Timothy I[1] (c. 740[2] – 9 January 823) was the Patriarch of the Church of the East from 780 to 823 and one of its most influential patriarchs. He was also an author, church leader, diplomat, and administrator. During his reign he reformed the metropolitan administration of the Church of the East, granting greater independence to the metropolitan bishops of the mission field (the 'exterior' provinces) but excluding them from participation in patriarchal elections. These reforms laid the foundations for the later success of Church of the East missions in Central Asia.

Early life and succession to the patriarchate

Timothy was a native of Ḥazza in Adiabene,[3] part of the wider region of Assyria (Athor).[4] As a young man, he studied under Abraham Bar Dashandad at the school of Bashishoʿ in Sapsapa, in the ʿAqra district. He later became bishop of the diocese of Beth Bgash, in the metropolitan province of Adiabene, winning the respect of Abu Musa ibn Musʿab, the Moslem governor of Mosul, and his Christian secretary Abu Nuh al-Anbari. On the death of the patriarch Hnanishoʿ II in 778, Timothy used a judicious mixture of bribery[citation needed], deceit[citation needed] and (probably) murder[citation needed] to secure his own election as patriarch. One rival for the post was the elderly Ishoʿyahb, the superior of the monastery of Beth ʿAbe, and Timothy first frightened[citation needed] him by advising him that he might not be fit enough to survive the intrigues of high office, but honored him by offering him the position of metropolitan of Adiabene. A second potential rival, Giwargis, was nominated at a synod convened by the bishop Thomas of Kashkar in the monastery of Mar Pethion in Baghdad. Giwargis enjoyed the support of the caliph al-Mahdi's Christian doctor ʿIsa ibn Quraysh, and might have been a serious threat to Timothy had he not died suddenly in suspicious[citation needed] circumstances. Timothy then secured a majority in the subsequent ballot by promising to reward his supporters handsomely. After he was elected, he did nothing of the sort. Those who complained were told, 'The priesthood is not sold for money.'[5]

These tactics were not forgotten by his opponents, and an opposition party led by the metropolitan Joseph of Merv held a synod in the monastery of Beth Hale, in which they excommunicated Timothy and replaced Ishoʿyahb as metropolitan of Adiabene by Rustam, bishop of Hnitha. Timothy retorted with the same weapon and deposed Joseph of Merv, who, failing to find redress from the caliph al-Mahdi, converted to Islam. Further rounds of excommunications led to rioting in the streets of Baghdad by the city's Christians. The opposition to Timothy was finally stilled by the intervention of ʿIsa ibn Quraysh.[6]

Literary achievement

Timothy was a respected writer of scientific, theological, liturgical, and canonical books. Some 59 of his letters survive, covering roughly the first half of his patriarchate. The letters discuss varied biblical and theological questions as well as revealing much about the situation of the church in his day. One letter records him ordaining bishops for the Turks of Central Asia, for Tibet, for Shiharzur, Radan, Ray, Iran, Gurgan, Balad, and several other places. The letters also show a wide familiarity with literature from across the ancient Christian world. Because he moved to Baghdad after his election as patriarch, he was familiar with the Abbasid court and assisted in the translation of works by Aristotle and others.

One of Timothy's most famous literary productions was the record of an inconclusive debate on the rival claims of Christianity and Islam, supposedly held in 782 with the third Abbasid caliph Al-Mahdi (reigned 775–85). The debate, which some[who?] argue was a literary fiction, offers a somewhat unorganized back-and-forth that lends credence to the argument that the debate took place and was recorded by Timothy himself.[7] It was published first in Syriac and later in Arabic. In its surviving form, in Syriac, it is noticeably respectful towards Islam, and may well have been written for the enjoyment of both Christian and Muslim readers. The debate was translated into English in 1928 by Alphonse Mingana, under the title 'Timothy's Apology for Christianity'. Its theme is of perennial interest, and it can still be read today both for pleasure and profit.[8]

