in the manuscript from Alqosh) were known to have composed ‘Explanations’, of which only the Explanation by Barḥadbeshabba on the foundation of schools has survived; see the list in Hainthaler, ‘Cyrus of Edessa’, 48. On the Explanations by the West Syriac theologian Moses bar Kepha see J. F. Coakley, ‘The Explanations of the feasts of Moše bar Kepha’, IV Symposium Syriacum, 403–10.

35 Aba's synodal canons and some letters are Synodicon orientale, 65–95, 540–50 (text) (Braun trans., 99–145). Beyond this, only a few excerpts survive in later biblical commentaries such as those by Ishoʿdad of Merv. See, for example, V. Berti, ‘Mar Aba the Great on Exodus: fragments from the Commentary of Ishoʿdad of Merv and the Christian topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes’, Cristianesimo nella storia xxxviii (2017), 27–50.

36 Thomas, Nativity 3.1–3.

37 Ibid. 3.6.


38 Ibid. 4.1–9.


39 For example, Commentary on Colossians i. 9–11, in Theodori episcopi Mopsuesteni in epistolas B. Pauli commentarii: the Latin version with the Greek fragments, ed. H. B. Swete, Cambridge 1880–2 at i. 258:7, and Commentary on Galatians, preface, ibid. i. 2:4–6. In Commentary on Galatians ii.15–16 Theodore references the ‘good things to come’ (‘futurorum bonorum': Swete edn, i. 31:10). An English translation of these commentaries can be found in R. A. Greer, Theodore of Mopsuestia: Commentary on the minor Pauline epistles, Atlanta, Ga 2010.

40 ‘And if he had had discernment, he would have remained with him who was for him the cause of all good gifts (), while truly he had their possession’: Catechetical homilies 12.8, in Les Homélies catéchetiques de Théodore de Mopsueste, ed. with French translation by R. Tonneau, in collaboration with R. Devreesse, Vatican City 1949, 332:25–324:1. A German translation by P. Bruns is to be found in Theodor von Mopsuestia, Katechetische Homilien, Freiburg im Br. 1994.

41 Theodore of Mopsuestia, Catechetical homilies 12.5 (Tonneau edn, 328:14–15).

42 Ibid. 12.10 (Tonneau edn, 336:26–338:2); cf. 12.13; 12.20; 13.2; 13.4 and passim.


43 In addition, the Peshitta uses to translate τὸ ἀγαθόν (Gal. vi.10) as well as τὸ καλόν (2 Corinthians xiii.7).

44 Theodore, Commentary on Ephesians i.13–14 (Swete edn, i. 133:21); Commentary on Jonah, preface, in Theodori Mopsuesteni commentarius in XII prophetas, ed. H. N. Sprenger, Wiesbaden 1977, 169:8–20, esp. line 16, and passim. An English translation may be found in R. C. Hill, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the twelve prophets, Washington, DC 2004, 185. The Latin version of Theodore's commentaries on the minor epistles of Paul usually employs bona; see the passages cited at n. 39 above or Commentary on Colossians ii.2b–3 (‘et ut inenarrabilibus bonis communicetis’: Swete edn, i. 283:12).

45 Theodore, Commentary on Romans v.15; xv.16; v.17; vi.17, in Pauluskommentare aus der griechischen Kirche, aus Katenenhandschriften gesammelt und herausgegeben, ed. K. Staab, Münster 1933, 119:29; 120:4.9; 123:19 and passim. An English translation is to be found in C. D. Gregory, ‘Theodore of Mopsuestia's commentary on Romans: an annotated translation’, unpubl. PhD diss. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1992. Theodore also stresses the concept of ‘gift’ in Commentary on John i.12–13, where he speaks of the ‘great gift’ () of the ‘adoption as children' (): Theodori Mopsuesteni commentarius in Evangelium Johannis apostoli, ed. J.-M. Vosté, CSCO cxv/ Syr. lxii, Louvain 1940, 33:10–11; Greek fragments ed. Devreesse, in Essai, 305–419; Eng. trans. of the Syriac version in M. Conti, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Downers Grove, Il 2010.

46 Romans v.15, 17. On the use of this word in the New Testament more generally see G. Kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, i, Stuttgart 1932, s.v. δίδωμι.

47 The Peshitta has, as expected, for the Greek δωρεά in Romans v.15–17; but on occasion it also renders the word χάρισμα as , for example in Rom. i.11, and 1 Cor. vii.7.

