Church father; born at Nisibis, Syria (whence his surname "Syrus"), or at Edessa, at the beginning of the fourth century. His numerous writings include Syriac commentaries on the Pentateuch and on most of the historical and prophetical books of the Old Testament. The text used by him was the Peshiṭta; but, judging from various passages of his commentaries, he understood Hebrew and often had recourse to the original. These commentaries contain numerous haggadot. Thus, for instance, in accordance with an old midrashic saying, Ephraem explains that the earth's covering of grass at the moment of Creation looked as though it were a month old, and the trees as though they were a year old (Ephraem, "Opera," i. 15; comp. Gen. R. xiv. 2; Ḥul. 60a). Adam was endowed with a brightness which eclipsed that of the sun. This brightness disappeared when he ate the forbidden fruit (i. 26a; Gen. R. xi., xii. 2). Cain's sacrifice was not accepted because it consisted of the remnants of his meals (ii. 313e; Tan., Bereshit, 7b). Such haggadot, which show the influence of Jewish tradition on the Bible exegesis of the Church Fathers, are very numerous in Ephraem's commentaries.
Unlike other Church Fathers, Ephraem never mentions the Jews in connection with the haggadot he uses, but cites them anonymously. This is probably due to his hostility toward them; indeed, of all the Church Fathers, Ephraem nourished the most vindictive hatred against the Jews, whom he often terms "the circumcised vagabonds" (). Because of their reviling of Jesus, says he, they were driven from their country and condemned to wander. He applies Solomon's judgment (I Kings iii. 16 et seq.) to the Synagogue and the Church. The Synagogue, he says, is continually protesting that her son is the living child and pleasing to God. Ephraem even wrote a denunciatory hymn against the Jews, of which the following passages may be cited:
"What is thine iniquity, O daughter of Jacob, that thy chastisement is so severe? Thou hast dishonored the King and the King's Son, thou shameless one and harlot! . . . The Father was exchanged for the calf and for sundry similitudes, and the Son also was exchanged for a thief and a blood-shedder. . . ."
Ephraem is especially embittered against the Jews for their persistency in the Messianic hope.
"Jacob blessed Judah, saying: The scepter shall not depart from thee. . . . In this passage let the Jews that perceive not search and look if there be a scepter in Judah or an interpreter between his feet, for the things that are written have not been fulfilled, neither have they hitherto met their accomplishment. But if the scepter be done away with, and the prophet be silenced, let the people of the Jews be put to shame, however hardy in impudence they be."
Ephraem acknowledges that at his time the Jewish faith had numerous accessions from heathendom. Of course, Ephraem declares that the heathen were deluded by Jewish missionaries (see his commentary on II Kings xix. 1).
- Grätz, Haggadische Elemente bei den Kirchenvätern, in Monatsschrift, 1854;
- Gerson, Die Commentarien des Ephraem Syrus in Ihrem Verhältniss zur Jüdischen Exegese, Breslau, 1868;
- Louis Ginzberg, Die Haggada bei den Kirchenvätern und in der Apokryphischen Literatur, Berlin, 1900;
- S. Krauss, The Jews in the Works of the Church Fathers, in J. Q. R. vi. 28-99.