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  It’s unpublished and untranslated.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. Thank you. I never know how much this stuff interests others, but it’s stuff we could all do with knowing more about; if only where to find the stuff when we need it.

  2. I was about to write to tell you about the Diatessaron connection. That guarantees the Commentary would be chocked full of interesting tid bits. Why not go back to my idea of taking donations from all your readers? Seriously you said it would be several thousand dollars. Why not take a hundred dollars from 30 or 40 people. I’d trust you and I’m sure other regular readers of this post would too. In the end it goes on line so there are no questions about rights or legal issues.

  3. Hello,

    I would be really interrested to participate even in a small amount to the publication of those work in public domain.
    Did you already start a project for this publication ?

  4. Thanks for your note. But I didn’t do anything about it, because I don’t have the money and already have several other projects on the go. I never did hear back from the person who wrote to me.

  5. I got interested in Ibn al-Tayyib through reading an excellent text by Kenneth Bailey, “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes”. I am studying/teaching a class on the parables and this text by Bailey is by far the best text I have read on the cultural significance of the parables. He often mentions the commentary of al-Tayyib in the book so I was wondering if the whole commentary was available in English. Bailey is a scholar in Middle Eastern studies so he probaly reads Arabic. Do you know of any of the commentaries are available in English?

  6. I came across this website by accident while working on some entries on Ibn al-Tayyb for the second volume of Brill’s ‘Christian-Muslim Relations. a Bibliographical History’. My (unpublished) thesis at Oxford (supervised by Sebastian Brock) was an edition, translation and study of the Prologue to John in Ibn al-Tayyib’s ‘Commentary on the Gospels’. So, yes, there is a translation (although unpublished) available of this part of the commentary. I’ve got microfilms of three mss of the Gospel commentary. Of course, I could write all day about Ibn al-Tayyib but I’ve got to get on with the encyclopedia articles! Sanders book, by the way, is an edition and French translation of the section of the commentary on the whole Bible (the Gospel commentary was written earlier and then included in the complete commentary).

  7. What a delight to discover this conversation. I was going to share the information that Mr. Quesenberry shared. Apart from the discussion regarding Ibn al-Tayyib, the book, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” is indeed a marvelous and helpful discussion of the cultural context of Jesus and the Gospel writers. Bailey’s references to Ibn al-Tayyib are what prompted me to Google his name. I also discovered that there is another man by the same name, at least the Ibn al-Tayyib portion, who lived in the 13th century, and was also described as a physician, monk and priest. Thanks for all your contributions to this discussion. VERY INTERESTING!

  8. Gosh, how very, very interesting!

    Julian: what plans do you have for your dissertation? Is there any chance that it could appear on the web, say in PDF? Maybe perhaps through http://www.ethos.ac.uk? It would be nice to have that available!

    What can you tell us about Ibn al-Tayyib? Anything would be of interest. Do you feel any urge to translate more?

    Carl: who is this second man of the same name? tell us more!

  9. The most striking thing about Ibn al-Tayyib is that he was an enormously prolific writer. Despite being a priest (he wasn’t a monk, by the way) and a practising medic, and apart from the commentary on the whole of the Bible, including above all (possibly in abbreviated form) his fairly detailed commentaries on the Psalms and the Gospels, he wrote commentaries on most of the works of Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen known in Arabic at the time!

    He is said to have been the last ‘head’ of the so-called Baghdad school of Aristotelian philosophy but I think some modern scholars question to what extent the school existed as such.

    Incidentally, but fascinatingly, he states in the introduction to the commentary on the Gospels that he is writing the Commentary to preserve the Syriac heritage at a time when the language is dying out in Iraq.

    Unfortunately, the section of the Gospel commentary on the Prologue to John, which I studied in detail, showed that the work is not a good source for reconstructing Theodore of Mopsuestia’s lost commentary on John, despite what some scholars hoped.

    I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my thesis but first of all I need to get it in a state where it can easily be distributed electronically. I wrote it nearly 10 years ago in an old version of Nisus and I’ve only just got round to dealing with various technical issues (Arabic fonts, diacritics etc). So it’s not in a publishable form yet but I’m working on it.

