Breaking the Mind

Breaking the Mind

Kristian S. Heal
Robert A. Kitchen
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vj8hk
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  • Book Info
    Breaking the Mind
    Book Description:

    This collection of sixteen new critical essays offers fresh perspectives on the Book of Steps, adding greater detail and depth to our understanding of the work's intriguing picture of early Syriac asceticism as practiced within the life of a local church and community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2167-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. BY WAY OF A PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Columba Stewart
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)
    Kristian S. Heal and Robert A. Kitchen

    We thought we knew a fair amount about theBook of Steps,even when it was called theLiber Graduum.We have spent decades exploring its nooks and crannies, but even what lies on the surface we know we have not yet fathomed.¹

    What do we know about theBook of Steps?² It is a late-fourth-century (several contributors to this volume dispute this and other matters!) Syriac collection of thirtymemre,or discourses. The author is intentionally anonymous and tells us preciously little about the time and place in which he and his Christian community lived, though one reference implies...

  5. PART 1. THE WORLD AROUND THE BOOK OF STEPS
    • 1. THE ROMANO-PERSIAN FRONTIER AND THE CONTEXT OF THE BOOK OF STEPS
      (pp. 9-31)
      Geoffrey Greatrex

      As is well known, theBook of Stepsis a notoriously hard work to pin down. The author quite deliberately provides few or no details, chronological or geographical, that would allow us to situate the work.¹ Nevertheless, a consensus seems to have been reached according to which the work belongs to the fourth century C.E., even if some prefer an earlier date within the century and others tend toward a later one.² Geographically the consensus favors the notion that the author was writing in Upper Mesopotamia, perhaps in Adiabene, a region undoubtedly more Christianized than many others. Several scholars suggest...

    • 2. PARALLEL PATHS: Tracing Manichaean Footprints along the Syriac Book of Steps
      (pp. 32-40)
      Timothy Pettipiece

      The SyriacBook of Stepsis indeed a mysterious and remarkable piece of early Christian literature. While it has languished in the relative obscurity of thePatrologia Syriacafor nearly a century, accessible primarily to those with a specialized passion for its equally neglected language, Robert Kitchen and Martien Parmentier have recently done a great service to early Christian studies generally and to those interested in early Syriac literature in particular by publishing a complete and accessible translation of this important work.¹ Hopefully the publication of this text will facilitate further challenges to the longstanding paradigm of Latin West and...

    • 3. THE BOOK OF STEPS ON MAGIC
      (pp. 41-50)
      Martien Parmentier

      Syriac Christianity is full of stories that describe the clashes between Christianity and pagan religions. Given this fact, it is not surprising that we find references to magic in theBook of Steps—it is only surprising that we find so relatively few of them. Was it because magic was associated with the lowest forms of spiritual life, much below the state of uprightness and perfection? Was it because the author of theBook of Stepsexpected his readership to be an unlikely prey of the passions for something as earthly as magic? In fact, most magic is concerned with...

  6. PART 2. THE TEXT
    • 4. A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN REATTRIBUTED FRAGMENT FROM MEMRA 16 OF THE BOOK OF STEPS
      (pp. 53-71)
      Grigory Kessel

      The meticulous edition of theBook of StepsorLiber Graduumof the Hungarian scholar Michály Kmoskó (1876–1931)¹ was published as the first part of the third volume of “Patrologia Syriaca” in 1926.² Ever since, it has been used extensively by students of Syriac Christianity in general and of theBook of Stepsin particular, and there have been almost no objections to the accuracy of the edited text.³ However, almost a century after the edition of Kmoskó, it is regrettable that no research done on the manuscript tradition of theBook of Stepshas brought to light any...

    • 5. A LAST DISCIPLE OF THE APOSTLES: The “Editor’s” Preface, Rabbula’s Rules, and the Date of the Book of Steps
      (pp. 72-96)
      Kyle Smith

      This chapter suggests that theBook of Stepsis less anomalous than scholars have previously imagined. The prevailing theory is that the text is a fourth-century witness to a marginal, proto-monastic (possibly Messalian), Syriac Christian community. Alternative interpretations about the origins of the text have hardly been considered. In an attempt to spur other revisionist studies of the text, this chapter challenges traditional notions about the authorship of theBook of Steps.The theory preliminarily advanced here is that theBook of Stepswas written in reaction to the fifth-century institutionalization of Syriac asceticism under Bishop Rabbula of Edessa. In...

