For five weeks in July and August I was fortunate to take part in the Dumbarton Oaks/HMML Syriac Summer School. I do like a good summer school – especially one in which you gain a new ‘tool’ – and over time I have participated in a handful of good ones. This has been one of the best so far.

Here goes a brief report.


The overall format involved language classes in the morning and lectures on Syriac studies (for the most part) in the afternoon. (The classes were held in the Wallin Classroom, pictured below, beyond the glass wall.)


The tools used for the language classes were J.F. Coakley, Robinson’s Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar, 6th ed. (2013) and G.A. Kiraz, Verbal Paradigms in Syriac (2010). Instructors Jeffrey Wickes (Saint Louis University), for the most part, and David Calabro (HMML) took us through the grammar in two weeks an a half. For the remaining two weeks and a half Emanuel Fiano (Fordham) took us through a range of Syriac texts from Bardasain, Aphrahat, Isaac of Niniveh, and from the Apocalypse of Ps.-Methodius, as well as a couple of unvocalised Psalms. These parts involved a lot of work and required three to six hours of daily homework.

In addition, in a couple of afternoon sessions with Jeffrey Wickes we read through chrestomathies (from the Gospel of John and Thomas of Marga), and in two others with manuscript reading (which was particularly fun to do). Another session with Emanuel Fiano was devoted to the various Syriac scripts.

Most afternoon sessions, however, were geared toward various aspects of current Syriac studies. We had lectures from Columba Stewart (Executive Director of HMML) on the activity of HMML (a remarkable project!), then on Syriac Asceticism and Monasticism, Yota Batsaki (Executive Director of Dumbarton Oaks) on Dumbarton Oaks, Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent (Marquette) on (do visit!) via Skype, Jeffrey Wickes on the Syriac bible and exegetical literature, Scott Johnson (University of Oklahoma) on early Syriac literature, and Jack Tannous (Princeton) on Syriac and Islamic studies (via Skype). A couple of further sessions, lead by Adam Bursi (Utrecht), were offered as introduction to vHMML and to various instrumenta for Syriac studies (bibliographies, book series, journals).

The group was just big (or small) enough for this: ten students which were PhD candidates (some first year, others more advanced) and postdocs or early career scholars. I believe only three had a background in other semitic languages, the rest of the group being trained in Classics (which was helpful to me).

The summer school’s Fellowship awarded to the participants covered all costs excluding travel. It therefore included, apart from tuition, accommodation and three meals (all you can eat!) a day in Saint John’s Refectory for the five weeks of the course, as well as generous refreshments during coffee breaks. The home team, lead by Tim Ternes (Director of the HMML Programming), was extremely helpful and efficient; thanks are due to the excellent Maren Curley, Elizabeth Boyd, Julie Dietman, and Tim!

All in all, a rewarding, world class, programme.

The HMML is part of the Alcuin Library of the Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The whole site is a green, small, campus, with two lovely lakes around it, with surprisingly friendly fish in them.


Pictures by Madalina Toca & D.B., 2018.