The Resurrection Gospels and their Hymns in the Early Rite of Jerusalem


Location: DeBartolo 119

The Resurrection Gospels and their Hymns in the Early Rite of Jerusalem

            From earliest times, the texts of the Bible were publicly read and sung in Christian worship. How did such performances contribute to the transmission and canonization of the Biblical texts? The early rite of Jerusalem offers a window on the process. In the late fourth century, a vigil was held every Sunday morning before the tomb of Jesus. Three psalms were sung, the bishop read an account of the Passion and Resurrection from an unspecified gospel, and then a hymn was sung. This ceremony was celebrated in Greek, but, because it was widely imitated all over the early medieval Christian world, it is best preserved in Armenian and Georgian, with some evidence also in Latin, Syriac, and Arabic.

            Over time, as the rite developed, we can trace a shift from one unspecified gospel reading to a four-week cycle, with one gospel read each week (the Mark reading ending at 16:8). This was then expanded to eight and then eleven weeks so that every resurrection appearance could be included. The hymns, which survive mostly in Georgian, follow the development of the rite, but also parallel the development of the Biblical text. Four processes can be detected: (1) propospographical interpolations, (2) epitomization, (3) centonization, and (4) narrative harmonization. Though these processes can be observed in all early Christian hymnody, the surviving Greek and Georgian hymns of the Jerusalem resurrection vigil offer our best opportunity to follow their activity closely and at an early date.


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