Reading the Diatessaron with Ephrem: The Word and the Light, the Voice and the Star

In: Vigiliae Christianae
Matthew R. Crawford Durham University

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Through a consideration of the reception history of the so-called “Diatessaron,” Tatian’s second-century gospel compilation, we can learn much about the nature of this peculiar text. Of paramount importance here is the Syriac Commentary on the Gospel attributed to Ephrem of Nisibis. In this article I argue that the ordering of pericopae in the opening section of Tatian’s gospel, which interweaves Matthean and Lukan passages within a broadly Johannine incluisio, prompts the Syriac exegete to an unexpected interpretation of these narratives. By reading these pericopae as a single, continuous narrative, he creatively combines the divine “Word” and “Light” of the Johannine prologue with the Synoptic traditions about John the Baptist as the “voice” and about the star that shone to guide the magi, presenting the star and the voice as extensions of the Son’s own agency. This remarkably original interpretation of the nativity of Jesus illustrates the degree of artistry that went into the making of Tatian’s text and the novel interpretations it elicited from its readers.

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