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The risen Christ and Mary (John 20) (1)

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04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

03 Religious festivals, cults, rituals and practices

12 Assyrian Identity

Middle Ages
Christian-Syriac philosophers and scholars

The following poem, found in a late East Syriac manuscript, is one of some fifty Syriac poems in which two speakers conduct an argument in alternating verses. The genre has its origin in the Ancient Mesopotamian precedence dispute and was first employed in Syriac by the poet Ephrem (d.373 CE), who has a series of poems in which Death and Satan argue over which has the greater power over human beings. Most of the later Syriac poems of this genre, including the present one, are anonymous. The genre continues to be popular in the Middle East, and examples have been collected in both Modern Syriac and in Modern Arabic. The present dialogue (Cambridge, Add. 2820, of 1881, published in Parole de l’Orient 11 (1983), 223-234) takes as its starting point the resurrection narrative in John 20:15-16, where Mary encounters of Mary the risen Christ whom, however, she takes to be the gardener. In John’s Gospel the Mary in question is identified as Mary Magdalene (John 20:18); a widespread early Syriac tradition, however, identified the Mary of this episode as Mary the mother of Jesus and the words ‘my Son’ in the second stanza indicate that this is the case in the present poem as well.

Syriac dispute poems:
1. On Sunday, in the morning early
along came Mary to the tomb. (John 20:1)
2. MARY: Who will show me, she was saying,
my Son and my Lord for whom I am seeking?
3. As the Gardener did our Lord appear
to her, answering and speaking to her thus:
4. GARDENER: Disclose to me, o lady, what it is
you are seeking today in this garden. (Jn 20:15)
5. MARY: O Gardener, please do not refuse me,
do not drive me from your garden.
6. It is a single fruit that is mine;
apart from it there is nothing else that I seek.
7. GARDENER: At this season you should realize
that no fruits are to be found in any garden;
8. so how is it that you are telling me
that you are looking for fruit today?
9. MARY: You should know, O Gardener,
that the fruit for which I am searching
10. will give me life such is my hope
if I should but happen to see it.
11. GARDENER: What is this fruit, young lady,
about which you speak such amazing words?
12. MARY: I know very well and am quite certain
that the sight of it is too exalted for the eye.
13. GARDENER: How you weary me with your talk,
how you vex me with what you say.
14. MARY: Where have you removed him? Disclose this to me,
for I am going after him, seeking him.
15. GARDENER: Why, lady, do you seek
the living in Sheol, the devourer? (Lk. 24:5)
16. He concerning whom you are asking
left the tomb this very night,
17. while the guards were wielding swords,
resembling raving dogs.
18. MARY: Concerning his resurrection disclose and explain to me
so that I may be believing in him.
19. For he flew down from highest heaven
and dwelt in a virgin womb.
20. GARDENER: Incline your ear, O lady, and listen,
so that I may be the one to show you concerning him.
21. His resurrection gives witness to her who bore him,
his mother gives witness to his resurrection;
22. Height and depth are my witnesses
that, transcending nature, he was both born and now has risen.
23. She heard his voice and recognized him,
for he repeated the words ‘Mary, Mary’. (Jn 20:16)
24. MARY: Come to me, my Lord and my Master,
for now I forget my anguish.
25. Come in your compassion, O Son of Mary,
just as you came to Mary;
26. and with you, at your resurrection, let your light shine forth
on me and on him who composed this.

Source (list of abbreviations)
Syriac dispute poems


Brock 2001Brock, Sebastian P. “The Dispute Poem. from Sumer to Syriac.” Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies 1 (2001) 3-20.
Murray 1975, 146-148, 329-335Murray, Robert. Symbols of Church and Kingdom. A Study in Early Syriac Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975.
Murray 1995Murray, Robert. “Aramaic and Syriac dispute poems and their connections.” In: M. J. Geller, J. C. Greenfield and M.P. Weitzman (eds.). Studia Aramaica: New sources and new approaches. Journal of Semitic studies Supplement Supplement 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1995, 157-187.

Links (external links will open in a new browser window)
Cf. John 20
Cf. Resurrected one in garden (1)

Sebastian Brock

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