48 Theodore on occasion employs the term mawhabta, ‘gift’ (for example, Catechetical homilies 13.16 [Tonneau edn, 394:12]), but ṭabata certainly dominates in these discourses.

49 Thomas, Nativity 5.1–2.

50 To designate the childish state of humanity at the beginning of human history, Thomas usually employs the noun . Alhough he does not use this word in the context under consideration here (Nativity 5.3), he often does so in similar discussions such as in Nativity 4.13 (), 6.1 () or 7.10 ().

51 Ibid. 5.3–8.


52 Ephrem, Commentary on Genesis, prologue 4, in Sancti Ephraem Syri in Genesim et in Exodum commentarii, ed. R.-M. Tonneau, CSCO clii/ Syr. lxxi, Louvain 1955, 3:26–8; 4:5–7; an English translation can be found in E. G. Mathews and J. P. Amar, St Ephrem the Syrian, Selected prose works, Washington, DC 1994.

53 Ephrem, Commentary on Genesis, ch. i, §25 (Tonneau edn, 22:11–12). The phrase ‘from that year’ refers to the very first year, in which this discrepancy did not occur because, Ephrem posits, the sun was created as on the fourth day (of the solar cycle) whereas the moon was created as on the fifteenth day (of the lunar cycle).

54 Ephrem, Memre on faith v, 1–24, 169–224 in Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Sermones de fide, ed. E. Beck, with a German translation, CSCO ccxii–ccxiii/ Syr. lxxxviii–lxxxix, Louvain 1961, 36f., 40f. [text]).

55 Aphrahat, Demonstration 2.3, in Aphraatis sapientis Persae demonstrationes, ed. J. Parisot, Patrologia Syriaca 1.1, Paris 1894, 52:15–17.

56 Van Rompay stresses the continuity with the native Syriac tradition and considers the project to translate Theodore as a ‘logical and natural process’: ‘Quelques Remarques sur la tradition syriaque’, 35, 39. On the other hand, R. Macina regards this translation project as a turning point and emphasises the distinction between Theodore and Syriac theologians in his ‘L'Homme à l’école de Dieu: d'Antioche à Nisibe: profil herméneutique, théologique et kérygmatique du mouvement scoliaste nestorien’, Proche-Orient Chrétien xxxii (1982), 86–124, 263–301; xxxiii (1983), 39–103 at xxxii. 268–71. See also Becker, School of Nisibis, 113–25, and Kavvadas, ‘Translation’, 96–103.

57 Theodori Mopsuesteni fragmenta syriaca, with Latin translation, ed. E. Sachau, Leipzig 1869, 1–34 (text). See also R. Tonneau, ‘Théodore de Mopsueste, Interpretation (du livre) de la Genèse (Vat. Syr. 120, ff. I–V)’, Muséon lxvi (1953), 45–64, and T. Jansma, ‘Théodore de Mopsueste, Interprétation du livre de la Genèse: fragments de la version syriaque (B.M. Add. 17,189, fol. 17–21)’, Muséon lxxv (1962), 63–92.

58 ‘[God] gave us this present mortal life, as I have said, for the training of virtues and the teaching of what is right for us to do (‘ad exercitationem uirtutum et doctrinam illorum quae nos conueniunt facere’) … [God] gave us various laws for our help’: Theodore, Commentary on Galatians ii.15–16 (Swete edn, i. 24–32 at 26:9–11 and 26:23–24; Greer trans. 39–51).

59 Macomber, ‘Synthesis’, esp. pp. 10–28, 376–7.

60 Nativity 7.6. For a similar tension in the writings of Cyrus of Edessa see Macomber, ‘Synthesis’, 375–7 and passim.

61 Nativity 5.3–7. Study of the alphabet corresponds to the generations from Noah to Abraham; spelling and reading correlates with the time from Abraham to the exodus, and so on.

62 Ibid. 5.9.


63 Barḥadbeshabba, Explanation (Scher edn, 327–97). See also A. H. Becker, ‘Bringing the heavenly academy down to earth: approaches to the imagery of divine pedagogy in the East Syrian tradition’, in R. S. Boustan and A. Y. Reed (eds), Heavenly realms and earthly realities in late antique religions, Cambridge 2004, 174–91.

64 Joseph Ḥazzaya, On providence 11, 12, 22, 51, 67 and passim in Joseph Hazzaya, On providence, ed. N. Kavvdas, Leiden 2016.

