Abraham of Kashkar (ca. 500–588) [Ch. of E.]

Monk, founder and abbot of the ‘Great Monastery’ on Mount Izla. Several biographical accounts of Abraham’s life have been preserved, but since their primary goal was to establish Abraham’s authority as monastic reformer, their historical information should be used with caution.

Abraham was from the region of Kashkar (later al-Wāsiṭ, in present-day southern Iraq). After a period of preaching in Ḥirta, he is said to have traveled to the Egyptian desert of Scetis, to Mount Sinai, and to Jerusalem. He then spent some time at the School of Nisibis, where he studied with Abraham of Beth Rabban and with Yoḥannan of Beth Rabban, before settling, around the middle of the 6th cent., on Mount Izla, in the vicinity of Nisibis. He built the ‘Great Monastery’ and assembled many disciples. A  monastic rule, consisting of twelve canons, was issued in 570. In the following decades, Abraham’s disciples founded monasteries all over Mesopotamia and Persia. Many of the great ascetics of the Ch. of E. are associated with Abraham’s monastic movement.

Monastic life on Mount Izla was of the Egyptian type and consisted of a combination of solitary and coenobitic lifestyles. Whether it was modeled on monasticism in Scetis as Abraham personally experienced it during his travels, or whether Abraham’s alleged Egyptian ‘pilgrimage’ served to legitimate the reform, remains an open question. It also is debated whether E.-Syr. Christianity was exposed to Egyptian asceticism only in Abraham’s day or whether this already had happened much earlier, perhaps under Mar Awgen, the 4th-cent. Egyptian ascetic who was said to have come to Mesopotamia.

Although asceticism and monasticism must have existed in the Ch. of E. long before Abraham, they had been marginalized by the synods of the late 5th  cent. Abraham succeeded in bringing them back to the center of the church, where they developed under the control of the ecclesiastical and theological authorities. Abraham is said to have introduced a distinct tonsure and dress for the monks of his new movement, thus distinguishing them from Syr. Orth. monks as well as from dissenters within the Ch. of E. who, continuing perhaps some of the earlier patterns of asceticism, were often branded as ‘Messalians’.


  • S. Chialà, Abramo di Kashkar e la sua comunità. La rinascita del monachesimo siro-orientale (2005).
  • Fiey, Nisibe, métropole syriaque orientale, 144–6 and 204–13.
  • Th. Hermann, ‘Bemerkungen zu den Regeln des Mar Abraham und Mar Dadischo vom Berge Isla’, ZNW 22 (1923), 286–299.
  • F. Jullien, ‘Rabban-Šāpūr. Un monastère au rayonnement exceptionnel. La réforme d’Abraham de Kaškar dans le Bēth-Huzāyē’, OCP 72 (2006), 333–48.
  • eadem, Le monachisme en Perse. La réforme d’Abraham le Grand, père des moines de l’Orient (CSCO 622; 2008).
  • M. Tamcke, ‘Abraham von Kaschkar, †588’, in Syrische Kirchenväter, ed. W. Klein (2004), 124–32.
  • M. Tamcke, ‘Abraham of Kashkar’s pilgrimage’, ARAM 18–19 (2006–7), 477–82.
  • Vööbus, Syriac and Arabic documents, 150–62.

| Abraham of Kashkar |


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