Barḥadbshabba ʿArbaya (late 6th / early 7th  cent.) [Ch. of E.]

A member of the School of Nisibis in the latter part of the 6th cent., who may have composed two of the most important sources for this institution: the Ecclesiastical History and the so-called ‘Cause of the Foundation of the Schools’. The former is a church history, composed not long after 569, focusing on the 4th and 5th cent. from an E.-Syr. perspective (but relying on Western Greek sources). In its concluding two chapters it traces the history of the School of Edessa and the School of Nisibis up to the death of Abraham of Beth Rabban, head of the School of Nisibis (d. 569). Scholars have commonly equated this text, entitled in the one surviving ms. as ‘History of the Holy Fathers, persecuted on account of the truth’, with the Ecclesiastical History mentioned by ʿAbdishoʿ (see below). The ‘Cause’ attributed to Barḥadbshabba, composed between 581 and ca. 610, begins with a treatment of epistemology and then provides a history of learning from the time of God’s creation of the world to the period of the text’s composition in the late 6th cent. It recasts patriarchal, Israelite, ‘pagan’, and Christian history as a long series of schools, concluding with the leadership of Ḥenana (ca. 572 – ca. 610), whom Barḥadbshabba views favorably.

These two texts have both been attributed to a Barḥadbshabba, but scholars have not agreed about his identity and whether he is one and the same person. Two contemporary figures named Barḥadbshabba are attested in the sources: Barḥadbshabba ʿArbaya (i.e., from Beth ʿArbaye) and Barḥadbshabba of Ḥulwān (in the mountains northeast of Seleucia-Ctesiphon). Their identification is supported by their contemporaneity, their mutual connection to Nisibis and Ḥenana, the common subject matter of their surviving works, and the lack of positive evidence to the contrary, though it is far from certain that they are one and the same person. It is possible that a Barḥadbshabba from the region of Beth ʿArbaye came to Nisibis and was eventually consecrated bp. of Ḥulwān, in which case the two are actually one and the same person, as some scholars believe. To the former ʿAbdishoʿ attributes: ‘a book of treasures in three parts, and disputes (drāše) with all religions (deḥlān) and their refutation, and an ecclesiastical (history), and a cause of the followers (Syr. bet, or ‘school’) of Diodore, and a commentary (mašlmānutā) on Mark the evangelist and (the psalms of) David’. A late ms. attributes a hymn to the same person (ms. Cambridge Or. Oo. 1. 22). Perhaps the commentary on Psalms mentioned by ʿAbdishoʿ is the source of the quotation attributed to a Barḥadbshabba in a later psalm commentary (ms. Mingana Syr. 58). Dadishoʿ Qaṭraya cites a ‘Book of Treasures’, which he attributes to Barḥadbshabba the teacher (mallpānā), probably the same person. The ‘Cause of the Followers of Diodore’ may be a recherché reference to the ‘Cause of the Foundation of the Schools’ (since there were never any formal group of followers of Diodore. Presumably this is Diodore of Tarsus). The ms. tradition of the ‘Cause’ does not help us identify the author, since the more reliable mss. were lost in 1915. The text would have been written perhaps before the mid-590s if the author is identical with the Barḥadbshabba who participated in opposing Ḥenana at the Synod of 605 and left the School some time after, particularly since Ḥenana is highly praised in the ‘Cause’. The Khuzistan Chronicle refers to a person by the name of Barḥadbshabba of Ḥulwān, known for his compositions in the early 7th cent (Guidi et al., Chronica minora [CSCO 1], 22). The same person is also one of the signatories to the record for the Synod of Grigor I of 605, at which the theological authority of Theodore of Mopsuestia was re-affirmed (Synodicon Orientale, 471–9). This has been taken by some scholars to be an implicit rejection of Ḥenana.The Chronicle of Siirt suggests that these two figures are the same, but this may be a later conflation. Significantly, the text states that ‘Ḥadbshabba ʿArbaya who became metropolitan of Ḥulwān’ was one of the members who left the School of Nisibis due to the controversial theology of Ḥenana. Some later sources, such as the 9th-cent. biblical commentator Ishoʿdad of Merv and the later Gannat bussāme (‘Garden of Delights’, a commentary on the E.-Syr. lectionary) refer to a Barḥadbshabba without any appellation, and this may also be the same person.

    Primary Sources

    • Assemani, BibOr, chap. 93.
    • A. H.  Becker, Sources for the Study of the School of Nisibis (TTH 50; 2008).
    • Chabot, Synodicon Orientale, 471–79.
    • R.  Draguet, Commentaire du livre d’Abba Isaïe par Dadišoʿ Qatraya (VIIe siécle) (CSCO 326; 1972), 263.22. (Discourse 15.12)
    • Guidi et al., Chronica minora (CSCO 1), 22.25–26. (“Chronicum Anonymum” = Khuzistan Chronicle)
    • A.  Mingana, Catalogue of the Mingana Collection of Manuscripts , 3 vols. (1933–1963), vol. 1, col. 159.
    • F.  Nau, La seconde partie de l’histoire de Barhadbesabba ‘Arbaïa (PO 9.5; 1913).
    • A.  Scher, Cause de la fondation des écoles (PO 4.4; 1908).
    • A.  Scher, Histoire nestorienne inédite (Chronique de Séert), 2.2 (PO 13.4; 1910), 511–12.
    • J.-M.  Vosté and C. van den Eynde, Commentaire d’Išoʿdad de Merv sur l’Ancien Testament, vol. 1. Genèse (CSCO 126; 1950), 81.
    • W. Wright, Catalogue of Syriac manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge, vol. 2 (1901), 1083. (ms. Cambridge Or. Oo. 1. 22)

    Secondary Sources

    • A. H.  Becker, Sources for the Study of the School of Nisibis (TTH 50; 2008), 11–16. (a discussion of the problem of identifying Barḥadbshabba ʿArbaya with Barḥadbshabba of Ḥulwān as well as the question of his authorship of the ‘Cause of the Foundation of the Schools’)
    • Baumstark, Literatur, 136. (n. 6 also refers to a citation of a Barḥadbshabba in an anonymous New Testament commentary)
    • Reinink, ‘Edessa grew dim and Nisibis shone forth’.
    • Vööbus, History of the School of Nisibis, 280–82, 294–96.


How to Cite This Entry

Adam H. Becker and Jeff W. Childers, “Barḥadbshabba ʿArbaya,” 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/Barhadbshabba-Arbaya.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Adam H. Becker and Jeff W. Childers, “Barḥadbshabba ʿArbaya,” 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/Barhadbshabba-Arbaya.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Becker, Adam H. and Jeff W. Childers. “Barḥadbshabba ʿArbaya.” 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/Barhadbshabba-Arbaya.

A TEI-XML record with complete metadata is available at https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Barhadbshabba-Arbaya/tei.

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