Ibn al-Tayyib, Commentary on the whole bible

I’ve had an email this morning asking me if I know of an English translation of a commentary on the four gospels by “ibn al-Tayyib”.  My first reaction is the same as yours — “who?”!

A look in Georg Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur vol. 2, p. 160f reveals a Nestorian writer of that name.  Graf gives his name as `Abdullah ibn a-t-Taiyib, but I suspect it is the same man.  He lived and worked in Baghdad in the 11th century, as a physician, monk and priest.  In his day, he was an important man, known to the ruler of the city.  He wrote an introduction to Porphyry’s Isagogue, and did stuff with the works of Hippocrates and Galen.  He died in October 1043, and was buried in the church of Darta.  Sic transit gloria mundi – a great man, whose life is now just a few lines in an obscure handbook.

But he also wrote a commentary on the entire bible.  Graf describes this as the most extensive commentary on scripture in Arabic Christian literature.  It is extant in two manuscripts, Vatican arab. 37 (1291 AD) and Vatican arab. 36 (13/14th century).  A few more manuscripts contain parts of the work.  Graf lists no editions and no translations into any language of this monster text.

Graf wrote 50 years ago, so it is possible that work has been done since.  I’ve posted a note in the NASCAS forum asking if anyone knows of any.  It’s nice to peer into some neglected corners of scholarship like this. 

And I must remember to ask my correspondant how he knows of such a person and his work, and why he wants to know!

UPDATE: Sergey Minov writes to tell us that we’re probably out of luck.  It’s unpublished and untranslated.  But apparently it’s really interesting!

As far as I know no original texts or translations of al-Tayyib’s exegetical works has been published so far. It is a real pity, because, for example, it would contribute to our knowledge of Antiochene exegetical tradition. Thus, there are numerous (?) extracts from Theodore of Mopsuestia and its other representatives in his commentaries.

Here is what I’ve got on modern research on him:

  • Baarda, T., To the Roots of the Syriac Diatessaron Tradition (TA 25:1-3), Novum Testamentum 26 (1986), 1-25.
  • Cacouros, M., La division des biens dans le compendium d’étique par Abû Qurra et Ibn al-Tayyib et ses rapports avec la Grande Morale et le Florilège de Stobée, in: A. Hasnawi, A. Elamrani-Jamal and M. Aouad (eds.), Perspectives arabes et médiévales sur la tradition scientifique et philosophique grecque. Actes du colloque de la SIHSPAI (Société international d’histoire des sciences et de la philosophie arabes et islamiques), Paris, 31 mars – 3 avril 1993 (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 79; Leuven: Peeters / Institut du Monde Arabe: Paris, 1997), 289-314.
  • Caspar, R., Charfi, A., De Epalza, M., Khoury, A.T., Khoury, P., and Samir, S.K., Bibliographie du dialogue islamo-chrétien, Islamochristiana 1 (1975), 125-181; 2 (1976), 187-249; 3 (1977), 257-286.
  • Chahwan, A., Le commentaire de Psaumes 33-60 d’Ibn at-Tayib reflet de l’exegese syriaque orientale (Th.D. dissertation; Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 1997).
  • Faultless, J., The Two Recensions of the Prologue to John in Ibn al-Tayyib’s Commentary on the Gospels, in: D.R. Thomas (ed.), Christians at the Heart of Islamic Rule: Church Life and Scholarship in ‘Abbasid Iraq (The History of Christian-Muslim Relations 1; Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2003), 177-198.
  • Féghali, P., Ibn At-Tayib et son commentaire sur la Genèse, Parole de l’Orient 16 (1990-91), 149-162.
  • Hill, J.H. (tr.), The Earliest Life of Christ Ever Compiled from the Four Gospels, Being the Diatessaron of Tatian (circ. A.D. 160) Literally Translated from the Arabic Version and containing the Four Gospels woven into One Story (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1903).
  • Hoenerbach, W., and Spies, O. (eds.), Ibn at-Taiyib. Fiqh an-Nasrânîya, Das Recht der Christenheit. 4 vols (CSCO 161-162, 167-168, Arab. 16-19; Louvain: L. Durbecq, 1956-1957).
  • Kaufhold, H., Die Rechtssammlung des Gabriel von Basra und ihr Verhältnis zu den anderen juristischen Sammelwerken der Nestorianer (Münchener Universitätsschriften – Juristische Fakultät, Abhandlungen zur rechtswissenschaftlichen Grundlagenforschung 21; Berlin: J. Schweitzer, 1976).
  • Köbert, R., Ibn at-Taiyib’s Erklärung von Psalm 44, Biblica 43 (1962), 338-348.
  • Langermann, Y.T., Abu al-Faraj ibn al-Tayyib on Spirit and Soul, Le Muséon 122:1-2 (2009), 149-158.
  • Macomber, W.F., Newly Discovered Fragments of the Gospel Commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Le Muséon 81 (1968), 441-447.
  • Rosenthal, F., The Symbolism of the Tabula Cebetis according to Abû l-Faraj Ibn at-Tayyib, in: Recherches d’islamologie. Recueil d’articles offert à Georges C. Anawati et Louis Gardet par leurs collègues et amis (Bibliothèque philosophique de Louvain 26; Louvain: Peeters, 1977), 273-283.
  • Samir, S.K., Nécessité de la science: texte de ‘Abdallâh Ibn at-Tayyib (m. 1043), Parole de l’Orient 3 (1972), 241-259.
  • ———. Nécessité de l’exégèse scientifique. Texte de ‘Abdallâh Ibn at-Tayyib, Parole de l’Orient 5 (1974), 243-279.
  • ———. Le repentir et la pénitence chez ‘Abdallâh Ibn at-Tayyib (début du XIe siècle), in: Péché et Réconciliation hier et aujoud’hui (Patrimoine Syriaque, Actes du Colloque IV; Antélias, Liban: Centre d’Études et de Recherches Orientales, 1997), 176-204.
  • ———. Rôle des chrétiens dans la nahda abbasside en Irak et en Syrie (750-1050), Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph 58 (2005), 541-572.
  • ———. La place d’Ibn-at-Tayyib dans la pensée arabe, Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 58:3-4 (2006), 177-193.
  • Sepmeijer, F., Ibn al-Tayyib’s Commentary on Matthew 1-9:32-34, Parole de l’Orient 25 (2000), 557-564.
  • Stern, S.M., Ibn al-Tayyib’s Commentary on the Isagoge, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 19:3 (1957), 419-425.
  • Troupeau, G., Le Traité sur l’Unité et la Trinité de ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Tayyib, Parole de l’Orient 2 (1971), 71-89.
  • ———. Le rôle des syriaques dans la transmission et l’exploitation du patrimoine philosophique et scientifique grec, Arabica 38:1 (1991), 1-10.
  • Zonta, M., Ibn al-Tayyib Zoologist and Hunayn ibn Ishaq’s Revision of Aristotle’s De Animalibus – New Evidence from the Hebrew Tradition, ARAM 3 (1991 [1993]), 235-247.

