The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Syrians, the people in between

Last night I was alerted to Guillaume Dye. This directed me further to Jack BV Tannous's 2010 thesis, Syria between Byzantium and Islam (PDF). Dye believes that Tannous's thesis is brilliant. I have read two hundred pages of this so far.

Tannous argues for Syriac as the literary language of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries AD. When the Arabs erased the classical-era equivalent of Sykes-Picot, the Syrians were able to travel between Cairo and Basra. Tannous lists many dozens of examples wherein Syrians translated Greek texts into their own language and, later, into Arabic: not just religious but medical, philosophic, and scientific. Arabic before all that was for poetry and for military command. (The Qur'an, of course, is both.)

It was in medicine that the Syrians were most important: in his important biographical dictionary of doctors, ‘Uyūn al-anbā’ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbā’, Ibn Abī Uṣaybi‘a has information on 130 Christian doctors in the ninth century. By comparison, in the same century we are given information on 3 Sabians, 3 Jews and 5 Muslims. (p. 63) I have proposed that the Jews had done some fine work in this field during the seventh century; but to this, I must point out that the Jews there and then were conversant in several Aramaics themselves, so may be subsumed under "Syrians" for this purpose. The only way I even know of this particular set of Jews is by way of a Syrian, Abu'l-Faraj bar Hebraeus.

Syrians were also pioneers in textual-criticism. They needed that for a brain-breaking array of Near Eastern transmissions and translations of the Bible - including, now, several Aramaic versions. Tannous implies that the Syrians took what they learnt in the Biblical field, and applied that to the medical texts - because a mistake in a medical textbook could be literally fatal, in every correct sense of both words.

Tannous further notes that the historiographical tradition also was much better in Syriac than it was in Greek, Armenian, or Coptic. In fact Tannous rejects even the term "Dark Age" for Syria in this time.

I agree with Dye: this thesis is brilliant. I do hope that it becomes a book some day, that I can purchase.

UPDATE 10/16: I'm up to 400 pages now. I've updated this post; and if you were looking for my helpful-hint section for the author, that's now here.

posted by Zimri on 17:56 | link | 0 comments

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