    This ‘string’ by the way has alerted me to some new work on Ibn al-Tayyib which I wasn’t aware of. As I’m in the middle of preparing material for the encyclopaedia I mentioned earlier, this has been very useful. So thanks for that. I’m really ‘snowed under’ at the moment but I might be able to contribute more here in a few weeks. There are, incidentally, quite a few articles by Troupeau consisting of editions and French translations of theological works (mainly dealing with the Trinity) missing from the bibliography above. 5 of these were collected in a Variorum book called Études sur le christianisme arabe au Moyen age (Aldershot, 1995).

    The importance of the Trinity for Arab Christians of the time is possibly to defend their faith against charges of polytheism by Muslims. The concept of three in one (which is not explained in the Bible, of course) is hard for any Christian to explain convincingly to a non-Christian. I know one highly intelligent theologian heavily involved in inter-faith dialogue with Muslims who basically gave up trying!

    I’m happy for your interest in Ibn al-Tayyib. I spent the best part of 6 years studying him!

  10. Thank you so much for this! Any more details on the works by Tropaeu would be nice!

    One thought on the thesis; there’s no reason to go a whole load of trouble about it, although it makes it easier to search from Google. Just scan the page images from the version you printed off and create a PDF of those. That’s what they do at Lausanne university. The next stage, admittedly, is to do what you are doing, but even phase 1 is useful.

  11. The first section of Ibn al-Ṭayyib’s interesting introduction to his Gospel commentary was ed. and trans. by Samir and published in two parts:

    Ibn al-Ṭayyib, ed. and trans. S.Kh.Samir, ‘Nécessité de la Science, Texte de ‘Abdallāh ibn aṭ-Ṭayyib’ in Parole de l’Orient, vol.3, no.2 (1972), pp.241-259.

    Ibn al-Ṭayyib, ed. and trans. S.Kh.Samir, ‘Nécessité de l’Exégèse Scientifique, Texte de ‘Abdallāh Ibn aṭ-Ṭayyib’ in Parole de l’Orient, vol.5, no.2 (1974), pp.243-279.

    The five articles below were reprinted in G.Troupeau, Études sur le christianisme arabe au Moyen Age, Variorum (Aldershot, 1995).

    Ibn al-Ṭayyib, ed. and trans. G.Troupeau, ‘Le Traité sur l’Unité et la Trinité de ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Ṭayyib’ in Parole de l’Orient, vol. 2, no. 1 (1971), pp.71-89.

    Ibn al-Ṭayyib, ed. and trans. G.Troupeau, ‘Le Traité sur la Trinité et l’Unité de ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Ṭayyib’ in Bulletin d’Études Orientales, 25 (Damascus, 1972), pp.105-123.

    Ibn al-Ṭayyib, ed. and trans. G.Troupeau, ‘Le Traité sur les Hypostases et la Substance de ‘Abd Allāh Ibn al-Ṭayyib’ in Mélanges dédiés à F.M.Pereija, Orientalia Hispanica 1 (Leiden, 1974), pp.640-644.

    Ibn al-Ṭayyib, trans. G.Troupeau, ‘Traité sur la science et le miracle et fragments du Traité sur les fondements de la religion de ‘Abd Allāh Ibn al-Tayyib’ in Mélanges offerts à Edmond-René Labande, Études de civilisations médiévales (Poitiers, 1974), pp.675-679.

    Ibn al-Ṭayyib, ed. and trans. G.Troupeau, ‘Le Traité sur l’Union de ‘Abd Allah Ibn al-Tayyib’ in Parole de l’Orient 8 (1977-78), pp.141-150.

  12. Thank you VERY much indeed for these details! The translations, albeit into French, are very important because most people have no Arabic. I had no idea that some of his works were effectively accessible in a western.

    What sort of size is the commentary on the whole bible, do you know?

