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The Acts of the Persian Martyrs between East and West. Intercultural transmission and images at the beginning of the 5th century – TransPerse

TransPerse

The Acts of the Persian Martyrs between East and West. Intercultural transmission and images at the beginning of the 5th century

Intercultural exchanges between East and West: how to read history

Using multidisciplinary approaches, TRANSPERSE project seeks to reconstruct a history of the intercultural exchanges between Persia and the regions bordering it – the Caucasus, the Byzantine world – and as far as Egypt and the Latin West during the circumscribed period of the reigns of the Sasanians Yazdgird I and Wahram V (from 399 to 438) by comparing rich literary sources that are mostly unpublished, untapped, difficult to access, or poorly identified. The Acts of the Persian Martyrs offer an exceptional record of the period ; these texts show in an exemplary manner the cross-influences between communtities and traditions. Originally written in Syriac by the Christians of the Persian empire, they were disseminated very early in exogenous cultural areas: Coptic, Byzantine, Caucasian, Ethiopian, Arabian and also Latin. Several aspects remain unknown including the ways in which these martyrological texts were disseminated, the intercultural exchanges among communities in this geographical space, and the fundamental question of the role of lettered Eastern Christian communities in such intertextual movements, particularly in the West.<br />With the aim of examining to these main issues and contributing to that history, this project sets out to <br />- bring together and give access to little-known or hitherto unpublished sources from that period, analysed for the first time as a whole and in the broad spectrum of languages.<br />- cross and compare these sources with other corpora of contemporaneous and more recent texts<br />- develop a supporting open-access digital tool (database) aimed at a wide audience: an online Sourcebook providing an extensive collection of 5th century texts from a diverse variety of sources and languages.<br />- enrich our knowledge of this period and of the history of the cultural exchanges among these cultural areas (from Persia to the Byzantine Empire, from Egypt all the way to the Latin West (original publications, dissemination events, etc.).

The main innovation in this project is its interdisciplinary approach to a subject that is always treated in a compartmentalised manner. The pooling of expertise by researchers from different fields is coupled with engineering expertise, constituting an important asset for deepening our knowledge about transmission accross different areas.
The strong interest of the TransPerse programme also lies in its comparative approach. The methodology consists in comparing several sources in diverse languages (Syriac, Coptic, Greek, Armenian, Ethiopic, Persian, Arabic and Latin), from various areas – sources that have hitherto never been the object of investigation or comparative analyses, especially between Christian East and Latin West. In terms of the project’s objectives and the period examined, these documents are exceptionally rich; bringing them together through an interdisciplinary approach to create synergies augurs a better understanding of the knowledge transfer process. A comparative approach will help to grasp the intercultural transmission in areas marked by both political and religious antagonisms and oppositions. From a methodological point of view, the creation of an open database will help to bring together documentation that is both contemporaneous with and subsequent to the reigns of Yazdgird I and Wahram V, a perspective that looks both inwards at the Sasanian Empire and outwards. The database will be paired with the development of an innovative Sourc-e-book, an authoritative work tool, and centralise a maximum amount of information about that space and time – the first such freely accessible database that gathers data from documents, that are very diverse in terms of origin and language, from the beginning of the fifth century in the East.

One of the main expected results from this programme is the creation of a “Sourc-e-book” that will, in an interactive way, bring together a whole set of uploaded historiographical and hagiographical data about the beginning of the fifth century in different languages, mostly hitherto unpublished, with the goal of contributing to a better understanding of their dissemination and of the intercultural transmission processes between East and West. The database will be an original and useful tool that, thanks to its internal search engine specially designed for proper names and toponyms, will be highly functional and efficient, thus allowing for the interoperability of data. A website created in Word Press and hosted on Huma-Num will support the overall presentation.
Other expected research outcomes include an analysis of intercultural transmission between East and Latin West. New comparative approaches to the Acts, including studies on internal worth and hagiographical and historiographical narrative models, should open up completely original perspectives on the mechanisms for disseminating Syriac texts from Persia into Eastern cultural areas and beyond – a field of research that remains little-explored. In this way, such future analyses will become important references for any study on Persia within international exchanges in the fifth century. These results will be materialised through a set of publications dedicated to a better understanding of these processes, bringing to light the contrasted image of these reigns.
Lastly, another strength of this project will be the building of a specialised and complementary research team that will help to shed greater light on the phenomena of interculturality between East and West – a particularly innovative topic.

