Edessa, School of School of the Persians

The School of Edessa, or the School of the Persians in Edessa, as it is referred to by the earlier and more reliable sources, seems to have been one of several intellectual circles in 5th-cent. Edessa (‘Acts of the Council of Ephesus of 449’, ed. Flemming, 24.22–4). Its appellation and the background of those persons immediately associated with it in the sources suggest an originally ethnically-based institution, which in time, perhaps due to the influx of Christians from the East and the changing theological standards in the West, became the center of a more conservative Antiochene theology. The works of the so-called Nestorian fathers, such as Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, were translated by those associated with the school (as evidenced in Letter 14 of Yaʿqub of Serugh). The school was closed in 489 under the auspices of the bp. Qiyore by order of the emperor Zeno, at which (or slightly earlier) point its members migrated into the Persian empire, some of them, most notably Narsai, founding the School of Nisibis (the date has been disputed in the secondary literature).

The standard view of the School of Edessa in modern scholarship has suffered from an uncritical reading of the sources and an anachronistic understanding of what kind of institution the term ‘school’ may have referred to in antiquity (e.g., Vööbus). Scholarship has attributed greater significance to the school than it perhaps deserves, arguing, for example, that commentaries on Aristotle were composed and studied therein (e.g., on Proba, see Vööbus, 104–5) and extending its history back to the time of Bardaiṣan (d. 222) by using the title ‘School of Edessa’ more broadly to refer to intellectual activity in the city of Edessa in general (e.g., Hayes 1930; more recently, Drijvers 1995). Furthermore, a tradition developed from early on that Ephrem taught in and even founded the school. All but one of the sources for the school derive from after its closure and thus reflect the ongoing controversy between the W. Syrians, for whom the school was a source of heresy, and the E. Syrians, who understood it as the intellectual predecessor of the School of Nisibis. The question remains unresolved as to how much continuity there was between the School of Nisibis and that of Edessa. The two richest sources for the School of Edessa, ‘The Cause of the Foundation of the Schools’ and the Ecclesiastical History, both attributed to a Barḥadbshabba (perhaps the same person — the question of the identity of these two authors is not resolved), were composed at the School of Nisibis and describe the development of the school in the 5th  cent.; however, inconsistencies between these two texts suggest that their knowledge of this predecessor institution is hazy.


  • Becker, Fear of God.
  • H. J. W.  Drijvers, ‘The School of Edessa: Greek Learning and Local Culture’, in Centres of learning. Learning and location in pre-modern Europe and the Near East, ed. J. W. Drijvers and A.  MacDonald (Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History 61; 1995), 49–59.
  • J. Flemming, Akten der ephesinischen Synode vom Jahre 449 (1917).
  • E. R.  Hayes, L’école d’Édesse (1930).
  • 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).
  • Vööbus, History of the School of Nisibis.

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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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