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Jean Maurice Fiey

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Jean Maurice Fiey
French historian of the Syriac Churches. Born at Armentières in northern France, he studied for the priesthood at the Dominican Seminary at Le Saulchoir, outside Paris. After his ordination in 1938 he was sent to Iraq where he spent over three decades (1939–73) at the Dominican House in Mosul. It was as a result of living in Iraq that his interest in the history and topography of the Syriac communities of the region was aroused. Ironically it was soon after his being granted Iraqi citizenship that he was expelled from the country (1974). He moved to Beirut, and then spent a short period living in Cairo, but returned to Beirut, despite the outbreak of the civil war, in order to be closer to the Syriac tradition which he so much loved; he remained in Beirut for the rest of his life.

His first major publication (1959) was a historical guide to the ancient churches of Mosul, but it was his three-volume Assyrie chrétienne which established him as the leading authority on the topographical history of the Syriac communities of Iraq. In his next book, Jalons (1970) he set out to supplement J. Labourt’s classic Le christianisme dans l’empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide (224–632), of 1904, in those areas where more recent publications had shed new light. His doctoral thesis (Dijon, 1972), on the dioceses of the Maphrianate (covering from its inception in 629 to 1860), was published in Parole de l’Orient 5 (1974) and 8 (1977–8). Having dealt in Jalons with the pre-Islamic centuries he then turned to a monograph (1975) on the Mongol period, and only two books later did he go back in time to cover the Abbasid period (1980), concentrating on the patriarchal line. The intervening monograph Nisibe (1977) returned to topographical history, this time of a particular diocese. While producing these books he was also publishing a large number of important articles, usually on historical topography, and a small (but very useful) selection of these was reprinted in Communautés syriaques (1979). The title of his repertory of E.- and W.-Syr. dioceses (1993) deliberately reflects the three-volume Oriens christianus by his fellow Dominican predecessor, Michel le Quien, which was published posthumously in 1740; this represents the fruits of Fiey’s work over some three decades, and serves as an invaluable work of reference, as well as the fundamental starting point for all future, more detailed, studies. His Saints syriaques, which was left unfinished at his death, serves as another repertory; this covers only those saints who are specific to the Syriac Churches. He also contributed many articles to the Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques and to the Enciclopedia dei Santi: le Chiese orientali (1998–9). Fiey was one of the first scholars to use the term ‘syriaque’ as an ethnic term, as found in the title of his brief history, told for children (1996). The Festschrift that was being prepared for him eventually appeared as a memorial volume; this also contains Fiey’s own account of his life, ironically entitled ‘A quiet little life’.
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