New Publication by AKU-ISMC faculty, Dr Philip Wood - An insight into the Chronicle of Seert
November 20, 2013
There are many fascinating aspects to Dr Philip Wood’s recently published monograph, The Chronicle of Seert: Christian Historical Imagination in Late Antique Iraq, published by Oxford University Press
. Not least is the story of how the Chronicle itself was nearly lost to history. This 10th century work, describing events that took place in Iraq between the 3rd and 6th centuries, was discovered in a library in Turkey in the early 20th century by the Chaldean archbishop, Addai Scher.
However, upon his death no one took up the task of analysing the composition of the Chronicle; thus, while it has subsequently been cited by scholars and individuals in support of a range of theories over the years, it has not been examined in depth until now.
Wood explained that the work is full of contradictions which require detailed analysis and unravelling: “My approach was to split the text into different levels of composition – use it essentially as a testimony to the very large number of anonymous lost histories that we know were composed by Christians in Iraq between the 6th and 10th centuries. For each of these contradictory accounts we have an unknown author: essentially, the text is a lens into the entire literary output of a lost civilisation.”
striking aspect of the document is the manner in which Muhammad is portrayed in some of the narratives. Dr Wood points out that in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic conquests: “Christian populations may have suffered considerably.” So, it came as a surprise to discover texts that took a positive approach in their characterisation of Muhammad.
It is very interesting to me that this text has a complete volte-face in this regard; Muhammad is eulogised as a friend of the Christians – someone who supports the Christians against their enemies,” Dr Wood noted. He added that there are numerous idealised descriptions of relations between Muslims and Christians.
Dr Wood sees this in the context of people taking a pragmatic approach to the political realities of the day.
“It speaks of a 9th or 10th century environment where Christians and Muslims are living alongside one another in new cities like Baghdad, where the Christian middle classes are beginning to do very well under Muslim rule. Dr Wood observed that the clerics and their allies in the Christian professional classes “wanted to get on with their Muslim counterparts” and that “they received great power and influence in their support of the state” and had “every interest in supporting the structures of a Muslim status quo”. This attitude, he added, might not have been so prevalent among members of the Christian aristocracy in the north of Iraq.
Dr Wood stressed, however, that it is important to recognise that while the texts reflect an awareness of Realpolitik, the chronicler includes conflicting narratives. The voices in Seert he concluded “told a kind of story that was useful to them – not one that was necessarily true. Its utility was more important, and maybe that saved lives.