65 Joseph Ḥazzaya, On providence 67 (Kavvadas edn, 92–4). There are other notable parallels between Joseph and Thomas, as well as with other Nisibene school treatises, that deserve further investigation.

66 On Theodore's exegetical method see Devreesse, Essai, 53–93, and McLeod, Roles of Christ's humanity, 20–57.

67 Epiphany 3.1. On Christ as the sun of righteousness see M. Wallraff, Christus verus sol: Sonnenverehrung und Christentum in der Spätantike, Münster 2001, 21–2, 48–59 and passim.

68 Thomas, Epiphany 3.1–4.

69 Ibid. 3.3.


70 Theodore, Commentary on John i.4–5 (Vosté edn, 28:28–30:14); Commentary on Ephesians v.8 (Swete edn, i. 178); Commentary on Romans xiii.12 (Staab edn, 163:19–26).

71 Epiphany 4.1.

72 Thomas concedes that, surely, it would have been possible for God to make Jesus appear as fully grown in the blink of an eye, just as God had made Adam and Eve, but observes that this might have exacerbated the problem of docetism. Although he does not name them, Thomas here seems to allude to the Julianist movement that was widely spread in the sixth century: A. Kofsky, ‘Julianism after Julian of Halicarnassus’, in B. Bitton-Ashkelony and L. Perrone (eds), Between personal and institutional religion: self, doctrine, and practice in late antique eastern Christianity, Turnhout 2013, 251–94; U. Possekel, ‘Julianism in Syriac Christianity’, in P. Bruns and H. O. Luthe (eds), Orientalia Christiana: Festschrift für Hubert Kaufhold zum 70. Geburtstag, Wiesbaden 2013, 437–57.

73 Barḥadbeshabba, Explanation (Scher edn, PO iv/4, 348–54). On Barḥadbeshabba's engagement with Aristotelian thought see M. Perkams, ‘Das Wissen des Nichtwissens in der Schule von Nisibis: Philosophie in Barḥaḏbšabbā von Ḥalwāns Die Ursache der Gründung der Schulen (um 590)’, Phasis xviii (2015), 166–90.

74 Thomas, Epiphany 4.5; he cites or alludes to Rom. v.19, Gal. iii.13; iv.5.

75 Theodore, Commentary on Galatians iii.12–13 (Swete edn, i. 41–4; Greer trans. 65–7).

76 Thomas, Epiphany 4.7.

77 Ibid.


78 Ibid. 4.8.


79 Barḥadbeshabba, Ecclesiastical history 32, in L'Histoire de Barḥadbešabba ʿArbaïa, seconde partie, ed. F. Nau, PO ix/5, Paris 1913, 617:9–10. This remark occurs in his praise of the saintly Abraham of Bet Rabban.

80 Thomas, Epiphany 4.11.

81 ‘The God of both the old and the new covenant is one, the lord and maker of all things, who with one end in view made dispositions for both the former and the latter … In this way the events in olden times were found to be a kind of type (τὸν τρόπον τύπος) of what came later, containing some outline (μίμησιν) of them as well as meeting needs at the time, while suggesting by the events themselves how far they were inferior to the later ones’: Theodore, Commentary on Jonah, preface (Sprenger edn, 169:8–10, 170:8–11; Hill trans. [slightly adapted], 185–6).

82 Theodore, Commentary on Jonah, preface (Sprenger edn, 169:15–20; Hill trans. 185). Similar passages occur passim in the preface to Commentary on Jonah.

83 Thomas, Epiphany 5.2. On the origin of Christmas see, for example, H. Förster, Die Anfänge von Weihnachten und Epiphanias: eine Anfrage an die Entstehungshypothesen, Tübingen 2007.

84 Thomas, Epiphany 5.4.

85 Interestingly, Ishoʿdad of Merv in his Commentary on Matthew xvii.1 will later reach the same conclusion: he remarks that Luke speaks ‘according to the custom of physicians’ and thus includes the partial first and last days (Gibson edn, ii (1911), 113; trans. i. 67).

86 Theodore, Commentary on Romans vii.4, vii.13 (Staab edn, 124, 129f.).

87 Thomas, Epiphany 5.8.

88 Theodore, Commentary on John i.49 (Vosté edn, 53:17–22); Greek fragments in Devreesse, Essai, 318.

89 Thomas, Epiphany 8.2–4.

90 Ibid. 8.5.


91 Theodore, Commentary on the Psalms, Psalm xlv, preface, in Le Commentaire de Théodore de Mopsueste sur les Psaumes (I–LXXX), ed. R. Devreesse, Vatican City 1939, 277:8–11; translated in R. C. Hill, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Psalms 1–81, Atlanta, Ga 2006, 555 (includes a reprint of Devreesse's text).

