Breaking the Mind
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: The Catholic University of America Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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By Way of a Preface
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The Book of Steps has always been overshadowed by more famous early Syriac literature, such as Aphrahat’s Demonstrations and Ephrem’s virtuosic memre, hymns, and commentary. The manuscript tradition is thin, with only one complete witness from the twelfth century (Paris, Syr. 201); accordingly, Western...
Kristian S. Heal and Robert A. Kitchen
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We thought we knew a fair amount about the Book of Steps, even when it was called the Liber Graduum. We have spent decades exploring its nooks and crannies, but even what lies on the surface we know we have not yet fathomed. 1 What do we know about the Book of Steps? 2 It is a late-fourth-century...
Part 1. The World Around the Book of Steps
1. The Romano-Persian Frontier and the Context of the Book of Steps
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As is well known, the Book of Steps is a notoriously hard work to pin down. The author quite deliberately provides few or no details, chronological or geographical, that would allow us to situate the work.1 Nevertheless, a consensus seems to have been reached according to which the work belongs to...
2. Parallel Paths: Tracing Manichaean Footprints along the Syriac Book of Steps
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The Syriac Book of Steps is indeed a mysterious and remarkable piece of early Christian literature. While it has languished in the relative obscurity of the Patrologia Syriaca for nearly a century, accessible primarily to those with a specialized passion for its equally neglected language, Robert Kitchen and...
3. The Book of Steps on Magic
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Syriac Christianity is full of stories that describe the clashes between Christianity and pagan religions. Given this fact, it is not surprising that we find references to magic in the Book of Steps—it is only surprising that we find so relatively few of them. Was it because magic was associated with the lowest...
Part 2. The Text of the Book of Steps
4. A Previously Unknown Reattributed Fragment from Memra 16 of the Book of Steps
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The meticulous edition of the Book of Steps or Liber Graduum of the Hungarian scholar Michály Kmoskó (1876–1931)1 was published as the first part of the third volume of “Patrologia Syriaca” in 1926.2 Ever since, it has been used extensively by students of Syriac Christianity in general and of the Book...
5. A Last Disciple of the Apostles: The “Editor’s” Preface, Rabbula’s Rules, and the Date of the Book of Steps
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This chapter suggests that the Book of Steps is less anomalous than scholars have previously imagined. The prevailing theory is that the text is a fourthcentury witness to a marginal, proto-monastic (possibly Messalian), Syriac Christian community. Alternative interpretations about the origins of the text...
Part 3. Biblical Exegisis in the Book of Steps
6. Biblical Exegesis in the Syriac Book of Steps: A Preliminary Survey
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In his introduction, the ancient Syriac editor of the Book of Steps compares its anonymous author to Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Evagrius Ponticus for his great theological achievements.1 History has certainly taken a different view on this point. Up to the first critical edition in 1926,2...
7. Did the Author of the Book of Steps Understand Paul?
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Whereas the Syriac editor’s opinion that the anonymous author of the Book of Steps was one of the last pupils of the apostles must be dismissed as apocryphal,1 the editor’s appreciation still makes sense insofar as the author has been learning from “the Apostle.” The author places Paul second in authority...
Part 4. Theological Perspectives in the Book of Steps
8. A Broken Mind: The Path to Knowledge in the Book of Steps
J. W. Childers
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“We must seek the truth, for, as our Lord said, the truth will set us free. That implies, however, that we must humble ourselves and break our minds.”1 The modern scholar will identify with the impulse to seek truth that the author of the Book of Steps expresses here, but even the most demanding teacher...
9. The Perfect and Perfection in the Book of Steps
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Since the publication of Michael Kmoskó’s edition, the Book of Steps has puzzled scholars with its manifestation of an enigmatic form of Christianity. 1 Among many features, however, it is the profusion and variety of religious groups portrayed throughout its thirty memre that particularly drew attention...
10. You Are What You Eat: Dietary Metaphors in the Syriac Book of Steps
Kelli E. Bryant
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Emerging from the milieu of the late-fourth-century, pre-monastic Christianity of the Persian Empire,1 the Syriac Book of Steps provides a glimpse into the interactions of a peculiar community.2 The author of this collection of thirty loosely connected memre3 envisions the members of his community, at...
11. Falling from the Path of Perfection: Sin in the Syriac Book of Steps
Tera Stidham Harmon
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Reflection on the human predicament of sin abounds in both ancient and contemporary Christian literature. While Christian thought nearly unequivocally affirms that sin is responsible for human estrangement from God, major differences of opinion exist as to just what constitutes sin and how it works...
Part 5. Practices of Asceticism in the Book of Steps
12. Disturbed Sinners: In Pursuit of Sanctity in the Book of Steps
Robert A. Kitchen
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There are no saints, no holy men or women, in the late-fourth-century Book of Steps,1 no hagiography in the classical modes, though plenty of exegesis and reinterpretation of the biblical narratives and personalities. Where there is holiness, it is qaddishutha...
13. Marriage and Sexuality in the Book of Steps: From Encratism to Orthodoxy
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When one looks at the history of Christianity, it is the fourth century that by right wins the title of “axial age” when compared to other historical periods. This period of rapid sociocultural and religious changes saw an exceptional outburst of intellectual creativity. The shift of paradigms during the...
14. "Hidden Work" of the Heart and Spiritual Progression in the Book of Steps
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The Syriac Book of Steps, generally considered to be written in the fourth century, is a product of the Syriac pre-monastic vision of the spiritual life and spiritual growth in Christian life. Beyond the stratification of the spiritual life, the Book of Steps explains the dynamics of this life as a way, a journey in...
15. Reading the Ascetic Ideal into Genesis 1–3: Hermeneutic Strategies in the Book of Steps Memra 21
Aryeh Kofsky and Serge Ruzer
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The Syriac late-fourth or early-fifth century Book of Steps1 reflects the transition from pre-monastic Syrian asceticism to the subsequent phase influenced by Egyptian and Basilian monasticism.2 Thus the Book of Steps still reflects proto-monastic ascetic patterns—primarily familiar to us from the early Syriac...
16. Lowering in Order to be Raised, Emptying in Order to be Filled: The Ascetical System of the Book of Steps
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Many scholars have emphasized the peculiarity of the Book of Steps’ asceticism. Though the peculiar qualities of the Book of Steps are undeniable, the basic ascetical system of this work shares certain qualities with other ascetical writings of the fourth century.1 Since recent scholarship tends to focus...
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Index of Citations of the Book of Steps
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014
Series Title: CUA studies in early Christianity
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth