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Professor David Michelson’s New Book: The Library of Paradise

Posted by on Thursday, March 30, 2023 in Uncategorized.

Associate Professor of Classical and Mediterranean Studies, David Michelson, has published his newest book: The Library of Paradise – A History of Contemplative Reading in the Monasteries of the Church of the East (Oxford Early Christian Studies).

Contemplative reading is a spiritual practice developed by Christian monks in sixth- and seventh-century Mesopotamia. Mystics belonging to the Church of the East pursued a form of contemplation which moved from reading, to meditation, to prayer, to the ecstasy of divine vision. The Library of Paradise tells the story of this Syriac tradition in three phases: its establishment as an ascetic practice, the articulation of its theology, and its maturation and spread. The sixth-century monastic reform of Abraham of Kashkar codified the essential place of reading in East Syrian ascetic life. Once established, the practice of contemplative reading received extensive theological commentary. Abraham’s successor Babai the Great drew upon the ascetic system of Evagrius of Pontus to explain the relationship of reading to the monk’s pursuit of God. Syriac monastic handbooks of the seventh century built on this Evagrian framework. ‘Enanisho’ of Adiabene composed an anthology called Paradise that would stand for centuries as essential reading matter for Syriac monks. Dadisho’ of Qatar wrote a widely copied commentary on the Paradise. Together, these works circulated as a one-volume library which offered readers a door to “Paradise” through contemplation. The Library of Paradise is the first book-length study of East Syrian contemplative reading. It adapts methodological insights from prior scholarship on reading, including studies on Latin lectio divina. By tracing the origins of East Syrian contemplative reading, this study opens the possibility for future investigation into its legacies, including the tradition’s long reception history in Sogdian, Arabic, and Ethiopic monastic libraries.

For more information, the book can be viewed at Oxford University Press.