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Apostles as military figures (1)

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01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

2nd century CE
3rd century CE
4th century CE
Byzantine Empire
Roman Empire
Christian-Greek philosophers and scholars
Christian-Syriac philosophers and scholars
Christian-Syriac poets

In the Doctrine of Addai, the apostle’s successor Aggai is called ‘leader’ and ‘ruler’ (pāqôdâ), which status he received with ‘the hand of the priesthood’; in his turn he ‘made priests and leaders in all this country of Mesopotamia’ (49.20ff.). The military figure occurs in the title of ‘general’ (rab ḥaylâ), which the Acts of Thomas applies to Christ side-by-side with ‘Athlete’ (39). Aphrahat uses the parallel expression ‘leader of our army’ (mdabbar mašrîtan), who is more powerful than any angel or the king of Persia (Dem. 3.136.4). Marutha applies the title ‘general’ to the apostles (Homily 11) and Melito gives the same title to Christ in Greek (stratēgos, Peri Pascha 105). Simeon bar Sabba’e has the same title and he is also a ‘mighty man of war’ (gabbār ḥaylâ) in the Martyrdom (2.770.16). These Syriac divine titles coincide with ancient Babylonian usage, where such divine titles are most frequently applied to the god Ninurta and to the king as the personification of Ninurta. The corresponding Babylonian epithets are qarrādu, ‘hero’ (Sumerian ur-sag) and ašarēdu, ‘foremost one, champion’. The passage most resembling a Ninurta epic in the Syrian Christian literature is in the Cyrillona’s memra On the Crucifixion, where it is said of Christ: ‘Our Lord arose like a Warrior, he trampled his place like a Champion. He gathered him fruit as a Labourer, he prayed to his Father as Heir. He looked into heaven as its Creator; he opened the treasures as a Ruler. His person shone like the sun and his limbs became like rays.’ (291-306.) The title ‘Athlete’, also regularly applied to Christ, to bishops and to ascetics, is one of the oldest loan-words from Greek in Syriac, and it may also reflect the ancient Mesopotamian divine titles which are rendered ‘hero’ or ‘champion’.

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Acts of Thomas 39
Aphrahat, Demonstrations 3.136.4
Cyrillona, On the Crucifixion 291-306
Doctrina Addai 49.20ff.
Martyrdom of Simeon bar Sabba’e 2.770.16
Marutha, Homily 11
Melito of Sardis, Peri Pascha 105


Murray 1975, 169, 192-193, 198Murray, Robert. Symbols of Church and Kingdom. A Study in Early Syriac Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975.

Amar Annus

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