Timothy's legal work is twofold. He probably compiled the Synodicon Orientale (a collection of the synods of the Church of the East) between 775 and 790.[9] He also wrote a lawbook entitled “Ṭaksē d-dēne ʿtānāye wad-yārtāwaṯā” (ܛܟܣܹ̈ܐ ܕܕܝ̈ܢܹܐ ܥܹܕܬܵܢܝܹܐ ܘܕܝܪ̈ܬܿܘܵܬܵܐ) ("Orders of Ecclesiastical Judgments and Inheritances"). The lawbook of Timothy is structured as follows: introductory prologue, 99 judicial decisions and an epilogue. The lawbook's prologue presents a legal theory justifying the use and application of Christian courts and judges within the Christian dhimmi of the Abbasid empire.[10] The topics addressed by the lawbook include ecclesiastical order and hierarchy, marriage and divorce, inheritance and dowries, and slavery and property law. [11] He is only secondarily interested in the organization of ecclesiastical courts and in procedural law.[12]

Interest in missionary expansion

Timothy took a particularly keen interest in the missionary expansion of the Church of the East. He is known to have consecrated metropolitans for Damascus, for Armenia, for Dailam and Gilan, for Rai in Tabaristan, for Sarbaz in Segestan, for the Turks of Central Asia, and for China, and he also declared his intention of consecrating a metropolitan for Tibet.[13] Mar Shubhalishoʿ, metropolitan of Dailam and Gilan was martyred.[14] He also detached India from the metropolitan province of Fars and made it a separate metropolitan province.[15]

Resting place

Timothy was buried in Baghdad's Dayr al-Jathaliq ("Catholicos Monastery"), originally Dayrā Klilā Ishuʿ (Syriac: ܕܝܪܐ ܟܠܝܠܐ ܝܫܘܥ "Wreath of Yeshua/Jesus monastery"), which was a monastery of the Church of the East built on the western bank of the Tigris in the Sasanian Empire's province of Mesopotamia, Asōristān.[16]


  1. ^ Syriac: ܛܝܡܬܐܘܣ ܩܕܡܝܐ; ṭimāṯaos qadmāyā
  2. ^ The traditional date of birth is 727/728, per Thomas, David; Roggema, Barbara (2009). Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History (600–900). Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV. p. 515. ISBN 978-90-04-16975-3.
  3. ^ David D. Bundy, "Timotheos I", in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay.
  4. ^ Joel Thomas Walker, The Legend of Mar Qardagh: Narrative and Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq (University of California Press, 2006), p. 26.
  5. ^ Bar Hebraeus, Ecclesiastical Chronicle (ed Abeloos and Lamy), ii. 168–70
  6. ^ Wright, A Short History of Syriac Literature, 191–3
  7. ^ Clint Hackenburg, "An Arabic-to-English Translation of the Religious Debate between the Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I and the ‘Abbāsid Caliph al-Mahdi" (M.A. thesis, Ohio State University, 2009), 32.
  8. ^ Mingana, Alfonse. "Timothy I, Apology for Christianity (1928) pp.v-vii, 1–15". Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  9. ^ Wood, Philip (2013). The Chronicle of Seert: Christian historical imagination in late antique Iraq. Oxford University Press. pp. 221–256. ISBN 978-0-19-967067-3.
  10. ^ Toma, James. "The Prologue to Timothy’s 'Orders' as a Source for Change in East Syriac Law." Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, 2021, pp. 85-97.
  11. ^ Toma, James. "The Prologue to Timothy’s 'Orders' as a Source for Change in East Syriac Law." Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, 2021, pp. 85-97.
  12. ^ Tillier, Mathieu (2017), "Chapitre 5. La justice des non-musulmans dans le Proche-Orient islamique", L'invention du cadi : La justice des musulmans, des juifs et des chrétiens aux premiers siècles de l'Islam, Bibliothèque historique des pays d’Islam, Paris: Éditions de la Sorbonne, pp. 455–533, ISBN 979-10-351-0102-2
  13. ^ Fiey, POCN, 47 (Armenia), 72 (Damascus), 74 (Dailam and Gilan), 105 (China), 124 (Rai), 128–9 (Sarbaz), 128 (Samarqand and Beth Turkaye) and 139 (Tibet)
  14. ^ See Timothy's Letter 47.
  15. ^ Fiey, POCN, 94–6
  16. ^ "دير الجاثليق أو دير كليليشوع". kaldaya.net. Retrieved 22 August 2017.


Church of the East titles Preceded byHnanishoʿ II(773–780) Catholicos-Patriarch of the East (780–823) Succeeded byIshoʿ Bar Nun(823–828)