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RBL Book Review Muraoka Jacob of Serugh on the Hexameron RAKitchen

RBL Book Review Muraoka Jacob of Serugh on the Hexameron RAKitchen
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    This review was published by RBL ! 2019 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit RBL 09/2019 Takamitsu Muraoka  Jacob of Serugh’s Hexaemeron Ancient Near Eastern Studies 52 Leuven: Peeters, 2018. Pp. xv + 229. Cloth. $123.00. ISBN 9789042934917. Robert A. Kitchen Sankt Ignatios Theological Academy Despite its title, Jacob of Serugh’s Hexameron  consists of seven separate Syriac homilies on the six days of creation, plus the first Sabbath. Jacob’s cycle had a predecessor in Basil of Caesarea’s Hexameron , but there is no indication that Jacob (d. 521) had access to or even knew of them. Takamitsu Muraoka presents the first complete edition and translation of these metrical homilies, composed in Jacob’s signature twelve-syllable meter. While available for a century in Paul Bedjan’s Homiliae Selectae Mar-Jacobi Sarugensis  (Paris, 1905–1910), there were no translations in these volumes. English translations of individual homilies have appeared by Robin Darling Young, Behnam Sony, and Edward Mathews, along with Khalil Alwan’s French translation of four homilies. Muraoka pursued the trail of Jacob’s cycle for several decades, consulting ten manuscripts to create this critical edition, with an English translation of all seven homilies on facing pages in an elegantly produced volume. Muraoka, known for his text-critical and grammatical approaches to Hebrew and other Semitic languages, including two editions of a Classical Syriac grammar, makes no claim to expertise in patristics or theology. His introduction and footnotes to the Syriac text are clearly text-critical and involve little commentary on the literary and theological content of the homilies. Muraoka’s English translation, however, illustrates well the old principle that translation is the first act of interpretation. Neither wooden nor literalist, it imaginatively captures the full sense of Jacob’s poetic narrative, aiding the reader    This review was published by RBL ! 2019 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit considerably in comprehending Jacob’s complex theological trajectory, as well as the grace of his poetry. The initial divine movement in Syriac poetry is R ē mz  ā , “Signal,” as Muraoka translates, an impersonal metaphor of God’s omnipresence and action that is assumed but rarely mentioned in biblical narratives. It is R ē mz  ā , God’s Signal, “wink,” that creates the world out of nothing (65–69). The creatio ex nihilo  recurs as a theme throughout the cycle, a revelation for much of creation that did not comprehend that there was in fact a beginning. “The world had forgotten and nobody knew who his master was. Hence it was imperative for Moses to write about the Creator, so that the world might realize that it has a beginning, even a starting point” (157–59). The creation begins with the heavenly beings, and only then is the Trinity recognized. “The Father signals ( r  ā m ē z  ), and the Son creates ( b ā r  ē ’  ), and the Spirit completes (  g  ā mar  ). In a triune way the universe comes into being from nothing” (243–44). The Signal fashioned the world, but it was deserted and bare at its creation. There was light, but no sunrise yet. “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters…” begins day two. The Lord was a Creator of something out of nothing; now that he has something, he is a Maker, a workman, of new creatures. The Lord devotes day two to establishing order, as Jacob concludes toward the end of the homily, “And the universe took a path to move away from toh  and boh ” (303)—the Syriac rendition of the Hebrew ( tohu w-bohu ) for chaos and formlessness. Nothing happens “naturally” at this point, for God is creating intentionally. “Nature cannot do anything on its own, but solely as commanded by the Creator. For it is easy for Him; should he so desire, He could make fish fly” (71–73). A close reader of the text, Jacob observes that God was not fully satisfied with day two. “Concerning all the (other) days (of creation) it is written that the Lord saw that it was beautiful, but concerning that day two this was not said” (283–84). Day three was beautiful. Jacob details the separation of the seas from the dry land, resulting in an ecological observation, “Between the sea and the dry land the Creator put harmony” (127), and “That Maker … restrained them in such a way that they could see each other as equals” (129–30). God’s second commandment was for the earth to bring forth all vegetation and fruit and trees. But just as Adam emerged   (Muraoka’s interpretive  verb instead of “came into being”) not as a baby or young boy, but as a full-grown adult, so all the trees and vegetation appeared “in their finished state” (207–10).    This review was published by RBL ! 