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Controversy in Context: Christianity in Edessa in the Second Half of the Fourth Century

Emanuel Fiano, Duke University, Summer Fellow 2011

My project was conceived as an examination of Christianity in Edessa in the second half of the fourth century. This was a time of particular conflict for the church, which was engaged in the trinitarian controversy. I intended to canvas this scenario by situating Edessa within its broader contexts, and to analyze the trinitarian debates from a geo-ecclesiological perspective. During this pursuit I encountered the scantiness of strictly coeval sources (except for Ephrem and the Itinerary of Egeria). As a matter of fact, both the Letter of Aithallah, a potentially important witness to the diffusion of Nicene doctrines in Osrhoene, and the Teaching of Addai, which testifies to an attempt on the part of Edessene elites to renegotiate the city’s position on the map of contemporary Christianity (particularly in relation to Rome), are commonly considered slightly later artifacts. A combined use of prosopography, of the lists of conciliar subscriptions, and of Ecclesiastical Histories (Theodoret’s, Sozomen’s, and Rufinus’s continuation of Eusebius’s) provided me with some alternative sources to identify partisan affiliations of, and relationships among, some of the key episcopal figures of the region at this time. I was thus able to begin to shape a narrative of the unfolding of the trinitarian strife in Edessa in its various contexts (e.g., in its intersections with the Meletian schism). In addition, I set out to test the hypothesis that Egyptian exile allowed some Syriac bishops to establish connections among geographically non-contiguous dioceses and proved instrumental in providing them with models of episcopal centralization. In this connection, and in order to verify church historians’ highly stereotyped representations of the exile destinations, I have devoted time to the investigation of the consistency and the nature of the Christian presence in Egyptian centers such as Antinoopolis and Philae, through archaeological reports, literary accounts, and papyrological evidence. This project represents in all respects a work in progress that I hope to develop further in the near future.