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The Psalm Commentary of Daniel of Salah and the Formation of Sixth-Century Syrian Orthodox Identity

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By the 540s the anti-Chalcedonian Syrian Miaphysites had experienced frequent periods of persecution and were in the process of developing into an independent church, with distinct structures and doctrine. Unable to found schools for their clergy, they needed alternative methods to provide ideological formation. This paper argues that the Miaphysite leaders identified the exegesis of the Psalms, the quintessence of the scriptures and the heart of the daily liturgy, as a key means not only of shaping their community's religious beliefs but also of addressing larger political issues. Their chosen exegete was Daniel of Salah who in c.542 produced a Psalm commentary in homiletic form which addressed numerous issues of contemporary relevance. His response to Christological controversy is touched upon, but the focus is on his development of Miaphysite imperial ideology. Previous historians have usually argued that the Miaphysites demonstrated great loyalty to the institution and person of the emperor, despite persecution at their hands. This paper argues to the contrary that while Daniel accepted the need for political allegiance to the emperors, he denies them any role as special mediators of divine revelation or faith. The true king is the crucified Christ, in whose image the mind or reason of each human was created, and it is the guidance of these which is to be followed in religious matters.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oxford;, Email:


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