Isaac of Nineveh

From Encyclopedia of Syriac Literature
Revision as of 16:44, 25 May 2011 by Roger Pearse (talk | contribs) (Created page with "'''Isaac of Nineveh''', better known as '''Isaac the Syrian''', was an East Syriac writer who flourished around the end of the 7th century. Through the Greek translation of the ...")
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigationJump to search

Isaac of Nineveh, better known as Isaac the Syrian, was an East Syriac writer who flourished around the end of the 7th century. Through the Greek translation of the "First Part" of his works, he is the most influential of Syriac writers, and continues to influence monks today on Mount Athos and in the Egyptian desert.[1]


He was born and educated in Beth Qatraye. He then became a monk, and was ordained bishop of Nineveh (=Mosul) during the time of the Catholicos George (661-680/1). Five months later he resigned and retired as a solitary to the mountains of Khuzistan, where he was associated with the monastery of Rabban Shabur.


His surviving works are the following.

The First Part

This is a collection of 82 discourses. They vary in length, and some are in the form of letters, or question-and-answer dialogues.

The majority of these were translated into Greek at the Chalcedonian monastery of Mar Saba in Palestine, probably in the 8th century. The translators were Abramios and Patrikios. In addition the translation, for some unstated reason, included five other texts by two other Syriac writers under Isaac's name. Four of them are by John Saba (=John of Dalyatha) and one is an abbreviated form of Philoxenus' Letter to Patrikios. Arabic translations were made from both the Greek and Syriac versions. The Greek was the origin of many translations including Georgian and Old Slavonic.[ET]

The Second Part

This contains 42 further texts. The third of these is four "centuries" of Kephalaia (or Headings) on spiritual knowledge. There is some evidence that this work was read in Chalcedonian monasteries, but it was never translated into Greek, and it is only in recent years that a complete manuscript of the Syriac original has come to light. [IT][ET]

Book of Grace

This unpublished work may or may not be by Isaac; it may instead be by his contemporary, Shem`on the Graceful.


  • Part 1: Wensinck (1923)
  • Part 2: ch.1-3, Italian translation by P. Bettiolo.
  • Part 2: ch.1-2, English by Sebastian Brock, Sobornost/ECR 19 (1997); ch.3-41, S.P.Brock, CSCO Syr. 224-5 (1995)
  • Book of Grace (selections): [D.Miller], Ascetic Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian (1984) 397-426.


  1. Sebastian Brock, A brief outline of Syriac literature, Moran Etho 9, p.54-5; 134-5.