92 Theodore, Commentary on Psalms, Psalm xlv.10, explicitly identifies the ‘daughter’ as ‘church’ (Devreesse edn, 292; Hill trans. 585). The commentary on Psalm xlv.13 takes pains to challenge and reject the interpretation of ‘daughter’ as a woman (Devreesse edn, 295:15–28; Hill trans. 591).

93 John Chrysostom, De baptismo Christi 2–3, PG xlix (1862), 363–72 at cols 366–7. On this sermon see E. Ferguson, ‘Preaching at Epiphany: Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom on baptism and the Church’, Church History lxvi (1997), 1–17, and Baptism in the Early Church: history, theology, and liturgy in the first five centuries, Grand Rapids, Mi 2009, 547f.

94 John Chrysostom, De baptismo Christi 3, PG xlix. 367.

95 Thomas, Epiphany 8.6.

96 Ibid. 8.7.


97 Ibid. 9.2.


98 Ibid.


99 Ibid. This passage from Isaiah is cited also by Cyrus, On the fast 7.3 and Ascension 4.8 (Macomber edn, 27:22, 148:25–26). The Peshitta manuscript 7a1 (Milan Ambr. B21 inf) has the reading ‘father of the world to come’; ms 6h5 (BL, ms Add. 14,432) has it in the margins; and it is found in certain Septuagint manuscripts, whereas the Hebrew reads ʾabiʿad, ‘eternal father’.


100 Thomas, Epiphany 9.3–11.

101 Ibid. 9.13.


102 A survey of Ephrem's theological method can be found in S. Brock, The luminous eye: the spiritual world vision of Saint Ephrem, Kalamazoo, Mi 1992.

103 McLeod, Theodore of Mopsuestia, 21, cf. ‘Narsai's dependence’, 23.

104 Theodore, Catechetical homilies 13.12 (Tonneau edn, 388:16).

105 Ibid. 13.14 (Tonneau edn, 392:11–13).


106 Ibid. (Tonneau edn, 391–3, esp. 392:9–11); 1.4 (Tonneau edn, 6:15–24).


107 Ibid. 1.5 (Tonneau edn, 10:7–13), cf. 1.4 (Tonneau edn, 6:26–8:3 and passim).


108 ibid. 14.6 (Tonneau edn, 414:14–17; cf. 414:10–11 and passim); cf. Commentary on Ephesians i.10 (Swete edn, i. 127:18–128:5; 130:18–131:5); i.13–14 (Swete edn, i.133–4).

109 Theodore, Catechetical homilies 14.9–10 (Tonneau edn, 418–24). For a nuanced discussion see F. G. McLeod, ‘The Christological ramifications of Theodore of Mopsuestia's understanding of baptism and the eucharist’, JECS x (2002), 37–75.

110 Thomas, Epiphany 9.14.

111 Idem, Nativity 7.1.

112 Ibid. 5.12–14.


113 ῥοπή occurs at Commentary on Romans 5.21; 6.12–14; 7.5; 7.25 and passim (Staab edn, 121:7.9; 122:20; 125:25; 133:14). In his Commentary on Romans v.21 and vi.6 (Staab edn, 120:30–121:2; 121:31–122:2), as well as in Catechetical homilies 12.8 (Tonneau edn, 334:11–13), Theodore remarks that this inclination to sin increased over time. Macomber observes that the Greek word corresponding to meṣṭalyanuta is τρεπτότης: ‘Synthesis’, 10 n. 1. In Commentary on Romans vii.25 and viii.2, for instance, Theodore uses the negative form, ἀτρéπτος (Staab edn, 133:15.20.29); Commentary on Matthew i.21, in Matthäus-Kommentare aus der griechischen Kirche: aus Katenenhandschriften gesammelt und herausgegeben, ed. J. Reuss, 61, Berlin 1957, fragment 5, p. 98, line 1.

114 For example, Catechetical homilies 12.8 (Tonneau edn, 334:12).

115 This aspect of Theodore's theology may also have influenced the concept of yaṣra in Narsai: A. H. Becker, ‘The “evil inclination” of the Jews: the Syriac yatsra in Narsai's metrical homilies for Lent’, Jewish Quarterly Review cvi (2016), 179–207, esp. pp. 198f.

