Kommentar zur Kirchengeschichte des Johannes von Ephesus

John of Ephesus' Ecclesiastical History (= EH) forms one of the most extensive historiographical sources for the Eastern Roman Empire and the Middle East on the eve of the long-lasting political and cultural changes that began in the seventh century. The EH offers a distinct vantage point on the understudied late sixth century: it was written in a dialect of Aramaic called Syriac, and it comes from the pen of a bishop from an ecclesiastical body that competed with the imperial church. Only the third part of this work survives intact, and John of Ephesus wrote it while living—and indeed while intermittently imprisoned—in the imperial capital of Constantinople.

Although historians and theologians have both made extensive use of the EH, these perspectives have rarely been brought together. Our project will bridge this divide by integrating historical and theological research on the EH in a new critical edition, translation, and comprehensive commentary on the third part of this work. Open access digital and print versions of the edition, translation, and commentary are planned, and preliminary digital publications in several repositories will invite feedback from the scholarly community during the course of the project. Collaboration with several digital humanities projects will also result in a suite of didactic aids to support students and scholars learning Syriac. Finally, this project will draw attention to one of the literary achievements of a community in antiquity which many recent immigrants to Germany and the European Union count as their heritage.

Above a part of the folio 1r of the British Library's manuscript add. 14640, containing John's EH. Image courtesy of Jacob Lollar.

The PIs and the scientific collaborators have presented their research on John of Ephesus on the following occasions:

H. Leppin: "The perception of the barbarians in the 6th century between polarity and diversity." ASCS, Melbourne, Australia (14 February 2024)

H. Leppin: "Religious responses to crisis in sixth-century Byzantium. The Plague." Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia (9 February 2024)

N. Kiel: "Vorstellung der syrischen Edition der Kirchengeschichte des Johannes von Ephesus." Tagung der Patristischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft zum Thema: "Antikes Christentum und Sprache(n)", Tübingen (4 January 2024)

H. Leppin: "Die Stimme eines Verfolgten im spätantiken Reich - Johannes von Ephesos." Max Weber Kolleg, Erfurt (14 December 2023)

S. Roggo: "Kritische Bemerkungen zum ersten Buch der Kirchengeschichte des Johannes von Ephesos." Althistorisches Kolloquium, Trier (12 December 2023)

H. Leppin: "Religionsgespräche vor spätantiken Herrschern." Conference "Religionsdialoge und Wissensordnungen in Spätantike, Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit", Bad Homburg (7 December 2023)

S. Roggo: "The patriarchal 'Pentarchy' - a fig leaf for Constantinopolitan supremacy?" Conference "The Polycentricity of Late Antiquity", Frankfurt (12 October 2023)

N. Kiel: "John of Ephesus and the 'Tritheists' – What was the belief of 'Tritheism'?" Conference "The Polycentricity of Late Antiquity", Frankfurt (12 October 2023)

S. Roggo: "The 'pagan affair' of 580 reconsidered." 53rd ARAM Conference on Syriac Christianity, Oxford, UK (11 July 2023)

S. Roggo: "An unsuccessful assassin's career in Constantinople." IAWC, Bonn (23 June 2023)

H. Leppin: "Johannes von Ephesos und seine bedrohte Welt." SFB 923, Tübingen (19 June 2023)

H. Leppin: "DFG-Langfrist-Projekt 'Commentary on John of Ephesus's Ecclesiastical History'." Conference "Historiographie am Ende der Antike", Innsbruck (9 June 2023)

H. Leppin: "Barbaren bei Johannes von Ephesos." Althistorisches Kolloquium, Munich (2 May 2023)

S. Roggo: "Pagan persecution under Tiberius and Maurice (578-602)." Late Antiquity Seminar, Warsaw, Poland (23 February 2023)

N. Kiel: "Apollinaris von Laodizea als Begründer des Miaphysitismus." Althistorisches Kolloqium, Frankfurt (31 January 2023)

H. Leppin: "Barbaren bei Johannes von Ephesos." SFB 1288, Bielefeld (2 December 2022)

P. Forness: “Linking Data in a Born-Digital Commentary Project: John of Ephesus's Ecclesiastical History." 2022 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Denver, Colorado, USA (21 November 2022)

S. Roggo: "The construction of sixth-century paganism as a means of denigrating opponents." Conference "Constructing and applying norms in the Roman Empire and Late Antiquity", Cambridge, UK (13 November 2022)

P. Forness: “Writing Church History in the Wake of Imperial Persecution: A Commentary Project on John of Ephesus's Ecclesiastical History." Meeting of the Research Unit of History of Church and Theology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium (21 October 2022)

H. Leppin: "Menschliches Handeln und göttliches Wirken in der christlichen Geschichtsschreibung der Spätantike." Gesellschaft für antike Philosophie, Marburg (7 October 2022)

P. Forness and H. Leppin: “Projektvorstellung: Kommentar zur Kirchengeschichte des Johannes von Ephesos." 34. Deutscher Orientalistentag, Freie Universität Berlin (15 September 2022)


The project has so far led to the following publications:

S. Roggo: "Eutychios of Constantinople", series of entries in the Cult of Saints database (Link).

H. Leppin: "Der lange Weg nach Osten: Peter Brown und die Sprachen des 'christlichen Orients'", ZAC 27 (2023), 336-338.

H. Leppin and Mischa Meier: "Ern(e)st Stein, Geschichte des spätrömischen Reiches. Histoire du Bas-Empire." 2 Vol., Darmstadt 2023.

S. Roggo: "Lucy Parker: Symeon Stylites the Younger and Late Antique Antioch", book review in HSozKult, 30 October 2023 (Link).


For starting off the project, we organized a workshop on commenting on late antique texts, which took place in Frankfurt on 9 November 2022. Jan-Markus Kötter (Düsseldorf), Olivier Gengler (Tübingen), Daria Elagina (Hamburg), and Yulia Furman (Berlin) presented their current projects.