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Portraits of Righteousness: Noah in Early Christian and Jewish Hymnography

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The transformation of Noah into a Christian ideal in the writings of Aphrahat and Ephrem (4th century), with the resulting denigration of Noah in much rabbinic exegesis, is well documented. The purpose of this essay is to examine the characterization of Noah in the liturgical (as opposed to the scholarly) setting. Four groups of works are examined: the Hebrew Avodah poems and the hymns of Ephrem the Syrian (4th century); and the kontakia of Romanos the Melodist and the liturgical poems of the Jewish poet Yannai (6th century). These sources reveal that the individual poets felt great freedom to shape the character of Noah in distinctive ways, engaging with the various traditions of interpretation evident in the prose sources but using them in individualized ways. The resulting picture of Noah, when these poetic sources are brought to bear on the discussion, is much less predictable and more dynamic than might be assumed from study of the more“academic” prose sources alone.


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