BBKL article on Ibn al-Tayyib

The post on the Nestorian monk Ibn al-Tayyib and his commentary on the gospels, a source for the Diatessaron, has led to a very interesting set of comments and a large bibliography.  This is a text that really does need to be in English.  I shall continue to explore this in the comments on that article.

Today I learn that there is a BBKL article in German on Ibn al-Tayyib.  Since a lot of people find German difficult, I thought I would smarten up the Google translation and place it here.

Volume II (1990) Columns 1238-1239 Author: Michael Tillly

Ibn al-Tajjib, full name “Abu’l Farag Abdallah ibn at-Taiyib al Iraqi”, Nestorian monk, writer, philosopher, physician, priest, b. towards the end of the 10th century, † in October 1043 in Baghdad. – After studying medicine he worked ca. 1015 as a doctor in the hospital named after its founder Adud al-Dawla al-Adudiya in Baghdad. As a physician and teacher, over time Ibn al-Tayyib gathered a large group of disciples. He presided at the election-Synod of the Syrian Nestorian Church, which elected Elias I as Catholicos. As secretary he composed in 1028 the church’s approval of the report of Elias of Nisibis on his “Seven meetings”. Under the Catholicos Yuhanna ibn Nazuk he became Patriarchate secretary.

Ibn al-Tayyib wrote in Arabic many dogmatic, exegetical, and canonical works, as well as making translations from Syriac. However, of his literary work, only a fraction has been preserved. He wrote numerous works on teaching and explaining the scientific and medical works of Hippocrates and Galen, as well as on the logical and metaphysical works of Aristotle.

His main work in theology is the commentary on the whole Bible “Firdaus an-Nasraniya (Paradise of Christianity), the largest exegetical work in Christian Arabic literature. Other works are his exegetical commentary on the Psalms “Arraud an-nadir fi tafsir al-mazamir” (The flower garden – Explanation of the Psalms), with an introductory essay on the classification, origin and purpose of the Psalms and on the reading and linguistic peculiarities of the Psalms, a Translation and Explanation of the four Gospels, as well as several smaller exegetical commentaries. The most important among the dogmatic, ethical and canonical works is the apologetic compendium “Al-usul ad-diniya ar-rabbaniya” (The Basics of the religion of the Lord).

In the legal collection “Fiqu an-Nasraniya” (The law of Christendom), I translated and compiled the ancient Syrian collections of canons and compendia of laws, which he joined together in a collected work.

I. is the focus of current research as the translator of the Syriac Diatessaron of Tatian into Arabic.

The importance for Church history of the versatile and learned Nestorian Ibn al-Tayyib is justified by his rich and diverse literary work on natural scientific, philosophical, theological and ecclesiastical matters.  His great tradition of teaching and interest is representative of the Nestorians as a zealous agent of Greek science, philosophy and theology among the Arabs.

Works: Diatessaron, ed. Augustinus Ciasco, Rome 1888; Firdaus annasranija (Paradise of Christendom), ed. v. fransis Miha’il, Cairo 1898, 49, 236-240; Ar-Raud an-nadir fi tafsir al-mazamir (The flower garden – Explanation of the Psalms), ed. Yusuf Manqurius and Habib Girgis, Cairo 1902; Tafsir al-machriqi, ed. Yusuf Manqurius, Bd. 1, Cairo 1908, Bd. 2, Cairo. 1910; Maqala fi ‘l-‘ilm wal-muchiza (Treatise on science and miracles), ed. Paul Sbath, Vingt Traités, Cairo 1929, 179 f.; Fiqu an-Nasraniya (The law of Christendom), ed. W. Hoenerbach and O. Spies, in: CSCO 16 1-162 (1956), 167-168 (1957).

Lit.: G. Chr. Storr, Dissertatio … de evangeliis arabicis, Tübingen 1775, 44-47; – Paul de Lagarde, Die vier Evangelien, Leipzig 1864, 16 f.; – Karl Georg Bruns and Eduard Sachau, Syrisch-römisches Rechtsbuch aus dem 5. Jh., Bd. II, Leipzig 1880, 176 ff.; – Ignazio Guidi, Le traduzioni degli Evangelii in arabo e in etiopico, Rom 1888, 14, 19, 23 f.; – Ernst Sellin, in: Theodor Zahn (Ed.) Forschungen zur Geschichte des neutestamentl. Kanons und der altkirchlichen Literatur IV, Leipzig 1891, 243-245; – O. Braun, Das Buch der Synhados, Stuttgart 1900, 315 ff.; – Arthur Hjelt, Die altsyrische Evangelienübersetzung und Tatisna Diatessaron, in: Theodor Zahn (Ed.), Forschungen zur Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons und der altkirchl. Literatur VII, Leipzig 1903, 68 f.; – Georg Graf, Die Philosophie und Gotteslehre des Jahja ihn ‘Adi und späterer Autoren, Münster/Westf. 1910, 48-51; – Eduard Sachau, Syrische Rechtsbücher, Bd. 2, Berlin 1908, 23, 190-204, Bd. 3, Berlin 1914, 16 f., 289-344; – A. J. B. Higgings, The Arabic Version of Tatians Diatessaron, in: JThS 45 (1944), 187-199; – Brockelmann I, 482, I2, 635, Suppl. I, 884; – Graf I, 152 ff.; II, 162-176; – DThC XI, 276 ff.; – LThK V, 591. 

