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Texts, Authors, and Holy Men between Christian and Islamic Hagiographical Traditions

Reyhan Durmaz, Brown University, Summer Fellow 2015–2016

I study Christian and Islamic hagiographical traditions in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages for my doctoral research. I am currently working on the transmission of a fifth-century Syriac hagiographical text, The History of the Great Deeds of Bishop Paul of Qenṭos and Priest John of Edessa, by Muslim transmitters and historians of the Islamic tradition. After being shortened and given an Islamic resonance through multiple transmissions, the Syriac story was eventually incorporated into the Sīra (biography) of Prophet Muhammad written by Ibn Isḥāq (d. 768). The story of Paul and John is about the ascetic endeavors of two holy men mostly in Syria but also in Italy, South Arabia, and northern Iraq. In the Islamic tradition, however, the abridged version of the story is used to narrate the conversion of South Arabia to Christianity. My summer fellowship enabled me to expand on the sociopolitical circumstances in late antiquity under which this transmission took place. With the help of primary sources in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic, I was able to trace variations of the story within the Christian tradition and its transmission to the Islamic milieu in the seventh century. In light of the secondary scholarship that explores similar phenomena in other contexts, I explored the role of oral tradition and storytelling in the ancient world, which brought a new dimension into my research.