Isḥaq of Nineveh (late 7th cent.) [Ch. of E.]

Influential monastic author. Originating from Beth Qaṭraye, he was made bp. of Nineveh (Mosul) by Cath. Gewargis (661–81), perhaps ca. 676/80. After a short while, however, he left (‘for reasons which only God knows’, as one of the two short biographical accounts puts it) and became a hermit, attached to the Monastery of Rabban Shabur, in the region of Shuster. His writings on monastic spirituality come down in several ‘Parts’, three of which are now known. The First Part, with 82  chapters, evidently circulated widely, and much of it was translated into Greek at the Chalcedonian Monastery of Mar Saba (St. Sabbas), near Jerusalem, in the late 8th or early 9th cent. From Greek, his works were subsequently translated into many other languages, in particular into Slavonic (whence they were included in the Russian edition of the ‘Philokalia’). This Greek translation also included (under Isḥaq’s name) three short works by Yoḥannan of Dalyatha, and an abbreviated form of Philoxenos’s ‘Letter to Patricius’. The current printed editions of the Greek translation go back to that by N. Theotokis (1770), and have a different chapter numbering from that of the Syriac (a much-needed new edition of the Greek text is in preparation by M. Pirard). A Second Part, consisting of 41 chapters, is preserved complete in a single early ms. The long third chapter of this Part consists of four ‘Centuries’ of short sayings on spiritual knowledge (modelled on Evagrius’s ‘Kephalaia Gnostica’). A Third Part has also recently come to light, in a ms. in Tehran copied ca. 1900; this contains 17 chapters, two of which are duplicates with the First Part, and one with the Second Part. Though the Second and Third Parts were not translated into Greek, some chapters from them have been identified in Arabic, and they were both evidently known in Syriac monastic circles outside the Ch. of E., as well. The ‘Book of Grace’, probably by Shemʿon d-Ṭaybutheh, has sometimes been wrongly attributed to Isḥaq.

Isḥaq’s monastic spirituality draws on many sources, both Syriac and Greek (in Syriac translation); two authors would appear to have been particularly appreciated by Isḥaq, Yoḥannan Iḥidaya and Evagrius. His teaching lays great emphasis on the immensity of divine love and on the need for humanity to respond to this with wonder and humility.

    Primary Sources

      Part 1

      • P. Bedjan, Mar Isaacus Ninivita, de Perfectione Religiosa (1909; repr. 2007). (Syr.)
      • M.  Gallo and P. Bettiolo, Isacco di Ninive. Discorsi ascetici (1984). (IT of ch. 1–38)
      • M.  Hansbury, St. Isaac of Nineveh, on Ascetical Life (1989). (ET of ch. 1–6)
      • [D. Miller], The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (1984). (ET of Greek)
      • J.  Touraille, Isaac le Syrien. Oeuvres spirituelles (1981). (FT of Greek)
      • A. J.  Wensinck, Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Nineveh (1923). (ET of Syr.)
      • [AT by I. Atallah (1998); partial GT by G. Bickell (1874)]

      Part 2

      • H. Alfeyev, Prepodobnij Isaak Sirini (1998). (RT)
      • P.  Bettiolo, Isacco di Ninive. Discorsi spirituali (1985, 1990). (IT of Four Centuries)
      • S. P.  Brock, Isaac of Nineveh (Isaac the Syrian). ‘The Second Part’, Chapters IV-XLI (CSCO 224–225; 1995). (Syr. with ET)
      • I. I.  Ica, Jr. Isaac Sirul. Cuvinte catre singuratici. Partea II recent descoperita (2003). (Romanian trans.)
      • N.  Kavvadas, Isaak tou Syrou Askētika (3 vols.; 2005–6). (Modern Greek translation)
      • A. Louf, Isaac le Syrien. Oeuvres spirituelles (2003). (FT)
      • N.  Nin, Isaac de Níneve, Centúries sobre el coneixement (2005). (Catalan trans.)
      • The edition of the first three chapters (with the Centuries) is in preparation by P. Bettiolo.

      Part 3

      • S.  Chialà, Isacco di Ninive. Discorsi ascetici, terza collezione (2004). (IT)
      • [Edition of Syr. forthcoming by Chialà; selections from Parts I and II: IT, by S. Chialà (Bose, 1999); ET, S. P.  Brock, The Wisdom of St. Isaac of Nineveh (2006)]

    Secondary Sources

    • H. Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (2000).
    • S. P.  Brock, ‘From Qatar to Tokyo, by way of Mar Saba: the translations of Isaac of Beth Qatraye’, ARAM 11/12 (1999/2000), 275–84.
    • S. P.  Brock, ‘Syriac into Greek at Mar Saba: the translation of St Isaac the Syrian’, in The Sabaite Heritage of the Orthodox Church, ed. J. Patrich (OLA 98; 2001), 201–8.
    • S. P.  Brock, ‘Isaac the Syrian’, in La théologie byzantine, vol. 1, ed. G.  Conticello and V. Conticello (forthcoming).
    • S.  Chialà, Dall’ascesi eremitica alla misericordia infinita. Ricerche su Isacco di Ninive e la sua fortuna (2002).
    • P.  Hagman, Understanding Asceticism. Body and Society in the Asceticism of St Isaac of Nineveh (2008).

How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Isḥaq of Nineveh,” 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:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Isḥaq of Nineveh,” 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:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Isḥaq of Nineveh.” 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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