Open main menu

JACOB OF SĔRŪGH, one of the best Syriac authors, named by one of his biographers “the flute of the Holy Spirit and the harp of the believing church,” was born in 451 at Kurtam, a village on the Euphrates to the west of Ḥarrān, and was probably educated at Edessa. At an early age he attracted the attention of his countrymen by his piety and his literary gifts, and entered on the composition of the long series of metrical homilies on religious themes which formed the great work of his life. Having been ordained to the priesthood, he became periodeutes or episcopal visitor of Ḥaurā, in Sĕrūgh, not far from his birthplace. His tenure of this office extended over a time of great trouble to the Christian population of Mesopotamia, due to the fierce war carried on by Kavadh II. of Persia within the Roman borders. When on the 10th of January 503 Amid was captured by the Persians after a three months’ siege and all its citizens put to the sword or carried captive, a panic seized the whole district, and the Christian inhabitants of many neighbouring cities planned to leave their homes and flee to the west of the Euphrates. They were recalled to a more courageous frame of mind by the letters of Jacob.[1] In 519, at the age of 68, Jacob was made bishop of Baṭnān, another town in the district of Sĕrūgh, but only lived till November 521.

From the various extant accounts of Jacob’s life and from the number of his known works, we gather that his literary activity was unceasing. According to Barhebraeus (Chron. Eccles. i. 191) he employed 70 amanuenses and wrote in all 760 metrical homilies, besides expositions, letters and hymns of different sorts. Of his merits as a writer and poet we are now well able to judge from P. Bedjan’s excellent edition of selected metrical homilies, of which four volumes have already appeared (Paris 1905–1908), containing 146 pieces.[2] They are written throughout in dodecasyllabic metre, and those published deal mainly with biblical themes, though there are also poems on such subjects as the deaths of Christian martyrs, the fall of the idols, the council of Nicaea, &c.[3] Of Jacob’s prose works, which are not nearly so numerous, the most interesting are his letters, which throw light upon some of the events of his time and reveal his attachment to the Monophysite doctrine which was then struggling for supremacy in the Syrian churches, and particularly at Edessa, over the opposite teaching of Nestorius.[4] (N. M.) 

  1. See the contemporary Chronicle called that of Joshua the Stylite, chap. 54.
  2. Assemani (Bibl. Orient. i. 305–339) enumerates 231 which he had seen in MSS.
  3. Some other historical poems M. Bedjan has not seen fit to publish, on account of their unreliable and legendary character (vol. i. p. ix. of preface).
  4. A full list of the older editions of works by Jacob is given by Wright in Short History of Syriac Literature, pp. 68–72.