  13. The commentary is only preserved in two manuscripts, both in the Vatican (I’m not clear yet what the relationship between the two is). I haven’t found a good list of contents (with numbers of folios for each section) yet but I might come across one in the work I’m doing now. Possibly there’s something like this in the introduction to Sanders’ edition and French translation of the section on Genesis. What is not quite clear is whether Ibn al-Tayyib shortened the commentaries on the Psalms and Gospels when he included them in the full commentary. In Ibn Tayyib’s own introduction to the full commentary there is a phrase which suggests that he did.

    A few more things:

    When I last posted, it was late at night and it’s a long time since I wrote my thesis but it’s Theodore’s commentaries on the Synoptics which are lost, not the one on John, which is preserved in a Syriac translation (which is one of the reasons I chose a section of John for my work). Tut tut that you didn’t pick up this. Maybe you were just being polite!

    Possibly the most important thing to bear in mind about the Gospel commentary is that there are two recensions – the original Eastern (Nestorian) and a later Coptic revision turning it very neatly into a Monophosite/Miaphysite text. This is the version which was widely copied in Ethiopia and which had a long-lasting influence on the tremendously rich tradition of Biblical commentary there. There is no ‘scientific’ edition yet (the old Egyptian edition is hopeless and adds material by the editors put in without notification) and so the first thing to do is to get a good edition, preferably using both recensions (we need this eventually anyway).

    Last and least, believe it or not, I don’t have my own hard copy of the corrected version of my thesis and I’m not even very happy with the corrected version in the library at Oxford. Some time before the Autumn I will have a version with nice diacritics etc., which I’ll be more happy to be out in public.

    Bye for now. Oxford is experiencing exceptionally heavy snowfall. It’s very pretty but pretty hard to get around.

  14. Thank you for these interesting notes. Hey, you can slip stuff about Theodore of Mop. past me fairly easily; I haven’t read up on his commentaries lately! I don’t recall his commentary on John; does a translation exist?

    Do you recall the shelfmarks of the Vatican mss of the commentary on the whole bible? Yes, these long works NEED the lists of contents with folios, don’t they, before you can do much with them. I hope to get back to al-Makin’s history in just this way someday.

    I was most interested in what you said about an edition. Do you know if anyone is liable to create a decent critical text of this? How bad is the Egyptian text?

    Please do create a proper version of the thesis and get it where people can see it. In Arabic Christian studies, stuff seems to just vanish, such is the obscurity of the subject. Ibn al-Tayyib is NOT obscure, or should not be, and something like your thesis should do much to raise his profile.

    Heavy snow here too. I’ve been forced to sit at home since yesterday lunchtime. Still, it means I can catch up!

  15. The Egytpian text for the Gospel Commentary is really hopeless. It includes whole paragraphs inserted by the ‘editors’ which have nothing to do with Ibn al-T. Any translation has to be done from a critical edition. I’ve not heard about anyone working on this (but I’ve stopped going to conferences and have little contact now with people in the field).

    Apart from NASCAS keep an eye on Samir’s CEDRAC and GRAC websites for what’s happening in the field.

    In my notes it says that the best description of the complete commentary on the Bible is here (I’ll be checking this out tomorrow, weather permitting):
    Féghali, P., Ibn At-Tayib et son commentaire sur la Genèse, Parole de l’Orient 16 (1990-91), 149-162.

    The mss of the complete Commentary are Vatican ar. 36 (13th/14th C) and 37 (1291).

    From the title, it looks like this is a Latin translation:
    Theodore of Mopsuestia, ed. and trans. I.-M.Vosté, Theodori Mopsuesteni commentarius in evangelium Iohannis Apostoli, CSCO 115, 116 (Louvain, 1940).

    Finally, the most thoroughly researched book so far on Ibn al-Tayyib is this recent edition, trans. and extensive study by a German woman on his commentary on Aristotle’s Categories (but there’s also lots of general info. on Ibn al-Tayyib including an extensive work list – and it is extensive!):
    C. Ferrari, Der Kategorienkommentar von Abū l-Faraǧ ‘Abdallāh Ibn aṭ-Ṭayyib, Arisoteles Semitico-Latinus 19 (Leiden, 2006).

