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E02530: The Homily (memrā) on *Habbib (martyr of Edessa, S00090) is written in Syriac during the late 5th/early 6th c. by Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). It retells the story of the conversion and martyrdom of Habbib, while celebrating the martyr's steadfastness.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by sminov
Jacob of Serugh, Homily on Habbib

The Homily opens with an introduction in which Habbib is likened to the Three Hebrew Youths from the book of Daniel (pp. 86-87 of Cureton's translation). In the subsequent exposition of the martyr's life and death, the author refers to the main narrative elements of his life as found in the Martyrdom of Habbib ($E00168). The martyr is presented as a champion against the error of paganism (pp. 87-88). 'A good shepherd', Habbib is said to provide spiritual guidance to the Christian community of Edessa, as he 'taught, admonished, and confirmed in faith the Christians who by persecutors were oppressed' (p. 88). The poet puts a particular emphasis on the martyr as one of the key figures in the conversion of Edessa to Christianity, alongside king Abgar and the martyrs Shmona and Gurya: 'From confessors, lacerated, burnt, uplifted, slain, and from a righteous king, Edessa learned the faith, and knows our Lord, that He is even God, the Son of God: she also learned and believed that He took flesh and became man' (pp. 92-93). It is also related that Habbib was the last Christian to suffer martyrdom in Edessa – 'With Sharbil it (i.e. persecution) began, with Habib ended in our land. From that time, and until now, not one has it slain: since he was burned, Constantine, the chief of victors, reigns; and now the Cross the emperor's diadem surmounts, and is set upon his head' (pp. 95-96).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Habbib, martyr in Edessa, ob. 310/12 : S00090

Saint Name in Source


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 Habbib is a poetic celebration of the martyrdom of the deacon Habbib, who was executed in the city of Edessa in 310/12. 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 saint's story in the Homily one can conclude that Jacob derived his information from the Syriac Martyrdom of Habbib (E00168). 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 it happened. There is not yet a critical edition of the Homily. Its Syriac text was published for the first time by Cureton on the basis of a single manuscript, British Library, Add. 17158, dated to the 6th or 7th c. (see Wright 1870-1872, vol. 2, 681-683). The Homily is attested in several others manuscripts, such as Mardin Orth. 130, Damascus Patr. 12/13, Vatican syr. 117 and several others (see Vööbus 1973-1980, vol. 2, 70-71, 128-129, 176-177). Syriac text: Cureton 1864, 86*-96*; English translation: Cureton 1864, 86-96. For general information on Jacob and his oeuvre, see Brock 2011; Lange 2004; Alwan 1986.


The Homily presents so far the only specimen of the liturgical commemoration of Habbib from Late Antiquity. Similarly to several other of Jacob's homilies dedicated to saints, it contains neither references to the saint's miracles nor appeals for his intercession.


Main editions and translations: Cureton, W., Ancient Syriac Documents Relative to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa and the Neighbouring Countries, from the Year after Our Lord’s Ascension to the Beginning of the Fourth Century (London / Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1864). 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). Wright, W., Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum, Acquired since the Year 1838. 3 vols (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1870-1872).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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