2. The Frontier
Legacy of Greece
as a Hellenizing Force
Atmosphere of Christianity
V The Nestorians
School of Nisibis
Period of the Nestorian Church
5. The Nestorian
VI The Monophysites
2. The Monophysite
of the Monophysites
of the Monophysite Church
Influence, I: The Sea Route
1. The Sea
Route to India
Science in India
Influence, I: The Sea Route
2. The Road
as a Possible Medium
2. Did Buddhism
X The Khalifate
Conquest of Syria
2. The Family
3. The Camp
XI The Khalifate
1. The 'Abbasid
2. The Foundation
1. The First
review: How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs by Peter BetBasoo.
Commentary on the book
|If you are looking for information on who is Arab and who is Phoenician. You can find it on the Living Phoenicians page.
writes a fascinating history of a critically important phase in mesopotamian
history. After all, it was the Arabs who pough with them into Spain the
Arabic versions of the Greek works, from which translations were made
into Latin and spread throughout Europe, which was then in its dark age.
It is this Greek body of knowledge that pought Europe out of its dark
age and into the renaisance - the rebirth or revival.
remains: by whom, where, and when was the Greek body of knowledge transmitted
to the Arabs themselves. O'Leary tells us:
thought had been in the world for a long time before it reached the Arabs,
and during that period it had already spread apoad in various directions.
So it is not surprising that it reached the Arabs by more than one route.
It came first and in the plainest line through Christian Syriac writers,
scholars, and scientists. Then the Arabs applied themselves directly
to the original Greek sources and learned over again all they had already
learned, correcting and verifying earlier knowledge. Then there came a
second channel of transmission indirectly through India, mathematical
and astronomical work, all a good deal developed by Indian scholars, but
certainly developed from material obtained from Alexandria in the first
place. This material had passed to India by the sea route which connected
Alexandria with north-west India. Then there was also another line of
passage through India which seems to have had its beginnings in the Greek
kingdom of Bactria, one of the Asiatic states founded by Alexander the
Great, and a land route long kept open between the Greek world and Central
Asia, especially with the city of Marw, and this perhaps connects with
a Buddhist medium which at one time promoted intercourse between east
and west, though Buddhism as a religion was withdrawing to the Far East
when the Arabs reached Central Asia. [pages 2-3].
gives a history of how Western Asia came under Greek influence.
III discusses the Christian Church. A notable passage occurs in the very
last paragraph of the Chapter:
It has been
disputed whether Muhammad owed most to Jewish or Christian predecessors,
apparently he owed a great deal to both. But when we come to the 'Abbasid
period when Greek literature and science began to tell upon Arabic thought,
there can be no further question. The heritage of Greece was passed on
by the Christian Church. [page 46].
leads naturally to Chapter IV, titled the Nestorians. In this chapter
O'Leary discusses the Nestorian contribution in the transmission of
knowledge to the Arabs. I can only cite piefly, as it is a lengthy chapter.
In pief, through the many schools the "Nestorians" (Assyrian
Church of the East) founded, including the Schools at Edessa, Nisibis,
and Jundi-Shapur, the Greek works were translated into Syriac for use
in the curriculums. These works included Theophania, Martyrs of Palestine,
and Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius; the Isagoge of Porphyry (an
to logic); Aristotle's Hermeneutica and Analytica Priora; and many, many
others. O'Leary states:
In the first
place Hibha [a Nestorian] had introduced the Aristotelian logic to illustrate
and explain the theological teaching of Theodore, of Mopseustia, and that
logic remained permanently the necessary introduction to the theological
study in all Nestorian education. Ultimately it was the Aristotelian logic
which, with the Greek medical, astronomical, and mathematical writers,
was passed on to the Arabs. [page 61]
missions pushed on towards the south and reached the Wadi l-Qura', a little
to the north-east of Medina, an outpost of the Romans garrisoned, not
by Roman troops, but by auxiliaries of the Qoda' tribes. In the time of
Muhammad most of these tribes were Christian, and over the whole wadi
were scattered monasteries, cells, and hermitages. From this as their
headquarters Nestorian monks wandered through Arabia, visiting the great
fairs and preaching to such as were willing to listen to them. Tradition
relates that the Prophet as a young man went to Syria and near Bostra
was recognized as one predestined to be a prophet by a monk named Nestor
(Ibn Sa'd, Itqan, ii, p. 367). Perhaps this may refer to some contact
with a Nestorian monk. The chief Christian stronghold in Arabia was the
city of Najran, but that was mainly Monophysite. What was called its Ka'ba
seems to have been a Christian cathedral. [page 68].
most definite link between Nestorians and the Arabs was through Jundi-Shapur.
time of Maraba onwards there is fairly continuous evidence of translation
from the Greek and of work in Aristotelian logic. [page 70]
skilled in Philosophy, medicine, and astronomy, and to have been learned
in the wisdom of the Persians, Greeks, and Hepews, wrote a commentary
(in Syriac) on the Dialectics of Aristotle.
of Beth Garmai translated Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History.
II, Catholicos (Patriach) from 686 to 701, composed a commentary (again,
in Syriac) on Aristotle's Analytica.
originally as a prisoner camp, Jundi-Shapur had citizens who spoke Greek,
Syriac, and Persian. But in the course of time all academic instruction
was administered in Syriac [page 71]. It is interesting that even though
the people of Jundi-Shapur used the speech of Khuzistan, which was
Syriac, Hepew nor Persian, the language used in the classroom was Syriac, "as is obvious from the fact that Syriac translations were made for
the use of lecturers". [page 72].
