Cause of Causes (10th–12th cent.?)

W.-Syr. encyclopedic work in nine books, dealing with theology, philosophy, anthropology, and natural sciences. The last part has been lost. In the introduction the author says he had been bp. of Edessa for 30 years, was then banned, and later recalled; eventually he preferred to retire to monastic life. Pohlmann attributed the ‘Cause of causes’ to Yaʿqub of Edessa. Nöldeke observed Arabic influence on the terminology of the ‘Cause of causes’, especially concerning the geographical knowledge of Europe, and proposed a much later date (11th or 12th cent.). Since no one was bp. of Edessa for 30 years in the 12th cent., a possible candidate is the 11th-cent. bp. Athanasios. Baumstark interpreted the text as intended to promote mutual understanding between the various Christian denominations as well as between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and thought that this universalistic attitude might be more consonant with the 10th cent. than later.

According to the author of ‘Cause of causes’, human knowledge may attain three different levels (natural, scriptural, and spiritual) thanks to three main sources (Reason, the Pentateuch, and the Gospels). The anthropology of ‘Cause of causes’ follows the Neo-Platonic analogy according to which man is to nature as micro-cosmos is to macro-cosmos.

An extensive study of the sources has still to be made. According to Reinink, the author assimilates elements from various traditions such as the structure of hexaemeron-exegetical works (Yaʿqub of Edessa and Mushe bar Kipho) and motifs and themes of mystical-ascetical literature. Many parallels may be drawn with Isḥaq of Nineveh, to whom the text is attributed in a marginal note in Latin, in ms. Vat. Lat. 6429, p. 133. The argumentation of ‘Cause of causes’, however, reflects the methodology of Christian anti-Muslim apologetics (see Christian Arabic writers such as the Melk. Theodoros Abū Qurra, 9th cent., and the Syr. Orth. Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī, 10th cent.) and aims at strengthening the faith of a Christian, i.e., a Syr. Orth. readership living in a predominantly Islamic world.

    Primary Sources

    • F. W. C.  Kayser, Das Buch von der Erkenntniss der Wahrheit, oder, der Ursache aller Ursachen nach den syrischen Handschriften zu Berlin, Rom, Paris und Oxford (1889).
    • F. W. C.  Kayser, Das Buch von der Erkenntniss der Wahrheit, oder, der Ursache aller Ursachen aus dem syrischen Grundtext ins Deutsche übersetzt (1893).
    • J. E.  Manna, Morceaux choisis de littérature araméenne (Mosul, 1901), vol. 2, 282–94. (excerpts)

    Secondary Sources

    • Baumstark, Literatur, 280–81.
    • G. J.  Reinink, ‘Communal identity and the systematisation of knowledge in the Syriac “Cause of all causes” ’, in Pre-Modern Encyclopaedic Texts. Proceedings of the Second COMERS Congress, Groningen, 1–4 July 1996, ed. P. Binkley (1997), 275–88. (incl. further references)

| Cause of Causes |


Front Matter A (73) B (53) C (26) D (36) E (27) F (5) G (30) H (22) I (31) J (15) K (11) L (12) M (56) N (19) O (3) P (28) Q (11) R (8) S (71) T (39) U (1) V (5) W (3) X (1) Y (41) Z (4) Back Matter
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