  16. These notes are all extremely useful – thank you! I think most of us wouldn’t have known that the Ferrari book contained a list of Ibn al-Tayyib’s books!

    Do you have copies of the Vatican mss in PDF form? You mentioned “three mss” – what is the other one?

  17. I first encountered reference to al-Tayyib via Kenneth Bailey’s work too. The bibliography from Bailey’s Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes mentions Arabic editions published in the early 20th century. I don’t know whether those will be of scholarly use, or whether they would be easier or harder to get hold of than digital images of the original manuscripts in the Vatican’s holdings. But this is a work I’m very interested in seeing translated, not least because it was the source of many of Bailey’s helpful insights.

  18. I’m sorry, I wasn’t very clear. The Arabic editions mentioned by Bailey must be these:

    Y. Manquriyus, Tafsir al-mashriqi (1908-10).
    This is Ibn al-Tayyib’s commentary on the Gospels.

    Y. Manquriyus and H. Jirjis, al-Rawd al-nadir fi tafsir al-mazamir (1902).
    This is Ibn al-Tayyib’s commentary on the Psalms.

    The edition by Manqariyus (the ‘Egyptian text’ I refer to above) for the Gospel Commentary is really hopeless. It includes whole paragraphs inserted by the ‘editor’ which have nothing to do with Ibn al-Tayyib. I haven’t seen a copy of the Psalm commentary. These books are extremely rare by the way.

    Also, as I said before, we must remember that this work exists in two different versions: the original Eastern (‘Nestorian’) and the Coptic (Miaphysite/Monophysite) revision. So anyone translating anything needs to be aware which version is being used.

    I’ve only got the three mss of the Gospel commentary on microfilm. At the moment I don’t have the time (or in fact the technology) to transfer them.

  19. Thank you for the details of the Egyptian texts! Do you know what mss these are based on?

    I think expansion and introduction of extraneous material seems to be commonplace in Arabic Christian texts. But then we can see easily why it would happen; these sorts of texts will inevitably attract reader comments.

    Where can one find the Nestorian text? Is it in the Vatican mss of the whole bible commentary? Or are these of the Egyptian text? Indeed, is it extant?

    I’m still a little unclear about the mss of the Gospel Commentary, as a separate item. Can you say anything about this?

    How did you get hold of the Egyptian text? I.e., where are there copies?

  20. Sorry, I still haven’t been clear enough.

    The independent commentaries on the Psalms and Gospels were written first and then included in the complete commentary on the Bible. As I said before, what is not quite clear is whether Ibn al-Tayyib shortened the commentaries on the Psalms and Gospels when he included them in the full commentary. In Ibn Tayyib’s own introduction to the full commentary there is a phrase which strongly suggests that he did.

    I can’t remember on what ms or mss Manqariyus bases his edition of the independent Gospel commentary (maybe he doesn’t say – it’s not an academic-style book) but since he’ adding his own material at random without any indication, it’s maybe not that important. The copy of Manqariyus I used (but then abandoned!) was in Oxford.

    The mss of the complete commentary on the Bible (Fidaws al-Nasraniyya – the Paradise of Christianity) are Vatican ar. 36 (13th/14th C) and 37 (1291). By the way, I have never seen these and don’t have much idea of the contents.

    The main two mss I used for my study of the independent Gospel commentary are Paris ar. 85 (original Eastern/Nestorian version, c. 13th C, Egypt) and Paris ar. 86 (Coptic / Miaphysite / Monophysite revision, 1248, Egypt). This Coptic version might have originated from the circle of the ‘Assal brothers.

    I also used a much later Brit. Lib. ms (BL Or. 3201) (Coptic version, 1805, Egypt).

    Presumably there are (or were!) some nice mss in Baghdad but after the war, I’m not sure we’ll get to see these in our lifetime.

  21. Now that’s very interesting indeed, and the explanation certainly helps a lot. Thank you for these details. Now we know what mss of what version we are dealing with, and anyone who wants to run with any of these knows where to go.

