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Saint Aphrahat the Persian Sage
Les Vies des Peres des deserts d'Orient - leur doctrine spirituelle et leur discipline monastique (1886) (14590545527).jpg
Aphrahat depicted in Les Vies des Pères des déserts d'Orient : leur doctrine spirituelle et leur discipline monastique (1886)
Bornc.280 [1]
Honored in Syriac Orthodox Church
Church of the East
Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church

Aphrahat (c. 280–c. 345; Syriac : ܐܦܪܗܛAp̄rahaṭ, Persian : فرهاد, Ancient Greek : Ἀφραάτης, and Latin Aphraates) was a Syriac Christian author of the third century from Adiabene in the Asōristān (Assyria) province of the Sasanian Empire who composed a series of twenty-three expositions or homilies on points of Christian doctrine and practice. [2] All his known works, the Demonstrations, come from later on in his life. He was an ascetic and celibate, and was almost definitely a son of the covenant (an early Syriac form of communal monasticism). He may have been a bishop, and later Syriac tradition places him at the head of Mar Mattai monastery near Mosul in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan. [3] He was a near contemporary to the slightly younger Ephrem the Syrian, but the latter lived within the sphere of the Roman Empire. Called the Persian Sage (Syriac : ܚܟܝܡܐ ܦܪܣܝܐ, Ḥakkimā Pārsāyā), Aphrahat witnesses to the concerns of the early church beyond the eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire.

Syriac language dialect of Middle Aramaic

Syriac, also known as Syrian/Syriac Aramaic, Syro-Aramaic or Classical Syriac, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic of the Northwest Semitic languages of the Afroasiatic family that is written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet. Having first appeared in the early first century CE in Edessa, classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from the 4th to the 8th centuries, preserved in a large body of Syriac literature. Indeed, Syriac literature comprises roughly 90% of the extant Aramaic literature. Syriac was once spoken across much of the Near East as well as Anatolia and Eastern Arabia. Syriac originated in Mesopotamia and eventually spread west of Iraq in which it became the lingua franca of the region during the Mesopotamian Neo-Assyrian period.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subdivision of the Indo-European languages. It is a pluricentric language predominantly spoken and used officially within Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in three mutually intelligible standard varieties, namely Iranian Persian, Dari Persian and Tajiki Persian. It is also spoken natively in the Tajik variety by a significant population within Uzbekistan, as well as within other regions with a Persianate history in the cultural sphere of Greater Iran. It is written officially within Iran and Afghanistan in the Persian alphabet, a derivation of the Arabic script, and within Tajikistan in the Tajik alphabet, a derivation of Cyrillic.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.


Life, history and identity

Aphrahat was born in Asōristān during the rule of emperor Shapur II on the border with Roman Syria around 280. [1] The name Aphrahat is the Syriac version of the Persian name Frahāt, which is the modern Persian Farhād (فرهاد). The author, who was known as "the Persian sage", may have come from a pagan family and been himself a convert from paganism, though this appears to be later speculation. However, he tells us that he took the Christian name Jacob at his baptism, and is so entitled in the colophon to a manuscript of 512 which contains twelve of his homilies. Hence he was already confused with Jacob of Nisibis, [4] by the time of Gennadius of Massilia (before 496), and the ancient Armenian version of nineteen of The Demonstrations has been published under this latter name. Thorough study of the Demonstrations makes identification with Jacob of Nisibis impossible. Aphrahat, being a Persian subject, cannot have lived at Nisibis, which became Persian only by Emperor Jovian's treaty of 363. [2]

Shapur II Shah of Persia

Shapur II, also known as Shapur II the Great, was the tenth Sasanian king (shah) of Iran. The longest-reigning monarch in Iranian history, he reigned for his entire 70-year life from 309 to 379. He was the son of Hormizd II.

Roman Syria Roman province

Syria was an early Roman province, annexed to the Roman Republic in 64 BC by Pompey in the Third Mithridatic War, following the defeat of Armenian King Tigranes the Great. Following the partition of the Herodian Kingdom into tetrarchies in 6 AD, it was gradually absorbed into Roman provinces, with Roman Syria annexing Iturea and Trachonitis.

Paganism non-Abrahamic religion, or modern religious movement such as nature worship

Paganism is a term first used in the fourth century by early Christians for people in the Roman Empire who practiced polytheism. This was either because they were increasingly rural and provincial relative to the Christian population, or because they were not milites Christi. Alternate terms in Christian texts for the same group were hellene, gentile, and heathen. Ritual sacrifice was an integral part of ancient Graeco-Roman religion and was regarded as an indication of whether a person was pagan or Christian.

