AFRAHĀṬ, YAʿQŪB, Persian bishop of the mid-4th century A.D., author in Syriac. (The younger form of the name, Farhād, is given in the 13th century by Bar Hebraeus.) Yaʿqūb Afrahāṭ was born between A.D. 260 and 275 and died shortly after 345. Famous as “the Persian sage” (ḥakkīma farsāyā), he was the first historically distinct Iranian Christian of outstanding importance. An uncertain later tradition (a MS of A.D. 1364) connects him with the monastery of Mār Mattai (Matthew) near Mosul, ancient Nineveh. In elegant, exemplary Syriac (with only sixty-two Greek and sixteen Iranian loanwords, the latter including gwnʾ , dšnʾ, zynʾ, ptkrʾ, ptgmʾ, nḥšyrʾ) he wrote twenty-three homilies (mēmrē, so named by Afrahāṭ himself, but also known as taḥwyātā, i.e., demonstrationes, exempla, paradigmata), twenty-two of them alphabetical according to the letters of the Syriac alphabet; the separate Homily 23, “On the Cluster” (ṭōṭīthā; cf. Isaiah 65:8), is an outline of the entire history of the Old Testament. Homilies 1-9 were written in A.D. 337, 9-22 in 344, and Homily 23 in 345, during the heavy persecutions under Šāpūr II (A.D. 309-79). The homilies are preserved in three manuscripts of the 5th and 6th centuries in the British Museum. They deal partly (1-9) with fundamental aspects of Christian theology (e.g., 1, “On Faith;” 3, “On Fasting;” 4, “On Prayer;” 6, “On the Sons of the Covenant;” 7, “On Penance;” 8, “On the Resurrection of the Dead”) and partly with questions of importance for defining an attitude toward the Jews (e.g., 11, “On Circumcision;” 12, “On the Paschal Sacrifice;” 13, “On the Sabbath;” 15, “On Making Distinctions among Foods;” 16, “On the Peoples Which Are in the Place of the People;” 17, “On the Messiah, That He Is the Son of God”), but devoid of any outspoken anti-Semitism. Homily 14 is unique, in so far as it is a letter addressed to Christians assembled in Seleucia-Ctesiphon. The teaching of the homilies, founded upon the canonical Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, is ascetic and, as far as dogmatic detail is concerned, peculiar and in portions rudimentary, since it is totally uninfluenced by the Nicene decisions of A.D. 325 (which were first accepted, in part at least, by the Synod of Mār Esḥāq in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, A.D. 410). Selections from Afrahāṭ’s writings were translated into Armenian, Georgian, and Ethiopic.
J. Assfalg and P. Krüger, Kleines Wörterbuch des christlichen Orients, Wiesbaden, 1975, p. 2.
A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur, Bonn, 1922, pp. 30f.
R. Duval, La littérature syriaque (Anciennes littératures chrétiennes 2), Paris, 1899, pp. 225ff.
L. Haefeli, Stilmittel bei Afrahat dem persischen Weisen (Leipziger semitische Studien, N.S. 4), Leipzig, 1932; repr. Leipzig, 1968.
J. Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire perse, Paris, 1904, pp. 31ff.
J. Neusner, “The Jewish-Christian Argument in Fourth-Century Iran: Aphrahat on Circumcision, the Sabbath, and the Dietary Laws,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 7/2, 1970, pp. 282ff.
Idem, Aphrahat and Judaism (Studia post-Biblica 19), Leiden, 1971.
W. Wright, A Short History of Syriac Literature (originally published in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1894), reprint ed., Amsterdam, 1966, pp. 31-33.
I. Ortiz de Urbina, Patrologia Syriaca, Rome, 1958, pp. 43-47; 2nd ed., Rome, 1965, pp. 46-51.
(J. P. Asmussen)
Originally Published: December 15, 1984
Last Updated: July 28, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 6, p. 570