Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom

Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 320
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    Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom
    Book Description:

    The School of Nisibis was the main intellectual center of the Church of the East in the sixth and early seventh centuries C.E. and an institution of learning unprecedented in antiquity.Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdomprovides a history both of the School and of the scholastic culture of the Church of the East more generally in the late antique and early Islamic periods. Adam H. Becker examines the ideological and intellectual backgrounds of the school movement and reassesses the evidence for the supposed predecessor of the School of Nisibis, the famed School of the Persians of Edessa. Furthermore, he argues that the East-Syrian ("Nestorian") school movement is better understood as an integral and at times contested part of the broader spectrum of East-Syrian monasticism.Becker examines the East-Syrian culture of ritualized learning, which flourished at the same time and in the same place as the famed Babylonian Rabbinic academies. Jews and Christians in Mesopotamia developed similar institutions aimed at inculcating an identity in young males that defined them as beings endowed by their creator with the capacity to study. The East-Syrian schools are the most significant contemporary intellectual institutions immediately comparable to the Rabbinic academies, even as they served as the conduit for the transmission of Greek philosophical texts and ideas to Muslims in the early 'Abbasid period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0120-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Transliteration, Spelling, and Terminology
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Chronology
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    It may have been the same scribe, Gabriel of Bēt Qaṭrāyē,² who, on the outer margin of the page on which this colophon appears, incised what seem to be magical characters, evidence of another ritual practice (like the colophon itself) that would protect the artifact as well as signify the end of the scribe’s labors. After the arduous task of creating a manuscript, it must have been a small additional burden, yet one full of pleasure, to compose a colophon. Perhaps the colophon’s phrasing, despite its clichés and commonplaces, rolled around in the scribe’s mind as he fantasized about the...

  7. Chapter 1 Divine Pedagogy and the Transmission of the Knowledge of God: The Discursive Background of the School Movement
    (pp. 22-40)

    A pedagogical understanding of the human being’s place in the world is apparent throughout East-Syrian literature. A feature of theCause of the Foundation of the Schoolsthat strikes the reader immediately is its schematization of all human history into a long series of schools. Such a set of metaphors and motifs corresponds to the East-Syrian school movement as an underlying ideology that would have maintained and been maintained by the social institutions of the schools.² However, while this pedagogical ideology was perpetuated through, for example, the School of Nisibis by its various rules and its community life, its origins...

  8. Chapter 2 The School of the Persians (Part 1): Rereading the Sources
    (pp. 41-61)

    The pedagogical model became the dominant form of imagining Christianity at the School of Nisibis and within the East-Syrian school movement due to the evolution of a specific institutional structure in which metaphors of learning could be reduced to their concrete equivalents and Christianity could be equated with the transmission of knowledge. However, we must step back from the time of Mār Abā in the sixth century and examine the institutional predecessor to the School of Nisibis, the School of the Persians in Edessa, which was closed in 489 due to its aberrant Christological teaching. Its members—or at least...

  9. Chapter 3 The School of the Persians (Part 2): From Ethnic Circle to Theological School
    (pp. 62-76)

    The purpose of the previous chapter was to destabilize the traditional view of the School of the Persians, particularly by demonstrating the inconsistencies and motivations of its various sources. The goal of this one is to put forward a different framework for understanding the little evidence we have for the School. A more plausible historical reconstruction of the School of the Persians imagines this institution as a loosely knit study circle, more like an ancient voluntary association than a formal school, and as having only begun to develop a more coherent internal structure at the time of its expulsion from...

  10. Chapter 4 The School of Nisibis
    (pp. 77-97)

    This loving, humorous, and playfully convoluted letter was written by the bishop of Mosul (620–28) to his friend and cellmate from their days at the School of Nisibis (bar qelāytā da-b-eskōlē da-nṣībīn). Īšōʿyahb would later become Metropolitan of Arbela and finally, as Īšōʿyahb III, the Catholicos of the Church of the East (650/1 or 647/8–657/8). In Duval’s edition of the letters, Hormizd is the individual who receives the most of Īšōʿyahb’s letters.³ The above letter indicates how an intimate social bond could develop within the School of Nisibis, and the friendship which it attests may serve as an...