There was one final bibliographic item which wasn’t in Roman letters and wouldn’t paste!

UPDATE 2: I’ve written back to my correspondant, telling him this and suggesting he commission a translation and transcription.  At 10c per word of Arabic, it would probably only cost $2-3,000.  That’s nothing for an institution.  I’ve also suggested that, if he does, he put it online as public domain!

If only I had more money!  There is so much I could do.  In the mean time I rely on sales of my CD to help fund it all.

UPDATE 3: I was looking at that bibliography above, and noticed the reference to Hamlyn Hill’s 1903 translation of the Diatessaron from Arabic.   This has to be online, so I went and looked at it.  It turns out that ibn al-Tayyib translated the Diatessaron into Arabic!  His name appears in the colophon:

THE Gospel is concluded, which Tatian compiled out of the four Gospels of the four holy apostles the blessed evangelists, on whom be peace, and which he named Diatessaron, that is, That which is composed of four. The excellent and learned presbyter, Abu-l-Faraj Abdullah Ibn-at-Tayyib, with whom may God be pleased, translated it from Syriac into Arabic, from a copy written by the hand of Gubasi ibn Alt Al-mutayyib, a disciple of Hunain ibn Ishak, on both of whom may God have mercy. Amen.

Hill adds:

Akerblad pointed out that MS. XIV. was evidently a translation from Syriac, as the Arabic of it was full of Syriac idioms. The Borgian MS., on the other hand, is expressly stated, in a notice prefixed to the text, and also in another notice at the conclusion of it, to have been translated from Syriac into Arabic by Abu-1-Faraj Abdullah Ibn-at-Tib. Ciasca, in his Preface, has collected several allusions to this Abdulla Ben-attib, as he is called, from which it appears that he was a celebrated Nestorian monk, born in Assyria, and was the author of several books. He died A.D. 1043, so that  we may conclude that he translated the Diatessaron from Syriac into Arabic early in the eleventh century. The use of the Arabic language was made compulsory in Syria : it is not surprising, therefore, that the two MSS., which now survive, of a Syriac work once used by the Syrian Churches, should both be in Arabic.

[CIASCA, . . Tatiani Evangeliorum Harmoniae,  Arabice, etc., Rome, 1888. ]

UPDATE 3.  Of course I suppose one reason why someone would come to me about this man is that I commissioned and placed online here a translation of one of his works…  I had completely forgotten, I admit; only a google search revealed it.  Ahem.

