Eph'rathite (Hebrews Ephrathi', אֶפרָתַי), the designation of the inhabitants of two widely different localities.
1. Properly BETHLEHEMITE, or citizen of Ephrathl (q.v.) or Bethlehem (Ru 1:2; 1Sa 17:12; Sept, Ε᾿φραθαῖος, Vulg. Ephratceus).
2. By some confusion or analogy, an EPHRAIMITE, or inhabitant of the tribe of Ephraim (q.v.) (Jg 12:5, with the art. הָאֶפרָתַי, Sept. ἐκ τοῦ Ε᾿φραίμ v.r. Ε᾿φραθίτης, Vulg. Ephratheus, A.V. "an Ephraimite" [the last clause; in the two previous occurrences of the verse, as well as in the context, the original is Ephraim]; 1Sa 1:1, Ε᾿φραίμ, Ephrathceus, "an Ephrathite;" Kings 40:26, ὀ Ε᾿φραθί, Ephratceus, "an Ephrathite").
Ephrem or Ephraem Syrus, an eminent Churchfather, and the greatest light of the Syrian Church, was born at Nisibis (Sozom. H. E. 3:16), Syria, or at Edessa, and flourished A.D. 370. The accounts of his early life are variant and unreliable. His parents were heathen, according to one account, and drove him from home for becoming a Christian; but, according to other accounts, he was bred a Christian by his Christian parents. Jacob of Nisibis took care of his education, and took him to the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325. In 363 Nisibis was ceded .by the emperor Jovinian to the Persians, and Ephrem went to Edessa, whither the most distinguished Syrians came to receive his instruction. Here he lived as a hermit, only coming from his seclusion to teach and preach. His repute for piety and learning became so great that he was elected bishop; but when he heard of it he rushed forth into the market-place, and acted in such a manner that the people thought he was out of his senses. "He then absconded until another had been appointed; to the office of bishop in his place. He now went to Caesarea in Cappadocia to see Basilius the Great, who formed the highest opinion of his learning and piety. Ephrem spent the greater part of his life in writing and preaching on devotional and moral subjects, and, especially against the Arian heresy; but he was equally energetic whenever there was any occasion to show by his acts that he really was the benevolent man that he appeared to be. This was especially manifest at the time when Edessa was suffering from famine: he, gave his assistance everywhere; he called upon the rich to help the poor, and he himself undertook the care of seeing that the poor received what was intended for them. He was looked up to with admiration and reverence by his contemporaries, who distinguished him by the honorable designation of 'the prophet of the Syrians.' He died about 378, having ordered in his will that no one should praise him, according to the common practice, in a funeral oration, that his body should not be wrapped up in costly robes, and that no monument should be erected on his tomb" (English Cyclopaedia, s.v.). This "will" of Ephrem is, however, generally held to be spurious.
All accounts unite in testifying to the virtues of Ephrem. Sozomen (Hist. Ecclesiastes 3:16) tells the fol'lowing story to illustrate his command of a naturally irascible temper. After a fast, his servant, presenting some food to him, let fall the dish on which it was placed. Ephrem, seeing him overwhelmed with shame and terror, said to him, "Take courage; as the food has not come to us, we will go to it." Whereupon Ephrem sat down on the floor, and ate the fragments left in the broken dish.
He was a voluminous author, writing commentaries, practical religious works, sermons, and numerous poems. The commentaries and hymns are in Syriac; the other writings exist only in Greek and other versions. It is doubtful whether he understood Greek; Sozomen (i.c.) expressly says that he knew only Syriac, but that his writings "were translated into Greek during his life, and preserve much of their original force and power, so that they are not less admired in Greek than in Syriac." One of the legends tells that in his visit to Basil both were miraculously enabled to speak the other's language — Basil the Syriac, and Ephrem the Greek. "His commentaries extended over the whole Bible, 'from the book of creation to the last book of grace,' as Gregory of Nyssa says. We have his commentaries on the historical and phrophetical books of the Old Testament and the book of Job in Syriac, and his commentaries on the epistles of Paul in an Armenian translation. They have been but little used thus far by commentators. He does not interpret the text from the original Hebrew, but from the old Syriac translation, the Peshito, though he refers occasionally to the original. His sermons and homilies, of which, according to Photius, he composed more than a thousand, are partly expository, partly polemical, against Jews, heathen, and heretics. They evince a considerable degree of popular eloquence; they are full of pathos, exclamations, apostrophes, antitheses, illustrations, severe rebuke, and sweet comfort, according to the subject; but also full of exaggerations, bombast, prolixity, and the superstitions of his age, such as the over-estimate of ascetic virtue, and excessive veneration of the Virgin Mary, the saints, and relics. Some of his sermons were publicly read after the Bible lesson in many Oriental, and even Occidental churches. His hymns were intended to counteract the influence of the heretical views of Bardesanes and his son Harmonius, which spread widely by means of popular Syrian songs. 'When Ephrem perceived,' says Sozomen, 'that the Syrians were charmed with the elegant diction and melodious versification of Harmonius, he became apprehensive lest they should imbibe the same opinions; and therefore, although he was ignorant of Greek learning, he applied himself to the study of the metres of Harmonius, and composed similar poems in accordance with the doctrines of the Church, and sacred hymns in praise of holy men. From that period the Syrians sang the odes of Ephrem, according to the method indicated by Harmonius.' Theodoret gives a similar account, and Jays that the hymns of Ephrem combined harmony and melody with piety, and subserved all the purposes of valuable and efficacious medicine against the heretical hymns of Harmonius. It is reported that he wrote no less than three hundred thousand verses. But, with the exception of his commentaries, all his Syriac works are written in verse, i.e., in lines of an equal number of syllables, and with occasional rhyme and cassonance, though without regular metre (Schaff. History of the Christian Church, 3:952 sq.)." The best edition of his collected works is Ephraemi Syri Opera omnia, Gr., Syr., et Lat., edita cum praefationibus, notis, var. lectionibus, studio J.S. Assemanni et P. Benedetti (Romae, 1732-46, 6 volumes, fol). Before this edition, many of his writings had been collected and translated from Greek into Latin by Gerard Voss, who published them (1) at Rome, A.D. 1589-93-97; (2) at Cologne in 1603 and 1616; and (3) at Antwerp in 1619 (3 volumes, in one). "The first volume consists of various treatises, partly on subjects solely theological, as the priesthood, prayer, fasting, etc., with others partly theological and partly moral, as truth, anger, obedience, envy. The second volume contains many epistles and addresses to monks, and a collection of apophthegms. Vol. in consists of several treatises or homilies on parts of Scripture, and characters in the Old Testament, as Elijah, Daniel, the three children, Joseph, Noah. Photius gives a list of 49 homilies of Ephrem (Cod. 196), but which of these are included in Voss's edition it is impossible to ascertain, though it is certain that many are not" (Smith, Dictionary of Biography, s.v.).
