Theodoros Abū Qurra (probably d. after 829) [Melk.]

Author, bp. of Ḥarran. Little is definitively known about the life of Theodoros Abū Qurra. He was likely born in Edessa toward the middle of the 8th cent. At an unknown date, he became bp. of Ḥarran. He is traditionally thought to have been a monk at the monastery of Mar Saba, though this has recently been called into question (see Lamoreaux 2002). In his Chronicle, Michael Rabo (d. 1199) reports that Abū Qurra was deposed from his see by Theodoret, the Melk. patr. of Antioch (Chabot, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, vol. 3, 32–4 [FT]; vol. 4, 495–8 [Syr.]). The historicity of this has, however, also recently been challenged (see Lamoreaux 2005, xiii–xv). In the Chronicle of Michael Rabo, Abū Qurra is also said to have travelled to Armenia where he debated with the Syr. Orth. scholar Nonos of Nisibis (d. after 861) in the court of the Armenian prince Ashot Msaker (d. 826). This event, which occurred between 813 and 817, is corroborated by the writings of Ḥabīb b. Khidma Abū Rāʾiṭa (d. after 830), a relative of Nonos and the one who sent him to Armenia. Around the same time, Abū Qurra translated the pseudo-Aristotelian treatise De virtutibus animae into Arabic (ed. with GT Kellermann). In the anonymous Chronicle of 1234, it is reported that a debate took place in 829 between Abū Qurra and Caliph al-Maʾmūn (r. 813–33) (ed. J.-B. Chabot, Anonymi auctoris Chronicon ad annum Christi 1234 pertinens, II [CSCO 82; 1916], 22–3; FT A. Abouna and J.-M. Fiey, Anonymi auctoris Chronicon ad A.C. 1234 pertinens, II [CSCO 354; 1974], 15–6). A literary text purporting to be an account of this debate is preserved in a number of mss. (ed. Dick 1999; ed. with ET Bertaina 2007); its historicity is, however, disputed (see D. Bertaina, ‘The debate of Theodore Abū Qurra’, in Christian-Muslim relations, ed. Thomas and Roggema, 556–64).

Abū Qurra is among the first Christians known to have written in Arabic. According to his own testimony (Bacha 1904, 60–1; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 119), he also wrote in Syriac, though none of his Syriac works are known to survive. His works are extant in both Arabic and Greek as well as Georgian translations (for the latter, see Datiašvili). The textual tradition of these works is not, however, very well understood (a monograph is in preparation by J. C. Lamoreaux).

Abū Qurra’s works in Arabic are as follows (titles generally follow the abbreviated versions in Lamoreaux 2005): ‘On free will’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 9–22; ed. with IT Pizzo and Samir; GT Graf 1910, 223–38; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 195–206); ‘On the Trinity’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 23–47; GT Graf 1910, 133–60; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 175–93); ‘On the death of Christ’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 48–70; GT Graf 1910, 198–223; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 109–28); ‘On the confirmation of the Gospel’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 71–75; GT Graf 1910, 128–33; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 49–53); ‘On the method of the knowledge of God’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 75–82; GT Graf 1910, 160–8; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 157–64); an untitled work on salvation, three sections of which are extant (ed. Bacha 1904, 83–91, 180–186, 91–104; GT Graf 1910, 169–98; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 129–49); ‘Letter to David’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 104– 139; GT Graf 1910, 239–77); ‘Against the Jews’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 140–54; ed. with FT Bacha 1905; GT Graf 1910, 88–102; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 27–39); ‘On the councils’ (ed. Bacha 1904, 154–79; GT Graf 1910, 103–128; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 61–81); ‘Treatise on the veneration of the holy icons’ (ed. Dick 1986; GT Graf 1910, 278–333; ET Griffith 1997; IT Pizzo); ‘Treatise on the existence of the Creator and the true religion’ (ed. Dick 1982; GT Graf 1913; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 1–25, 41–7, 165–74 [who argues that this is actually three separate treatises]); ‘Confession of faith’ (ed. with FT Dick 1959, 56–62; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 151–4); ‘On the characteristics of the true religion’ (ed. with FT Dick 1959, 62–7; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 55–7); ‘Questions on free will’ (ed. with ET Griffith 1979; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 207–8); ‘Against the Armenians’ (ed. with ET Lamoreaux 1992; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 97–101). In addition, there are a number of unpublished works in Arabic (see Samir 1999, 433–36; 2005, 101–13; Lamoreaux 2009, 470–3).

The Greek works attributed to Abū Qurra are collected (with LT) in Migne’s Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 94, col. 1595–1598; vol. 97, col. 1445–1610. An ET of many of these is available in Lamoreaux 2005. Most of the Greek works against Islam have recently been re-edited with GT by Glei and Khoury. Some of these are not, however, by Abū Qurra, but rather are part of a collection of dialogues reported by John the Deacon (see Lamoreaux 2001). The authenticity of a number of the other Greek works attributed to Abū Qurra is also uncertain. Though there are several substantial treatises, most of the Greek works are fragments that probably belonged at one time to larger, now lost treatises. It is explicitly mentioned in the introduction to Opusculum 4 that it was translated from Arabic by Michael Synkellos ( PG , vol. 97, col. 1504; ET Lamoreaux 2005, 83). In addition, an Arabic precursor has been discovered for Opusculum 9 (see Griffith 1979). In addition to the published works, there are a dozen or so unpublished texts in Greek attributed to Abū Qurra; most of these are short though there is a more extensive refutation of Islam (see Lamoreaux 2005, xxvi).