First, critical editions and the publication of several original works, as well as the newly created open-access database (sourc-e-book) underpinning the TRANSPERSE project, will help to make the results totally accessible. The project team thus far constitutes a network of skills for analysing the great diversity of sources in cross-disciplinary way and comparative approaches through the prism of intercultural transmission between East and West. This important asset will enable us to avoid two key barriers: the lack of access to many sources from Eastern Christian communities, and to historical analysis – for example to grasp intercultural transmissions and transfers to other languages.
In a broader perspective, this TransPerse undertaking aims to build a strong network of expertise and generate other partnerships to develop new national and international scholarly initiatives on other Sasanian periods or other sources or corpora about areas which abounds in little-explored data and in which interdisciplinary collaboration has demonstrated its effective utility. Another goal of this dissemination strategy is to raise public awareness of the cultural wealth and traditions of Near and Middle Eastern Christians, and the mechanisms of heritage transmission in the Eastern and Western worlds, at a time of current dramatic reality in the area.

- 1 contribution to the Workshop in Bologna (Italia), 11/06/2018 (C. Jullien)
- Workshop organised in Paris, Maison de la recherche, 11/25/2019 (dir. C. Jullien) : 17 contributors
- 1 book chapter (C. Jullien, 2018)
- 2 contributions towards the general public (dissemination events)
- a dissemination web page on Eman platform
- a research logbook on the hypotheses.org platform
- the TransPerse database: work in progress on Eman website (CNRS, ENS): 372 items (112 collections).

TRANSPERSE
The Acts of the Persian Martyrs between East and West.
Intercultural transmission and images at the beginning of the 5th century.

Using multidisciplinary approaches, this project seeks to reconstruct a history of the intercultural exchanges between Persia and the regions bordering it – the Caucasus, the Byzantine world – and as far as Egypt and the Latin West during the circumscribed period of the reigns of the Sasanians Yazdgird I and Wahram V (from 399 to 438) by comparing rich literary sources that are mostly unpublished, untapped, difficult to access, or poorly identified and by developing a supporting open-access digital tool aimed at a wide audience.
The Acts of the Persian Martyrs offer an exceptional record of the period. This literary material, originally written in Syriac by the Christian communities of the empire, constitutes a homogenous and absolutely unique set of texts, a cycle spanning both reigns.
The project’s first aim is to bring together, edit and analyse the Acts from this period, treating them as a whole for the first time. The second aim, related to the first, is to study the Acts through the prism of intercultural transmission between East and West. This interdisciplinary research will contribute to a better understanding of the essential role played by texts from the Christian communities of Persia in constructing identities, both in Christian societies in the East and in Western regions. Written in Iran, these texts were disseminated very early in exogenous cultural areas: Coptic, Byzantine, Caucasian, Ethiopian, Arabian and Latin. Several aspects remain unknown including the ways in which these martyrological texts were disseminated, the intercultural exchanges among communities in this geographical space, and the fundamental question of the role of lettered Eastern Christian communities in such intertextual movements, particularly in the West. Comparative approaches are a major asset for understanding this transmission across different areas. The third aim is to bring to light contrasted images of the reigns by comparing contemporaneous and later documentation from other corpora, especially in Arabic and Persian.
All these sources in diverse languages (Syriac, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Persian, Arabic and Latin), from various areas and from different time periods, will be gathered to create synergies through original publications, an international conference and the development of a “sourc-e-book”: an open-access database bringing together all documents and previously unpublished sources about the first forty years of the fifth century in Persia. The project seeks to make a significant contribution to a little-explored and highly compartmentalised field of research by making available a freely accessible, innovative research tool to the national and international academic community.
The interdisciplinary team formed to conduct this research will endeavour to fill a real knowledge gap and to lift two major scientific barriers, namely the inaccessibility of many documents from Christian communities in the East, often due to their unpublished nature; and insufficient treatment and historical analysis in determining processes of transfer into different languages, among other aspects. Another expected outcome is to strengthen the research network in order to spark new national and international research initiatives on other Sasanian periods or other corpora of sources in the future.
Disseminating the knowledge obtained will also contribute to raising public awareness of the history of Christians in the Middle East and their ancient pre-Islamic roots in these regions. The inter-community conflicts of yesteryear will thus help to understand the shaping of identities today.

Project coordinator

Madame Christelle JULLIEN (Mondes iranien et indien)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

CNRS (UPR 841) IRHT
CNRS (FRE 2018) Mondes iranien et indien
CNRS (UMR 8589) Laboratoire de médiévistique occidentale de Paris (Lamop)
CNRS (UMR 8584) Laboratoire d'études sur les monothéismes (LEM)

Help of the ANR 158,309 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2018 - 36 Months

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