Of separate works there are numerous editions, of which lists may be found in Hoffmann, Bibliographisches Lexikon, 2:3 sq., and in Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, ed. Harles, 8:217 sq. An edition containing only the Greek writings of Ephrem was published by Thwaites (Oxford, 1709), edited from 28 MSS. in the Bodleian Library. An English translation from the Syrian by J.B. Morris (Oxf. 1847) contains 13 pieces of verse on the Nativity, 1 against the Jews, and 90 on the faith. The Reverend H. Burgess has published Select metrical Hymns and Homilies of Ephraem Syrus, translated from the original Syriac, with an Introduction, and historical and philological notes (Lond. 1853). In his introduction Mr. Burgess mentions, as extant in Syriac verse, "eleven exegetical discourses, more than a hundred controversial sermons, and nearly as many practical hortatory homilies, all in poetry; four pieces on the freedom of the will, not only in meter, but the strophes arranged in alphabetic order, like the verses of the 119th Psalm; and he assures us that all these compositions show a high degree of poetic talent, and are distinguished for their 'sonorousness and grace,' and have 'a charm which no translation can express.' Indeed, almost all the three folios of St. Ephraem's printed works in Syriac are poetical. In this volume the author gives us translations of 35 of Ephraem's Syriac hymns, and 9 of his metrical homilies or sermons. They are illustrated by a learned introduction and very instructive notes. More than half the hymns relate to death and eternity, and the others are on various topics pertaining to the Christian life. The subjects of the poetical sermons are the following:
(1) Paradise, (2) Satan, (3) to the clergy, (4) the Trinity, (5) matter not eternal, (6) error counterfeits truth, (7) the Trinity, (8) two natures of Christ, (9) man ignorant of himself" (Biblioth. Sacra, October 1853, page 835).
M. Caillau published a Latin version of Ephrem in 8 volumes, 8vo (Paris, 1832-35, forming volumes 34-41 of the Patres Selecti), in which the following order is used:
1. Commentaries; 2. Exegetical homilies; 3. Sermons;
4. Epistles; 5. Prayers.
The writings of Ephrem in Armenian were published at Venice, 4 volumes, 8vo, 1836. Hahn und Sieffert's Chrestomathia Syriaca (Leipsic, 1825, 8vo) contains 19 select hymns of Ephrem; see also Hahn, Bardesanes Gnosticus (Leips. 1819). A German version of many of his poems is given by Zingerle, Ausg. Schriften des hell. Ephraem (Innspr. 1830-37, 6 volumes). His funeral sermons are translated into Italian (Innifunebri di S. Efrem Siro, tradotti par Angelo Paggi e Fausto Lasinio, Firenze, 1851). In 1853 J. Alsleben announced a complete edition of the Syriac works of Ephrem, in a pamplilet (Berl. 8vo) containing a sketch of Ephrem's life, and some literary remarks of value. Many writings of Ephrem remain in MS., of which there is a valuable collection in the British Museum; among them a Chronicle, from Creation to the time of Christ, is ascribed to him.
See Cave, Hist. Lit. (Genev. 1720), 1:149 sq.; Oudin, De Script. Ecclesiastes 1:493 sq.; Dupin, Auteurs Eccls. (Paris, 1593), 2:145 sq.; Ceillier, Auteurs Sacres (Par. 1860), volume 6, chapter 1; Lardner, Works, 4:304 sq.; Clarke, Succession of Sacred Literature, 1:403; Von Lengerke, Comm. de Ephraemo Syr. interprete (Halle, 1828); the same, De Ephesians Syr. art. hermeneutica (Kinigsb. 1831); Villemain, Tableau de l'Iloquence Chret. au 4me Siecle (Paris, 1849, 12mo), page 242; Neve, De la Renaissance des etudes Syriaques (Annales de Philosophie, 1854); North British Review, August 1853, page 247; Jour. of Sacred Literature July 18553, page 389; Rödiger, in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 3:85 sq.