    It is also very useful to know that there is a copy of the Manqariyus in Oxford — in the Oriental Institute, perhaps? Rare volumes in Arabic can be the devil for people like me to find. I did a search in COPAC for the Manqariyus, but couldn’t find it (or, indeed, his name in Google). Could you point me at a library record? It is, after all, out of copyright and so accessible to everyone, if we could get hold of it.

    You say “In Ibn Tayyib’s own introduction to the full commentary there is a phrase which strongly suggests that he did.” What does he say, if you don’t mind?

    We started by wondering about an English translation. How big a book is the commentary on the gospels? E.g. roughly how many folios in an ms, or pages in the book? Any idea of words per page?

  22. The most expert Arabic librarian in Oxford didn’t manage to find a good reference online. But he did find something with the reference GEBAY. He thought that was probably a code for a library in the Netherlands or Germany. The editor there was translit. as Yūsuf Manqurīyūs, and the title Tafsīr al-Mašriq… (the final letter is garbled). Sorry not to be more helpful. The older books in the Bodley are not yet all electronically catalogued (it’s a huge library and they’re short of money). 15 years ago I did locate (by accident, actually) in the card catalogue. I will look again when I have time.

    Paris ar. 85 only has Luke and John: 164 folios.
    The commentary on the Prologue to John takes up just 9 folios and my trans. is about 8000 words.

    In BL. or. 3201 Luke and John take up 155 folios (Matthew takes up 170, by the way) out of 350 altogether.

    I make that very approximately a quarter of a million words in English for the whole independent commentary on the Gospels. Each folio (i.e. two sides) has about 400 words of Arabic. So that’s about 140, 000 words in Arabic.

    (Incidentally, Paris ar. 86 only has Mark, Luke and John.)

    I’m not trying to be pedantic, and I can see that you’re sceptical, but I can’t quite see the point in translating an unreliable edition of the work. Unless a reader has access to a good ms to compare it with, how will he/she know if what he/she is reading is by Ibn al-Tayyib or Manquriyus? It would really be a shame if people start attributing things to Ibn al-Tayyib which are absolutely nothing to do with him.

    To take just one example, in the wedding at Canaa, Manquriyus says that the text doesn’t imply that Christ or Mary were drunk! This is wonderful stuff but there’s nothing even approximating this in Ibn al-Tayyib.

    I admit that it might be an idea to use the ‘edition’ alongside a good ms of the original Eastern/Nestorian version. Otherwise, again, it’s not Ibn al-Tayyib.

    I’m terribly behind with my own work at the moment and I haven’t got time to find out about early mss of Matthew, for example, just at the moment. I’m not a professional academic.

  23. Julian, thank you so much for the details here. These are invaluable.

    About 140,000 words… hmm. That is quite big! At 10c a word, that would be $14,000 or around 9,000GBP, which is pretty impressive money. Well, I don’t feel the urge to commission that work just yet, somehow. I don’t have that sort of money to spend.

    I agree entirely with you about the utility of translating a highly defective edition. The way I would approach this would be to get the mss (thank you for listing these) into PDF. They could be bought from the BNF for a few hundred pounds, or there are firms that convert microfilms to PDF (probably rather cheaper) on the web. One would also get the edition, defective as it is.

    Of course ideally one would create a critical edition, but that is always beyond my means. So I would suggest working from the Nestorian version, informed by the other version, the other two mss, and the edition.

    My interest in the edition is not quite what you suppose. I would like to think that all books out of copyright should be freely available on the web in PDF form. Thanks to the Americans, to Google Books and archive.org, this vision is one we can grasp (although people outside the US can’t see most of Google Books, and the book search doesn’t work properly outside the US either). My feeling, when I hear of a rare, hard to obtain, out of copyright book is “obtain it, scan it to PDF, and shove it on archive.org”. It’s just a question of making stuff available. If you can find the catalogue stuff on this — no rush whatever — then I might see if a photocopy can be obtained. Or perhaps go up to Oxford myself and sit there with a digital camera and make a copy!

