Syriac literature in the 14th to 19th centuries

From Encyclopedia of Syriac Literature
Jump to navigationJump to search

Syriac did not cease to be written at the death of the Nestorian Catholicos Timothy II. In fact there is a considerable amount of prose and poetry from this period, but little has been published or studied.

15th century writers

  • The priest Isaiah of Bet Sbirina (=Tur 'Abdin) and his son Yeshu (West Syriac/Monophysite; died. 1492). Some of the poems of Isaiah describe contemporary events, including the devastations of Timur Leng who died in 1407.
  • Ishaq Qardahe Sbadnaya (East Syriac/Nestorian) wrote in the middle of the 15th century. His works include several acrostic 'Onyata, a 12-syllable poem on the Divine Economy, together with a prose commentary containing many quotations from earlier writers.
  • Mas'ud of Tur 'Abdin (West Syriac/Monophysite) wrote a theological poem The Spiritual Ship at the end of the 15th century. The work is a collection of lectures, written so that the monks "should arrive safely in the port ... of heaven." (A Latin translation exists of this).
  • There are three important poets at the end of the 15th/start of the 16th century: the Patriarch Nuh (West Syriac/Monophysite; d. 1509), David 'the Phoenician' (West Syriac/Monophysite), and Sargis bar Wahle (East Syriac/Nestorian). Sargis wrote a verse life of Rabban Hormizd, of which an English translation exists.

Late 16th - early 17th century writers

Modern Syriac writing begins in this period. Several poems written in the dialect of Alqosh are extant today. But otherwise there is little original writing again until the 19th century.

17th-18th centuries

In this period there were two outstanding writers, and also some translations from western texts into Syriac.

  • The Chaldaean patriarch Joseph II (East Syriac/Nestorian; d. 1731) resided in Amida(=Diarbekir) and wrote The Magnet and The Shining Mirror which both circulated widely in manuscript.
  • Metropolitan Basileios Shem'un of Tur 'Abdin (West Syriac/Monophysite; martyred in 1740) wrote a Book of Theology in 1714; a verse work on theological topics called The Ship of Mysteries in 1727/9; The Armour of Thanksgiving and Hope of Faith in 1723, which was translated into Arabic; and many homilies and poems. He also compiled a Syriac dictionary based on the late 10th century one by Bar Bahlul.

Several western texts were translated into Syriac in this period.

19th century

American missionaries arrived at Urmiah and set up a press there, printing Syriac texts. This led to a revival of Modern Syriac, and it became quite widely used as a written language.


This page is derived from Brock's Brief Outline.


  • Mas'ud of Tur Abdin German article. This tells us that Mas'ud's biography is known to us from a note inserted by his pupil Aziz into the copy he made of the works of his teacher: Ms. Notre-Dame des Semences 256 (Vosté 1929, 97 = cod. 130 in Scher 1906, 71 and repeated by Baumstark, 327); - edited by Vosté (1936), pp. 5-17 (with French translation) and van Helmond (1942), 73*-86* (with a Latin translation).