EBN AL-ʿEBRĪ (Syr. bar ʿEbrāyā, Lat. Bar Hebraeus), ABU’L-FARAJ (b. Malaṭīa, 622/1225; d. Marāḡa, 685/1286), Syriac historian and polymath. His laqab Ebn al-ʿEbrī alludes to the place of origin of his family—ʿEbra on the Euphrates, near Malaṭīa (Malitene)—not to a Jewish origin. Baptized as Yoḥannōn, he was ordained a bishop of the West Syrian or Jacobite Church at the age of twenty and took the name Gregory. In 663/1264 he was elected “Maphrian of the East,” the highest dignitary of the West Syrian Church after the Patriarch of Antioch, in charge of the Jacobite Christians of the “Persian (i.e., former Sasanian) territories,” mainly Iraq and Azerbaijan. He frequently stayed in Tabrīz and Marāḡa, the Il-khanid capitals, where he supervised the construction of important ecclesiastical buildings (Bowman and Thompson; Fiey, 1971).
Ebn al-ʿEbrī wrote widely on theology, philosophy, medicine, history, canon law, poetry, literature, and mysticism (complete list in Fiey, 1986). Most of his works were in Syriac, but he also wrote in Arabic. He translated into Syriac Avicenna’s Ketāb al-ešārāt wa’l-tanbīhāt and al-Qānūn fi’l-ṭebb, standard works on philosophy and medicine, respectively. His scholarly writings were not especially original, reproducing the general knowledge of his time, but he was unusual in his openness toward Christians of all denominations and toward Muslims. He was profoundly influenced by Islamic authors, both Arabic and Persian, the most important being Ḡazālī and Avicenna. These influences are found not only in his literary (Marzolph), scientific, and philosophical works, but also in his Christian writings (Teule, 1992).
Ebn al-ʿEbrī’s voluminous Syriac Chronicle is divided into secular and ecclesiastical histories, which are frequently treated as separate works. In the ecclesiastical history, much attention is given to the vicissitudes of the Jacobite and East Syrian, or Nestorian, churches in the “Persian territories.” This work covers events up to the eve of his death and was continued by his brother Barṣaumā and by an anonymous writer through 901/1496. The secular chronicle, usually called Chronicon Syriacum, divides history into eleven epochs. The fifth epoch succinctly deals with “the kings of the Medes,” the sixth with “the kings of the Persians,” the tenth with “the kings of the Arabs” from Moḥammad to the fall of Baghdad, and the eleventh with the Mongols. The secular history was continued by an anonymous author through 696/1297. For events through 592/1196, Ebn al-ʿEbrī’s Chronicle is mainly based on the voluminous history, both secular and ecclesiastical, of Patriarch Michael I (d. 596/1199; Chronique de Michel le Syrien, patriarche jacobite d’Antioche, 1166-1199, ed. and tr. J.-B. Chabot, 4 vols., Paris, 1899-1924), though he sometimes corrects Michael (cf. Bedjan, pp. 282, 286) and supplements him with data found in other sources (Conrad, 1991, p. 16). For the ninety years after Michael’s death, Ebn al-ʿEbrī’s history is extremely valuable, particularly when he gives eyewitness accounts of events. He appears to be acquainted with the Persian account of Saljuq origins, the Malek-nāma (Bedjan, p. 217; Cahen, p. 32), and explicitly acknowledges that for matters concerning the kingdoms of the Saljuqs, the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, the Ismaʿilis, and the Mongols, he used “a marvelous work in Persian” by “ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn, governor of Baghdad” (Bedjan, p. 555), i.e., the Tārīḵ-e jahāngošā of ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn ʿAṭā Malek Jovaynī (Fiey, 1986, p. 5). Its precise relationship to the work of Ebn al-ʿEbrī still has to be studied in detail.
A work closely related to the Chronicon Syriacum is Ebn al-ʿEbrī’s Moḵtaṣar taʾrīḵ al-dowal (for the correct title, see Samir). According to his brother Barṣaumā (Abbeloos and Lamy, III, p. 469) the Moḵtaṣar was an Arabic translation of his Syriac chronicle, composed shortly before his death at the request of prominent Muslims in Marāḡa. The structure of the Moḵtaṣar with its ten dynasties is similar to that of the Chronicon Syriacum, but it is more than the mere abridgment of the Syriac text as its title would suggest. It provides much information not found in the Syriac chronicle, especially the numerous direct or indirect borrowings from Islamic authorities such as Ebn Joljol Andalosī, Ebn al-Qeftī, and Ṣāʿed b. Aḥmad Andalosī (Ṣāleḥānī, ed., pp. 192, 476, 235). The question of whether this work was primarily intended for Christian readers who no longer understood Syriac (Conrad, forthcoming) or for a Muslim audience (Todt, p. 61; Lüders, p. 16) can only be solved by a comparison of the entire Moḵtaṣar with its Syriac counterpart.
(For cited works not given in detail, see “Short References.”) Historical works: Editions and translations: J. B. Abbeloos and T. Lamy, trs. and eds., Gregorii Barhebraei Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, 3 vols., Louvain, 1872-77.
