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Jacob of Serugh
Born:  c. 451
Place of birth:  Kurtam
Died:  November 29, 521
Known for:  writings

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Jacob of Serugh (Syriac: ܝܥܩܘܒ ܣܪܘܓܝܐ, Yaʿqûḇ Srûḡāyâ; his toponym is also spelt Serug or Sarug; c. 451 – 29 November 521) was one of the foremost Syriac poet-theologians among the Syriac, perhaps only second in stature to Ephrem the Syrian and equal to Narsai. Where his predecessor Ephrem is known as the 'Harp of the Spirit', Jacob is the 'Flute of the Spirit'. He is best known for his prodigious corpus of more than seven-hundred verse homilies, or mêmrê (ܡܐܡܖ̈ܐ), of which only 225 have thus far been edited and published.

Jacob was born around the middle of the fifth century AD in the village of Kurtam on the Euphrates, in the ancient region of Serugh, which stood as the eastern part of the province of Commagene (corresponding to the modern Turkish districts of Suruç and Birecik). He was educated in the famous School of Edessa and became chorepiscopus back in the Serugh area, serving rural churches of Haura (ܚܘܪܐ, Ḥaurâ). His tenure of this office extended over a time of great trouble to the Christian population of Mesopotamia, due to the fierce war carried on by the Sassanian Shah Kavadh I within the Roman borders. When, on 10 January 503, the city of Amid (modern Diyarbakır) was captured by the Persians after a three months' siege and all its citizens put to the sword or carried captive, a panic seized the whole district, and the Christian inhabitants of many neighbouring cities planned to leave their homes and flee to the west of the Euphrates. They were recalled to a more courageous frame of mind by the letters of Jacob.

In 519, Jacob was elected bishop of the main city of the area, Batnan da-Srugh (ܒܛܢܢ ܕܣܪܘܓ, Baṭnān da-Srûḡ). As Jacob was born in the same year as the controversial Council of Chalcedon, he lived through the intense rifts that split the Church of the Byzantine Empire, which led to most Syriac speakers being separated from the imperial communion in what was to become the Syriac Orthodox Church. Even though imperial persecution of anti-Chalcedonians became increasingly brutal towards the end of Jacob's life, he remained surprisingly quiet on such divisive theological and political issues. However, when pressed in correspondece by Paul, bishop of Edessa, he openly expressed dissatisfaction with the proceedings of Chalcedon.

From the various extant accounts of Jacob's life and from the number of his known works, we gather that his literary activity was unceasing. According to Barhebraeus (Chron. Eccles. i. 191) he employed 70 amanuenses and wrote in all 760 metrical homilies, besides expositions, letters and hymns of different sorts. Of his merits as a writer and poet we are now well able to judge from P. Bedjan's edition of selected metrical homilies (Paris 1905-1908), containing 146 pieces. They are written throughout in dodecasyllabic metre, and those published deal mainly with biblical themes, though there are also poems on such subjects as the deaths of Christian martyrs, the fall of the idols and the First Council of Nicaea.

Of Jacob's prose works, which are not nearly so numerous, the most interesting are his letters, which throw light upon some of the events of his time and reveal his attachment to the Monophysite doctrine which was then struggling for supremacy in the Syrian churches, and particularly at Edessa, over the opposite teaching of Nestorius.

Works in modern translation

  • Memre concerning the Virgin MaryJacob of Serug (1998). Mary Hansbury. ed. On the Mother of God. Crestwood, NY, US: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 0881411841.   Also — Giacomo de Sarug (1953). Constantino Vona. ed (in Italian). Omelie mariologiche. Lateranum: nova ser., an. 19, n. 1-4. Rome: Facultas Theologica Pontificii Athenaei Lateranensis.  
  • Seven memre against the Jews, of which, the sixth memra takes the form of a dispute (ܣܓܝܬܐ, sāḡîṯâ) between personifications of the Synagogue and the ChurchJacques de Saroug (1976). Micheline Albert. ed (in French). Homélies contre les Juifs. Patrologia Orientalis; t. 38, fasc. 1. Turnhout: Brepols.  
  • Memre on the dominical feasts — Jacob of Serugh (1997). Thomas Kollamparampil. ed. Select festal homilies. Bangalore and Rome: Dharmaram and Centre for Indian and Inter-Religious Studies.  
  • Four memre on creationJaques de Saroug (1989). Khalil Alwan. ed (in French). Quatre homélies métriques sur la création. Corpus scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Scriptores Syri. 0070-0452 ;t.214, 215. Leuven: Peeters.  
  • Memra on the Veil of MosesBrock, Sebastian Paul (1981). "Jacob of Serugh on the Veil of Moses". Sobornost'/Eastern Churches Review 3 (1): 70–85.  
  • Memra on EphremJacob of Sarug (1995). Joseph P Amar. ed. A metrical homily on holy Mar Ephrem. Patrologia Orientalis; t. 47, fasc. 1. Brepols.  
  • Memra on Simeon StylitesHarvey, Susan Ashbrook (1990). "Memra on Simeon the Stylite". in Vincent L Wimbush. Ascetic behavior in Greco-Roman antiquity: a sourcebook. Minneapolis: Fortress. pp. 15–28. ISBN 0800631056.  
  • Prose homilies (turgame) — Jacques de Saroug (1986). Frédéric Rilliet. ed (in French). Six homélies festales en prose. Patrologia Orientalis; t. 43, fasc. 4. Turnhout: Brepols.  
  • Memre on ThomasJakob von Sarug (1976). Werner Strothmann. ed. Drei Gedichte über den Apostel Thomas in Indien. Göttinger Orientforschungen I Reihe, Syriaca; Bd 12. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. ISBN 3447017201.  
  • Memra on MelkizedekThokeparampil, J (1993). "Memra on Melkizedek". The Harp 6: 53–64.  
  • Letters — Bou Mansour, Tanios (1993) (in French). La théologie de Jacques de Saroug. Kaslik: Université Saint Esprit.  


See also



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