Thābit b. Qurra (826?–901)

Abū al-Ḥasan Thābit b. Qurra b. Marwān al-Ṣābī al-Ḥarrānī, the most famous of the ‘Ṣābian’ scholars from the Abbasid period, is one of the few non-Christian authors known by name who composed works in Syriac. Thābit was born in Ḥarran, where he is said in some accounts to have worked as a money changer, but spent most of his active life in Baghdad, where he studied under Muḥammad b. Mūsā b. Shākir and his brothers, the Banū Mūsā, and went on to succeed them as the head of their school. Trilingual in Greek, Syriac and Arabic, Thābit distinguished himself both as a translator of Greek scientific and philosophical works into Arabic and as an original scholar, especially in mathematics and astronomy.

Thābit wrote most of his works in Arabic, but also composed a number of works, apparently mostly on religious subjects, in Syriac. In al-Zawzanī’s epitome of Taʾrīkh al-hukamāʾ, the Arabic biographical work by al-Qifṭī (ca. 1172–1248), we are given a list of seven treatises on religious subjects which Thābit composed in Syriac, and are told in addition that there were further Syriac works by Thābit, including those on music and geometry (ed. Lippert, 120.14–21). Similarly, Bar ʿEbroyo, after telling us that Thābit wrote some 150 works on ‘logic, mathematics, astrology, and medicine’ in Arabic, gives us a list of sixteen works composed by Thābit in Syriac, and informs us furthermore that he himself had access to a majority (suggā) of them (Chronicle, ed. Bedjan, 168.11–23). The titles given by Bar ʿEbroyo are: ‘(1) book concerning the laws and canons of the pagans (ḥanpe); (2) book concerning the interment of the dead; (3) book concerning the confirmation of the confession of the pagans; (4) book on purity and defilement; (5) book on animals which are fit to be sacrificed; (6) book on times of prayers; (7) book on readings that are suitable for each of the seven stars in prayers; (8) book on repentance and supplication; (9) book of music; (10) book of the chronicle of the ancient Syrian kings, who are Chaldeans; (11) book on the confession of the Ṣābians; (12) book on the allotment of the days of the week to the seven stars; (13) book on the renown of his race and his forefathers, from whom they descend; (14) book of the laws of Hermes and his prayers with which the pagans pray; (15) book on the fact that two straight lines meet each other when they are made to go out at less than two right angles; (16) another book on the same subject’ (on the Arabic version of nos. 15 and 16, see Sabra). Bar ʿEbroyo goes on to quote from a work of Thābit (perhaps no. 13) what may be called a plaidoyer for paganism and pagan learning (ed. Bedjan, 168.25–169.10). One quotation in Bar ʿEbroyo’s grammatical work, the ‘Book of splendors’, which is stated to be from the ‘book of the pagans’ (ed. Moberg, 39.6f.), may be taken from a work of Thābit. Further information on Ṣābian religious practices gleaned from Thābit’s works is given by Bar ʿEbroyo in his ‘Epitome of the history of the dynasties’ (Mukhtaṣar taʾrīkh al-duwal, ed. Beirut 1958, 153).

Sources

  • P.  Bedjan, Gregorii Barhebræi Chronicon syriacum (1890), 168–9. (ET of an excerpt in Brock and Taylor, Hidden Pearl, vol.  2, 102)
  • D. Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus (1856), vol. 1, 546–67; vol. 2, i-iii.
  • J. Lippert, Ibn al-Qiftī’s Taʾrīkh al-hukamāʾ (1903), 115–22.
  • R.  Morelon and R.  Rashed, ‘Ṯẖābit b. Ḳurra’, in EI 2, vol. 10 (2000), 428–29.
  • J. Palmeri, ‘Thābit ibn Qurra’, in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, ed. T. Hockey et al. (2007), 1129–30.
  • D.  Pingree, ‘Ṣābians of Ḥarrān and the Classical Tradition’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition 9 (2002), 8–35, esp. 30, 34–5.
  • R.  Rashed, Thabit ibn Qurra: Science and Philosophy in Ninth-Century Baghdad (2009).
  • A. I.  Sabra, ‘Thābit ibn Qurra on Euclid’s Parallels Postulate’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 31 (1968), 12–32.
  • F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, vol. 3 (1970), 260–263, 377; vol. 5 (1974), 264–72; vol. 6 (1978), 163–70; vol. 7 (1979), 151–2, 269–70, 329.


How to Cite This Entry

Hidemi Takahashi, “Thābit b. 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, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Thabit-b-Qurra.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Hidemi Takahashi, “Thābit b. 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), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Thabit-b-Qurra.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Takahashi, Hidemi. “Thābit b. 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. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Thabit-b-Qurra.

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