News & Media

From February 16 to 19, 2004
Conferences given by Mrs. Francoise Briquel - Chatonnet

History of Syriac Writing ( February 16, 2004)

It appears that this script is a form of Aramaic used in the Kingdom of Edessa between the 1st and 3rd centuries A.D. It is characterized by a formal script and a common one. The former gave birth to the ‘Estrangela’ Syriac script whereas the latter influenced the common script which appeared as early as the 6th century in the Colophons and which would become the Serto Syriac script in the Western Syriac world (Syria and Lebanon). In contrast, the Oriental Syriac world only knew the formal Estrangela script which came with the Christian tradition of Edessa and belatedly evolved to be more specific, i.e. the Nestorian script. Thanks to the expansion of the Oriental Church into Asia, this script spread across Central Asia and reached China during the Mongol era, as witnessed by the inscriptions found on tombstones. In Southern India, in the Kerala region, an Oriental Syriac Church developed its own form of writing, the Oriental Kerali Syriac script.

The Development of Syriac Studies in Europe: the Role of Maronite Scholars (February 17, 2004)

These studies began in Europe during the 16th century within the framework of the Renaissance intellectual movement. In fact, the humanist scholars wanted to go back to the original texts of the Bible, and thus to learn to read its Syriac versions. The Fondation du Collège Royal, the predecessor of the Collège de France, answered this need for research in France. This first European scholarly environment was composed of international scholars who had a great scientific curiosity and developed the primary instruments of research (the Bible, grammars and lexicons). The foundation of the Collège Maronite de Rome towards the end of the 16th century allowed for the education of a large group of erudite Maronite scholars during the 17th and 18th centuries who then contributed to the spread of Syriac studies across Europe. For instance, one remembers Djibrail As-Sahyouni (Gabrile Sionita) during the 17th century and members of the Assemani family during the 18th century. However, one can mention countless others who had prestigious careers in Italy’s most famous institutions: they taught Oriental languages, gathered manuscripts, and edited texts and works of research. They were in close contact with the European scholars of their times and with their community of origin as well. They were scholars of encyclopedic culture who fathered European Orientalism as a science characterized by its openness to others, its knowledge of many languages, its encyclopedic erudition and its taste for authentic documents.

The Syriac Manuscripts in the French Collections (February 19, 2004)

These sources form a middle-sized group rich in its diversity since it was assembled from all the communities of the Syriac world. After tracing these funds back to Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Aix en Provence and Avignon, the diversity of their geographical and community origin, of their dates (from the 7th to the 20th century) and of their literary styles (liturgy, the Bible, hagiography, history, theology, asceticism, philosophy, sciences, magic and archive documents) was also underlined. In its final part, the conference mainly tried to stress on the importance of all the colophons and notes when studying the history of Syriac communities in the Near East.

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