A book Arabic logic: Ibn al-Tayyib on Porphyry’s “Eisagoge” by Kwame Gyeke (1979) seems to be readily available from online booksellers.  244 pages, and in English.  I wish it was online freely!

It looks as if ibn al-Tayyib commented on Aristotle’s Organon as well.  He was also interested in zoology and botany, according to the snippets I have found.  It is a pity that the articles above are inaccessible to me!

From this link I get this:

Ibn al-Tayyib (Arabic Christian scholar, Baghdad, d. 1043): “The curse of Noah affected the posterity of Canaan who were killed by Joshua son of Nun. At the moment of the curse, Canaan’s body became black and the blackness spread out among them.”

This is referenced:

Joannes C. J. Sanders, Commentaire sur la Genèse, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 274-275, Scriptores Arabici 24-25 (Louvain, 1967), 1:56 (text), 2:52-55 (translation).

I wonder if this is a translation of part of the commentary on Genesis?  It certainly looks like it!  The proper title is “Commentaire sur la Genèse / Ibn aṭ-Ṭaiyib”.  A German version of his commentary on the Categories of Aristotle also seems to exist.  A version of Proclus’ commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses does exist in English, translated by J. Linley (1984).

UPDATE: Some more bibliography from Aaron M. Butts in NASCAS, which I had overlooked:

“The following bibliography can be added to that provided by Sergey:

  • T. Baarda, ‘The Author of the Arabic Diatessaron’, in
    Miscellanea Neotestamentica, ed. T. Baarda, A. F. J. Klijn, W.C. van Unnik, vol. 1 (1978), 61-103. (reprinted in T. Baarda, Early Transmission of Words of Jesus [1983], 207-249)
  • C. Ferrari, Die Kategorienkommentar von Abu l-Farag ‘Abdallah ibn at-Tayyib. Text und Untersuchungen (2006).
  • K. Gyekye, Ibn al-Tayyib’sCommentary on Porphyry’s Eisagoge. Arabic text edited with introduction and a glossary of Greek-Arabic logical terms (1975).
  • idem, Arabic Logic. Ibn al-Tayyib’s Commentary on Porphyry’s Eisagoge (1979).
  • M. Kellermann, Ein pseudoaristotelischer Traktat über die Tugend (Ph.D. diss., Friedrich-Alexander-Universität; 1965).
  • ‘Ali Husayn al-Jabiri et al., al-Sharh al-kabir li-maqulat Aristu (2002).
  • Y. Manquriyus, Tafsir al-mashriqi (1908-10).
  • Y. Manquriyus and H. Jirjis, al-Rawd al-nadir fi tafsir al-mazamir (1902).
  • J. C. J. Sanders, Commentaire sur la Genèse (CSCO 274-275; 1967).
  • J. C. J. Sanders, Inleiding op het Genesiskommentaar van de Nestoriaan Ibn at-Taiyib (1963).
  • P. P. Sbath, Vingt traités philosophiques et apologétiques d’auteurs arabes chrétiens du IXe au XIXe siècles (1929), 179-180.
  • G. Troupeau, ‘Le traité sur l’union de ‘Abd Allāh Ibn at-Tayyib’, ParOr 8 (1977-8), 141-150.
  • idem, ‘Le traité sur les hypostases et la substance de ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Tayyib’, Orientalia Hispanica, ed. J. M. Barral (1974), 640-644.
  • H. Z. Ülken, Ibn Sina Risâleleri (1953), vol. 1, 57-65.
  • J. Vernet, ‘Ibn al-Tayyib’, EI2, vol. 3, 955.

It should be noted that Sanders has provided an edition (with FT) of Ibn al-Tayyib’s commentary on Genesis.”

John Lamoreaux was “currently transcribing the Arabic of the CSCO edition” (of Sanders version of Genesis).

Please also refer to the comments for extensive additional bibliography.


74 thoughts on “Ibn al-Tayyib, Commentary on the whole bible

  1. Ditto Paul Quesenbery. I was reading “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes” by Bailey and was trying to find some information on this Ibn al-Tayyib. Glad to hear that al-Tayyib’s work is being translated!!!

  2. Thank you for this helpful information. I am a new Ph.D. student at Oxford Center for Mission Studies. I am contemplating working on Ibn al-Tayyib and his explication of Biblical texts in an Islamic context for my thesis. I will get in touch with Ken Bailey to see what translations have been completed. If there is any new information to update this string, I would be grateful to know the current status of Ibn al-Tayyib translations and where those may be found. I an an Arabic speaker so I would like to contribute to the translation of Ibn-Tayyib.
    I am in Oxford, UK until April 13, 2012, then in the US and Beirut, Lebanon. Thank-you again.

