B.A. Hillsdale College (1998)
M.A. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (2001)
M.A. & Ph.D. Princeton University (2003, 2007)
Assistant Professor of Early Christianity
David Michelson is a historian of the Middle East and Mediterranean in late antiquity and the early middle ages. Michelson also has a teaching and research interest in the emerging field of digital humanities.
In his current research, Michelson is investigating how neglected historical sources in Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic) offer new perspectives on the history of Christianity. Although little known at present, Syriac was the common language of Christianity in the Middle East and Asia for over a millennium. Syriac literature and networks of Syriac-speaking scholars served as a cultural bridge between Byzantium and the Islamic states. Today perhaps more than ten thousand manuscripts or fragments in Syriac survive, with a wide range in geographic origin stretching from Turkey and Egypt to western China and South India. These sources are a valuable path for opening the study of Christianity to include non-Western voices past and present.
To make the history of Syriac sources and culture better known, Michelson is directing the creation of an online reference project, The Syriac Reference Portal (www.syriaca.org). Syriaca.org is a joint project between Vanderbilt University, Princeton University, the Beth Mardutho Institute and several other international institutions. Funding for the project has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the International Balzan Prize Foundation. Prof. Michelson and the project team cordially invite any students or scholars interested in joining the project to contact them. They also seek to partner with other digital humanities projects looking to apply the principles of linked open data to the study of the ancient and medieval world.
Michelson is preparing two monographs on Syriac Christianity. Practical Christology: The Theological Polemics of Philoxenos of Mabbug in Context (under review) is a cultural analysis of the Christological conflicts in late antique Mesopotamia as seen through the life and works of the prolific but little-studied bishop Philoxenos of Mabbug (d. 523). Philoxenos’ works are one of the largest corpora to have survived in Syriac (approximately 500,000 words). This study offers a praxis-based paradigm for understanding the evolution of early Christian theology--i.e. how overlapping contexts of religious practice made theological formulas meaningful to adherents. A second project, Putting Action into Words: Manuscripts and the Making of Orthodoxy in Late Antique Christianity examines how early Christian scribes transformed orthopraxy and orthodoxy through the process of transmitting and excerpting texts.