116 Thomas, Nativity 5.20.

117 Ibid. 7.1.


118 Theodore, Commentary on Genesis, preface (Sachau edn, 7:18–24). The Greek fragments are in Catenae graecae in Genesim et in Exodum, II: Collectio Coisliniana in Genesim ed. F. Petit, CChr.SG xv, Turnhout 1986, fragment 71 at pp. 69–70, esp. lines 26–34; cf. F. Petit, ‘L'Homme créé “à l'image” de Dieu: quelques fragments grecs inédits de Théodore de Mopsueste’, Muséon c (1987), 269–81. I thank Professor Lucas Van Rompay for this reference.

119 Commentary on Romans viii.19 (Staab edn, 137:18–19; 138:21).

120 Commentary on Colossians i.16 (Swete edn, i. 267–70; Greer trans. 379–81). Theodore uses almost the same terminology in Commentary on Romans viii.19 (Staab edn, 137–8).

121 See McLeod, Roles of Christ's humanity, 102–23.

122 Thomas, Nativity 9.4.

123 Ibid. 7.1.


124 The text is accessible in manuscript form only. An overview of the content may be found in G. J. Reinink, ‘George Warda and Michael Badoqa’, in H. Teule and others (eds), The Syriac Renaissance, Louvain 2010, 65–72, esp. pp. 69–73. For detailed analysis of the relation between Ahudemmeh, Michael and the thirteenth-century poet George Warda, all of whom took up the subject of ‘man as microcosm’, see G. J. Reinink, ‘Man as microcosm: a Syriac didactic poem and its prose background’, in A. Harder, A. A. MacDonald and G. J. Reinink (eds), Calliope's classroom: studies in didactic poetry from antiquity to the Renaissance, Leuven 2007, 123–49.

125 BL, ms Or. 4071, fo. 56b, lines 14–16.

126 Other key themes or features in which Thomas draws on Theodore include the concept of ‘household membership’ or ‘intimacy’ (ܒܝܬܝܘܬܐ) with the Divine, the adoption as sons/children, and the author's habit of interspersing his discourse with self-reflective remarks on the task of the writer or speaker. On these themes see Possekel and Coakley, Thomas of Edessa's Explanations, 34–8.

127 Barḥadbeshabba, Ecclesiastical history 32 (Nau edn, 622:5–9; Becker trans., Sources, 78). On Abraham's contribution see also A. Vööbus, ‘Abraham de-Bēt Rabban and his rôle in the hermeneutic traditions of the School of Nisibis’, Harvard Theological Review lviii (1965), 203–14. Photius famously denigrates Theodore's style as ‘unclear’ (ὄυτε λαμπρός) and repetitive (ταὐτολογεῖ δὲ τὰ πλεῖστα) in Bibiotheca 38, in Photius, Bibliothèque, ed. R. Henry, i, Paris 2003, 23.

128 The subject of the different strands that constituted the ‘tradition of the school’ in the late sixth and early seventh centuries, and how under threat from miaphysite expansion in the Persian realm they came to be in open conflict with one another, leading to deep division within the scholastic community, is explored in G. J. Reinink, ‘Tradition and the formation of the “Nestorian” identity in sixth- to seventh-century Iraq’, Church History and Religious Culture lxxxix (2009), 217–50, esp. pp. 238–50.

129 Barḥadbeshabba, Explanation (Scher edn, 381–3).

130 Ibid. (Scher edn, 382:12–13). An East Syriac manuscript (BL, ms Add. 12,138, dated 899 ce) on how correctly to point and pronounce biblical words and on other grammatical topics references in a note on the last page ‘the tradition of the masters of the school’ (fo. 312r); cf. W. Wright, Catalogue of Syriac manuscripts in the British Museum, i, London 1870, 107. On the ‘tradition of the school’ see also Van Rompay, ‘Quelques Remarques sur la tradition syriaque’, 38–42.


131 This is clear, for example, from Barḥadbeshabba, Explanation, who remarks that Elisha bar Quzbaye, head of school in the mid-sixth century, composed inter alia ‘commentaries (mashlmanwata) on all the books of the Old (Testament)’ (Scher edn, 387:5–7). See also Reinink, ‘Tradition’, 231, 238, 241 and passim.

132 Thomas, Nativity 11.1.

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