Ephraim the Syrian, Hymn 23 Against Heresies

I have produced a rough translation of the BKV German translation of this hymn, mainly while reading it to see what it said.  I make no claims for reliability, but it gives an idea of what the content is. The line divisions are my own.

23.  To the same melody.

1. The twelve apostles were the cultivators of the whole world,
But no place and no location was named after their name,
Then appeared all sorts of weeds
After the cultivators had died
And the weed called the wheat by their name;
But on the day of harvest it will be destroyed.

Refrain: Blessed be He, whose harvest is imminent!

2.  They [the false teachers] teach me to hate them
Because they have hidden the secret writings that they have written
Like a man who hides his shame, so that they are not disseminated.
But the church shows her glory, her open beauty is famous.
There is no stain to hide, no flaw that must be covered,
Clear as the light its teaching radiates.

Blessed is he, who shines with its truth!

3.  Joab had captured a city; namely the capital city of the state,
But he did not therefore give it his own name.
As Joab, the commander, he had conquered,
He sent to David, who hastened there himself,
To enter in as king, and as such to name what he had conquered.
Joab acted as a servant, and it was called after the name of the king.

To you be glory from the faithful!

4.  The apostles and the prophets, the princes and the generals,
Laboured and worked, taught and lectured,
And captured towns and fortresses.
The prophets and apostles exerted themselves,
And were called by the name of God.
Our Lord worked and laboured and taught –
And was labelled a fraud,
So we should call ourselves by his name.

Blessed be He, by whose name they are exposed!

5.  The followers of Bardaisan should be asked,
How and why they are called by the name of Bardaisan,
And what was the occasion of the appointment;
Whether they are descended from him, as the Hebrews from Heber.
And if they get their teaching from him, because they are his disciples,
Then arises the accusation with his name on,
That he has devised an evil teaching.

Blessed is he who has discovered their fraud!

6.  Not everyone, however, who creates a school
Names his pupils after his own name;
The apostle taught the people, and no-one is named after his name;
In those names in which he taught did he baptise;
This name in which he baptised he taught them to honour;
He wrote that name on everything.

Blessed is he, whose name is all-worthy!

7.  Now a demon among the Greeks began to lure
Each [bride of Christ] to be a whore,
Making up whatever seemed to him attractive and plausible.
And even today he seduced women by all sorts of silly pretensions;
One he begins on through fasting,
Another by [pentitential] sack-cloth and vegetables,
Another still he captures through words.

Blessed is he who makes his wiles nothing.

8.  An ugly deception cannot be unless it decorates itself with truth,
And a lie cannot get on, without the footsteps of truth.
They won over the bride through [the semblance] of their beauty,
And this shows that they are shameful.
And after they had wooed her (for Christ) they took her for themselves,
And that reveals that they are fraudulent.
So who would not flee from them?

Blessed be he, where everyone finds his refuge!

9.  We speak these words loudly, so that we will be heard by the deaf;
You I make the arbiter, you decide, O listener;
What is greater or more noble, that you are named a Christian,
Or may be called a Christian, or a Daisanite weed?

Blessed be he, after whom everyone longs!

10.  Even before Bardaisan was, and Marcion was spoken of,
Let us go to the earliest, who are older than Marcion,
And let us see how the first churches were named,
And we want to be named by that name,
And to remove and discard the naming with later names.

Blessed be he, who through His name again is put forward!

8 Responses to “Ephraim the Syrian, Hymn 23 Against Heresies”


  1. stephan huller

    The name mrqywn is interesting. It could be Greek of course. But it is worth noting that YWN is a productive suffix in the Hebrew and Aramaic of the time. In the Life of Mar Apa ‘marqionites’ is spelled mrqyona (http://books.google.com/books?id=hmNPz9teHqUC&pg=PA52&dq=marcionite+syriac&lr&as_brr=3&ei=hEv_S4-dIYSmlQTT89WtDQ&cd=1#v=onepage&q=marcionite%20syriac&f=false) In Jewish Aramaic mrqyony pronounced marqyone would be ‘those of Mark’ = MRQ + YWN + I. In other words, against Ephrem ‘Marcionite’ could well be a group named after an apostle.

  2. Roger Pearse

    That’s a very interesting quotation, I agree. (Do you have a source for your second comment?) I’d want to see the context in the text, tho; I don’t think, for instance, that Cyril of Jerusalem quite says what he is represented as saying there, does he?

    The “Vita” of Mar Aba is a text unknown to me. I’m not sure how we can access this. I find online the statement “On Mar Aba, see J. Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire Perse, sous la dynastie Sassanide (224–632) (Paris, 1904), 163–91″ (Google Books, which I can’t access from here) which sounds like an interesting reference all by itself!

    I learn from here that Paul Bedjan published a 7 volume Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum, 1890-7. The Sassanid martyrs are in vols. 2 and 4, but Bedjan also published a separate volume of key figures in the late Sassanid church, including Mar Aba the Great (d. 552): Histoire de Mar Jabalaha…, 1895. (Google books).

  3. Roger Pearse

    Lieu also states:

    The strength of Marcionism in Persian-held Mesopotamia is also amply attested in the writings of the Syriac fathers beginning with ‘Aphraat’ in the fourth century and it was explicitly condemned by the Catholicos Simeon bar Sabba`e who suffered martyrdom under Shapur II (c. 339).

    And refers to the Patrologia Syriaca, col. 823, l. 11. This may be examined here, but seems to say only:

    Keep away from the heresies, “Satanam refrigentibus” (?): Manichaeans, Marcionites, Kantaeites, Novatianists, and the rest of the pagans and separate from the ways of the Jews, those who are the enemy of the Father, haters of the Son, adversaries of the Holy Spirit, who always sadden the Spirit of the Lord, as testifies the prophet Isaiah, those who speak evil of the Most High … (etc)”

    Which is not perhaps the ringing and unique statement about Marcionism that it appears. Cosmas Indicopleustes refers to Marcionite heretics in 550.

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  5. Maureen

    Since Marcion only liked Luke’s Gospel (and his version, at that, IIRC), that would be a pretty funny derivation.

    But Marcion was from Sinope, and he was supposed to be (adamantly) Greek. (Which was why he didn’t like the more Hebrew/Aramaic-type Gospels.) And -ion is a common Greek diminutive name suffix for boys. (For example, Cleopatra’s son Caesarion, or “Little Caesar,” who was named after his dad, Julius Caesar.)

  6. Maureen

    Oops. Wrong thread.

  7. Maureen

    Oops. Right thread.

    Sigh. Time to get off the computer and go to sleep.

  8. Roger Pearse

    It’s a good thought, you know (as is the one about getting some sleep!)



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