P. Bedjan, ed., Greg. Barhebraei Chronicon Syriacum e Cod. mss. mendatum ac punctis... locupletatum, Paris, 1890 (Figure 1).
E. A. W. Budge, tr. and ed., The Chronography of Gregory Abū’l-Faraj... Barhebraeus, Being the First Part of His Political History of the World, 2 vols., London, 1932 (based on Bedjan’s text).
A. Ṣāleḥānī, Taʾrīḵ moḵtaṣar al-dowal, Beirut, 1890, repr., Beirut, 1958.
H. G. B. Teule, ed. and tr., The Ethicon of Barhebraeus. Memra I. Critical Edition and Translation, 2 vols., CSCO 534-35, Louvain, 1993.
Studies. I. E. Barsaum, Ketāb al-loʾloʾ al-manṯūr fī taʾrīḵ al-ʿolūm wa’l-ādāb al-soryānīya, 4th ed., Glane, Netherlands, 1987, pp. 411-30.
A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur mit Ausschluss der christlich-palästinesischen Texte, Bonn, 1922, pp. 313-20.
C. Cahen, “Le Malik-Nameh et l’histoire des origines Seljukides,” Oriens 2, 1949, pp. 31-65.
L. I. Conrad, “Syriac Perspectives on Bilâd al-Shâm during the Abbasid Period,” in M. al-Bakhit and R. Schick, eds., Bilad al-Sham During the Abbasid Period (132 A.H./750 A.D.-451 A.H./1059 A.D.), Amman, 1412/1991, pp. 14-17.
Idem, “On the Arabic Chronicle of Barhebraeus,” in S. Khalil, ed., Actes du IVe congrès international d’études arabes chrétiennes, Orientalia Christiana Analecta, Rome, forthcoming. Y. Esḥāq, “Maṣāder Abi’l-Faraj al-Malaṭī al-tʾarīḵīya,” Aram 1, 1989, pp. 149-72.
Idem, “Ḵaṣāʾeṣ Tʾarīḵ moḵtaṣar al-dowal,”ibid., pp. 173-98.
J. M. Fiey, introd. to Taʾrīḵ al-zamān, E. Armala’s Ar. tr. of Chronicon Syriacum, Beirut, 1986.
G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, Vatican City, 1947, II, pp. 272-281.
A. Lüders, Die Kreuzzüge im Urteil syrischer und armenischer Quellen, Berlin, 1964, pp. 15-16.
Y. Raḥīmlū, “Ebn-e ʿEbrī,” in DMBE IV, pp. 207-10.
Kh. Samir, “Trois mss de la chronique arabe de Bar Hébraeus à Istanbul,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 48, 1980, pp. 142-44.
J. B. Segal, “Ibn al-Ibrī” in EI ² III, pp. 804-05.
N. Serikov, “Einige Aspekte der griechischen Grammatik des Bar Hebräus,” Jahrbuch der Oesterreichischen Byzantinistik, Vienna, 1987, pp. 100-35.
H. G. B. Teule, “The Crusades in Barhebraeus’ Syriac and Arabic Secular Chronicles. A Different Approach,” in A. David and H. G. B. Teule, eds., East and West in the Crusader States. Context, Contacts, Confrontations (11th-13th Centuries), Louvain, 1994.
S. Todt, “Die syrische und die arabische Weltgeschichte des Bar Hebräus. Ein Vergleich,” Der Islam 65, 1988, pp. 60-80.
E. Yarshater, “Lists of the Achaemenid Kings in Biruni and Bar Hebraeus” in E. Yarshater and D. Bishop, eds., Biruni Symposium, Persian Studies Series 7, New York, 1976, pp. 49-65.
Ebn al-ʿEbrī and his Muslim and Persian environment. J. Bowman and J. A. Thompson, “The Monastery Church of Barhebraeus at Maraghah,” Abr Nahrain 7, 1967-68, pp. 35-61.
J.-M. Fiey, “A-t-on retrouvé le couvent et l’église de Bar Hébraeus à Maraga?” Le Muséon 89, 1971, pp. 213-17.
Idem, “Esquisse d’une bibliographie de Bar Hébraeus (+1286),” Parole de l’Orient 1, 1986a, pp. 279-312.
H. Koffler, “Die Lehre des Barhebräus von der Auferstehung der Leiber,” Orientalia Christiana 27/1, 1932 (on the influence of Faḵr-al-Dīn Rāzī and Naṣīr-al-Dīn Ṭūsī).
U. Marzolph, “Die Quelle der Ergötzlichen Erzählungen des Bar Hebräus,” Oriens Christianus 69, 1985, pp. 81-125 (on the Ketāb naṯr al-dorr of Abū Ṣaʿd Manṣūr b. Ḥosayn Ābī, d. ca. 421/1030).
H. G. B. Teule,"Barhebraeus’ Ethicon, Al-Ghazālī, and Ebn Sīnā,” Islamochristiana 18, 1992.
M. Zonta, Fouti greche e orientali dell’ Economia di Bar-Hebraeus nell’ opera “La Crema dellla Scienza,” Naples, 1992.
(Herman G. B. Teule)
Originally Published: December 15, 1997
Last Updated: December 6, 2011
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