    But no, your explanation is very convincing that one shouldn’t use it for the basis of an English translation.

    Mind you; would you rather have no English translation, or one based on a duff edition? I’d always choose the latter, just from the point of view of access. But in this case there seems no special reason to do this.

    I’m not a professional academic (or any other sort) either. My queries are only intended to elicit information you have at hand! Please don’t feel pressured to go off and do work for me; that would be terrible.

    Thank you again for all the light that you have thrown on this — wonderful!

  24. Just a couple of points:

    In his introduction to his complete commentary on the Bible, Ibn al-Tayyib writes:

    ‘I decided, after composing elevated treatises on the fundamentals of the religion (and they are numerous), my commentary on the Gospels, the Book of Psalms in an extensive exposition, my making a start with the Epistles, my composition on Christian law and its application, to collect all my commentaries on the New and Old Testaments by summarizing them in Arabic in order that one can read them and bring one’s attention to what I bring out and so that it may be referred to. So this is what I did.’

    Sorry, my translation is not very polished (believe it or not, I am a native English speaker). The original can be found in Sanders, Commentaire (text volume), p. 2 – I think!

    Ferrari’s book, by the way, only has a complete work list of the philosophical and medical works. She does have also, though, the best up-to-date bibliography in the same area.

    Finally, Ibn al-Tayyib lived in an era when scholars were eager to get all knowledge down in writing – an encyclopaedic mentality. Moreover, he specifically states that he is writing his Gospel commentary because a knowledge of Syriac is dying out in Iraq (this is a crucial piece of social historical information, by the way). So his Gospel commentary is mainly a work of compilation. In my study of the section on the Prologue to John, I came to the conclusion that most of his work is borrowed from other sources. However, he puts it together in a highly coherent and intelligent manner.

    And it is impossible to tell exactly what his direct sources were because he was probably himself using compilations. When he wants to quote an ancient authority, it sometimes reveals that he doesn’t have the original to hand. The field of Syriac exegesis prior to Ibn al-Tayyib is rich and various and without a good understanding of it, we can’t make good sense of what Ibn al-Tayyib himself is doing. So even if a good translation of Ibn al-Tayyib’s commentary were available, this is only the first small step in understanding. We have to be very careful in attributing interpretations in the commentary to Ibn al-Tayyib himself.

  25. I’ve just noticed from the second bibliography from Aaron Butts that this should be just one entry:

    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)

    I will myself be able to provide a pretty full and up-to-date bibliography on Ibn al-Tayyib’s religious works in a month or so.

  26. Julian, thank you very much indeed for the translation of the bit from the prologue — very useful! This implies that he wrote some of the earlier works in Syriac, doesn’t it?

    Whereabouts does he state that Syriac is dying out in Iraq? Is this also in the prologue?

    For such a polymath, just getting a complete biblio of works in all areas sounds as if it might be difficult.

    Thank you also for the other comments, which throw light on what he is doing. All excellent stuff!

  27. I picked up this website looking for information on Ibn at Taiyyib, and it has been helpful. He gets a mention in Roger Allen’s Introduction to Arabic Literature, CUP 2000, and also a passing mention in Sidney Griffith ‘The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque’ Princeton, 2008. It is also interesting, perhaps, to note that Ibn at Taiyyib goes by names such as ‘John Chrysostom of the East’ in Ethiopia, and despite his roots in the Church of the East, he has been identified as a strong influence on Ethiopic Bible commentary. Much is said about him in Roger W. Cowley’s ‘The Traditional Interpretation of the Apocalypse of St John in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’ CUP, 1983. Here there is a translation into English of a commentary which has at least been influenced by him. It also has an excellent bibliography. Hope this helps someone.

  28. Thank you very much indeed for this note, which is interesting and useful, and the references likewise. The “Chrysostom of the East” — is that from Cowley?

