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From its beginnings in the second century CE, Syriac grew astonishingly quickly to become a literary language to rival Greek. How did early Syriac writers create a distinct identity for their own literary production? How did Syriac negotiate the anxiety of Greco Roman influence (both cultural and political)? The Book of the Laws of the Countries of a certain Philip, the earliest surviving non- liturgical Syriac text, offers a rich meditation on this question. A quasi -Socratic / quasi- rabbinic dialogue showcasing the wisdom of great Christian teacher Bardaisan of Edessa (?154–222), it takes as its central issue the question of how much freedom we have in our moral action. Into the explication of this fashionable philosophical conundrum (compare e.g. Alexander of Aphrodisias’ On fate), however, Philip weaves a subtle meditation on the extent and the limits of human culture and imperial governance, climaxing in an ethnographic panorama that ranges well beyond the experience of Greco- Roman anthropology. Comparing and contrasting Philostratus’ near -contemporary account of Apollonius of Tyana, this paper explores Philip’s artful construction of a cultural, philosophical and theological niche for a young literature (probing the boundaries) of the Roman Empire.

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