To celebrate Sebastian P. Brock’s 80th birthday, Sankt Ignatios Theological Academy and Stockholm School of Theology, Sweden, hosted a conference on the “Future of Syriac Studies” in Sigtuna Sweden. The conference was partly funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences. Participants from the US and Europe, the Middle East, Australia and Japan were welcomed to the conference by Michael Hjälm, (Sankt Ignatios Academy, Södertälje/Stockholm), Samuel Rubenson, (Lund/Sankt Ignatios Academy, Södertälje /Stockholm) and Archbishop Mor Polycarpus Augin Aydin (Syriac Orthodox Church in the Netherlands/Sankt Ignatios Seminary, Södertälje /Suryoye Seminary, Salzburg), who gave an overview of Sebastian Brock’s academic contribution to Syriac studies over the last half a century. George Kiraz (Gorgias Press) presented Professor Brock with the first edition of Gorgias Press’ new Sebastianoye series, developed in his honour.
As well as a wide range of papers on Eastern Christian subjects, the conference included a number of presentations that intersected with Islamic and qur’ānic studies, underlining the importance of Syriac and Syriac studies for research on the Qur’ān and early Islam.
Stephen J. Shoemaker (Oregan) discussed Syriac apocalypticism in light of the rise of Islam, stressing the importance of non-Islamic sources for understanding the emergence of Islam. From the sixth century onwards, Christians, Jews, and even Zoroastrians, believed they were living at the beginning of the end of time, Syriac apocalyptic writings, in particular, are therefore useful for understanding the rise of Islam. Professor Shoemaker concluded that Muhammad’s group of Believers can best/better be understood against the backdrop of this apocalyptic fervor, as eschatological expectations reached a peak in the seventh century.
Rachel Claire Dryden (Cambridge) presented a state of the field review of qur’ānic studies in relation to the role of Syriac. With few exceptions, the importance of Syriac literature for understanding the Qur’ān appears to have been ignored, or at least neglected, by scholars until the beginning of the current millennium. As well as highlighting current research on the Qur’ān that takes Syriac into account, Miss Dryden stressed the need for further collaboration between scholars of the Qur’ān and of Syriac, which has the potential to benefit both fields, by revealing more about the nature of Late Antique monotheistic debate and exchange.
Bert Jacobs (Leuven) examined Syriac translations of the Qur’ān, which has received little attention compared to translations into Greek and Latin. Dr Jacobs concluded that this may be because it is still not clear what qur’anic material is extant in Syriac, or even whether there was a full Syriac translation of the Qur’an. Dr Jacobs argued that there had never been a full Syriac translation, firstly because it would have been irrelevant to Syriac-speaking Christians, before becoming unnecessary, as Arabic became the language of Arab Christians.
As part of Professor Brock’s 80th birthday celebrations, Mor Dioscoros Benyamin Atas, one of two archbishops of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Sweden and Scandinavia presented him with the Order of Sankt Ignatios for 2018, in recognition of his contribution to Syriac studies and his championing of the rights of the Syriac people. The evening concluded with a performance of Syriac music.
Huge thanks goes to Miriam and Michael Hjälm, Bob Kitchen and Gabriel Bar Sawame for the initiative and organization of the conference, which brought so many scholars of Syriac from different fields together in an environment that encouraged interaction and exchange.
Conference proceedings will be published in due course.
© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.