Spicilegium Syriacum is a collection of important early Christian documents that provide immense insights into the intellectual perspectives of early Christians, and reveal significant historical details not found elsewhere. Bardesan’s The Book of the Laws of Countries provides unique commentary on the laws of nations around the Mediterranean basin, while Melito’s An Oration of Meliton the Philosopher provides an apologetic for Christianity, and may be extracted from a larger work no longer extant. Ambrose of Alexandria’s Hypomnemata is also an apologetic, though it defends theology associated with Origen, who was deemed a heretic. It may also be an extract from a larger apologetic work. The last and most mysterious text comes from Mara Ben Serapion. It is an epistle that discusses both religious belief and first-century events. Though likely written by a pagan philosopher, it provides key historical insights, was possibly composed in the last quarter of the first century, and may allude to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.
Explore the Syriac tradition further with The Syriac Church and Fathers.
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Bardesan (AD 154–222) was an Assyrian Gnostic and leading second-century intellectual. He was a scientist, astrologer, philosopher, historian, and an expert on India. He was well acquainted with the Roman political elite, and addressed his Against Fate to the emperor Antonius.
Melito of Sardis (died c. AD 180) was the bishop of Sardis, and a highly influential early church leader. He published widely, though most of his work survives in fragments. His celebrated but untitled apology, written in AD 161, was addressed to Marcus Aurelius.
Ambrose of Alexandria(before AD 212–c. 250) was a close disciple of Origen and probably supplied financial support to his teacher. He later became a deacon, and suffered persecution by the emperor Maximinus Thrax in AD 235. All of Origen’s works after AD 218 are dedicated to him.
Mara Bar Serapion (c. AD 100) was a Stoic philosopher from Syria. Originally from Samosata, his only surviving work indicates that his city was destroyed by the Romans and that he was a prisoner at some point. Though he may have been a monotheist, it is believed by most scholars that Serapion was also a pagan.