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Bar Hebraeus

ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ
Born 1226
Ebro, near Malatya, Sultanate of Rûm
Died 30 July, 1286 (aged 59–60)
at Maraga, Persia
Era Medieval era
Region Christian theology, Western philosophy
School Syriac Orthodoxy
Main interests
Christian theology, Logic, Metaphysics, Medicine, History

Gregory Bar Hebraeus (1226 – 30 July 1286), previously known by his Latin name Abulpharagius, was a catholicos (bishop) of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century. He is noted for his works addressing philosophy, poetry, language, history, and theology;[1] he has been called "one of the most learned and versatile men from the Syriac Orthodox Church" (Dr. William Wright).[2]

He collected in his numerous and elaborate treatises the results of such research in theology, philosophy, science and history as was in his time possible in Syria. Most of his works were written in Syriac.[2] However he also wrote some in Arabic, which had become the common language in his day.


  • Name 1
  • Life 2
  • Works 3
    • Encyclopedic and philosophical 3.1
    • Biblical 3.2
    • Historical 3.3
    • Theological 3.4
    • Other works 3.5
  • Veneration 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


It is not clear when or why that he took the Christian name Gregory (Syriac: ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣ Grigorios, Ġrīġūriyūs), but it may have occurred at the time of his consecration as bishop.[3] Throughout his life, he was often referred to by the Syriac nickname Bar ʿEbrāyā (Syriac: ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ, which is pronounced and often transliterated as Bar ʿEbroyo in the West Syriac dialect of the Syriac Orthodox Church), giving rise to the Latinised name Bar Hebraeus. This nickname refers to his Jewish background, which means 'Son of the Hebrew'. His father was a Jewish physician. The name does refer to the place of his birth as well, ʿEbrā, where the old road east of Malatya towards Kharput (modern Elazığ) and Amida (Mesopotamia) (modern Diyarbakır) crossed the Euphrates.[4] He is also known as Abu'l Faraj.


A Syriac bishop, philosopher, poet, grammarian, physician, biblical commentator, historian, and theologian, he was the son of a Jewish physician, Aaron[5] (Hārūn bin Tūmā al-Malaṭī, Arabic: هارون بن توما الملطي‎). Bar Hebraeus was born in the village of ʿEbra (Izoli, Turk.: Kuşsarayı) near Malatya, Sultanate of Rûm (modern Turkey, now in the province of Elazig). 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 never abandoned.

A Mongol general invaded the area of Malatya, and falling ill, sought for a physician. Aaron, the Hebrew physician, was summoned. Upon his recovery, the Mongol general and Aaron, who took his family with him, went to Antioch. There Bar Hebraeus continued with his studies and when he was about seventeen years of age he became a monk and began to lead the life of the hermit.[3]

From Antioch he went to Tripoli in Phoenicia, and studied rhetoric and medicine. In 1246 he was consecrated bishop of Gubos by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius II,[3] and in 1252 he was transferred to Aleppo. In 1255 was transferred to the see of Laqabin and finally was made primate, or maphrian, of the East by Ignatius IV Yeshu in 1264.[6] 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. Bar Hebræus 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 Hebræus was highly esteemed. He died in Maraga, Persia, and was buried at the Mar Mattai Monastery, near Mosul. He left an autobiography, to be found in Assemani, Biblioth. Orient., II, 248-263; the account of his death was written by his brother, Grigorius Barsawmo (d. 1307/8).


Encyclopedic and philosophical

His great encyclopedic work is his Hewath Hekhmetha, "The Cream of Science", which deals with almost every branch of human knowledge, and comprises the whole Aristotelian discipline, after Avicenna and 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 Kethabha dhe-Bhabhatha, ("Book of the Pupils of the Eyes") is a compendium of logic and dialectics.

