BAR HEBRAEUS (Ibn al-‘Ibri)

An Orthodox Syrian, born at Malatiyyah in 1226. His full name was Abu al-Faraj Jamal al- ibn Taj al-Din Harun ibn Tuma al-Malati. He came from a family of Christian (not Jewish, as has sometimes been maintained) origin. He studied medicine and philosophy with his father, and then emigrated to Antioch in 1243 after the Mongol invasion. In 1244 he became a monk, and under the name of Gregorius was consecrated bishop of Gubos on 12 September, 1246, and then bishop of Aleppo in 1252. In 1264, he became maphrian (consecrator) of Cilicia at Sis (and hence head of the Eastern Jacobites). He made his home in Mosul, but often journeyed to Tabriz and Maraghah, capital of the Mongol forces, where he died on 30 July 1286. The greatest thinker of the Syrian church in the Middle Ages, he composed works in Syriac concerning nearly every religious topic.

He is known in Arabic for his Mukhtasar Tarikh al-Duwal (Short of the World), which was published in Oxford in 1663 by E. Pococke with a Latin translation; it was reedited and translated many times thereafter. This history, a resume of his great chronicle written in Syriac, was composed at the request of Muslim scholars in one month’s time in 1285, shortly before his death. It is divided into ten great ages, beginning with the creation of the world, ending with the of the Mongol Ilchan Arghun (1285), and covering the Medes, Greeks, Franks, Byzantines, and Arabs.

None of Ibn al-‘Ibri’s works was mentioned by any Copt in the Middle Ages, not even Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar, probably because Ibn al-‘Ibri came too late in relation to the Coptic Golden Age. However, a detailed research into the catalogs of Arabic manuscripts shows that he was already known to the Copts of the fourteenth century. In fact, a manuscript in the National Library, Paris (Arabe 296), which contains the of the Dynasties, was copied by an anonymous Copt in the fourteenth century, and the same may be said of a manuscript in the Laurenziana, Florence (Oriental 93). Later, in 1693, Yusuf ibn `Atiyyah, known by the name of Quzman, copied this same text (National Library, Paris, Arabe 299).

At the end of the seventeenth century, an anonymous Copt also made a copy of this text for the Orientalist Fourmont; a fragment of this copy survives (Paris, Arabe 809). At the end of the eighteenth century, still another copy was made in Egypt by Mikha‘il al- Sabbagh (Munich, Arabic 377). Among the thirty-five manuscripts of this thus far identified some probably originated in Cairo, but information about this is lacking in the catalogs.

Bar Hebraeus’ work, Manarat al-Aqdas (Lamp of the Sanctuary), seems to have been unknown to the Copts before the eighteenth century. However, it is attested in two manuscripts at the Coptic Patriarchate in Cairo: (1) the Theology 337 (Simaykah, no. 434), copied in 1799 by both the priest Jirjis al-Isnawi and by Ibrahim Abu Tabl ibn Sim‘an al-Khawanki; and (2) the Theology 323, copied by the latter in 1813.

  • Baumstark, A. der syrischen Literatur mit Anschluss der christlich-palästinensischen Texte, pp. 312-20. Bonn, 1922.
  • Kawerau, P. Das Christentum des Ostens, pp. 63-82. Cologne and Mainz, 1972.
  • Nau, F. “Bar Hébraeus, Grégoire Abulfarage.” In Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Vol. 2, cols. 401-406. Paris, 1932.
  • Ortiz de Urbino, I. Patrologia syriaca, pp. 207ff. Rome, 1958. Segal, J. B. “Ibn al-‘Ibrî.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 3, pp. 804-805. New edition, Leiden, 1971.