Framing Christianity in Late Antique Syria: Social Networks and Rhetorical Agonism in the “School” of Edessa

This paper examines a few distinct aspects of translation and information management across the fading boundaries of the Roman East — the blending of Greek sophistics with Aristotelian logic in fifth-century clerical communication, and the impact of mutually excluding orthodoxies on the reality of Antiochene faith — by tracking the manipulation of Greek learning vis-à-vis local Syriac communities; it also offers a re-evaluation of the “school” of Edessa as a historical nexus of textual interpretation and networking plans. A concrete effect of this intersection between intellectual ammunition and regional, multilingual groundwork was that Syria ended up severing its ties with Constantinople and its episcopal power, making it ripe for later Muslim conquest. Since linguistic difference intensified the dispute, Edessa’s translating hub is a perfect test case to show how fiery reaction to Alexandrian Monophysitism ended up redrawing Syria’s awkward edges and how, more in general, ‘marginalization’ relates to the bridging of linguistic lines.

Though the paper deals with late antiquity, its exposition touches a Byzantine struggle with Qur’anic terms and Edessa’s susceptibility to Zoroastrianism. The first part explains why Christological legitimacy can be usefully reformulated as a problem of social representation, and discusses the charting of center v. periphery in Adam Schor’s 2011 Theodoret’s People from Irad Malkin’s observations on the ‘middle ground’ and the ‘feedback’ in network analysis. A second section explores at greater length three examples, taken from hagiography, letters, and dialogues, that show a rich agonistic arsenal in the shifting of power and social allegiance between Greek and Syriac.