The Letter of Mara bar Sarapion in Context

Proceedings of the Symposium Held at Utrecht University, 10-12 December 2009


The Letter of Mara bar Sarapion to his son – preserved in a single Syriac manuscript (7th. cent. CE) – still speaks to its readers, evocatively depicting the dramatic situation of a nobleman imprisoned after the Roman capture of Samosata, capital of Commagene. The letter is best known today for a passage on the “wise king of the Jews,” which may be one of the earliest pagan testimonies concerning Jesus Christ. Ongoing controversy over the letter’s date, nature, and purpose has, however, led to the widespread neglect of this intriguing document. In the present volume, Merz and Tieleman have brought together cutting-edge research from an interdisciplinary team of leading experts that significantly advances our appreciation of the letter and its historical context.


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Biographical Note

Annette Merz, PhD (2001), is Professor of Culture and Literature of Earliest Christianity at the University of Utrecht. She has published books and articles on the Historical Jesus and on Pauline Pseudepigraphy, including Die fiktive Selbstauslegung des Paulus (2004).

Teun Tieleman, PhD (1992), is Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Utrecht. He has published extensively on Stoicism and on ancient medicine, most notably Galen. His monographs include Chrysippus on Affections. Reconstruction and Interpretation (2007).

Table of contents

1. General Introduction Annette Merz and Teun Tieleman
2. Making Use of History beyond the Euphrates: Political Views, Cultural Traditions, and Historical Contexts in the Letter of Mara bar Sarapion Michael A. Speidel
3. Cultural Responses from Kingdom to Province. The Romanisation of Commagene, Local Identities and the Mara bar Sarapion Letter Miguel John Versluys
4. Languages, Cultural Identities and Elites in the Land of Mara bar Sarapion Margherita Facella
5. Religious Life of Commagene in the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman Period Michael Blömer
6. Jesus As the Ever-Living Lawgiver in the Letter of Mara bar Sarapion Petr Pokorny
7. Mara’s God(s) and Time Albert de Jong
8. Where is Wisdom to be found? A Plea in Favour of Semitic Influences in the Letter of Mara bar Sarapion Pancratius C. Beentjes
9. Mara bar Sarapion and Greek Philosophy David Blank
10. The Deaths of Plato Anna Ntinti
11. Consolation from Prison: Mara bar Sarapion and Boethius Pieter W. van der Horst
12. Mara bar Sarapion: Comments on the Syriac Edition, Translation, and Notes by David Rensberger Ilaria L. E. Ramelli


All interested in early Syriac language and literature, ancient religion and philosophy, early Christianity, the political and military history of the Roman Empire and ancient Near Eastern culture and society.


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