Syriac literature is literature written in the Syriac language, the classical Middle Aramaic which evolved in Assyria during the 5th century BC, the names Syria and Syriac originally being later derivations of Assyria. The majority of classical Syriac literature is of a Christian religious nature.
The earliest Christian literature in Classical Syriac was biblical translation, the Peshitta and the Diatessaron. The 4th century is considered to be the golden age of Syriac literature. The two giants of this period are Aphrahat, writing homilies for the Assyrian church in the Persian Empire, and Ephrem the Syrian, writing hymns, poetry and prose for the church just within the Roman Empire. The next two centuries, which are in many ways a continuation of the golden age, sees important Syriac poets and theologians: Jacob of Serugh, Narsai, Philoxenus of Mabbog, Babai the Great, Isaac of Nineveh and Jacob of Edessa.
With the advent and spread of Islam throughout the Middle East the process of hellenization of Syriac[clarification needed], which was prominent in the sixth and seventh centuries, slowed and ceased. Syriac entered a silver age from around the ninth century. The works of this period were more encyclopedic and scholastic, and include the biblical commentators Ishodad of Merv and Dionysius bar Salibi. Crowning the silver age of Syriac literature is the thirteenth-century polymath Bar-Hebraeus.
The conversion of the Mongols to Islam began a period of retreat and hardship for Syriac Christianity and its Assyrian and Aramean adherents. However, there has been a continuous stream of Syriac literature in Upper Mesopotamia and the Levant from the fourteenth century through to the present day. This has included the flourishing of literature from the various colloquial Eastern Aramaic Neo-Aramaic languages still spoken by Assyrian Christians. This Neo-Syriac literature bears a dual tradition: it continues the traditions of the Syriac literature of the past, and it incorporates a converging stream of the less homogeneous spoken language. The first such flourishing of Neo-Syriac was the seventeenth century literature of the School of Alqosh, in northern Iraq. This literature led to the establishment of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic and so called Chaldean Neo-Aramaic as written literary languages. In the nineteenth century, printing presses were established in Urmia, in northern Iran. This led to the establishment of the 'General Urmian' dialect of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic as the standard in much Neo-Syriac Assyrian literature. The comparative ease of modern publishing methods has encouraged other colloquial Neo-Aramaic languages, like Turoyo and Senaya, to begin to produce literature. Composition in the classical Syriac language still continues, especially among members of the Syriac Orthodox Church, where students in the church's monasteries are taught living, spoken Syriac, or Kṯoḇonoyo.
- National Library of Russia, Codex Syriac 1
- Assyrian people
- Assyrian Church of the East
- Syriac Orthodox Church
- Name of Syria
- Assyrian continuity
- William Wright: A Short History of Syriac Literature, 1894, 1974 (reprint)
- Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron Michael Butts, George Anton Kiraz & Lucas Van Rompay (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage, Piscataway (NJ), Gorgias Press, 2011