  3. I am researching the origins of Christianity in Pakistan. I came across a reference to Canons of Ibn at-Tayyib, (Minaga, BJRL. reprint) Do you know where I can locate this document? It is listed in the bibligraphy of Young’s Handbook for Source Materials for Students of Church History

  4. Can you give the reference verbatim? (I presume “Minaga” is a typo for “Mingana” — presumably the Mingana collection in Birmingham? –, and BJRL is the “Bulletin of the John Rylands Library”, so possibly you have part of the answer already!) I haven’t got my copy of Graf here, you see, so can’t look it up.

  5. A google search reveals that he wrote a compendium of canon law (“Fiqh an-naṣrānīya”) which seems to have been published in 1956-7 in four volumes, in the “Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium” series 161-2 and 167-8 (=Scriptores Arabici 16-17 and 18-19). The German translation is 162 and 168.

  6. Thank you, I wondered what BJRL meant. Yes it was a typo re Mingana, sorry.The entire reference is “Canons of Ibn at-Tayyib, folio 198b (Mingana, B.J.R.L. 9, reprint pp. 74-5)”, it refers to the Patriarch creating metropolitans wherever he wanted to safeguard the purity of the faith and mentions the creation of the metropolitans of India and China under Ishu’-Yab…but it is not clear which one, Young disagrees with Mingana’s suggestion that is was Ishu’-Yab II as he thinks that this would have been too early.
    Does anyone have any comment on this?

  7. I am doing some research on people who are both clergy and physicians. If anyone knows where I can get more biographical information on al-Taiyib, I’d be very grateful.

  8. thank you so much for the bibliography, as well as links to Graf.
    Al-Tayyib’s (Graf calls his at-Tayyib because in Arabic, the ‘l’ in ‘al’ is silent before a ‘t’, and the ‘t’ is then doubled) Bible commentary is of interest to me (the Vatican has yet to digitize the 2 volume work – Vat ar.36-37 – hopefully soon…)
    As al-Tayyib worked in Baghdad in the first quarter of the 11th century as well, and was secretary to Yohannes b. Nazuk (VI?) his work is of considerable import to me.

    Thanks again for the information,

  9. You’re welcome. It will be good to have manuscripts online; perhapd then someone will prepare an electronic text and post it.

  10. I just saw the following bibliographic cite this weekend:
    P. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 2nd Edition, Oxford 1959, pp. 309-312 (referenced in his preface, p. ix)


  11. I also had recently read “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes” by Bailey and was trying to find information or books written by Ibn al-Tayyib. I haven’t found any yet from my search. Do you know if any of his works been translated?

  12. Hello Roger, I understand that it has been many years so you may have moved on. I am an Arabic-English translator and I am looking into translating the El-Mashriqi’s commentary on the Gospels into English. Do you know if it’s already done?

    Thank you,
    Bishoy Habib

  13. Hello Bishoy,

    As far as I know al-Tayyib, Tafsir al-Mashriqi [Commentary on the Gospels] has not been translated into English, or any other “language of scholarship”. But I have not kept current on this. Do any other contributors to this thread know?

    It would certainly be very nice to have an English translation, even if it was only of part of the work.

    Interestingly I find the text of a publication of the Arabic text of the work online here:



    I read online that Father Ayoub CHAHWAN of the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik-Lebanon has been publishing many articles on ibn al-Tayyib. I think all publications of Chahwan were in French.

  14. Hello Roger,

    I am sorry for a very late response. I didn’t realize that you replied to your massage. I had found the archive copy but realized that this edition has been altered by the Coptic church. The Vatican library doesn’t have the manuscript but it has the manuscript for the commentary of genesis. Here’s an easier version with French comments. https://archive.org/details/commentairesurla0000abal/page/n23/mode/2up
    I find the Gospel commentaries more appealing so I will keep looking for the manuscripts.


  15. Hello Roger,

    I am here in your site because I am reading Bailey’s Jesus Through the Middle Eastern Eyes since last year and I kept seeing Ibn Al Tayyib’s name in the bibliography. Thank you for all the updates that you have done.

    I am a Filipino and most of the Christian resources we get are from the West but very thankful for Kenneth Bailey’s emphasis on Eastern CHristians and their works. Tayyib is just of them. They may be the ‘forgottem faithful’but surely their works cannot be missed by 21st century Christians like us. The Body of CHrist is incomplete without the Middle-Eastern CHristians and I hope their works will be more available to us. After all, our Lord came from the Middle East. It would be an enlightening time for us to study the thoughts of Middle -Eastern scholars like him.

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