  29. For Ibn al-Tayyib as the author of the Diatessaron and for specimens of Ibn al-Tayyib’s (Arabic) Diatessaron text, see also:

    1. N. Peter Joosse, The Sermon on the Mount in the Arabic Diatessaron, Amsterdam 1997.
    2. N. Peter Joosse, “An Introduction to the Arabic Diatessaron”, in: Oriens Christianus 83 (1999), pp. 72-129.
    A new introduction to the Arabic Diatessaron and Ibn al-Tayyib as its author will be published in the near future in Parole de l’orient, Kaslil, Lebanon (= Proceedings of the Christian-Arabic conference in Granada, Spain 2008.

    PS The discussion whether or not Ibn al-Tayyib was a monk or not is still going on. The last word about it has not yet been spoken.

  30. Sorry for the delay in replying. ‘John Chrysostom of the East’ is one of the names used in the Ethiopic commentaries. Cowley has done several studies of these, but perhaps the most interesting for you would be the one already mentioned, and also:
    Cowley, R. W. (1988). Ethiopian Biblical interpretation : a study in exegetical tradition and hermeneutics. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, where he makes some detailed analysis of Ge’ez translations of Ibn at-Tayyib.
    Also Cowley, R. W. (1987). A Ge’ez Document Reporting Controversy Concerning the Bible Commentaries of Ibn aṭ-Ṭaiyib Rassegna di Studi Etiopici XXX(1): 5-13, which discusses a rare document raising controversy over the use of his commentaries in Ethiopia.

  31. Thank you Ralph for this. They sound interesting. One day I must try to get hold of this material.

    Peter, your articles sound most interesting — thank you. One thought, tho — have you ever thought of having a home page of your own with your articles on it? It would surely make them more widely read. Most people are like me, and have no access to the journals (I cheat by visiting a major library a couple of times a year). I know there are all sorts of issues around copyright, but I believe that journals these days tend to understand the idea that an academic may (after a suitable interval) want a copy of their work online.

  32. Yes, Roger, I suppose I should make a home page of my own in the near future. It would indeed promote Diatessaronic studies, which, as you might know, is a very small field of research. In 2008 a specialist conference on the Diatessaron was held in Amsterdam, organized by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. All the specialists in the field were present, and we were still only with 22 persons who, by the way, do not work full time on the Diatessaron (except maybe for my promotor Prof. Tjitze Baarda of course). My main research is also not on the Diatessaron anymore. I moved on to Arabic-Islamic medicine and joined the University of Warwick (Coventry, UK) in April 2010.

  33. Thank you very much for these details. The University of Warwick would probably help you get a webpage up, in fact. Why do it yourself when there are people to do these things?

    Would you be involved with the project to do the translation of Galen, perhaps?

  34. Peter, you’re right of course, I shouldn’t have been so dogmatic about Ibn al-Tayyib not being a monk. But we should be a little sceptical, I think. As far as I know, the only source to say that he was a monk is Bar Hebraeus in his Syriac Chronicle – even Bar Hebraeus doesn’t say so in his other works. Apart from this lack of agreement from all the other sources, his status as a monk is also presumably incompatible with his work at the Adudi hospital (although of course these two activities may not have been synchronous).

    It’s great that Ralph reminded us of the crucial importance of Ibn al-Tayyib to the Ethiopian commentary tradition but whilst I’m in sceptical vein, I wonder if Ibn al-Tayyib is commonly referred to as the Chrysostom of the East in Ethiopia. I only have Cowley’s ‘Ethiopian Biblical Interpretation’ to hand but it is later and therefore probably more authoritative than ‘The Traditional Interpretation…’. Cowley doesn’t mention this appellation in this later work but if you look at page 119 you see the opening of a text which, in translation is:

    ‘First section of John Golden Mouth (i.e. Chrysostom), which the honoured priest Abba Fesseha (i.e. Ibn al-Tayyib) collected…’

    If Ibn al-Tayyib is referred to elsewhere as ‘Golden Mouth’, I wonder if this might not be a mistaken conflation of a phrase such as the above. It’s just a hunch.

    I hope everyone’s having a good summer.

