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Encyclopedia > Bar Hebraeus

Bar-Hebraeus or Abulfaragus, (1226 - 1286) was a maphrian or catholicos of the Jacobite (Monophysite) Church in the 13th century, and (in Dr. W. Wright's words) one of the most learned and versatile men that Syria ever produced.


Perhaps no more industrious compiler of knowledge ever lived. Simple and uncritical in his modes of thought, and apparently devoid of any striking originality, 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, but some few in Arabic, which had long before his time supplanted Syriac as a living speech.


The son of a physician of Jewish descent, Bar-Hebraeus was born at Malatiah on the upper Euphrates. His youth was passed in the troublous times of the Mongol advance into western Asia, and his father eventually retired to Antioch, where Bar-Hebraeus completed his education. In 1246 he was ordained at Tripolis as Jacobite bishop of Gubgs near Malatia, and a year later was transferred to the neighbouring diocese of Lal~abhin, whence in 1253 he passed to be bishop of Aleppo. Deposed almost immediately by an ecclesiastical superior on account of disputes about the patriarchate, he was restored to his see in 1258, and in 1264 was promoted by the patriarch Ignatius III David to be maphrian, the next rank below that of patriarchan office which he held till his death at Maragha. He seems to have been a model of devotion to his ecclesiastical duties and to have won the respect of all parties in his diocese.


It is mainly as an historian that Bar-Hebraeus interests the modern student. His great historical work the Syriac Chronicle is made up of three parts. The first is a history of secular events from the Creation to his own time, and in its later portions gives valuable information regarding the history of south-east Europe and western Asia. A compendium in Arabic of this secular history was made by Bar-Hebraeus under the title Mukhtasar Tarikh Al Duwal (Compendious History of the Dynasties). The second and third parts of the Chronicle deal with the history of the Church, the second being mainly concerned with the patriarchate of Antioch, and the third with the eastern branch of the Syrian Church. Of special value to theologians is the Aucar Raze (Storehouse of Secrets), a critical and doctrinal commentary on the text of the Scriptures. Of this many portions have been edited by various scholars, and a valuable study of the work, together with a biography and estimate of its author, has been published by J Gottsberger (Barhebr us und seine Scholien zur heiligen Schrift, Freiburg i. B., 1900).


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:

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

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclop dia Britannica.


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Bar Hebræus (1122 words)
The main claim of Bar Hebræus 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 of by way of direct reproduction.
Both on account of his virtues and of his science, Bar Hebræus 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 probably, however, thought that the differences between Catholics, Nestorians, and the rest were of a theological, but not of 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.
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