Imagining the Death of Jesus in Fourth-Century Mesopotamia

A Study of Ephrem of Nisibis


In this volume Blake Hartung explores the place of the passion and death of Jesus in the writings of Ephrem of Nisibis (ca. 307–373). The book argues that the genre of Ephrem’s works (usually short poems for public performance), is key to understanding his unsystematic approach. Ephrem drew widely upon the Passion narratives and traditional motifs related to Christ’s death and deployed them differently in distinct settings. Each chapter explores a key theme in Ephrem’s discourse about the death of Christ in context (including anti-Judaism, the defeat of death, and economic imagery). Ultimately, Hartung urges further consideration of the role of Christ’s death in early Christian thought and practice beyond the traditional confines of atonement theology.

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Blake Hartung, Ph.D. (2017), Saint Louis University, is Assistant Teaching Professor of Religious Studies and History at Arizona State University. He has published several articles and a translated volume on early Syriac Christianity.

1 Introduction: Imagining the Death of Jesus in Fourth Century Mesopotamia
 1 Introduction
 2 The Subject of This Study
 3 Why Ephrem?
 4 Ephrem, the Syriac Tradition, and Early Christianity
 5 State of the Question: The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity
 6 Sources for This Study
 7 The Plan of This Book

2 Ephrem’s Biblical Imagination
 1 Introduction: “Sheol Vomited and Spat out the Dead”
 2 Ephrem and the Bible
 3 Ephrem’s Use of Matthew 27:52–53
 4 The Raising of the Dead in Ephrem’s Theological Imagination
 5 Ephrem, the Bible, and the Resurrection of the Dead in Polemical Context
 6 Conclusion

3 Dramatizing the Defeat of Death: Personification and Performance
 1 Introduction
 2 The Personified Death and the Conquering Jesus: Death and Its Defeat in Ephrem’s Mêmrâ on Our Lord
 3 Adapting the Drama of the Descent to Sheol
 4 Ephrem’s Audiences and the Performance of Death
 5 Conclusion

4 Dramas of Jewish Rejection: Jews and the Death of Jesus in Ephrem’s Theological Imagination
 1 Introduction
 2 Ephrem’s Anti-Jewish Polemic: Rhetoric or Reality?
 3 The Triumphal Entry: An Anti-Jewish Drama in Poetry and Prose
 4 Who Are the “Jews”? The Layers of Dramatic Polemic
 5 Dramatizing Supersessionism
 6 Alternative Portrayals of Jews
 7 Conclusion

5 The Economy of Debt and Payment: Economic Imagery, Benefaction, and the Death of Jesus
 1 Introduction
 2 Economic Imagery and the Context of the Debt Payment Motif
 3 The Passion as Debt Payment in Publicly Performed Poetry
 4 The Debt-Paying Passion in Anti-Marcionite Polemic
 5 Conclusion

6 Time, Chronology, and the Crucifixion
 1 Introduction
 2 The Feast of Pascha in Northern Mesopotamia
 3 Marking Time and Retelling the Passion Narrative
 4 Ephrem’s Cosmic Chronology of the Death of Jesus
 5 Paschal Chronology: Ephrem and the “Three Day Problem” (Cruc. 6)
 6 Conclusion

7 Conclusion
 1 Summary of This Work
 2 The Challenges of Studying Ephrem: Methodological Reflections
 3 Possibilities for Further Study

Index of Primary Sources
General Index
This monograph will prove appealing to specialists in Syriac and Middle Eastern studies. Because Ephrem is widely revered across Christian traditions, a monograph on Ephrem will also be of ecumenical interest. Since this monograph intersects with several other scholarly trajectories in early Christian studies (including atonement theology, poetry and hymnody, and biblical exegesis), it will also find readers among those scholarly communities.
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