Narsai Workshop at BYU

For the next few days I’ll be in Utah, attending a workshop on Narsai, a 5th-century Syriac poet, exegete, and preacher. The workshop is hosted by the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) at Brigham Young University.

I’m very much looking forward to this workshop, primarily because I think Narsai is a very understudied figure, particularly for someone with a surviving corpus of over 80 metrical homilies.

My paper for this workshop stems out of my previous research on Aphrahat’s conception of the body-soul relationship and the idea of the “sleep of the soul” after death. Narsai is frequently said to support the theory of the sleep of the soul, so I set out to do a comparative analysis of the ways that Narsai and Aphrahat talk about the soul and its properties, the relationship between the soul and body, and what happens to the soul at death and at the resurrection.

In preparation for this presentation, I translated Narsai’s memra “On the Soul”, which was a lot of fun, though quite difficult at times. Translating poetry is always difficult, but it is made all the more difficult when you are trying to tie down the way a poet is using technical vocabulary like that employed in late antique christological debates. So, I look forward to hearing the other papers at this workshop to hear how others have made sense of Narsai’s vocabulary and style.

The short answer to the research question I set out to answer is: Aphrahat and Narsai do not share much in common, and Narsai doesn’t really support the concept of the sleep of the soul.  The long answer to this question is the topic of my paper, and it will eventually be published in a volume containing the conference proceedings.