Timothy I

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Timothy I, Patriarch of the Nestorians, 727/728-823

779-823 Patriarchate of Timothy I, greatest Nestorian patriarch under the Arab Caliphate, during which metropolitans are appointed for Armenia and Syria and the Kaghan of the Turks is said to have been converted.

His letters contain much of interest for the study of the transmission of texts. In particular he records the discovery of some ancient Hebrew psalms in the region of the Dead Sea by a goatherd.

Early presence of Christians in Tibet is well attested. Towards the end of the eighth century the Nestorian Patriarch Mar Timothy I (AD 779-823) in his letter to the monks of Mar Maron concerning the addition of the formula Crucifixus es pro nobis [Crucified for us] to the trisagion wrote:

"And also in the countries of Babylon, of Persia, and Assyria, and in all the Countries of the sun rise, that is to say, -- among the Indians, the Chinese, the Tibetans, the Turks, and in all the provinces under the jurisdiction of this patriarchal see, there is no addition of Crucifixus es pronobis." (Mingana, op.cit., p. 466.)

In another of his letters, Timothy mentioned that he was about to consecrate a metropolitan for Tibet. (Lawrence Browne, The Eclipse of Christianity in Asia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1933, p.95.)

As the church grew in wealth and power, the Nestorian patriarchal office in Persia was coveted by many. There is a story about the election of Timothy I as Nestorian patriarch in the eighth century. He laid out at the disposal of his electors heavy sacks to be opened after his success, presumably full of money. Timothy won the election, and when his supporters opened the sacks they found them full of stones. He defended himself by saying, "The priesthood is not to be purchased for money." They could not replace him by his rival since his election was already ratified by the Persian state. (Aziz S. Atiya, A history of Eastern Christianity, London, Methuen & Co. 1968, p. 272.) The church became a prey to rivalry for the patriarchal throne, and this led to prolonged vacancies. Often it was won in the end by the highest bidder.

Translation form the Syriac language to Arabic was so widespread that even the Nestorian Patriarch Timothy who was a good friend of al-Mehdi and his sons Musa, Harun and Ali is known to have translated the 'Topics of Aristotle' first from the Syriac in (782-3) and later retranslating it from the Greek original with the help of the malikite Patriarch.


  • "Timothei patriarchae I Epistulae", ed. Oskar Braun, CSCO 74, 75. Louvain :Durbecq (1914/15, repr. 1953). Syriac and Latin.
  • Alphonse Mingana, ed. and trans. The Apology of Timothy the Patriarch before the Caliph Mahdi. No. 3, Woodbrooke Studies, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1928), 137-298.
  • Lawrence E. Browne, "The Patriarch Timothy and the Caliph al-Mahdi" in The Moslem World, January 1931.