Religion, Science and Superstition: Medicine and Magic in a West Syriac Milieu

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Syriac Literature, largely Christian in nature, is known for its wide variety of genres. The rarest of these, which may be termed "fringe literature," includes those texts which deal with scientific or "knowledge" related topics. Such texts may comprise medical treaties, omens, astrological texts, spells, charms and amulets. Often, more than one of these would be consulted by practitioners of folk medicine in administering remedies that would have been simultaneously scientific and spiritual. Interest in such genres has continued well into the twenty-first century, with studies on Syriac medicine and magic still very popular today. The standard texts which immediately come to mind, however, are those from the East Syriac milieu. Little consideration has been given, however, to the small amount of evidence which comes from across the Tigris River.

This research project is particular significant because it brings to light texts which are generally overlooked by Syriacists and those studying the history and literary heritage of the Middle East. It thus draws upon diverse approaches to science and divination, as well as folk medicine and magic, in the West Syriac literary tradition, and to the origins and usage of such genres. In particular, the project focuses on the extent to which such literature was prevalent in West Syriac communities and what role it played amongst them. Attention is paid to the similarities between these texts and similar examples from the East Syriac and other traditions, as well as the translations of such texts from Classical Syriac into Garshuni Arabic. Moreover, the project will contemplate the way in which such knowledge was transmitted, translated and copied.

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