I came to the study of Syriac primarily out of linguistic interest. However, I soon found that one cannot read Syriac literature without running into a forest of elaborate symbolism. Many, if not most, of the symbols are unfamiliar to those whose background is in Western (Catholic or Protestant) Christianity. Yet these symbols form an elaborate and beautiful pattern, once you become familiar with them.
"Symbols of Church and Kingdom" is without a doubt the best overall treatment of this subject available. Robert Murray carefully takes readers through many symbols and their many variations as found in Syriac writers. The book is well written and thorough, but the nature of its subject matter does make it somewhat dense. It is a trip through a large forest that proceeds by examining every tree and vine. However, there seems to be little alternative if one is to gain the perspective necessary. Just like studying the grammar of a new language, with all its noun declensions, singulars and plurals, or its verbs with their plethora of tenses and moods, each item has to be individually studied in order for the student to master it.
Murray divides his book into two main sections. Part I, "Themes of Christ and the Church," is divided into seven chapters:
I. 'The Nation and the Nations'
II. The Body of Christ
III. The Vineyard, the Grape and the Tree of Life
IV. The Church, Bride and Mother
V. Titles shared by Christ and the Apostles or Bishops
VI. The Rock and the House on the Rock
VII. The 'Pilgrim Church' and its Fulfilment
Part II consists of a single chapter, "In Search of the Sources." In this, Murray seeks to ferret out the sources of the many interesting and curious symbols presented in Part I. These sources he labels Jewish tradition, Greco-Latin Christianity and "that uncertainly-defined field which is called Judaeo-Christian." The search is fascinating!
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Syriac Christianity. But be prepared for a journey of many steps.