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E01976: The Homily (memrā) on *Sharbel (martyr in Edessa, S01126) is written in Syriac during the late 5th/early 6th c. by Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). Retells the story of the conversion and martyrdom of Sharbel and his sister *Babai (S01126), while celebrating the martyrs' steadfastness.

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posted on 2016-10-31, 00:00 authored by sminov
Jacob of Serugh, Homily on Sharbel

In his exposition of the martyrs' life and death, the author proceeds along the main narrative line of their life as found in the Acts of Sharbel (E01890). A long introductory part, in which Sharbel's pagan past is described (pp. 52-54), is followed by the mention of his conversion and that of his sister Babai (pp. 54-55). After that, Sharbel's arrest and arrival at the judge's court are briefly described (p. 55). Similarly to the Acts, the longest part of the Homily is devoted to the scenes of the various tortures inflicted upon Sharbel (pp. 56-60), description of which corresponds closely to that of the Acts. It concludes with the description of the execution of Sharbel and of Babai (pp. 60-63).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sharbel and Babai, martyrs in Edessa, ob. 104 : S01126

Saint Name in Source

ܫܪܒܝܠ ܘܒܒܝ

Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Syriac

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Serugh Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Major author/Major anonymous work

Jacob of Serugh

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


The Homily on Sharbel is a poetic retelling of the martyrdom of Sharbel, a pagan priest who converted to Christianity, and his sister Babai, who were executed in the city of Edessa in Roman Mesopotamia, supposedly during the reign of the emperor Trajan, in the year 104. An original Syriac composition, it was almost certainly produced by the West-Syrian poet Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). From the presentation of the story of Sharbel and his sister in the Homily one can conclude that Jacob derived his information about the martyrs from the Syriac Acts of Sharbel, a hagiographic work composed in Edessa during the 5th century (see E01943). The Homily belongs to the literary genre of memrā, a narrative poem that employs couplets all in the same syllabic meter. Such poems, which appear to have been recited rather than sung, were presumably used in the liturgy, though there is no evidence from Late Antiquity of exactly how this happened. There is not yet a critical edition of the Homily. Its Syriac text was published by Mösinger on the basis of a single manuscript, Borgia syr. 128, ff. 170v-175v, dated to 1720 (see Vööbus 1973-1980, vol. 3, 143-144). The Homily is found in several other manuscripts: Oxford Poc. 404 (17th c.); Damascus Patr. 12/13 (11th c.), Damascus Patr. 12/14 (11th c.), Damascus Patr. 12/15 (12th c.), Mardin Orth. 135 (18th c.), Midyat Gülçe 10 (14th/15th cc.). Syriac text: Mösinger 1878, 52-63; Latin translation: Mösinger 1874, 20-28. For general information on Jacob and his oeuvre, see Brock 2011; Lange 2004; Alwan 1986.


The Homily presents what is so far the only known specimen of the liturgical commemoration of the martyrs Sharbel and Babai from Late Antiquity. Similarly to the Acts of Sharbel, it contains neither references to the saints' miracles nor appeals for their intercession.


Main editions and translations: Mösinger, G., Acta S. S. martyrum Edessenorum Sarbelii, Barsimaei, Guriae, Samonae et Abibi. Fasciculus 1: Acta S. S. martyrum Sarbelii et Barsimaei (Oeniponti: Libraria Academica Wagneriana, 1874). Mösinger, G., Monumenta syriaca ex romanis codicibus collecta. Volumen 2 (Oeniponti: Libraria Academica Wagneriana, 1878). Further reading: Alwan, K., “Bibliographie générale raisonnée de Jacques de Saroug († 521),” Parole de l’Orient 13 (1986), 313-384. Brock, S.P., “Ya‘qub of Serugh,” in: S.P. Brock, A.M. Butts, G.A. Kiraz and L. van Rompay (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011), 433-435. Lange, C., “Jakob von Sarug, † 521,” in: W. Klein (ed.), Syrische Kirchenväter (Urban-Taschenbücher 587; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2004), 217-227. Vööbus, A., Handscriftliche Überlieferung der Mēmrē-Dichtung des Ja‘qōb von Serūg. 4 vols (CSCO 344-345, 421-422, Subs. 39-40, 60-61; Louvain: Secrétariat du CorpusSCO, 1973, 1980).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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