  7. PART 3. BIBLICAL EXEGESIS
    • 6. BIBLICAL EXEGESIS IN THE SYRIAC BOOK OF STEPS: A Preliminary Survey
      (pp. 99-118)
      René Roux

      In his introduction, the ancient Syriac editor of theBook of Stepscompares its anonymous author to Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Evagrius Ponticus for his great theological achievements.¹ History has certainly taken a different view on this point. Up to the first critical edition in 1926,² theBook of Stepswas hardly known outside the Syriac world. But, in spite of the weariness caused by its repetitive style, theBook of Stepsstrikes the modern reader with the originality of its theological insight. Its author has provided us with a very original and highly coherent vision of...

    • 7. DID THE AUTHOR OF THE BOOK OF STEPS UNDERSTAND PAUL?
      (pp. 119-128)
      Matthias Westerhoff

      Whereas the Syriac editor’s opinion that the anonymous author of theBook of Stepswas one of the last pupils of the apostles must be dismissed as apocryphal,¹ the editor’s appreciation still makes sense insofar as the author has been learning from “the Apostle.” The author places Paul second in authority after our Lord himself: “Our Lord and the Apostle” is a frequently used formula of reference to his main scriptural authorities.² In one instance, when it seems that the apostle’s word outweighs that of Jesus, the author clarifies the relationship between the two: “It is not in dissolving he...

  8. PART 4. THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES
    • 8. A BROKEN MIND: The Path to Knowledge in the Book of Steps
      (pp. 131-155)
      J. W. Childers

      “We must seek the truth, for, as our Lord said, the truth will set us free. That implies, however, that we must humble ourselves and break our minds.”¹ The modern scholar will identify with the impulse to seek truth that the author of theBook of Stepsexpresses here, but even the most demanding teacher might wonder how useful “breaking the mind” would be toward that end. In this text “breaking the mind” relates in a particular way to the practice of humility and is necessary for excellent living and for the proper functioning of the cognitive processes. Those who...

    • 9. THE PERFECT AND PERFECTION IN THE BOOK OF STEPS
      (pp. 156-172)
      Pablo Argárate

      Since the publication of Michael Kmoskó’s edition, theBook of Stepshas puzzled scholars with its manifestation of an enigmatic form of Christianity.¹ Among many features, however, it is the profusion and variety of religious groups portrayed throughout its thirty memre that particularly drew attention to our anonymous work. Along with some more traditional functions, such as the leaders of the community, the priests, the “sick,” and the “children,” some mysterious sorts of Christianity enter into the picture, like the group of faith and the group of love.

      Nevertheless, the most frequent and consistent ones are the Upright and the...

    • 10. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT: Dietary Metaphors in the Syriac Book of Steps
      (pp. 173-189)
      Kelli E. Bryant

      Emerging from the milieu of the late-fourth-century, pre-monastic Christianity of the Persian Empire,¹ the SyriacBook of Stepsprovides a glimpse into the interactions of a peculiar community.² The author of this collection of thirty loosely connected memre³ envisions the members of his community, at their various levels of maturity, en route to the city of the Lord Jesus Christ, together arduously climbing the stairway to perfection. The author strives to assist his fellow sojourners by discerning the commandments of the Lord that correspond to the varying levels of discipleship within the community. The author distinguishes two basic categories of...

    • 11. FALLING FROM THE PATH OF PERFECTION: Sin in the Syriac Book of Steps
      (pp. 190-202)
      Tera Stidham Harmon

      Reflection on the human predicament of sin abounds in both ancient and contemporary Christian literature. While Christian thought nearly unequivocally affirms that sin is responsible for human estrangement from God, major differences of opinion exist as to just what constitutes sin and how it works in human life. Does “sin” refer to a set of forbidden acts and dispositions that people can choose to engage or avoid, or to an outside force, such as slavery, that separates people from God? Is sin a weakened condition that humans have inherited since the beginning, or is it a legal state of guilt...

