Jacob Severus bar Shakko

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Jacob Severus bar Shakko was a West Syriac writer who died in 1241 AD.


He was born in Bartella near Mosul, and studied under the East Syriac scholar John bar Zobi at the monastery of Beth Qoqe. He then studied dialectics and philosophy under Kamal al-Din Musa ibn Yunus, a moslem scholar in Mosul. He was first a monk and subsequently abbot and bishop of the monastery of Mar Mattai, taking the episcopal name Severus.


His surviving works are:

Book of treasures (ktobo d-Simoto)

This is a theological compendium in four parts; 1) on the triune God, 2) on the incarnation, 3) on divine providence and 4) on the creation of the world, including the angels, stars, geography, natural history, etc., finishing with the nature of the human person and soul, anti-Christ, the resurrection of the body and the last judgement. It remains unpublished.

Book of dialogues (Ktobo d-Dialogu)

This work is in two books. The first covers grammar, rhetoric, poetry and metre, eloquence and the richness of the Syriac language. The second covers logic and syllogisms, philosophy (divided into five sections: definitions and divisions of philosophy; philosophical life and conduct; physics and physiology; arithmetic, music, geometry, mathematics; and metaphysics and theology. Only excerpts of this work have been published:

From Book 1:

  • On grammar: ed. A. Merx, Historia artis grammaticae apud Syros (1889), 2*-48*.
  • On poetry: J. P. P. Martin, De la métrique chez les Syriens (Deutsche morgenländische Gesellschaft, Abhandlungen 7:2; 1879);
  • M. Sprengling, Severus bar Shakko's Poetics, Part II, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 32 (1915/6), 293-308.

From Book 2:

  • Part 1 (translation only): G. Furlani, La Logica nei Dialoghi di S. bar S., Atti del Reale Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti 86:2 (1927), 289-348;
  • Part 2: J. Ruska, Das Quadrivium aus Severus Bar Shakku's Dialoge (Diss. Leipzig, 1896).

Other works

  • Two verse letters addressed to physicians
  • He may also have wrriten a creed of faith

He also wrote some other works, now lost; these included a commentary on the liturgical services.


  • Merx, Historia, 209-29
  • J. Ruska, Studien zu Severus bar Shakku's "Buch de Dialoge", Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete 12 (1897), 8-41, 145-61
  • F. Nau, Notice sur le Livre des Trésors de Jacques de Bartela, Journal asiatique IX.7 (1896), 286-331. [Resumé of Part 4] JA is online
  • O. Schrier, The name and function of Jacob bar Shakko, in V Symposium Syriacum (OCA 236; 1990), 215-28
  • C. A. Havard, Jacob bar Shakko, on the faculties of the soul, in VI Symposium Syriacum OCA 247; 1994), 259-68.


  1. Sebastian Brock, A brief outline of Syriac Literature (1997), p.74-5.
  2. WikiSyriaca article by S. Brock