  11. Chapter 5 The Scholastic Genre: The Cause of the Foundation of the Schools
    (pp. 98-112)

    The pedagogical model, that is, the Christian tendency to understand Christianity as a form of learning, flourished in the Syriac milieu and culminated there in theCause of the Foundation of the Schools, a text which reduces all of human history to a long series of schools. TheCauseand the genre to which it belongs are representative of the scholastic mentality of the School of Nisibis and the understanding of ritualized intellectual labor that was dominant there. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce theCauseand situate it within the larger genre of East-Syrian cause literature. If...

  12. Chapter 6 The Reception of Theodore of Mopsuestia in the School of Nisibis
    (pp. 113-125)

    These bland lines of verse were composed by the lesser of the two distinguished Syriac poets of the late fifth and early sixth century, Narsai, the first head of the School of Nisibis. They attest to the process of elevating Theodore of Mopsuestia to the central position of theological and exegetical authority in the Church of the East, a process which culminated with the declaration at the synod held by the Catholicos Gregory I in 605 that “each of us should receive and accept all the commentaries and writings of the blessed Theodore the Interpreter.”² In the century and a...

  13. Chapter 7 Spelling God’s Name with the Letters of Creation: The Use of Neoplatonic Aristotle in the Cause
    (pp. 126-154)

    This passage comes from theCause of the Foundation of the Schoolsdescription of the pagan schools that existed before the coming of Christ. In this portion of the text the author seems to be relying on a prior doxographical collection,¹ but this particular anecdote derives from the Greek biographical tradition of Aristotle, and its incorporation into theCauseis emblematic of the larger reception and assimilation of Greek philosophical material into much of Syriac literature from this period onward.² Next to the thought of Theodore of Mopsuestia, as it had been developing through the sixth century, this reception of...

  14. Chapter 8 A Typology of the East-Syrian Schools
    (pp. 155-168)

    A damaged colophon from a copy of the Gospels dated to 599/600 provides information on what seems to be an otherwise unattested East-Syrian school at Tel Dīnawar in Bēt Nūhadrā, the region on the east bank of the Tigris running from Nineveh northward to the Habur river. The ruins of Dīnawar are 30 km northeast of Kirmanshah in modern-day Iran.¹ This colophon is strikingly similar to the Nisibene one that appears in the introduction to this book (and the arbitrary nature of its survival suggests how greatly our perspective is limited by the extant sources).

    This book of the sanctified...

  15. Chapter 9 The Monastic Context of the East-Syrian School Movement
    (pp. 169-203)

    If the East-Syrian schools are to be examined accurately they must be placed within the larger context of East-Syrian monasticism. The relationship between school and monastery in the Church of the East was complex and could at times lead to tension. The East-Syrian schools played a particular role in the typical socialization process of East-Syrian religious elites. However, at times the balanced and idealized correct relationship between these two institutions could break down.

    Chapter Four of this book began with an irenic and witty letter from Īšōʿyahb III (died 659) to Hormizd, his cellmate from his student days at the...

  16. Conclusion: Study as Ritual in the Church of the East
    (pp. 204-210)

    In this book I have sketched out some of the contours of the religious culture of learning in the Church of the East in Late Antiquity and the early Islamic period, primarily by focusing on the intellectual and institutional history of the School of Nisibis. In contrast to an approach that tends to subordinate learning to a secular, Enlightenment view of knowledge, I have emphasized that the East-Syrian school movement must be understood as a movement integral to the Church of the East in general and to East-Syrian monasticism in particular. More work needs to be done on the School...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 211-274)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-286)
  19. Index
    (pp. 287-296)
  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 297-298)