2019 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit Jacob rarely allows an Old Testament narrative to pass without applying christological typologies. “In the month of Nisan the Lord held a dinner party for the earth, and introduced it into the universe, and its children multiplied so that the universe would become well-formed” (233–34). Nisan/April marks the beginning of spring and new life, but also Holy Week in Jerusalem. Jacob leaves no doubt about day three’s significance in the divine economy, “Something like a resurrection ( n ū ! ā m ā ) emerged on the earth on the third (day), a blessed day on which the earth was formed and came into being” (307–8). Day four finds the Lord creating the luminaries—sun, moon and stars (1–12). The light that had existed since day one was not coming from an identifiable source, but now physical bodies establish the four regions—east, west, north, and south were not previously known—and regulate the flow of days and life. The command for day five directed the waters to produce swarms of creatures, large and small fish, creeping living beings, reptiles, and then birds. “The Artisan forged fish with a signal ( r  ē mz  ā )” (37). Muraoka shifts subtly in his translation to describe the role of God as Creator ( b ā r  ō  y  ā ), then Maker ( ‘ab ū d  ā ), and now to the Artisan ( ‘ab ū d  ū th ā ), evoking the sense of God’s intricate, innovative actions in making/creating beings in the creation. Inevitably, Jacob interprets day five as an anticipation of the resurrection. “On the third (day) there happened for the sea something like a rejuvenation ( n ū ! ā m ā ), for Day Five was third for the seas that had come into being” (151–52). Similarly, day two with the establishment of the firmament was rejuvenated on day four with the creation of the luminaries, that is, on its “third day” (155–58). “The great mystery of that resurrection of the only one ( ī  ! ī  d  ā  y  ā  = monogenes , ‘Only Begotten One’) was being brought to the creatures He was forming. And thus by degrees, all that was formed rose with the mystery of rejuvenation with which the entire creation was renewed” (167–70). Creation is empowered by the force of resurrection. “On Day Five He established the whole universe with five senses except the soul, which was missing. The body of the universe was established in five days. Then on the sixth (day) Adam filled the place for soul” (181–84). In a footnote, Muraoka observes that “Jacob does not deal with the question whether or not these creatures have a soul.” On day six, the rest happens, beginning with the command for the earth to produce living animals of all kinds. On day five, the sea had given birth, and now the earth takes its turn to produce and did so (33–34).    This review was published by RBL ! 2019 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit Jacob attributes one more role and title to God as the Architect ( ’ard  ī  kl  ā ), the consummate planner and designer who makes it all fit together (119). The celestial hosts were puzzled by this grand creation, for they did not know for whose sake all this was intended (143–44). A critical aspect of God’s architectural plan was to bring Adam into the universe last, not first, for if Adam were there first, God would have allowed him to participate in the decisions as an “associate.” Adam “boasted of being first” (212), and humanity appears to have maintained this innate tendency and self-perception. Counter to God’s previous commands, this was not “Let there be Adam,” but intentionally “Let us make man in our image” (239–54). “There was no report that the Lord made any of them in His image except Adam, who was the image of the Only one” ( ī  ! ī  d  ā  y  ā /Christ) (285–88). Jacob explains that when God said, “Let us make man in our image,” he was speaking to his Son, not to anyone else. The enigmatic “Let us  …” refers to God and the Eternal Son. “Adam would be the image of the Father and the likeness of the Son” (313). There had to be Eve, and while Adam was molded out of dust, Eve was molded out of Adam’s blood (483–86). Jacob returns to his christological typology: “The hero fell asleep and the Artisan pierced his side and forged there an image for a spear for the Only one, and during this sleep the death of the crucified was engraved and with the blood and water all the beauty of baptism” (493–96). Jacob goes further, “The Only one, who without marital copulation produces a child, resembling Adam, who also, without sexual contact, begat” (521–22). Adam is surprised and delighted at Eve and declares, “This is my bone, this is my flesh, this is part of me, a daughter and a sister, even a marriage partner” (573–74). Muraoka notes that “to Eve Adam is her father in the sense that she derives from him.” Day seven is the day after the universe was completed, the day that God rested. Jacob reviews those six busy days, and there is little new as befits a day of rest and reflection. Jacob, nevertheless, poses a logical question to Moses, “Why did God need to rest?” “If you say that the Lord became weary, who would believe you? But if He was not tired, why did He rest, as you say? But if you call respite from the activities rest, behold, He had no respite since he sat at the wheel of the universe He had created … doing every day these things which were (always) done” (43–46, 53). Jacob does not answer the question conclusively, as if anyone could. However, “a temporary rest symbolizes an eternal rest” (98). “The Lord provides quietness at the end for the entire universe … and said that He rested from His operations, and he who knows how to read Moses spiritually comprehends the mystery of the sabbath clearly. The Lord did not need to rest as He was not tired, but He composed a clear allegory on the completion (of the task)” (195–200).    This review was published by RBL ! 2019 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a subscription to RBL, please visit A concluding christological interpretation: “The Son, who took body, became tired on the cross because of the air, and from that fatigue He entered rest on the seventh day” (211–12). The creation of the universe and the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ interpret one another. Jacob, noting that he is tired, ends the homilies with praise to the Creator. Muraoka’s rendition of this Christian recital of the creation deserves timeless rereading, both for its biblical and theological images and his revelation of Jacob’s poetic vision.
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