Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī (893/4–974) [Syr. Orth.]

Translator, philosopher, logician, and theologian. His full name is Abū Zakariyyā Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī b. Ḥamīd b. Zakariyyā (some mss. copied in Iran add: b. Yaḥyā b. ʿUthmān b. Ḥamīd b. Buzurjmihr). He was born in 893/4 in Tagrit and spent most of his adult life in Baghdad. He died 13 Aug. 974 at the age of 81 and was buried in the church of Mār Tūmā in Baghdad. He was a student of the Ch. of E. philosopher Abū Bishr Mattā b. Yūnus (d. ca. 940) and the celebrated Muslim philosopher Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī (d. ca. 950). Yaḥyā had a number of prominent students, both Christians and Muslims. His Christian students include Abū ʿAlī ʿĪsā b. Zurʿa (d. 1008) and al-Ḥasan b. Suwār b. al-Khammār (d. after 1017), the latter of whom instructed Ibn al-Ṭayyib (d. 1043). His Muslim students include Abū Sulaymān al-Sijistānī (d. ca. 985), ʿĪsā b. ʿAlī (d. 1001; to be distinguished from the Syriac lexicographer Ishoʿ bar ʿAli), and Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī (d. 1023). Like his contemporary Ibn al-Nadīm (fl. 987), who wrote the Kitāb al-Fihrist, Yaḥyā was a professional scribe and bookseller in Baghdad. He is, however, better known as the master of philosophy of his time.

Yaḥyā’s oeuvre includes more than 130 items, all in Arabic, that span the fields of philosophy, logic, metaphysics, ethics, physics and mathematics, and theology (an indispensible inventory is provided by Endress 1977 with important additions and corrections by Samir 1979). Following in the tradition of Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq (d. 873), Yaḥyā edited, translated (often via Syriac), and commented on many Greek philosophical texts. Chief among these were the works of Aristotle, especially the ‘Topics’ and ‘Physics’. Yaḥyā was, however, also an author in his own right. One of his more important works is his Maqāl fī al-tawḥīd ‘Discourse on unity’ (ed. Kh.  Samir 1980), in which he defines the unity of God in such a way as to affirm monotheism (important to his Muslim audience) while maintaining three attributes of God, namely goodness, wisdom, and power (pointing to a Trinitarian understanding of God). In addition to his writings on logic and philosophy, Yaḥyā was a prolific author in Christian theology with many of his works being of an apologetic nature. Some of his apologetic writings are directed against the Muslim mutakallimūn with whom he was in regular contact (see Islam, Syriac contacts with). Yaḥyā, for instance, wrote a lengthy response to the Kitāb fī al-radd ʿalā al-firaq al-thalāth min al-naṣārā ‘Refutation of the three sects of the Christians’ by Abū ʿĪsā Muḥammad b. Hārūn al-Warrāq (d. ca. 862) (ed. Platti 1987). Yaḥyā also wrote apologetic works against the Ch. of E. in which he defended the Christological formulation of the Syr. Orth. Church (see, e.g., Platti 1981–1982, 1983). Finally, mention should be made of Yaḥyā’s Tahdhīb al-akhlāq ‘The Reformation of Morals’ (Arabic with ET Griffith 2002), which is one of the earliest and most important works on ethics in Arabic literature.

    Primary Sources

    • C.  Ehrig-Eggert, Die Abhandlung über den Nachweis der Natur des Möglichen von Yaḥyā Ibn ʿAdī (gest. 974 A.D.) (1990). (GT with commentary)
    • S. H.  Griffith, Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī. The Reformation of Morals (2002). (Arabic with ET)
    • S.  Khalifat, Yahyā Ibn ʿAdī. The Philosophical Treatises (1988). (Arabic)
    • A.  Périer, Petits traités apologétiques de Yaḥyâ ben ʿAdî (1920). (Arabic with FT)
    • A.  Périer, ‘Un traité de Yaḥyâ ben ʿAdî, défense du dogme de la Trinité contre les objections d’Al-Kindî’, ROC 22 (1920–1921), 3–21. (Arabic with FT)
    • E.  Platti, La grande polémique anti-nestorienne de Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī (CSCO 427–8, 437–8; 1981–2). (Arabic with FT)
    • E.  Platti, Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī, théologien chrétien et philosophe arabe: Sa théologie de l’incarnation (OLA 14; 1983). (Arabic with FT; incl. further references)
    • E.  Platti, Abū ʿĪsā al-Warrāq. Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī. De l’incarnation (CSCO 490–1; 1987). (Arabic with FT)
    • Kh. Samir, Le traité de l’unité de Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī (893–974) (1980). (Arabic)
    • P. P.  Sbath, Vingt traités philosophiques et apologétiques d’auteurs arabes chrétiens du IXe au XIVe siècles (1929), 168–75. (Arabic)
    • G.  Troupeau, ‘Trois traités apologétiques de Yaḥyâ Ibn ʿAdî, traduits en français’, in L’Art des confins. Mélanges offerts à Maurice de Gandillac, ed. A.  Cazenave and J.-F. Lyotard (1985), 177–84. (FT of texts edited in Sbath; repr. in Études sur le christianisme arabe au Moyen Age[1995], ch. xi)

    Secondary Sources

    • G.  Endress, The works of Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī. An analytical inventory (1977). (incl. further references)
    • G.  Endress, in EI 2, vol. 11, 245.
    • G.  Graf, Die Philosophie und Gotteslehre des Jaḥjâ ibn ʿAdī und späterer Autoren (1910).
    • G.  Graf, GCAL, vol. 2 (1947), 233–49.
    • S. H.  Griffith, The Church in the shadow of the Mosque. Christians and Muslims in the world of Islam (2008), esp. 122–5.
    • J.  Kraemer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam. The cultural revival during the Buyid Age (1986), esp. 104–16.
    • A.  Périer, Yaḥyâ ben ʿAdî. Un philosophe arabe chrétien du Xe siècle (1920).
    • Kh.  Samir, ‘Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī’, Bulletin d’Arabe Chrétien 3 (1979), 45–63. (important additions to Endress 1977)


How to Cite This Entry

Aaron M. Butts , “Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī,” 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/Yahya-b-Adi.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Aaron M. Butts , “Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī,” 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/Yahya-b-Adi.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Butts, Aaron M. “Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī.” 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/Yahya-b-Adi.

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