  35. The ‘John Chrysostom of the East’ could arise through Egyptian influences, and Julian Faultless has pointed out, the Ethiopic manuscripts appear to follow Egyptian revisions of Ibn al-Tayyib’s works. The appellation ‘John Chrysostom of the East’ is discussed in:

    Cowley, R. W. (1987). A Ge’ez Document Reporting Controversy Concerning the Bible Commentaries of Ibn aṭ-Ṭaiyib Rassegna di Studi Etiopici XXX(1): 5-13, which discusses a rare document raising controversy over the use of his commentaries in Ethiopia.

    I think suggesting that he is ‘commonly’ called this is probably not true. What is interesting about the letter discussed in this paper is that it is clear that at least some Ethiopians were aware of his heritage, because he is criticised in the paper because ‘he does not say mother of God’.

  36. That’s extremely interesting, Ralph. For my PhD, I did write a chapter on the Ge’ez translation of Ibn al-Tayyib’s Gospel commentary but I only dealt with the translation technique. I didn’t read the article by Cowley (I obviously should have done) but it’s fascinating that they were aware (to whatever extent) that he was Nestorian even though, in the case of the Gospel commentary, they were using a version of the text which had been doctored to bring it into line with Miaphysite Christology.

  37. I’ve just noticed in Cowley’s article ‘Scholia of Ahob of Qatar’ in Le Muséon 93 (1980), p. 331, n. 6, that there seems to be some confusion in marginal notes on two British Library manuscripts where Chrysostom’s name (Or. 732, Ge’ez) is substituted with Ibn al-Tayyib’s (Or. 3201, Arabic) or perhaps vice-versa depending on the relative chronology.

  38. Julian, I read somewhere above that you are composing a bibliography on Ibn al-Tayyib. I was just presented with a Dutch PhD thesis by Johan Douwe Hofstra, ‘Isho’dad van Merw “en het woord is vlees geworden”‘ (Kampen: Mondiss, 1993). Hofstra has dedicated a short chapter on Ibn al-Tayyib’s commentary on John 1, 1-14. There he also mentions Adjuba or Ahob of Qatar as one of Ibn al-Tayyib’s sources. Cowley has assumed that the scholia of Ahob found their way to Ibn al-Tayyib via Isho’dad’s work. But Hofstra surmises that Ibn al-Tayyib had access to a different source that contained Ahob’s scholia, mainly because there are no paralels in Isho’dad’s work for some of the scholia mentioned by Cowley.

    Monk: Julian, I like to believe that Ibn al-Tayyib was only a monk for a very short period namely at the time that he translated the Diatessaron, i.e. in the days of his youth. His work at the Adudi hospital could indeed have been a little later. The proof is in the pudding eh! But alas good puddings are rare!

  39. Hello,

    First of all, I would like to say I have enjoyed reading this thread. I just got off the phone with Dr. Kenneth Bailey, who, as most of you are aware, quotes exstensively from Ibn al-Tayyib. He said that he is in the midst of getting Ibn al-Tayyib’s work translated (I forgot to ask which works exactly)and that they should be available in about a year. He said he is working with a foundation called “Foundation for New Testament Studies” or something along those lines. If you are looking to donate to the cause he said you could send him the money and they will provide you with a recipe. Dr. Kenneth Bailey’s contact info is available at his website: http://www.shenango.org/bailey.htm

    I hope this of some use for you all. Cheers

  40. I was unable to locate any email address on that site. It would be very interesting to hear more about his project and what he is doing. Would it be possible for you to ask him, since you’re in touch?

  41. Actually he doesn’t “do” email, but if you call the number on the website you can talk to him personally. He said he is pretty busy right now publishing another book about 1 Corinthians, but was quite open to chatting for a short time. I don’t personally know him, but he was very friendly on the phone. He said he has more information available about the Foundation that he is working with, but again, no email or website. So I will be snail mailing him to recieve that information. It sounds like this foundation is working on numerous works by numerous authors. I am hoping to get a list of what they are currently working on translating/publishing and where these works can be purchased. Once I get that info I will share it with you here. Thanks

  42. I think I will spare him an international phone call from a stranger! But I would be most interested in whatever you can find ot!

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