Gregory Bar Hebraeus
ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣ ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ
Born1226 (1226)
Died30 July, 1286 (aged 59–60)
EraMedieval era
RegionChristian theology, Western philosophy
SchoolSyriac Orthodoxy
Main interests
Christian theology, logic, metaphysics, medicine, history
Maphrian of the Syriac Orthodox Church
ChurchSyriac Orthodox Church
In office1266–1286
PredecessorIgnatius Sleeba III
SuccessorGregorius bar Souma
by Ignatius IV Yeshu
Personal details
Hārūn bin Tūmā al-Malaṭī

Died30 July 1286
Maraga, Persia
Feast day30 July
Venerated inSyriac Orthodox Church
ShrinesSt. Matthew's Monastery

Gregory Bar Hebraeus (Classical Syriac: ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣ ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ, b. 1226 - d. 30 July 1286), known by his Syriac ancestral surname as Barebraya or Barebroyo, in Arabic sources by his kunya Abu'l-Faraj, and his Latinized name Abulpharagius in the Latin West, was a Maphrian (regional primate) of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 1264 to 1286.[1] He was a prominent writer, who created various works in the fields of Christian theology, philosophy, history, linguistics, and poetry.[2] For his contributions to the development of Syriac literature, has been praised as one of the most learned and versatile writers among Syriac Orthodox Christians.[3]

In his numerous and elaborate treatises, he collected as much contemporary knowledge in theology, philosophy, science and history as was possible in 13th century Syria. Most of his works were written in Classical Syriac language. He also wrote some in Arabic, which was the common language in his day.[1][2]


It is not clear when Bar Hebraeus adopted the Christian name Gregory (Syriac: ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣ Grigorios), but according to the Syriac Orthodox tradition of naming high priests, it may have occurred at the time of his consecration as bishop.[4] Throughout his life, he was often referred to by the Syriac nickname Bar ʿEvrāyā (ܒܪ ܥܒܪܝܐ, which is pronounced and often transliterated as Bar Ebroyo in the Western Syriac Rite 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.[citation needed] 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),[4] 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]. He is also known as Abu'l Faraj (in Latin, Abulpharagius).


A Syriac bishop, philosopher, poet, grammarian, physician, biblical commentator, historian, and theologian, Bar Hebraeus was the son of a physician, Aaron (Hārūn bin Tūmā al-Malaṭī, Arabic: هارون بن توما الملطي).[5] Bar Hebraeus was born in the village of ʿEbra (Izoli, Turk.: Kuşsarayı) near Malatya, Sultanate of Rum (now Turkey, in the province of Elazığ). 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 (see Principality of Antioch and Franco-Mongol alliance). 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 a hermit.[6]

From Antioch Bar Hebraeus went to Tripoli in Phoenicia (actually in the County of Tripoli, a Crusader state in his time), and studied rhetoric and medicine. In 1246, he was consecrated bishop of Gubos by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius III David,[6] and in 1252 he was transferred to Aleppo. In 1255 he was again transferred to the see of Laqabin and finally was made primate, or maphrian, of the East by Ignatius IV Yeshu in 1264.[7] 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 Maragheh, Ilkhanate Persia, and was buried at the Mor Mattai Monastery, near Mosul. He left an autobiography, to be found in Giuseppe Simone Assemani, Biblioth. Orient., II, 248–263; the account of his death was written by his brother, the maphrian Gregory III (Grigorius bar Saumo; d. 1307/8).


Encyclopedic and philosophical

A page from a copy of the Hewath Hekhmetha from 1340

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. Other works are to be found in various manuscripts, preserved at Florence, Oxford, London, and elsewhere. The Teghrath Teghratha ("Commerce of Commerces") is a résumé of the preceding, while Kethabha dhe-Sewadh Sophia ("Book of Speech of Wisdom") represents a compendium of knowledge in physics and metaphysics. To these should be added a few translations of Arabic works into Syriac, as well as some treatises written in Arabic.[8]


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.[8]


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).[9] The work is divided into two portions, often transmitted separately.[10]

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 Paul Bedjan.[11] An English translation by E. A. Wallis Budge was published in 1932.[12][13]

This was to give context to the second portion, known as the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum and covering the religious history.[10] 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,[14] Syriac text, Latin translation. An English translation by David Wilmshurst was published in 2016.[15]

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.[16] The work became known under the name al-Mukhtaṣar fi-l-Duwal.[17] This was first published by Edward Pococke in 1663 with Latin comments and translation.[18] A modern edition was first published by Fr. Anton Salhani in 1890.[19]


In theology Bar Hebræus was a Miaphysite.[20] 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.[21]

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.


Linguistic works of Gregory Bar Hebraeus resulted from his studies of Syriac language and Syriac literature.[22] He wrote two major grammatical works. First is the "Book of grammar in the meter of Mor Ephrem", also known as the "Metrical Grammar",[23][24] written in verses with commentaries, and extant in some 140 copies from various periods.[25] In that work, he referred to his native language both as Aramaic (ārāmāytā) and Syriac (sûryāyā).[26] His other grammatical work is called the "Book of Splendours" (Ktābā d-ṣemḥe). Both were edited by Paulin Martin in 1872.[27][28]

Other works

Beside previously mentioned, Bar Hebræus has left many other works on mathematics, astronomy, cosmography, medicine and philosophy, some of which have been published, but others exist only in manuscripts. The more important of them are:

A full list of Bar Hebraeus's other works, and of editions of such of them as have been published, can be found in several scholarly works.[8]


He is regarded as a saint by the Syriac Orthodox Church, who hold his feast day on July 30.[30]


  1. ^ a b Teule 2012, p. 588-609.
  2. ^ a b Takahashi 2011, p. 54-56.
  3. ^ Wright 1894, p. 265–281.
  4. ^ a b Budge 1932a, p. XV.
  5. ^ Budge 1932a, p. XVI.
  6. ^ a b Budge 1932a, p. XVII.
  7. ^ Teule 2012, p. 589.
  8. ^ a b c Takahashi 2005.
  9. ^ Todt 1988, p. 60–80.
  10. ^ a b Conrad 1994, p. 319-378.
  11. ^ Bedjan 1890.
  12. ^ Budge 1932a.
  13. ^ Budge 1932b.
  14. ^ 3 vols., Louvain, 1872–77.
  15. ^ Wilmshurst 2016.
  16. ^ Conrad 1994, p. 328-341.
  17. ^ Conrad 1994, p. 324-325.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Gregorius abu-l-Faraj b. Harun (1890). Sahlani, Anton (ed.). Tārīkh mukhtaṣar al-duwal. Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  20. ^ Teule 1999, p. 20-22.
  21. ^ Bar Hebraeus. Book of the Dove. Chapter IV.
  22. ^ Bohas 2008, p. 145-158.
  23. ^ Farina 2016, p. 345-360.
  24. ^ Farina 2017, p. 157–170.
  25. ^ Takahashi 2005, p. 359-372.
  26. ^ Farina 2015, p. 111.
  27. ^ Martin 1872a.
  28. ^ Martin 1872b.
  29. ^ Takahashi, Hidemi; Yaguchi, Naohide (2017-01-01). "On the Medical Works of Barhebraeus: With a Description of the Abridgement of Ḥunain's Medical Questions". Aramaic Studies. 15 (2): 252–276. doi:10.1163/17455227-01501005. ISSN 1745-5227.
  30. ^ Holweck, F. G., A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.