numbers of Christians killed, that an individual trial was held for each. During what was called 'the great persecution', at least 35,000 were martyred. Most of the martyrdoms and most of the extant texts can be dated to the reign of Shapur II.15

The most important early Persian Christian author, in addition to the authors of the martyr texts, whose work is extant is Aphraates (Syriac: Aphrahat).16 He wrote a series of twenty-three treatises between 325 and 345. The first ten, dated 337, deal with theological questions as well as the Christian lifestyle, with a focus on asceticism. The fourteenth treatise and the introduction to the collection are in the form of letters, that treatise being a letter to a synod of bishops. This synod may be the one sometimes dated to 325 that met under the presidency of Papa bar Aggai at Seleucia-Ctesiphon (325). The last nine treatises reflect the argument between Christians and Jews in Persia during the early fourth century. The final treatise, number 23, was composed during the winter of 344-5 at the beginning of the persecution of Christians (as well as of Manichaeans, Jews and Buddhists) by Shapur II.

The church reflected in the texts differs significantly from the dominant Greek and Latin churches of the early fourth century. The local structures focus around the 'Sons of the Covenant' and the 'Daughters of the Covenant'. These groups are composed of celibate baptised believers. They are to be radical in their asceticism, love of God and love of neighbour. These proto-monastic groups appear to have constituted a significant portion of the church in both the Persian empire and pre-Julian northern Mesopotamia. It is impossible to ascertain Aphraates' role in the Persian church. He was certainly in discussion with the bishops and an informed theologian, but there is no evidence that he was a bishop. The exegetical methods used to interpret the scriptures are closely related to the rabbinic traditions of Judaism. His theology is modestly Trinitarian, but without the support of the Greek philosophical structures developed in the Western churches.

The treatises, or 'Demonstrations' as they are sometimes called, were translated into Armenian and into Ethiopic, where they were circulated under the name ofJacob (sometimes specified asJacob ofNisibis). While the name 'Jacob' may have been a baptismal or episcopal name, there is no evidence that the texts were written in Nisibis or by Jacob of Nisibis. They reflect a Persian perspective and knowledge of Persian life that would be of minimal concern

15 G. Wiessner, Zur Martyreruberlieferung aus der Christenfolgung Schapurs II.

16 Murray, Symbols of church and kingdom; Neusner, Aphrahat and Judaism; Jacob Neusner, 'The Jewish-Christian argument in fourth century Iran'; T. Baarda, The Gospel quotations of Aphrahat the Persian sage.

0 0

Post a comment