    Primary Sources

    • C.  Bacha, Mayāmir Thāwudūrus Abī Qurra usquf Ḥarrān (1904). (Arabic)
    • C.  Bacha, Un traité des œuvres arabes de Théodore Abou-Kurra évêque de Haran / Maymar fī ṣiḥḥat al-dīn al-masīḥī (1905). (Arabic with FT)
    • D.  Bertaina, An Arabic account of Theodore Abu Qurra in debate at the court of Caliph al-Maʾmun: A study in early Christian and Muslim literary dialogues (Ph.D. Diss., Catholic University of America; 2007). (incl. Arabic with ET)
    • L.  Datiašvili, T’eodore Abukura. Trak’tatebi da dialogebi (1980). (Georgian)
    • I.  Dick, ‘Deux écrits inédits de Théodore Abuqurra’, LM 72 (1959), 53–67. (Arabic with FT)
    • I.  Dick, Théodore Abuqurra. Traité de l’existence du Créateur et de la vraie religion / Maymar fī wujūd al-khāliq wa-al-din al-qawīm (PAC 3; 1982). (Arabic)
    • I.  Dick, Théodore Abuqurra. Traité du culte des icônes / Maymar fī ikrām al-ayqūnāt li-Thāwudhūrus Abī Qurra (PAC 10; 1986). (Arabic)
    • I.  Dick, Mujādalat Abī Qurra maʿa al-mutakallimīn al-muslimīn fī majlis al-khalīfa al-Maʾmūn (1999; 2nd printing 2007). (Arabic)
    • R.  Glei and A. Th.  Khoury, Johannes Damaskenos und Theodor Abū Qurra. Schriften zum Islam (1995). (Greek with GT)
    • G.  Graf, Die arabischen Schriften des Theodor Abû Qurra, Bischofs von Ḥarrân (ca. 740–820) (1910). (GT)
    • G.  Graf, Des Theodor Abû Ḳurra Traktat über den Schöpfer und die wahre Religion (1913). (GT)
    • M.  Kellermann, Ein pseudoaristotelischer Traktat über die Tugend (Ph.D. Diss., Friedrich-Alexander-Universität; 1965). (Arabic with GT)
    • J. C.  Lamoreaux, ‘An unedited tract against the Armenians by Theodore Abū Qurrah’, LM 105 (1992), 327–41. (Arabic with ET)
    • J. C.  Lamoreaux, Theodore Abū Qurrah (Library of the Christian East 1; 2005). (ET)
    • S. H.  Griffith, ‘Some unpublished Arabic sayings attributed to Theodore Abu Qurrah’, LM 92 (1979), 29–35. (Arabic with ET)
    • S. H.  Griffith, A Treatise on the veneration of the holy icons written in Arabic by Theodore Abū Qurrah, bishop of Harrān (c. 750 – c. 830 A.D.) (Eastern Christian Texts in Translation 1; 1997). (ET)
    • P.  Pizzo, Teodoro Abū Qurrah. La difesa delle icone. Trattato sulla venerazione delle immagini (1995). (IT)
    • P. Pizzo and Kh. Samir, Teodoro Abū Qurrah. La libertà (2002). (incl. Arabic with IT)

    Secondary Sources

    • Graf, GCAL, vol. 2 (1947), 7–26.
    • S. H.  Griffith, Theodore Abū Qurrah. The intellectual profile of an Arab Christian writer of the first Abbasid century (1992).
    • S. H.  Griffith, ‘Reflections on the biography of Theodore Abū Qurrah’, ParOr 18 (1993), 143–70.
    • J. C.  Lamoreaux, ‘Theodore Abū Qurrah and John the Deacon’, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 42 (2001), 361–86.
    • J. C.  Lamoreaux, ‘The biography of Theodore Abū Qurrah revisited’, DOP 56 (2002), 25–40.
    • J. C.  Lamoreaux, ‘Theodore Abū Qurra’, in Christian-Muslim relations, ed. Thomas and Roggema, 439–91.
    • Kh. Samir, ‘al-Jadīd fī sīrat Thāwudūrus Abī Qurra wa-āthārihi’, Machriq73 (1999), 417–49.
    • Kh.  Samir (trans. J. P.  Monferrer-Sala), Abū Qurrah. Vida, bibliografía y obras (2005). (incl. extensive bibliography)

How to Cite This Entry

Aaron M. Butts, “Theodoros Abū Qurra,” 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,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Aaron M. Butts, “Theodoros Abū Qurra,” 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),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Butts, Aaron M. “Theodoros Abū Qurra.” 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.

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