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Photo of passage from Homily 32 of first edition of the Ascetical Homilies with a misinterpretation
Photo of a footnote to Homily 32 of first edition that wrongly suggests that God does not punish evil men every time they sin, so that they cannot escape eternal torment
A passage from Vatican Syriac Manuscript 124 with a scribal error that changes the word "eats" to "withholds" and skews the interpretation of the whole passage

The above image from Vatican Syriac 124 is © Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, and is used by permission of Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, with all rights reserved.

The same passage from Homily 32 in Bedjan's Syriac text that shows the correct reading that we used to correct this passage in our second edition
Photo of page 278 in the second edition of the Ascetical Homilies with the correct interpretation of this passage
Photo of footnotes on page 278 in the second edition of the Ascetical Homilies with the correct interpretation of this passage

The Single Most Significant Textual Revision of the Ascetical Homilies

At left is shown a passage from Homily 32 as it appeared in the first edition, on p. 153. That God “withholds the wages of evil because, as footnote 21 explains, “if an evil man were punished every time he voluntarily committed evil, there would be no Gehenna,” – as if God’s purpose were to safeguard the existence of eternal torment – is contrary to St. Isaac’s teaching of God’s mercy in general and what he has just said here about God’s “compassion” and “His rich mercies.”

This reading follows the Greek, and as footnotes 19 and 20 indicate, the Syriac text differs and the Greek texts have variants; what it did not mention was further complexities with the Greek text and our rendering of it.

To explain all the differences between the Greek and Syriac would go beyond the scope of this page. We will concentrate on the one word upon which it all hinges, which is the Greek kolyei or withhold in our translation. This comes from the Western Syriac reading, shown at left above. The first word emphasized is withholds; the second is eats [away his own Gehenna].

Bedjan’s MS text below it has the same word twice: eats. The word in the Western Syriac text translated withholds differs from eats only in that the latter has an alap (the Syriac cousin of Hebrew aleph and cognate to Greek alpha). It seems that this alap dropped out in the first occurrence of the word in the Western Syriac MSS, and the omission of this one letter skewed the meaning of the passage.

The Syriac word that is rendered in the Greek as the last hour and said by footnote 19 to mean trumpet literally means horn but also means capital in the financial sense; the Syriac word rendered kerdos in Greek and wages in English more strictly means interest in the financial sense: a clear metaphor emerges in Bedjan’s Syriac that has been lost in the Greek, and the corrected text shown at left, with footnote, restores the Syriac reading and with it reflects St. Isaac’s mind about the mercy of God.

Two further notes on this interpretation:

1. The Georgian translation made by St. Euthymius of Iveron (see pp. 67 and 73 of the Introduction), renders this passage: “For the suffering that comes upon us is either a recompense for our sins, or an earnest of the future good things. For it is written, that whosoever receives here the recompense for his sins, will be spared eternal punishment to the extent that he has suffered here.”

This last sentence reflects the gist of the Syriac, and suggests that the Gk MS used by St. Euthymius agrees with it more than modern printed text.

2. Fr. Placide Deseille used the Greek text for his French translation, yet his interpretation of this passage is the same: “The earnest (pledge) received here does not diminish the recompense in the hereafter; but on the contrary it does so for evil, for it is written: ‘Whoever is chastised here for his wicked deeds, reduces [his torments] in Gehenna’” (p. 349).

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Textual Questions: 2. Homily Thirty-two

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