Abraham of Beth Rabban (6th cent.) [Ch. of E.]

Teacher of biblical interpretation and director of the School of Nisibis. Our main sources for Abraham’s life are the two works attributed to Barḥadbshabba and the Chronicle of Siirt. The second part of Abraham’s name, ‘from the house of our master’ (d-Beth Rabban), is generally understood to refer to Narsai, the first director of the School of Nisibis, who may have been Abraham’s relative. Barḥadbshabba the historian presents Abraham as Narsai’s immediate successor and in charge of the school for 20 years (502/3 – ca. 522). According to Barḥadbeshabba, Abraham was then temporarily replaced by Elishaʿ bar Quzbaye but he returned to his office a few years later and held it until his death, probably in 569. Other sources present Elishaʿ bar Quzbaye as Narsai’s immediate successor and put the beginning of Abraham’s tenure ca. 510. For some time during his directorship Abraham may have been assisted by his relative Yoḥannan of Beth Rabban. During Abraham’s directorship the School flourished and had its greatest expansion, despite Abraham often being the target of attacks both from within and from outside the E.-Syr. community.

Barḥadbshabba the historian credits Abraham with building activities in the School, including a hospice (xenodochion) for the sick and cells and baths for the students. As an instructor in biblical interpretation he may have played an important role in the transmission of the commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Barḥadbshabba reports that ‘he edited and explained’ (ktab w-paššeq) Theodore’s commentaries, because they were too difficult for the students. In this process he is said to have followed ‘the tradition that he had received from his teacher’ (i.e., Narsai). Unfortunately, none of Abraham’s works have survived. He is, however, often quoted in later E.-Syr. commentaries on several OT books.

    Primary Sources

    • F. Nau, La seconde partie de l’Histoire de Barḥadbešabba ʿArbaïa (PO 9; 1913), 616–31.
    • A. Scher, Mar Barḥadbšabba ʿArbaya, évêque de Ḥalwan (VIe  siècle). Cause de la fondation des écoles (PO 4; 1908), 387–8.
    • A. Scher, Histoire nestorienne inédite (Chronique de Séert), vol. 2.1 (PO 7; 1909), 115–6.

    Secondary Sources

    • Baumstark, Literatur, 115.
    • Becker, Fear of God, 79–81.
    • Vööbus, History of the School of Nisibis, 134–210.
    • Vööbus, ‘Abraham de-Bet Rabban and his role in the hermeneutic traditions of the School of Nisibis’, HTR 58 (1965), 203–14.


How to Cite This Entry

Lucas Van Rompay, “Abraham of Beth Rabban,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Abraham-of-Beth-Rabban.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Lucas Van Rompay, “Abraham of Beth Rabban,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Abraham-of-Beth-Rabban.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Van Rompay, Lucas. “Abraham of Beth Rabban.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Abraham-of-Beth-Rabban.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Abraham-of-Beth-Rabban/tei.

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