Bar Hebraeus

Gregory Bar Hebraeus ܡܪܝ ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣ ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ (1226 – 30 July 1286), also known by his Latin name Abulpharagius or Syriac name Mor Gregorios Bar Ebraya, was a maphrian-catholicos (Chief bishop of Persia) of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century. He is noted for his works concerning 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]

ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ
Gregory Bar-Hebraeus
Died30 July, 1286 (aged 59–60)
EraMedieval era
RegionChristian theology, Western philosophy
SchoolSyriac Orthodoxy
Main interests
Christian theology, Logic, Metaphysics, Medicine, History

Bar Hebraeus 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.


It is not clear when Bar Hebraeus adopted the Christian name Gregory (Syriac: ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣGrigorios, Ġrīġūriyūs), but according to the Syriac Orthodox tradition of naming high priests, 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 Ebroyo in the West Syriac dialect of the Syriac Orthodox Church), giving rise to the Latinised name Bar Hebraeus. It was previously thought that this name, which means 'Son of the Hebrew', was a reference to his Jewish background. Modern scholarship has moved away from this affirmation, because it is not substantiated by other facts. The name may refer to the ancestral origin of his family from ʿEbrā, a village by the Euphrates near Malatya, the city in which he grew up. A few Syriac sources[who?] 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[citation needed].</ref> He is also known as Abu'l Faraj (in Latin, Abulpharagius).


Mor Gregorios Bar Ebraya
Maphrian of the Syriac Orthodox Church
ChurchSyriac Orthodox Church
In office1266–1286
PredecessorIgnatius Sleeba III
SuccessorGregorius bar Souma
by Ignatius IV Yeshu
Personal details
Birth nameHārūn bin Tūmā al-Malaṭī
near Melitene, Sultanate of Rûm
Died30 July 1286
Maraga, Persia
Feast day30 July
Venerated inSyriac Orthodox Church
ShrinesSt. Matthew's Monastery

A Syriac bishop, philosopher, poet, grammarian, physician, biblical commentator, historian, and theologian, Bar Hebraeus was the son of a Jewish physician, Aaron[4] (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 Bar Hebraeus went to Tripoli in Phoenicia, and studied rhetoric and medicine. In 1246 he was consecrated bishop of Gubos by the Syriac 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.[5] 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, the marphian Gregory III (Grigorius bar Saumo) (d. 1307/8).


Encyclopedic and philosophicalEdit

Bar Hebraeus' 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 manuscripts, 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 in Arabic.[4]


The most important work of Bar Hebraeus 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.[4]


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).[6] The work is divided into two portions, often transmitted separately.[7]

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 (Paris, 1890). An English translation by E. A. Wallis Budge was published in 1932.[8]

This was to give context to the second portion, known as the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum and covering the religious history.[7] That section begins with Aaron and consists of a series of entries of important individuals. The first half covers the history of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Patriarchs of Antioch, while the second half is devoted to the Church of the East, the Nestorian Patriarchs, and the Jacobite Maphrians. The current edition of the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum is that of Abbeloos and Lamy,[9] Syriac text, Latin translation. An English translation by David Wilmshurst was published by Gorgias Press in February 2016.

Bar Hebraeus towards the end of his life decided to write a history in Arabic largely based on the Chronicon Syriacum, adapted for a wider Arabic-reading readership rather than solely for Syriac-literate clergy. This became the al-Mukhtaṣar fi-l-Duwal.[10] This was first published by Edward Pococke in 1663 with Latin comments and translation.[11] A modern edition was first published by Fr. Anton Salhani in 1890.[12]


In theology Bar Hebræus was a Miaphysite. 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.[13]

In this field, we have from Bar Hebraeus 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 worksEdit

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.[14]


  1. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 5
  2. ^ a b   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bar-Hebraeus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 400.
  3. ^ a b c Budge, E.A.W., The 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 World. London: Oxford University Press. 1932
  4. ^ a b c Butin, Romain. "Bar Hebræus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 2 Dec. 2014
  5. ^ Samir, Khalil. "Bar Hebraeus", The Coptic encyclopedia, vol. 2, Macmillan, 1991
  6. ^ SR Todt (1988). "Die syrische und die arabische Weltgeschichte des Bar Hebraeus". Der Islam. 65: 60–80. Conrad and so Hoyland assume Todt.
  7. ^ a b Lawrence Conrad (1994). "On the Arabic Chronicle of Bar Hebraeus". Parole de l'Orient. 19: 319–78. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  8. ^ Bar Hebraeus (1932). The Chronography of Gregory Abû'l Faraj, commonly known as Bar Hebraeus. Translated by Budge, Sir E. A. Wallis. Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ 3 vols., Louvain, 1872–77.
  10. ^ For the name see Conrad (1994) pp. 324-25 and audience see Conrad (1994) pp. 328-41.
  11. ^ Gregorius Abul-Pharajius (1663). Pococke, Edward (ed.). Tārīkh mukhtaṣar al-duwal/Historia compendiosa dynastiarum authore Gregorio Abul-Pharajio, Malatiensi medico, historiam complectens universalem, à mundo condito, usque ad tempora authoris, res orientalium accuratissimè describens. Arabice edita, & Latine versa, ab Edvardo Pocockio linguæ Hebraicæ in Academia Oxoniensi professore regio, nec non in eadem L. Arabicæ prælectore., & Ædis Christi præbendario. Oxford: R. Davis. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  12. ^ Gregorius abu-l-Faraj b. Harun (1890). Sahlani, Anton (ed.). Tārīkh mukhtaṣar al-duwal. Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  13. ^ Bar Hebraeus. Book of the Dove. Chapter IV.
  14. ^ Holweck, F. G., A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.


  • Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Bar Hebræus" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • 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.
  • Budge, Ernest A. Wallis, ed. (1932). Bar Hebraeus' Chronography: Translated from Syriac. London.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit