1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bar-Hebraeus

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BAR-HEBRAEUS or Abuʽl-Faraj, a maphriān or catholicus of the Jacobite (Monophysite) Church in the 13th century, and (in Dr. 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 in 1226 at Malaṭiah 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 Gūbās near Malaṭia, and a year later was transferred to the neighbouring diocese of Laḳabhīn, 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. to be maphriān—the next rank below that of patriarch—an office which he held till his death at Marāgha in 1286. 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[1] 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 al-Mukhtaṣar fi ʽd–Duwal (Compendious History of the Dynasties). The second and third parts[2] 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 Auṣar Rāzē (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. Göttsberger (Barhebräus 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) Kĕthābhā dhe-Bhābhāthā (Book of the Pupils of the Eyes), a treatise on logic or dialectics; (2) Ḥēwath Hēkhmĕthā (Butter of Wisdom), an exposition of the whole philosophy of Aristotle; (3) Sullāḳā Haunānāyā (Ascent of the Mind), a treatise on astronomy and cosmography, edited and translated by F. Nau (Paris, 1899); (4) various medical works; (5) Kĕthābhā dhĕ-Ṣemḥē (Book of Ravs), a treatise on grammar; (6) ethical works; (7) poems; (8) Kĕthābhā dhĕ-Thunnāyē Mĕghaḥḥĕkhānē (Book of Entertaining Stories), edited and translated by E. A. W. Budge (London, 1897).  (N. M.) 

  1. Imperfectly edited and translated by Bruns and Kirsch in 1789. There is now a better edition by Bedjan (Paris, 1890).
  2. Edited and translated by Abbeloos and Lamy (Paris and Louvain, 1872–1873).