  9. PART 5. PRACTICES OF ASCETICISM
    • 12. DISTURBED SINNERS: In Pursuit of Sanctity in the Book of Steps
      (pp. 205-220)
      Robert A. Kitchen

      There are no saints, no holy men or women, in the late-fourth-centuryBook of Steps,¹ no hagiography in the classical modes, though plenty of exegesis and reinterpretation of the biblical narratives and personalities. Where there is holiness, it isqaddishutha(ܩܝܼܝܚܖܙ), a term overwhelmed by ascetical insistence on the renunciation of sexual relations—a most insistent requirement in theBook of Stepsfor an Upright one to enter the realm of the Perfect ones.

      While I do not want to contest or deny the critical function of celibacy in the author’s perception of...

    • 13. MARRIAGE AND SEXUALITY IN THE BOOK OF STEPS: From Encratism to Orthodoxy
      (pp. 221-261)
      Sergey Minov

      When one looks at the history of Christianity, it is the fourth century that by right wins the title of “axial age” when compared to other historical periods. This period of rapid sociocultural and religious changes saw an exceptional outburst of intellectual creativity. The shift of paradigms during the transition from ancient to medieval Christianity was marked by questioning and reevaluation of a wide variety of ideas and practices. Among the most important questions that were problematized and hotly debated during this period were those focused on the place of asceticism in Christian life, including closely related issues of marriage...

    • 14. “HIDDEN WORK” OF THE HEART AND SPIRITUAL PROGRESSION IN THE BOOK OF STEPS
      (pp. 262-272)
      Thomas Kollamparampil

      The SyriacBook of Steps,generally considered to be written in the fourth century, is a product of the Syriac pre-monastic vision of the spiritual life and spiritual growth in Christian life. Beyond the stratification of the spiritual life, theBook of Stepsexplains the dynamics of this life as a way, a journey in progress, to Perfection that needs the constant activity of the heart.¹ TheBook of Stepsdescribes the Syriac spirituality of the heart as well as the necessary “work of the heart” (which is unseen) at all levels of the spiritual life. This invisible working of...

    • 15. READING THE ASCETIC IDEAL INTO GENESIS 1–3: Hermeneutic Strategies in the Book of Steps Memra 21
      (pp. 273-296)
      Aryeh Kofsky and Serge Ruzer

      The Syriac late-fourth or early-fifth centuryBook of Steps¹ reflects the transition from pre-monastic Syrian asceticism to the subsequent phase influenced by Egyptian and Basilian monasticism.² Thus theBook of Stepsstill reflects proto-monastic ascetic patterns—primarily familiar to us from the early Syriac fathers Aphrahat and Ephrem—though there was already also a significant development of anchoritic and coenobitic monasticism in Syria at that time.³ The treatise is characterized by its sharp division of Christian society into the Upright—representing the mass of ordinary believers—and the Perfect ascetics. The former are those not detached from the world. They...

    • 16. LOWERING IN ORDER TO BE RAISED, EMPTYING IN ORDER TO BE FILLED: The Ascetical System of the Book of Steps
      (pp. 297-312)
      Jason Scully

      Many scholars have emphasized the peculiarity of theBook of Steps’asceticism. Though the peculiar qualities of theBook of Stepsare undeniable, the basic ascetical system of this work shares certain qualities with other ascetical writings of the fourth century.¹ Since recent scholarship tends to focus on theBook of Steps’distinction between the Upright and the Perfect as the final breath of a dying form of asceticism in a changing society, many of the more subtle aspects of the ascetical system outlined in theBook of Stepshave not yet been examined. By explaining some of the components...

  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 313-340)
  11. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 341-342)
  12. INDEX OF CITATIONS OF THE BOOK OF STEPS
    (pp. 343-346)
  13. SUBJECT INDEX
    (pp. 347-350)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 351-351)