Ephrem’s Hymns on Paradise

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Syriac Text: Edmund Beck, Des heiligen Ephraem des Syrers Hymnen de Paradiso und Contra Julianum (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 174, Scriptores Syri Tomus 78; Louvain: Peeters, 1957).  Translated by Mark Steven Francois.

The Hymns on Paradise by Mar Ephrem

Hymn 1

The first on paradise. To the tune of the judgment of generations.

1. Moses, the one who teaches everyone through his heavenly books, the great teacher of the Hebrews, taught us his learning through the Torah, which is a treasure of revelations – because in it the story of the garden is revealed. It is written with revelations yet glorious in its secrets. It is told in a concise way yet is amazing because of its plants.

Response: May your righteousness be praised, which raises the ones who overcome[1] to a place of high honour.

2. I stood in the middle between fear and love. The love of paradise called me to inquire of it; fear of its greatness hindered me from investigating it. I reconciled the two of them in wisdom: I treated its secrets with reverence, I meditated on the things it revealed; I inquired so that I might benefit, I kept silent so that I might be helped.

3. I gladly arrived in the story of Paradise, which is short when you read it yet rich when you investigate it. My tongue read the stories, the revelations which it recounted. My mind flew, it soared on high in fear. And it searched into its glory – but not so much as it really is but in so far as it is permitted for human beings to understand it.

4. With the eye of the mind I saw Paradise – and the summits of all of the mountains are situated beneath its summit.[2] The top[3] of the flood only reached its heels: it kissed its feet and bowed down and then turned back in order to go up and trample down[4] the top[5] of the mountains and the hills. It kissed the feet of Paradise[6] yet it trampled down the top[7] of everything.[8]

5. A person[9] did not grow tired in proportion to its height when they went up it because there is no weariness within it for the ones who inherit it. It gladly stirs up the ones who go up it with its beauty. It is radiant with its magnificent rays of light and sweet in its fragrances. Glorious clouds are made shelters in it for those who are worthy of it.

(Further translation from Hymn 1 and commentary will be added as the translation progresses. There are 17 sections in Hymn 1)

[1] Syr. ܠܙܟ̈ܝܐ. Cf. Revelation 3:21 where a word from the same root is used.

[2] For the association of the Garden of Eden with a mountain see Ezekiel 28:14.

[3] Lit. “head”. The language here is reminiscent of the curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:15b (Peshitta): “He will trample down your head and you will strike his heel.” While the word “head” in English is not an appropriate translation this part of the hymn, a footnote will be given whenever this word occurs to bring out the connection.

[4] Syr. ܢܕܘܫ. This is the same verb used in the curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:15.

[5] Lit. “head”.

[6] Lit. “Its feet were that which it kissed.”

[7] Lit. “head”.

[8] I.e. the mountains.

[9] The verbs ܠܐܐ ܗܘܐ, which function as a compound tense, have no subject. Beck (CSCO 175, 2 n.5), noting the lack of subject, inserts the name Elijah, based on the fact that Elijah’s ascent to heaven required no exertion due to the fact that he was carried up on a heavenly chariot. It seems best, however, to leave the subject unnamed. Brock (Hymns on Paradise, 79) leaves the subject unnamed but transforms the sentence in English to make the word ܒܡܣܩܬܗ (lit. in its ascent) the subject of the verb. This is simply Brock’s way to avoid naming a specific subject for the verb.