The rest is to be found only in MSS., preserved at Florence, Oxford, London, and elsewhere. (3) Teghrath Teghratha, "Commerce of Commerces", a résumé of the preceding, also unpublished. (4) Kethabha dhe-Sewadh Sophia, "Book of 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.[5]


The most important work of Bar Hebræus is Awsar 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 Peshitta 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 Oriental versions, Armenian and Coptic, and finally by the other Syriac translations, Heraclean, Philoxenian and especially the Syro-Hexapla. The work of Bar Hebræus is of prime importance for the recovery of these versions and more specially for 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 Syriac Orthodox theologians. No complete edition of the work has yet been issued, but many individual books have been published at different times.[5]


Bar Hebraeus has left a large ecclesiastical history called Makhtbhanuth Zabhne, Chronicon, in which he considers history from the Creation down to his own day. Bar Hebræus used almost all that had been written before him, showing particular favor to the now lost chronographic records published by Theophilus of Edessa (late 8th century, although he has this only through Michael the Syrian and other dependents).[7] The work is divided into two portions, often transmitted separately.[8]

The first portion deals with political and civil history and is known as the Chronicon Syriacum. The standard edition of the Chronicon Syriacum is that of Bedjan, Gregorii Barhebraei Chronicon Syriacum.[9] An English translation by Wallis Budge exists.

This was to give context to the second portion, known as the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum and covering the religious history.[8] That section begins with Aaron and consists of a series of entries of important individuals. The first half covers the history of the West Syrian Church and the Patriarchs of Antioch, while the second half is devoted to the Eastern Church, the Nestorian Patriarchs, and the Jacobite Maphrians. The current edition of the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum is that of Abbeloos and Lamy,[10] Syriac text, Latin translation. An English translation by David Wilmshurst will be published by Gorgias Press in early August 2015.

Bar Hebraeus, later, decided to write a history for the edification of Christians rather than for the Church itself. This became Mukhtasar fî'l-Duwal.[8] An 1890 edition of his work is a translation by Fr. Anton Salihani. A Latin translation exists in the older edition of Edward Pococke, (mis)translated Historia Compendiosa Dynastiarum.[8][11]


In theology Bar Hebræus was a Miaphysite. 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 Church of the East and the Armenians. Indeed, he once mused

When I had given much thought and pondered on the matter, I became convinced that these quarrels among the different Christian Churches are not a matter of factual substance, but of words and terminology; for they all confess Christ our Lord to be perfect God and perfect human, without any commingling, mixing, or confusion of the natures... Thus I saw all the Christian communities, with their different christological positions, as possessing a single common ground that is without any difference between them.[12]

In this field, we have from him Menarath Qudhshe, "Lamp of the Sanctuary", and the Kethabha dhe-Zalge, "Book of Rays", a summary of the first. These works have not been published, and exist in manuscript in Paris, Berlin, London, Oxford, and Rome. Ascetical and moral theology were also treated by Bar Hebræus, and we have from him Kethabha dhe-Ithiqon, "Book of Ethics", and Kethabha dhe-Yauna, "Book of the Dove", an ascetical guide. Both have been edited by Bedjan in "Ethicon seu Moralia Gregorii Barhebræi" (Paris and Leipzig, 1898). The "Book of the Dove" was issued simultaneously by Cardahi (Rome, 1898). Bar Hebræus codified the juridical texts of the Syriac Orthodox, in a collection called Kethabha dhe-Hudhaye, "Book of Directions", edited by Bedjan, "Barhebræi Nomocanon" (Paris, 1898). A Latin translation is to be found in Angelo Mai, "Scriptorum Veter. Nova Collectio", vol. x. Bar Hebræus has left besides many other works. On grammatical subjects we have the "Book of Splendours" and "Book of the Spark", both edited by Martin, "Oeuvres grammaticales de Aboul Faradj dit Barhebræus" (2 vols., Paris, 1872); also works on mathematics, astronomy, cosmography, and medicine, some of which have been published, but others exist only in manuscript.

Other works

A full list of Bar Hebraeus's other works, and of editions of such of them as have been published, will be found in W. Wright's Syriac Literature, pp. 268–281. The more important of them are:

  • Kethabha dhe-Bhabhatha (Book of the Pupils of the Eyes), a treatise on logic or dialectics
  • Hewath Hekmetha (Butter of Wisdom), an exposition of the whole philosophy of Aristotle
  • Sullarat Haunãnãyã (Ascent of the Mind), a treatise on astronomy and cosmography, edited and translated by F. Nau (Paris, 1899)
  • various medical works
  • Kethabha dhe-Zalge (Book of Rays), a treatise on grammar
  • ethical works
  • poems
  • Kethabha dhe-Thunnaye Mighaizjzikhanl (Book of Entertaining Stories), edited and translated by E. A. Wallis Budge (London, 1897).