The last bit of biblio is interesting:

Samir Khalil Samir, I .- La place d’al-T. dans la pensée arabe, in: JEChSt 58.2006, p. 177-193.


6 thoughts on “BBKL article on Ibn al-Tayyib

  1. Dear Roger,

    Thank you very much for those fascinating posts on ‘Abdallah ibn al-Taiyyib. I’m racing against an October deadline at present to finish writing a new history of the Church of the East, which will deal with its literary achievement as well as its feuding patriarchs. I have therefore been desperately trying to educate myself on the authors who wrote mainly in Arabic (I’m reasonably clued up on the Syriac authors), and Ibn al-Tayyib is one such author that I’ve been trying in the past couple of days to come to grips with. I’ve just finished drafting a paragraph on his work (that’s all space will allow me to give him), and since you obviously know far more about him than me I wondered if you would mind checking it out. Are there any obvious mistakes, and would you disagree with my interpretation?

    Here it is:

    The pioneering work of Timothy I in codifying the canon law of the Church of the East was taken a step further in the eleventh century by the priest and monk ‘Abdallah ibn al-Taiyyib, who served as secretary to the patriarchs Yohannan VI (1012–16) and Eliya I (1028–49). ‘Abdallah was a man of formidable learning, which he showed off in several different literary genres. He wrote Arabic commentaries on the entire bible, on the Psalms (which he translated from Syriac into Arabic), and on the Gospels. He was also the author of the Paradise of Christianity (firdaus al-nasraniya), a commentary on a vast range of theological questions, and of commentaries on Aristotle (with whose views on logic and metaphysics he disagreed) and the Isagoge of Porphyry. He also contributed to the literature of debate with Moslems with his Treatise on the Trinity, a defence of fundamental Christian beliefs against Moslem accusations of tritheism. He capped his literary achievement by translating Tatian’s composite gospel, the Diatesseron, from Syriac into Arabic. He is probably best remembered today for collecting, compiling and systematically organising the canon law of the Christian church in general and the Nestorian church in particular. His Law of Christendom (fiqu al-nasraniya) discusses not only the decisions taken at the great ecumenical synods from Nicaea to Chalcedon but also the canons of the Church of the East. He extracted these decisions from the synods whose acts had been compiled by Timothy I and from many of the later synods down to his own time. He organised this material thematically, in separate chapters on topics such as betrothals and marriages, inheritance, guardianship, taxes, debts and deeds. These were all thorny areas where large sums of money could be involved. Patriarchs and bishops needed all the guidance they could get to ensure that disputes over such matters were settled within the Christian community. If they got it wrong, a disgruntled plaintiff might take his case before a Moslem judge, with embarrassing and unwelcome consequences for all concerned.

    Best Regards,

    David Wilmshurst

  2. David, a few comments:

    The firdaus al-nasraniya is the complete commentary on the Bible, although the list of contents says that it also includes discussions of wider theological issues.

    You don’t mention the fact that he was a medic practising at the Adudi hospital and writer of commentaries on Galen and Hippocrates.

    There are a number of treatises on Trinitarian subjects as well as a dozen or so on other theological topics.

    Not quite sure why the Diatessaron translation (which is almost certainly by him but the evidence is circumstantial) should be regarded as capping his literary achievements.

    It’s fiqh, not fiqu, by the way.

    Is the canon law really what he’s best remembered for nowadays? I guess it’s subjective.

    Hope that’s of some help even if it’s rather a late response.

  3. J’ai vu le commentaire Firdaws al-nqsrâniyya (Vat. ar 36 + 37) il n’est pas du tout exhaustif mais disons une sorte de notes fragmentaires et sporadiques sur la Genèse et Samuel. Je pense que les feuillets furent reliées en désordres totale. Il importe de savoir qu’elle version arabe du Pentateuque suit Ibn al-Tayyib?

  4. Fr Samir, do you not think that Ibn al-Tayyib was using the Peshitta, which is what he seems to have done for his Gospel commentary? I would love to know your opinion.

    Also, is there any place where I can find more detailed descriptions of the contents of Vat. ar 36 + 37? I presume not but I thought I’d ask!

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