Furthermore, Jacob of Nisibis, who attended the First Council of Nicaea, died in 338, and from the internal evidence of Aphrahat's works he must have witnessed the beginning of the persecution of Christians in the early 340s by Shapur II. The persecutions arose out of political tensions between Rome and Persia, particularly the declaration of Constantine the Great that Rome should be a Christian empire. Shapur perhaps grew anxious that the largely Syriac and Armenian Christians within his Empire might secretly support Rome. There are elements in Aphrahat's writing that show great pastoral concern for his harried flock, caught in the midst of all this turmoil.

First Council of Nicaea council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in 325

The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.

Persecution of Christians Persecution of Christians

The persecution of Christians can be historically traced from the first century of the Christian era to the present day. Early Christians were persecuted for their faith at the hands of both the Jews from whose religion Christianity arose and the Romans who controlled many of the lands across which early Christianity was spread. Early in the fourth century, a form of the religion was legalized by the Edict of Milan, and it eventually became the State church of the Roman Empire.

Constantine the Great Roman emperor

Constantine the Great, also known as Constantine I, was a Roman Emperor who ruled between 306 and 337 AD. Born in Naissus, in Dacia Ripensis, city now known as Niš, he was the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius, a Roman Army officer of Illyrian origins. His mother Helena was Greek. His father became Caesar, the deputy emperor in the west, in 293 AD. Constantine was sent east, where he rose through the ranks to become a military tribune under Emperors Diocletian and Galerius. In 305, Constantius was raised to the rank of Augustus, senior western emperor, and Constantine was recalled west to campaign under his father in Britannia (Britain). Constantine was acclaimed as emperor by the army at Eboracum after his father's death in 306 AD. He emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against Emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become sole ruler of both west and east by 324 AD.

It is understood that his name was Aphrahat from comparatively late writers, such as Bar Bahlul (10th century), Elias of Nisibis (11th), Bar Hebraeus and Abdisho. He appears to have been quite prominent in the Christian Church of the Persian Empire during the first half of the fourth century. [5] George, bishop of the Arabs, writing in 714 to a friend who had sent him a series of questions about the "Persian sage", confesses ignorance of his name, home and rank, but gathers from his works that he was a monk, and of high esteem in the clergy. The fact that in 344 he was selected to draw up a circular letter from a council of bishops and other clergy to the churches of Ctesiphon and Seleucia [4] and elsewhere (later to become Demonstration 14) is held by William Wright and others to prove that he was a bishop. According to a marginal note in a 14th-century manuscript (B.M. Orient. 1017), he was "bishop of Mar Mattai," a famous monastery near Mosul, but it is unlikely that this institution existed so early. [2]

Bar Bahlul was a 10th-century Christian bishop and Syriac linguist.

Gregory Bar Hebraeus, also known by his Latin name Abulpharagius or Syriac name Mor Gregorios Bar Ebraya, was a maphrian-catholicos of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century. He is noted for his works concerning philosophy, poetry, language, history, and theology; he has been called "one of the most learned and versatile men from the Syriac Orthodox Church".

Abdisho, a member of the Church of the East, was a deacon and martyr.

About "The Demonstrations"

Aphrahat's works are collectively called the Demonstrations, from the identical first word in each of their titles (Syriac : ܬܚܘܝܬܐ, taḥwîṯâ). They are sometimes also known as "the homilies". There are twenty-three Demonstrations in all. [1] Each work deals with a different item of faith or practice, and is a pastoral homily or exposition. According to Francis Crawford Burkitt, they are intended to form "a full and ordered exposition of the Christian faith." The standpoint is that of the Syriac-speaking church, before it was touched by the Arian controversy. Beginning with faith as the foundation, the writer proceeds to build up the structure of doctrine and duty. [2]

A homily is a commentary that follows a reading of scripture. In Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox Churches, a homily is usually given during Mass at the end of the Liturgy of the Word. Many people consider it synonymous with a sermon.

