Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) wrote in a variety of genres—commentaries, verse and prose homilies, and stanzaic songs, called madrāšê. The bulk of his corpus consists in madrāšê. While these works are generally assumed to have occupied a liturgical context, this assumption is based in large part on a biographical tradition that was written after Ephrem’s death, and that has come to be seen as problematic in many ways. Certain of Ephrem’s cycles do connote liturgical settings, but others lack any such clues. This paper argues for a reassessment of the performative context of Ephrem’s madrāšê. It looks, first, at the external literary witness to the liturgical performance of Ephrem’s madrāšê, and shows how the picture of Ephrem presented in the biographical tradition has come to dominate our view of the madrāšâ’s performative context. It then turns to Ephrem’s madrāšê themselves, and argues that they suggest a blurred performative space between liturgy and study circle. It fleshes out this blurred performative space by examining comparative early Christian evidence for the use of songs in educational settings. It concludes by suggesting ways that this re-reading of Ephrem’s madrāšê contributes to the broader field of early Christian studies.


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pp. 25-51
Launched on MUSE
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