Life of Mar Aba – final version now online in English

I have collected together all the pieces of the Life of the 6th century patriarch of Persia, Mar Aba, and revised them slightly and uploaded them to the Additional Fathers collection, with an introduction.  The translation is here.

I made the translation, not from the original Syriac, but from the BKV German translation.  It’s probably a bit shaky at points; but, hey, it exists!

As ever, I place the material in the public domain.  Do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.

8 Responses to “Life of Mar Aba – final version now online in English”


  1. David Wilmshurst

    Thank you for that very interesting and well-informed introduction, Roger.

    On the Marcionites, I am sure you are aware that at an earlier period Greek-speaking Christian deportees in Persia seem to have been known in Persian as ‘Kristyane’, a term obviously derived from Greek, while the Syriac-speaking natives were called Nasraye (‘Nazarenes’). Such, at least, is a reasonable inference from the famous Behistun inscription. I suspect that they were also known as Mshihaye (‘Christ’s people’, ‘the Messiah’s people’), the standard Syriac term for ‘Christian’.

    It is interesting to find a comparable distinction in the sixth century. By then, the earlier waves of deportees would have been assimilated to the Church of the East, but fresh waves kept coming in from the perennial border wars between Rome and the Sassanian Empire. My guess is that these ‘Marcionites’, who called themselves and were called by others ‘Christians’, were recent Greek-speaking arrivals in Persia; perhaps, as you say, reacting to the policies of Justinian.

  2. Roger Pearse

    No! I wasn’t aware of this at all! How fascinating. Do you have a source I could read more on?

  3. Brian Kelly

    Roger, thank you for all this work you are doing. I like to dip into your work every now and then to gain new insights into areas I know little of.
    How have you worked your way through German sources?
    Do you have plans to put your materials together in some anthology or other?
    I’m sure there are presses like Gorgias (?) that might be interested in making Oriental Christian sources more widely available in the west.

  4. Roger Pearse

    Thank you very much for your kind words. But of course I am only an amateur, dipping my toe like everyone else.

    I can’t say that I have worked my way through German literature, although I have a fair idea of what exists in it by way of translations of primary sources. Someone wrote to me about early Christianity in the Syriac-speaking world, referencing Walter Bauer’s horrible 1934 book, and I read the English translation of the first chapter. But I always read books, looking for primary sources. This mentioned the Life of Mar Aba. I know that the main German translations are the BKV, digitised by Gregor Emmenegger, and a bit of reading led me to that.

    I don’t think anyone would want to print a rough translation of a German translation. Gorgias do a super job, but they would (quite rightly) want a translation direct from Syriac. So would we all!

    My efforts are mostly sub-scholarly, designed to promote interest and accessibility. I can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to collect them. They are tools, no more.

  5. David Wilmshurst

    Hi Roger,

    You are most likely to find something interesting on the subject in J. Labourt’s ‘Le christianisme dans l’empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide’ (Paris, 1904). Labourt’s is by far the best available book on the early centuries of the Church of the East, and I drew heavily upon it for the relevant chapters of my own book, ‘The Martyred Church’ (London, 2011). You can get a copy of Labourt easily enough in one of those cheap and cheerful photocopy reproductions. It really is well worth reading.

    Most of the best scholarship on the Church of the East has been done by French scholars, and there is a mass of stuff out there in French which has not yet been properly assimilated by English-speaking scholars. My own magnum opus, ‘The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318-1913′ (Louvain, 2000), is massively indebted to the work of the late Jean-Maurice Fiey, and indeed is dedicated to his memory.

  6. Roger Pearse

    Labourt is online, and I have downloaded a copy, but never had the time to read through! I will look again.

    French scholarship is generally excellent – far better than ours as a rule.

  7. Daniel R. Jennings

    Thank you so much for giving this to the world Roger! It is appreciated!

  8. Roger Pearse

    You’re welcome!