Another bit of Sbath commissioned

A while ago I commissioned translations into English (with transcription of the text) of some of the Arabic Christian texts in Paul Sbath’s Twenty Philosophical and Theological Treatises.  Treatises 15-19 were translated by Sam Noble, and I placed them online and into the public domain.  You can find them here.  So do as you like with them. 

The first five pages of treatise 20 (by Hunain ibn Ishaq, with a commentary by Youhanna someone-or-other) were partly translated, but from a more modern text which is not in the public domain.  This limits the circulation of what was done.  ThenI had to stop commissioning stuff back in October, as I joined the ranks of the unemployed. 

Now that I seem to be employed again, at least for a few months, I have decided to commission a translation from Sbath’s public domain text of the whole of treatise 20, including the commentary of Youhanna, with a transcription of the text.  In this way I can place that in the PD as well.  It’s a small thing, but will round out the texts nicely.


Why miracles are less important than reason – an 11th century Nestorian comments

Abu al-Faraj ibn al-Tayyib was an Iraqi Nestorian, philosopher, physician, monk and priest in the first half of the 11th century. He was a voluminous writer, who left behind him massive biblical commentaries on the Psalms and Gospels.

In his collection of Arabic Christian treatises, Paul Sbath prints a short work on miracles and philosophy, which seems well worth looking at, even today.  Here it is:

On Knowledge and Miracles
By Abū al-Faraj ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Ṭayyib, secretary of the Catholicos and philosopher

In the religion of the Christians, rational proof is nobler than miracles because rational proof is proof by which the intellect comes to grasp the truth of the claim of those who have miracles, his own investigation, the investigation of his circumstances and the circumstances of those who are making the claim, and the state of the matter with regard to the claim. Rational proof is for the elites and the philosophers and the scholars who are not led except by it, while miracles are for the masses whose breasts are not delighted by certain knowledge and who only believe what they behold by the senses. So it is clear that rational proof is evidence which convinces through knowledge and is for the elites and that miracles are evidence which convince through the senses and they are for the masses. Scriptural evidence that knowledge is nobler than miracles is from when Paul, the chosen and heavenly apostle says, “God appointed in His Church the apostles first, and after then the prophets, and after them the scholars, and after them those who work miracles, and after them those who heal the sick, and after them those who possess languages (1 Corinthians 12:28).” From this evidence it becomes known that knowledge is nobler than miracles. Then he says, “The elders who order the affairs of the Church well deserve multiple recompense, especially those who toil with knowledge (1 Timothy 5:17).”

So rational proof is rational evidence and miracles are sensible evidence. If the intellect is nobler than sensation, then rational proof is nobler than miracles.

Miracles are found in a specific place and at a specific time and among a specific people. If that place and that time and that people cease, then the miracle ceases with them. Rational proof is found in all places and at all times and among all peoples. So, knowledge and rational proof are nobler than miracles.

Thus Christ our Lord worked miracles for the common people and the masses and set forth evidence and rational proof for the excellent philosophers who are not led by miracles and make no use of them. Glory to God forever.


Five 10th century Arabic Christian treatises now online

Five 10th century Arabic Christian treatises originally published by Paul Sbath in “Vingt traités philosophiques et theologiques” (Cairo, 1929) are now online here:

These new English translations are followed by a transcription of the Arabic. All are public domain; use them as you like.

15. Yahya ibn Adi – On the Truth of the Gospel by Way of Reasoning from Proofs
16. Yahya ibn Adi – On the Differences in the Expressions in the Gospels and their Meanings
17. Yahya ibn Adi – On our saying “and became incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary”
18. Abu al-Khayr ibn al-Tayyib – Refutation of the Muslims who accuse the Christians of Believing in Three Gods
19. Abu al-Faraj `Abdallah ibn al-Tayyib – On Knowledge and Miracles

Numbers 15-17 are by Yahya ibn `Adi. From Graf II 233-249: He was a Jacobite, born in 893 at Tikrit, went to Baghdad and studied in the philosophical school there. Died 13 August 974. A voluminous writer. Sbath pp. 168-171 contains a treatise on the truth of the Gospel, using syllogisms. p. 171f is another similar treatise; p. 172-175 on the credal statement, “He became flesh by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.”

