Religious Studies, Classics Ph.D. 2004 (Religion), Princeton University; M.St. 2001 (Syriac Studies), Oxford University; M.A. 1997 (Classics), New York University; B.A. 1994 (Classics), Columbia University.
Professor Becker's research interests include Christian martyrdom in the Sasanian Empire (Pre-Islamic Iran), Jewish-Christian relations in Late Antiquity, the social and intellectual history of the Syriac (Christian Aramaic) tradition, and the missionary encounter in the nineteenth century. In his work he attempts to combine a traditional philological engagement with ancient texts with an ongoing awareness of the current theoretical conversation in religious studies. His book, Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and the Development of Christian Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), is a history of the East Syrian (i.e. Syriac “Nestorian” Christian) school movement and includes material on the reception of the Neoplatonic version of Aristotelian logic in Mesopotamia in the sixth century CE. He has also published an annotated translation of some of the most important East Syrian school sources. His more recent book, Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Missionaries and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism (2015), addresses the interaction between American Evangelical missionaries and the indigenous Christian community of upper Mesopotamia in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and the secular ethnic nationalism that resulted from this encounter. He is the ongoing editor of the series of translations with commentary of the Persian Martyr Acts. He is currently working on Syriac poetical homilies from the fifth and sixth century (Narsai, Isaac of Antioch, and Jacob of Sarug). In this project he is examining moral exhortation as a response to the discontents and perceived failures of Christianization.
Prof. Becker's background is in philology and history of religions in antiquity, but he regularly teaches courses on secularism and social theoretical approaches to religion. His undergraduate lecture courses include "Introduction to the New Testament," "Martyrdom: Ancient and Modern," and "Utopias and Dystopias." He enjoys reading Latin, Greek, and Syriac sources with students.
“Doctoring the Past in the Present: E. A. Wallis Budge, the Discourse on Magic, and the Colonization of Iraq,” History of Religions 44.3 (2005): 175-215.
“Anti-Judaism and Care of the Poor in Aphrahat’s Demonstration 20,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 10.3 (2002): 305-327.
Articles in Edited Volumes
“Mar Addai Scher and the Recovery of East Syrian Scholastic Culture,” in Griechische Wissenschaft und Philosophie bei den Ostsyrern, ed. Matthias Perkams and Alexander Schilling (FORTHCOMING).
“The Invention of the Persian Martyr Acts,” Proceedings of the North American Syriac Symposium, ed. Aaron Butts and Robin Darling Young (FORTHCOMING).
“L’antijudaïsme syriaque: entre polémique et critique interne,” in Les controversies religieuses en syriaque, ed. Flavia Ruani (Paris: Geuthner, 2016), 181-207.
“Augustine’s Confessions,” in Cambridge Companion to Autobiography, ed. Maria diBattista and Emily O. Wittman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 23-34.
“Political Theology and Religious Diversity in the Sasanian Empire,” in Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians: Religious Dynamics in a Sasanian Context, ed. Geoffrey Herman (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2014), 7-25.
“Polishing the Mirror: Some Thoughts on Syriac Sources and Early Judaism,” in Envisioning Judaism: Studies in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. Ra‘anan Boustan et al. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 2: 897-915.
“Christian Society,” in Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World, ed. Michael Peachin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 567-86.
“The Ancient Near East in the Late Antique Near East: Syriac Christian Appropriation of the Biblical Past,” in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World, ed. Gregg Gardner and Kevin Osterloh (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 394-415. This article is to be reprinted in an edited volume.
“The Dynamic Reception of Theodore of Mopsuestia in the Sixth Century: Greek, Syriac, and Latin,” in Greek Literature in Late Antiquity: Dynamism, Didacticism, Classicism, ed. Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2006), 29-47.
“Bringing the Heavenly Academy Down to Earth: Approaches to the Imagery of Divine Pedagogy in the East-Syrian Tradition,” in Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions, ed. Ra‘anan Boustan and Annette Yoshiko Reed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 174-191.
“Beyond the Spatial and Temporal Limes: Questioning the ‘Parting of the Ways’ Outside the Roman Empire” in The Ways That Never Parted, ed. Becker and Reed (see above), 373-92. Tools/Commentaries on Texts
Annotated Translation of and Introduction to 2 Baruch for Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, ed. Louis Feldman, James Kugel, and Lawrence Schiffman (Jewish Publication Society; Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), Vol. 2: 1565-1585.
Development and editing of a series of texts with translations and commentary of the Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac with Gorgias Press. Six volumes have appeared (2008, 2013, 2014, 2014, 2016, 2016), and three are forthcoming.
New edition of the Greek and Syriac fragments of “Bardesanes,” including biographical essay and commentary in Brill’s New Jacoby: Fragments of Greek Historians, ed. Ian Worthington (Leiden: Brill, 2006).