He is regarded as a saint by the Syriac Orthodox Church, who hold his feast day on July 30.[13]


  1. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 5
  2. ^ a b  
  3. ^ a b c . London: Oxford University Press. 1932The Chronography of Gregory Abu'l Faraj, The Son of Aaron, The Hebrew Physician Commonly Known as Bar Hebraeus Being the First Part of His Political History of the WorldBudge, E.A.W.,
  4. ^ A few Syriac sources give Bar-Hebraeus's full Arabic name as Jamāluddīn Abū'l-Faraj Ġrīġūriyūs bin Tājuddīn Hārūn bin Tūmā al-Malaṭī (Arabic: جمال الدين ابو الفرج غريغوريوس بن تاج الدين هارون بن توما الملطي‎). However, all references to this longer name are posthumous. The Syriac nickname Bar ʿEbrāyā is sometimes arabised as Ibn al-ʿIbrī (Arabic: ابن العبري‎). E.A.W. Budge says Bar Hebraeus was given the baptismal name John (Syriac: ܝܘܚܢܢ, Yōḥanan), but this may be a scribal error. As a Syriac bishop, Bar Hebraeus is often given the honorific Mār (Syriac: ܡܪܝ, pronounced Mor in West Syriac dialect), and thus Mar/Mor Gregory.
  5. ^ a b c Butin, Romain. "Bar Hebræus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 2 Dec. 2014
  6. ^ , vol. 2, Macmillan, 1991The Coptic encyclopediaSamir, Khalil. "Bar Hebraeus",
  7. ^ SR Todt (1988). "Die syrische und die arabische Weltgeschichte des Bar Hebraeus". Der Islam 65: 60–80. . Conrad and so Hoyland assume Todt.
  8. ^ a b c d Lawrence Conrad (1994). "On the Arabic Chronicle of Bar Hebraeus". Parole de l'Orient 19: 319–78. 
  9. ^ Paris: 1890
  10. ^ 3 vols., Louvain, 1872–77
  11. ^ Oxford, 1663
  12. ^ Bar Hebraeus. Book of the Dove. Chapter IV. 
  13. ^ Holweck, F. G., A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.


  •  "Bar Hebræus".  
  • Patriarch Ignatius Ephraim 1 (1949). "Al lulu Al-Manthour".
  • Patriarch Ignatius Zakka 1 (1986). The Patriarchal Circular.
  • Archbishop Gregorius Paulos Behnam (na). "Bar Ebroyo the Poet".
  • Bar Ebroyo. Published collection of poems.
  • Bar Ebroyo. Makhtbanooth Zabney (The Chronography of Bar Ebroyo).
  • Bar Ebroyo. "Al Mukhtasar Fid-Dual".
  • Takahashi, Hidemi (2005). Barhebraeus: A Bio-Bibliography. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-148-7.
  • Takahashi, Hidemi, (2011). Bar `Ebroyo, Grigorios, in Sebastian Brock et al. (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of Syriac Heritage, Piscataway, Gorgias Press.

External links

  • Gregorii Barhebraei Chronicon ecclesiasticum: quod e codice Musei britannici descriptum conjuncta opera ediderunt, Latinitate donarunt annotationibusque ...illustrarunt Jean Baptiste Abbeloos, Thomas Joseph Lamy Also at here.
  • Encyclopaedia of Bar-Hebraeus (Abu al-Faraj) / SuryoyoNews.
  • , Vratislaviae 1852.Gregorii Bar-Hebraei Scholia in Psalmum LXVIII. e codicibus mss. syriacis Bibliothecae Florentinae et Clementino-Vaticanae et Bodleianae Oxoniensis primum edita et annotationibus illustrata
  • The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, 1897 tr. by E.A.W. Budge, at sacred-texts
  • Takahashi, Hidemi (2007). "Barhebraeus: Gregory Abū al‐Faraj". In Thomas Hockey; et al. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer. pp. 94–5. (PDF version)  
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