Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage

by H.L. Murre – van den Berg
Early this year it finally became available: the Encylopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage. It treats the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, their Catholic off-shoots, the Syrian Catholic and the Chaldean Church, as well as the Maronite Church and the Indian Syriac churches – the last two branches, however, less well covered than the first two. Many of us in Syriac Studies have contributed in modest (such as myself) or in very considerable ways, among which especially the four editors, Sebastian Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, and Lucas van Rompay. Not only did they organize the volume and stimulate the other authors to contribute to the volume, they also wrote numerous entries themselves. They are to be thanked wholeheartedly by all of us for the efforts in bringing together, in one volume, the highlights of what rightly has been called the ‘Syriac heritage’ – people, books, places and some of the major aspects of what is both an important part of world Christianity and at the same time a culture all by itself.

At first, I was a bit skeptical about publishing such a reference work in the old-fashioned way. Whereas the digital community is served by its downloadable version, the well-designed hard-cover volume in fact adds considerably to its effect: it reflects a field that has matured pretty quickly over the last thirty years, and now has something to show for it – something both attractive and impressive, scholarly sound as much as easily accessible by the general public. This holds true also when zooming in on the entries themselves. For the scholars in the field, these provide concise overviews of the status questions on many different topics. While the older period, at least as to authors, places and topics, is best covered, the interest of the last decade or two in the early modern, modern and contemporary forms of Syriac Christianity is not neglected. One of the nice extras is the rather extensive covering of Syriac scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, in the west as much as from the Syriac communities itself. Of course, all of this is as important for those not in the field. They will find this ‘Dictionary’ an excellent gateway to the Syriac tradition, to its churches and to the people that are the primary recipients and carriers of that heritage that hopefully will continue to inspire many.

Sebastian Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz, Lucas van Rompay,
Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011)