Jacobite Syrian bishop, philosopher, poet, grammarian, physician, Biblical commentator, historian, and theologian (1226-1286)
Bar Hebraeus (Abu’l Faraj), a Jacobite Syrian bishop, philosopher, poet, grammarian, physician, Biblical commentator, historian, and theologian, b. at Melitene (Malatia), Asia Minor, 1226; d. at Maragha, Persia, 1286. He was the son of a Jewish physician, Aaron, a convert to the Jacobite faith; hence his surname of Bar ‘Ebraya (Bar Hebreeus), “Son of the Hebrew”. Under the care of his father he began as a boy (a teneris unguiculis) the study of medicine and of many other branches of knowledge, which he pursued as a youth at Antioch and Tripoli, and which he never abandoned until his death. In 1246 he was consecrated Bishop of Gubos, by the Jacobite Patriarch Ignatius II, and in the following year was transferred to the See of Lacabene. He was placed over the Diocese of Aleppo by Dionysius (1252) and finally was made Primate, or Maphrian, of the East by Ignatius III (1264). His episcopal duties did not interfere with his studies; he took advantage of the numerous visitations, which he had to make throughout his vast province, to consult the libraries and converse with the learned men whom he happened to meet. Thus he gradually accumulated an immense erudition, became familiar with almost all branches of secular and religious knowledge, and in many cases thoroughly mastered the bibliography of the various subjects which he undertook to treat. How he could have devoted so much time to such a systematic study, in spite of all the vicissitudes incident to the Mongol invasion, is almost beyond comprehension. The main claim of Bar Hebraeus to our gratitude is not, however, in his original productions, but rather in his having preserved and systematized the work of his predecessors, either by way of condensation or by way of direct reproduction. Both on account of his virtues and of his science, Bar Hebraeus was respected by all, and his death was mourned not only by men of his own faith, but also by the Nestorians and the Armenians. He was buried at the convent of Mar Matthew, near Mosul. He has left us an autobiography, to be found in Assemani, “Biblioth. Orient”, II, 248-263; the account of his death (ibid.) was written by his own brother, Bar Sauma. The works of Bar Hebrus are:
ENCYCLOPEDIC AND PHILOSOPHICAL.—(I) His great encyclopedic work is his Hewkth Hekhmethd, “The Cream of Science”, which deals with almost every branch of human knowledge, and comprises the whole Aristotelean discipline, after Avicenna and other Arabian writers. This work, so far, has not been published, with the exception of one chapter, by Margoliouth, in “Analecta Orientalia ad poeticam Aristoteleam” (London, 1887), 114-139. The rest is to be found only in MSS., preserved at Florence, Oxford, London, and elsewhere. (2) Teghrkth Teghrathd, “Commerce of Commerces”, a resume of the preceding, also unpublished. (3) Kethabhd dhe-Bhabhatha, “Book of the Pupils of the Eyes”; compendium of logic and dialectics. (4) Kethabad dhe-Sewkdh Sophia, “Book of the Speech of Wisdom”; compendium of physics and metaphysics. To these should be added a few translations of Arabic works into Syriac, as well as some treatises written directly in Arabic.
BIBLICAL.—The most important work of Bar Hebrus is Auckr Raze, “Storehouse of Secrets”, a commentary on the entire Bible, both doctrinal and critical. Before giving his doctrinal exposition of a passage, he first considers its critical state. Although he uses the Peshitto as a basis, he knows that it is not perfect, and therefore controls it by the Hebrew, the Septuagint, the Greek versions of Symmachus, Theodotion, Aquila, by the Oriental versions, Armenian and Coptic, and finally by the other Syriac translations, Heraclean, Philoxenian and especially Syro-Hexapla. The work of Bar Hebrus is of prime importance for the recovery of these versions and more specially of the Hexapla of Origen, of which the Syro-Hexapla is a translation by Paul of Tella. His exegetical and doctrinal portions are taken from the Greek Fathers and previous Syrian Jacobite theologians. No complete edition of the work has yet been issued, but many individual books have been published at different times. (See bibliography at end of article.)
HISTORICAL.—Bar Hebrus has left a large historical work called Mkkhtbhantith Zkbhne, “Chronicon”, in which he considers the history from the Creation down to his own day. It is divided into two portions: the first deals with political and civil history and is known as the “Chronicon Syriacum”; the second, “Chronicon Ecclesiasticum”, comprising the religious history, begins with Aaron and treats in a first section of the history of the Western Syrian Church and the Patriarchs of Antioch, while a second section is devoted to the Eastern Church, the Nestorian Patriarchs, and the Jacobite Maphrians. Bar Hebrus utilized almost all that had been written before him. The best edition of the “Chronicon Syriacum” is that of Bedjan, “Gregorii Barhebraei Chronicon Syriacum” (Paris, 1890). The best edition of the “Chronicon Ecclesiasticum” is that of Abbeloos and Lamy (3 vols., Louvain, 1872-77). The “Chronicon Syriacum” was rendered into Arabic by Bar Hebrus himself under the name of “History of Dynasties”; the latest and best edition of this work is that of Salhani (Beirut, 1890).
THEOLOGICAL.—In theology Bar Hebrus was a Monophysite. He probably, however, thought that the differences between Catholics, Nestorians, and the rest were of a theological, but not of a dogmatical nature, and that they did not affect the common faith; hence, he did not consider others as heretics, and was not himself considered as such, at least by the Nestorians and the Armenians. In this field, we have from him Menarkth Qtidhshe, “Lamp of the Sanctuary”, and the Kethabaei dhe-Zklge, “Book of the Rays”, a summary of the first. These works have not been published, and exist in manuscript in Paris, Berlin, London, Oxford, Rome. Ascetical and moral theology were also treated by Bar Hebraeus, and we have from him Kethabad dhe-‘Ithiqon, “Book of Ethics“, and Kethabad dhe -Yaund, “Book of the Dove“, an ascetical guide. Both have been edited by Bedjan in “Ethicon seu Moralia Gregorii Barhebraei” (Paris and Leipzig, 1898). The “Book of the Dove” was issued simultaneously by Cardahi (Rome, 1898). Bar Hebrus codified the juridical texts of the Jacobites, in a collection called Kethabad dhe-Hiidhaye, “Book of Directions”, edited by Bedjan, “Barhebri Nomocanon” (Paris, 1898). A Latin translation is to be found in Mai, “Scriptorum Veter. Nova Collectio”, vol. X.
Bar Hebrus has left besides many other works. On grammatical subjects we have the “Book of Splendors” and “Book of the Spark”, both edited by Martin, “Oeuvres grammaticales de Aboul Faradj dit Barhebraeus” (2 vols., Paris, 1872); also works on mathematics, astronomy, cosmography, medicine, some of which have been published, but others exist only in manuscript.