Ḥenana (d. ca. 610) [Ch. of E.]

School director and exegete. Ḥenana came from the province of Adiabene to study at the School of Nisibis during the time of Abraham of Beth Rabban (d. 569). After serving as a teacher in the School, Ḥenana became its director ca. 571. The School flourished under his leadership, for a time. He had a following of some 800 students and updated the School’s statutes (590). However, the School experienced decline near the end of Ḥenana’s tenure as director, marked by a dramatic exodus of students and teachers from the School. The problems were apparently triggered by the theological and political controversies surrounding Ḥenana. Reputed to be a follower of Origen and a Chalcedonian sympathizer who had abandoned the orthodox theological tradition of such teachers as Theodore of Mopsuestia, he was the subject of veiled attacks in synods held between 585 and 612 (see Synodicon Orientale, ed. Chabot, 393, 400, 457–61), and was openly denounced by Babai the Great. His controversial leadership of the School also created tensions between the E.-Syr. church hierarchy and the Persian government. The oft-repeated assertions that Ḥenana was responsible for introducing spiritual (‘allegorical’) exegesis into the E.-Syr. tradition and for bringing John Chrysostom into prominence in the Ch. of E. are ill-founded. Though the influence of Chrysostom on E.-Syr. exegesis in the 6th cent. is undeniable, no clear evidence of Ḥenana’s reliance on Chrysostom exists, and Ḥenana is merely one of a number of E.-Syr. practitioners of spiritual exegesis during the 6th–7th cent. The only extant works are two tracts explaining liturgical feasts, On Golden Friday and On the Rogation. Ishoʿdad is our main source for extracts from Ḥenana’s exegetical works. Yet by his literary work and in his leadership of the School he significantly influenced E.-Syr. exegesis, theological discourse, and liturgy.

ʿAbdishoʿ credits Ḥenana with having written a number of commentaries on scripture, homilies, expositions of and expansions to the liturgy, and theological tracts, but his works were banned and mainly lost. Though Ḥenana was undoubtedly a controversial figure, the controversy surrounding him during and after his lifetime owed much to the impact of larger trends in the Ch. of E. Shifting intellectual, theological, and spiritual movements, along with changing political circumstances, provide the backdrop against which his reputation must be seen.

    Primary Sources

    • A. H.  Becker, Sources for the History of the School of Nisibis (TTH 50; 2008), 155–7. (For Barḥadbshabba on Ḥenana in the ‘Cause of the Foundation of the Schools’)
    • A.  Scher, Traités d’Išaïe le Docteur et de Ḥnana d’Adiabène sur les Martyrs, le Vendredi d’Or et les Rogations (PO 7; 1909), 53–87. (Syr. with FT of On Golden Friday and On the Rogation)
    • A.  Vööbus, Statutes of the School of Nisibis (1962), 91–102.

    Secondary Sources

    • Becker, Fear of God, 95–6, 197–202.
    • J. F.  Coakley, ‘Mushe bar Kepha and a lost Treatise of Henana on Palm Sunday’, LM 120 (2007), 301–25.
    • Labourt, Le christianisme dans l’empire perse, 215–17, 269–80, 292–3.
    • W. S.  McCullough, Short History of Syriac Christianity (1982), 149, 155–7, 185.
    • C.  Molenberg, ‘The Silence of the Sources: The Sixth Century and East-Syrian “Antiochene” Exegesis’, in Sixth Century  —  End or Beginning?, ed. P. Allen and E. M.  Jeffreys (Byzantina Australiensia 10; 1996), 145–62.
    • Reinink, ‘Edessa grew dim and Nisibis shone forth’.
    • Vööbus, History of the School of Nisibis, 234–317.


How to Cite This Entry

Jeff W. Childers, “Ḥenana,” 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/Henana.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Jeff W. Childers, “Ḥenana,” 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/Henana.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Childers, Jeff W. “Ḥenana.” 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/Henana.

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

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