Number 18. Abu al-Khayr ibn al-Tayyib (Graf II 344-348) A Copt, writing between 1204 and 1245. Sbath p. 176-178 prints an extract only of his book “The medicine of understanding”, 24 chapters against the attacks of Moslem polemicists.

Number 19. Abu al-Faraj ibn al-Tayyib (Graf II 160-176) An Iraqi Nestorian, philosopher, physician, monk and priest in the first half of the 11th century. Another voluminous writer, including massive biblical commentaries on the Psalms and Gospels. Sbath prints p.179f, a work on miracles and philosophy.

As ever, if you would like to support the work of the site, a CDROM is also available for sale here:


More project news

Origen’s 10th homily on Ezekiel (out of 14) is pretty much done, a bit of discussion aside.

Better yet, I have received the Arabic transcription and English translation of three treatises from Sbath’s collection of Arabic Christian theological material.  These are #17, #18 and #19.  All look very good, and one at least will bear posting here when I’ve paid for it.  All are concerned with the truth of Christianity, ca. 900 AD.


Lots of progress

It never rains but it pours.  Today, in my inbox I find:

  1. The first draft of the translation of Origen’s 10th Homily on Ezekiel.
  2. The sample chunk of the translation of the lost 60% of John Chrysostom’s Oratio 2 adversus Judaeos.
  3. Portion 15 of the translation of Sbath’s collection of Arabic theological and philosophical texts.

It is nice to see all these projects coming along, tho!  I’ve asked the Eusebius translator to look over the Chrysostom sample.  The other two translators are well known to me for the quality of their work.


I would like to go to bed tonight…

… but clearly everyone is busy, and just as I think I’ve done another email arrives! 

I’ve just had delivery of the first draft of the English translation of Origen’s Homily 7 on Ezechiel.  Great news, actually, and I am really looking forward to letting everyone loose on that.

 And that arrived just as I finished replying to the chap who has done another chunk of the treatise by Hunain ibn Ishaq. It’s a pretty interesting text, actually, which I’ll probably post here; stuff on how you tell a true religion from a false one, by an Arabic Christian working for the Abbassid Caliphs in the high old days of Haroun al-Raschid and the Arabian Nights.

Nice to get the stuff coming in so fast! 


Sbath project – sample of Hunain gets the raspberry

An unexpected problem; the sample of a translation of Hunain ibn Ishaq has got the raspberry from the person I sent it to for checking.  “Make sure the person you use has a solid training in classical Arabic”, I am admonished.  Actually I think the translator has.  Have sent the comments to the translator, and am awaiting the explosion!

Meanwhile I have offered a commission for treatises 15-19 (a grand total of 12 pages!) to an old and trusted translator.  But with the new term coming up, now may not be the best time.

I’ve really enjoyed being on holiday this summer.  How rarely can one take more than a week or two off at this time, as I have been able to do?  Back to work on Tuesday.  A little unenthusiastic, as is usual after a holiday. Also there is no air-conditioning in its offices, except for the offices of the directors. Still, it will be good to get back in the routine.


Hunain ibn Ishaq translation now underway

I’ve found a translator and commissioned a translation of the work of Hunain ibn Ishaq, the 10th century Christian translator of scientific works who worked for the Abbassid caliphs, plus a commentary on it by a Coptic author.  The two make up 20 pages in Paul Sbath’s Vingt traites, although for the Hunain work there is a critical text by Samir Khalil Samir which we’ll use instead.  It’s about valid and invalid ways to prove your religion is true.  The result will be public domain and posted on the web so we can all access it.