1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dionysius Telmaharensis

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DIONYSIUS TELMAHARENSIS (“of Tell-Maḥrē”), patriarch or supreme head of the Syrian Jacobite Church during the years 818-848, was born at Tell-Maḥrē near Raḳḳa (ar-Raḳḳah) on the Balīkh. He was the author of an important historical work, which has seemingly perished except for some passages quoted by Barhebraeus and an extract found by Assemani in Cod. Vat. 144 and published by him in the Bibliotheca orientalis (ii. 72-77). He spent his earlier years as a monk at the convent of Ḳen-neshrē on the upper Euphrates; and when this monastery was destroyed by fire in 815, he migrated northwards to that of Kaisūm in the district of Samosāta. At the death of the Jacobite patriarch Cyriacus in 817, the church was agitated by a dispute about the use of the phrase “heavenly bread” in connexion with the Eucharist. An anti-patriarch had been appointed in the person of Abraham of Ḳartamīn, who insisted on the use of the phrase in opposition to the recognized authorities of the church. The council of bishops who met at Raḳḳa in the summer of 818 to choose a successor to Cyriacus had great difficulty in finding a worthy occupant of the patriarchal chair, but finally agreed on the election of Dionysius, hitherto known only as an honest monk who devoted himself to historical studies. Sorely against his will he was brought to Raḳḳa, ordained deacon and priest on two successive days, and raised to the supreme ecclesiastical dignity on the 1st of August. From this time he showed the utmost zeal in fulfilling the duties of his office, and undertook many journeys both within and without his province. The ecclesiastical schism continued unhealed during the thirty years of his patriarchate. The details of this contest, of his relations with the caliph Ma’mūn, and of his many travels—including a journey to Egypt, on which he viewed with admiration the great Egyptian monuments,—are to be found in the Ecclesiastical Chronicle of Barhebraeus.[1] He died in 848, his last days having been especially embittered by Mahommedan oppression. We learn from Michael the Syrian that his Annals consisted of two parts each divided into eight chapters, and covered a period of 260 years, viz. from the accession of the emperor Maurice (582-583) to the death of Theophilus (842-843).

In addition to the lost Annals, Dionysius was from the time of Assemani until 1896 credited with the authorship of another important historical work—a Chronicle, which in four parts narrates the history of the world from the creation to the year A.D. 774-775 and is preserved entire in Cod. Vat. 162. The first part (edited by Tullberg, Upsala, 1850) reaches to the epoch of Constantine the Great, and is in the main an epitome of the Eusebian Chronicle.[2] The second part reaches to Theodosius II. and follows closely the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates; while the third, extending to Justin II., reproduces the second part of the History of John of Asia or Ephesus, and also contains the well-known chronicle attributed to Joshua the Stylite. The fourth part[3] is not like the others a compilation, but the original work of the author, and reaches to the year 774-775—apparently the date when he was writing. On the publication of this fourth part by M. Chabot, it was discovered and clearly proved by Nöldeke (Vienna Oriental Journal, x. 160-170), and Nau (Bulletin critique, xvii. 321-327), who independently reached the same conclusion, that Assemani’s opinion was a mistake, and that the chronicle in question was the work not of Dionysius of Tell-Maḥrē but of an earlier writer, a monk of the convent of Zuḳnīn near Āmid (Diarbekr) on the upper Tigris. Though the author was a man of limited intelligence and destitute of historical skill, yet the last part of his work at least has considerable value as a contemporary account of events during the middle period of the 8th century.

(N. M.)


  1. Ed. Abbeloos and Lamy, i. 343-386; cf. Wright, Syriac Literature, 196-200, and Chabot’s introduction to his translation of the fourth part of the Chronicle of (pseudo) Dionysius.
  2. See the studies by Siegfried and Gelzer, Eusebii canonum epitome ex Dionysii Telmaharensis chronico petita (Leipzig, 1884), and von Gutschmid, Untersuchungen über die syrische Epitome der Eusebischen Canones (Stuttgart, 1886).
  3. Text and translation by J.-B. Chabot (Paris, 1895).