Babai the Great

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Babai the Great (ca. 551-628 AD) was an East Syriac writer and acted as joint head of the church during the late Sassanid period.[1]


He was born in Beth `Ainatha in Beth Zabdai, where he received his basic education. He then studied at the School of Nisibis under Abraham of Beth Rabban. His next move was to become a monk at the "Great Monastery" on Mount Izla, which had been founded in 571 by Abraham of Kashkar (d. 588).

After some years he left in order to found his own monastery and school in nearby Beth Zabdai. In 604 he returned to the Great Monastery to become its Superior in succession to Dadisho`. He was strict in discipline, and carried out a number of reforms and issued a set of Canons, which are extant. This approach was not always popular, and many monks left.

On the death of the Catholicos Gregory in 608-9, the Shah Khosro II prevented the election of a new Catholicos. As a result, the Church of the East was jointly administered, during the interregum which lasted from 609 to 628, by the archdeacon of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, Mar Aba, and by Babai. At this time Babai was appointed Visitor of the monasteries. Babai died in 628, not long after the death of Khosro II.

Babai bar Nsibnaye

Babai the Great is not the same as Babai bar Nsibnaye ("Son of Nisibene parents"). The latter is the author of some liturgical poems, and also a monastic letter transmitted under the name of Babai the Catholicos. An English translation exists of the letter.


His surviving works cover Christology, asceticism, hagiography and liturgy.


  • Book of the Union. A Latin translation exists of this. "On the divinity and humanity (of Christ) and on the prosopon of the union" in 7 books (memre). The seventh book seems originally to have belonged to a separate work.
  • Against those who say "Just as the body and soul are one qnoma, so too God the Word and the Man are one qnoma". A Latin translation exists of this.
  • An excerpt to the effect that two natures implies two qnoma. This is preserved in a later collection of Christological texts, and has been translated into English.


  • Commentary on the Centuries of Evagrius. A German translation exists.
  • Commentary on Mark the Monk's work "The Spiritual Law" (unpublished)
  • Canons for monks. An English translation exists.
  • Ascetic counsels (unpublished)


  • Life of Giwargis / Mihramgushnaso, martyred in 615 aged 39.
  • Martyrdom of Christina (only the beginning survives)

A number of other hagiographical works are lost.


A number of teshbhata attributed to Babai the Great are found in the Hudra.


  • Liber de unione, and Against one qnoma. LT by A. Vaschalde, CSCO 34-5, 1915.
  • Excerpt on Christology: L. Abramowski and A. E. Goodman, A Nestorian Collection of Christological Texts, 1972, p.123-5.
  • Commentary on Evagrius' Centuries: W. Frankenberg, 1912.
  • Canons (surviving only in Arabic translation): A. Voobus, Syriac and Arabic Documents ... Syrian Asceticism, 1960, 178-84.
  • Babai of Nisibis, Letter to Cyriacus, S.P.Brock, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer, 138-63.


  1. Sebastian Brock, A brief outline of Syriac literature, Moran Etho 9, p.49-50.