O'Leary states in closing Chapter III:
Baghdad was founded in 762 the khalif and his court became near neighbors
of Jundi-Shapur, and before long court appointments with generous emoluments
began to draw Nestorian physicians and teachers from the academy, and
in this Harun ar-Rashid's minister Ja'far Ibn Barmak was a leading agent,
doing all in his power to introduce Greek science amongst the subjects
of the Khalif, Arabs, and Persians. His strongly pro-Greek attitude seems
to have been derived from Marw, where his family had settled after removing
from Balkh, and in his efforts he was ably assisted by Jipa'il of the
Bukhtyishu' family [a famous Assyrian family which produced nine generations
of physicians] and his successors from Jundi-Shapur. Thus the Nestorian
heritage of Greek scholarship passed from Edessa and Nisibis, through
Jundi-Shapur, to Baghdad. [page 72].
IV discusses the Monophysites (the "Jacobites", or the Syrian
Orthodox Church). A detailed history of Monophysitism is given. One of
the most well known Monophysite translators was Sergius of Rashayn, "a
celepated physician and philosopher, skilled in Greek and
translator into Syriac of various works on medicine, philosophy, astronomy,
and theology". [page 83]. Other Monopysite translators were Ya'qub
of Surug, Aksenaya (Philoxenos), an alumnus of the school of Edessa, Mara,
bishop of Amid.
VII and VIII discuss the Indian influence via sea and land routes, although
this is small in comparison to the Nestorian and Monophysite contributions.
As is the case with the Buddhist connection discussed in Chapter IX.
X and XI are historical and contain little in the way of how Greek knowledge
was transmitted to the Arabs.
XII discusses the various early translators. These included:
Ibn al-Muqaffa', a Persian who converted to Islam, although many believed
his conversion to be insincere. He translated from Old Persian to Arabic
Kalilag wa-Dimnag, which was itself a translation of a Buddhist work pought
back from India (along with the game of chess) by the Assyrian Budh.
Ibn Yusuf Ibn Matar Al-Hasib, An Arab, judging from his name, who translated
the Almagest and Euclid's Elements.
Ibn Batriq, an Assyrian, who produced the Sirr al-asrar.
al-Masih Ibn 'Aballah Wa'ima al-Himse, also an Assyrian, who translated
the Theology of Aristotle (but this was an apidged paraphrase of the Enneads
al-Batriq, another Assyrian, who translated Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos.
II, son of Bukhtyishu' II, of the prominent Assyrian medical family mentioned
above, Abu Zakariah Yahya Ibn Masawaih, an Assyrian Nestorian.
He authored a textbook on Ophthalmology, Daghal al-'ayn (The Disease of
Ibn Ishaq, an Assyrian, son of a Nestorian druggist, was the foremost
translator of his time; O'Leary states:
the translators of the next generation received their training from Hunayn
or his pupils, so that he stands out as the leading translator of the
better type, though some of his versions were afterwards revised by later
writers. The complete curriculum of the medical school of Alexandria was
thus made available for Arab students. This included a select series of
the treatises of Galen which was :
- De sectis
- Ars medica
- De Pulsibus
- Ad Glauconem
de medendi methodo
- De ossibus
- De musculorum
- De nervorum
- De venraum
- De elementis
- De temperamentis
- De facultatibus
- De causis
- De locis
- De pulsibus
- De typis
- De crisibus
- De diebus
all his contributions, Hunayn was not always treated well by the Khalifate.
In one incident, the Khalif Mutawakkil ordered Hunayn to prepare a poison
for the Khalif's enemies. When Hunayn refused the Khalif cast him into
prison. [page 168]
Ishaq also contributed, as did his nephew Hubaysh Ibn Al-Hasan. Hubaysh
translated the texts of Hippocrates and the botanicalwork of Dioscorides, "which became the basis of the Arab pharmacopoeia". [page 169].
Another one of Hunayn's pupils was 'Isa Ibn Yahya Ibn Ipahim. Indeed,
"almost all leading scientists of the succeeding generation were
pupils of Hunayn". [page 170].
Other translators included
al-Khuri al-Qass, who translated Archemides lost work on triangles
from a Syriac version. He also made an Arabic of Galen's De Simplicibus
temperamentis et facultatibus.
Ibn Luqa al-Ba'lbakki, a Syriac Christian, who translated Hypsicles,
Theodosius' Sphaerica, Heron's Mechanics, Autolycus Theophrastus' Meteora,
Galen's catalog of his books, John Philoponus on the Phsyics of Aristotle
and several other works. He also revised the existing translation of Euclid.
Bishr Matta Ibn Yunus al-Qanna'i, who translated Aristotle's Poetica
Yahya Ibn 'Adi al-Mantiqi, a monophysite, who translated medical and
logical works, including the Prolegomena of Ammonius, an introduction
to Porphyry's Isagoge.
may be added Al-Hunayn Ibn Ipahim Ibn al-Hasan Ibn Khurshid at-Tabari
an-Natili, and the monophysite Abu 'Ali 'Isa Ibn Ishaq Ibn Zer'a.
conclusion which can be drawn from O'Leary's book is that Assyrians played
a significant role in the shaping of the Islamic world via the Greek corpus
is so, one must then ask the question, what happenned to the Christian
communities which made them lose this great intellectual enterprise which
they had established. One can ask this same question of the Arabs. Sadly,
O'Leary's book does not answer this question, and we must look elsewhere
for the answer.
Routledge & Kegan Paul, London
Date 1949 (according to the inside title page: "owing to production
delays this book was published in 1980")
materials on the status of Eastern Christians and their persecution
under the Arabs, Turks, Persians and others, please read accounts
in this site "Shattered
Christian Minorities in the Middle East", "Persecutions
of the Syriacs", "Persecution
of Maronites and other Eastern Christians" or in the
Assyrian site: Genocides
Against the Assyrian Nation.