The Arian controversy was a series of Christian theological disputes that arose between Arius and Athanasius of Alexandria, two Christian theologians from Alexandria, Egypt. The most important of these controversies concerned the substantial relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

The Demonstrations are works of prose, but frequently, Aphrahat employs a poetic rhythm and imagery to his writing. Each of the first twenty-two Demonstrations begins with each successive letter of the Syriac alphabet (of which there are twenty-two). The Demonstrations were not composed all at one time, but in three distinct periods. The first ten, composed in 337, concern themselves with Christian life and church order, and predate the persecutions. Demonstrations 11–22 were composed at the height of the persecution, in 344. Some of this group deal with matters as before, others focus on apocalyptic themes. However, four Demonstrations are concerned with Judaism. It appears that there was a movement within the Persian church by some either to become Jews or return to Judaism, or to incorporate Jewish elements into Christianity. Aphrahat makes his stand by explaining the meaning of the symbols of circumcision, Passover and Shabbat. The twenty-third Demonstration falls outside of the alphabetic system of the early works, and appears to be slightly later, perhaps near the end of Aphrahat's life. The twenty-third piece takes the symbolism of the grape, drawn from Isaiah chapter 65 and elsewhere, as its cue. It deals with the fulfilment of Messianic promise from Adam to Christ. [4] Aphrahat never strays too far from the Bible in the Demonstrations: he is not given to philosophizing. All of his gospel quotations seem to be drawn from the Diatessaron , the gospel harmony that served the church at his time. Aphrahat's mode of biblical interpretation is strikingly similar to that of the Babylonian rabbinic academies of his day. His position within the church is indicated in Demonstration 14, in which Aphrahat appears to be writing a letter on behalf of his synod to the clergy of the Persian capital, Ctesiphon-Seleucia on the Tigris.

Syriac alphabet Writing system

The Syriac alphabet is a writing system primarily used to write the Syriac language since the 1st century AD. It is one of the Semitic abjads descending from the Aramaic alphabet through the Palmyrene alphabet, and shares similarities with the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic and the traditional Mongolian scripts.

Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians.

Judaism The ethnic religion of the Jewish people

Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people. It is an ancient, monotheistic, Abrahamic religion with the Torah as its foundational text. It encompasses the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

In Demonstrations 5, Aphrahat, dealt with eschatology. Concerning the beasts of Daniel 7, he identified the first beast as Babylon; the second, Media and Persia; the third, Alexander's Macedonian empire. The four heads of the leopard were the four successors of Alexander. The fourth beast appeared to include both the Macedonian successors of Alexander and the Roman emperors. Its horns he applied to the Seleucid kings down to Antiochus, whom he identified as the Little Horn. He reduced the time, times, and half a time to one and one-half times, in order to fit the ten and a half years of Antiochus' persecution of the Jews. Aphrahat also mentioned the Persian ram and the Grecian he-goat of Daniel 8. [6]

In Demonstrations 8, Aphrahat stated that the Kingdom of Christ would not be established until the Second Advent at which time there would occur a literal resurrection of the righteous dead. [7]


The Demonstrations were originally composed in the Syriac language, but were quickly translated into other languages. The Armenian version, published by Antonelli in 1756 and containing only 19 homilies, circulated mistakenly under the name Jacob of Nisibis. Important versions in Georgian and Ge'ez exist. A few of the Demonstrations were translated into Arabic, but wrongly attributed to Ephrem the Syrian.

Order and subjects of The Demonstrations

  1. Demonstration on faithDemonstrations 1–10 were probably written 336–7
  2. Demonstration on charity
  3. Demonstration on fasting
  4. Demonstration on prayer
  5. Demonstration on wars
  6. Demonstration on members of the covenant
  7. Demonstration on penitents
  8. Demonstration on resurrection
  9. Demonstration on humility
  10. Demonstration on pastors
  11. Demonstration on circumcision Demonstrations 11–22 were probably written 344
  12. Demonstration on the Passover
  13. Demonstration on the Sabbath
  14. Demonstration on preaching
  15. Demonstration on various foods
  16. Demonstration on the call of the Gentiles
  17. Demonstration on Jesus the Messiah
  18. Demonstration on virginity
  19. Demonstration on the dispersion of Israel
  20. Demonstration on almsgiving
  21. Demonstration on persecution
  22. Demonstration on death and the last days
  23. Demonstration concerning the grapeDemonstration 23 was probably written in the winter of 344–5


  1. 1 2 3 Kalariparampil, Joseph. "Aphrahat the Persian Sage", Dukhrana, August 1, 2014
  2. 1 2 3 4 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  McLean, Norman (1911). "Aphraates". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 165–166.
  3. McLean 1911, p. 165.
  4. 1 2 3 Schaff, Philip. "Aphrahat", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XIII, T&T Clark, Edinburgh
  5. Pierre, M.-J., "Aphraate le sage persan: Les Exposés", Source Chrétiennes 349 (Paris:1988)
  6. Froom 1950, pp. 403-404.
  7. Froom 1950, p. 402.

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References noted in McLean 1911

Other sources