Timothy I, Dialogue with the Caliph al-Mahdi

In 781 AD the East Syriac Catholicos, Timothy I, was invited by the Abbassid Caliph al-Mahdi to answer a series of questions about Christianity over two days.  The discussion took place at Baghdad, while the Caliph’s son, Harun al-Raschid, was conducting a campaign against the Byzantines. 

The questions and his replies are extant in Syriac.  I’ve placed the English translation by Alphonse Mingana online here:


Introduction here:


Timothy I was an interesting man, heavily involved in the Nestorian evangelism which ultimately reached China.  He also was involved in biblical textual criticism, and his letters record the discovery of some old manuscripts of the Psalms in the region of the Dead Sea; a possible precursor of the modern Dead Sea Scrolls discovery.

The text above is public domain: please copy freely.  It now forms part of my collection of public domain patristic texts available here:


For those who would like to support the work of the site, you can buy a CDROM of the translations from here:


All the best,

Roger Pearse


7 thoughts on “Timothy I, Dialogue with the Caliph al-Mahdi

  1. Hello Roger,
    thanks for posting these links. I have just been reading ‘The Lost History of Christianity’ by Philip Jenkins, and he made reference to the importance of Timothy. In particular, the discussion of Timothy with caliph al-Mahdi.

    I am quite interested in the spread of the Nestorian churches into China. So, thanks for this. Kind regards,

  2. Thanks for the note. Glad to help with Timothy. What I wish is that his correspondence existed in English (only about half does) and that it was online (none is).

    Jenkins book is one I bought, but I didn’t like. Hope you were more successful!

  3. I also first encountered Timothy through Philip Jenkins book…I wish he wrote it differently but I’m glad he gave me the names to look up!

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