The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, by Bar-Hebraeus, tr. E.A.W. Budge, , at sacred-texts.com
p. xii p. xiii
John 1 Abu’l-Faraj or Abu’l-Faraj Gregory, the author of the "Book of Laughable Stories" printed in the present volume, was the son of Aaron, a Jewish physician,Early life and education of Bar-Hebraeus. who lived at Melitene; from the fact that his father was a Jew, the child was commonly called by the Syrians "Bar ‘Ebhrâyâ" (i.e. the "son of the Hebrew"), whence the name "Bar-Hebraeus". He was born A. Gr. 1537 = A.D. 1226, and the early years of his life were passed in the diligent study of the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic languages; philosophy and theology next occupied his close attention, and he obtained a considerable knowledge of medicine from his father and from other celebrated physicians. When eighteen years old Bar-Hebraeus accompanied his father to Antioch. Subsequently he went to Tripolis, ###, and together with Ṣĕlîbhâ bar-Ya‘ḳôbh Waghîh ###He is consecrated Bishop of Gûbôs., studied the healing art and medicine with a certain learned Nestorian called Jacob; whilst there the Patriarch Ignatius II. sent for them, and appointed Ṣelîbhâ Bishop of Akko and Bar-Hebraeus Bishop of Gûbôs near Melitene. In the following year Aaron of
[paragraph continues] Lâḳabhin near Melitene left his flock and went to Jerusalem, and Ignatius II. appointed Bar-Hebraeus to the vacant see. In I253 he was transferred to Aleppo, and eleven years later he was raised to the dignity of Maphrian by the Patriarch Ignatius III., Abbot of Gewîkhâth near MopsuestiaBecomes Maphrian of the Jacobite Church.. The principal events which took place in connection with his ecclesiastical rule are described by Bar-Hebraeus himself in his Ecclesiastical Chronicle 1, to which work the reader is referred for information about the busy and most useful life which this eminent man lived; the following account of his death we owe to his brother Bar-Ṣaumâ. In the year 1286, when Bar-Hebraeus had arrived at the sixtieth year of his ageHis forebodings of death and superstition., he began to be afraid that his end was drawing nigh, and he said, "I was born in the year when Chronos and Zeus were in conjunction in the sign of the Zodiac Aquarius; twenty years later when the same planets were in conjunction in the sign of the Balance I was consecrated bishop; twenty years later when the same planets were in conjunction in the sign of the Twins I was held to be worthy of the office of Maphrian 2: and twenty years later, when the same two planets shall again be in conjunction in the sign of Aquarius, I believe that I shall depart from this world." And he said, "O net of the worlds, in the year 1537 (i.e., A.D. 1226) thy mesh did catch me; but I believe that in the year 1597 (i.e., A.D. 1286) I shall no longer be in thee 3." Throughout that unlucky
year he continued to brood on these things and they could not be banished from his mind. Bar-Hebraeus was then dwelling in the country near Nineveh, and his brother Bar-Ṣaumâ, knowing that maraudingHis brother's fears for his safety. bands from Syria were each summer in the habit of invading that district, and of carrying people into captivity, and of plundering, and of spoiling and laying waste the land about Nineveh far and wide, and believing his brother to be quite incapable of taking steps to protect either himself or his people, said to himself, "Peradventure he will fall into the hands of these robbers, and the Maphrian's words will actually come to pass." From that time on he ceased not to urge with great persistence that Bar-Hebraeus should leave the district and betake himself to the country of MarâghahBar-Hebraeus is persuaded to go to Marâghah. in Adhôrbâîjân, that he might escape from the death upon which he perpetually brooded. At length Bar-Ṣaumâ's importunity had the desired effect and Bar-Hebraeus set out for Marâghah and arrived there in safety. Here he was treated with the
greatest honour by men of every class, and the Arab nobles entreated him to translate his ChronicleHe translates his Syriac Chronicle into Arabic., originally written in Syriac, into Arabic 1 so that they also might read and enjoy it. To this he agreed, and he at once began to make the Arabic translation, using the most beautiful and classical language for the purpose; after working for a "month of days" he had finished the whole translation with the exception of three folios. His death was, no doubt, accelerated by this most laborious task, an idea of the magnitude of which may be gained from the fact that the translation He falls sick.fills 565 pages in small 4to! On the night of the Sabbath, the 27th day of the month Tammûz (July) he was seized with fever, and he was consumed with heat the whole night long; on the Sunday the physicians came and struggled to make him drink some medicine, but this he refused to do, saying that drugs would do him no good for his hour had comeHe refuses medicine.. It was noticed that he had been better and stronger in his general health and body during that year than he had been for many years past, but the fever had so weakened him three days later that, when on the Sunday he asked for pen and paper to write and they were given to him, he was unable to write at all;Is prostrated by fever. "and twice an hour he felt his left hand with his right and said, My strength hath come to an end and is worn out. Thou hast wronged me, O my brother, and hast not permitted me to die and to be buried by the pious monks, and elders, and deacons, of whom this day I have been the chief for twenty-two years. Thou
wouldst make me to flee from death, O my brotherHis cheerful speech to his brother., but behold the flight hath not benefited me. Be strong, however, and of good cheer, and weep not, neither mourn immoderately as if some new thing had taken place in the world. With these and such like words did he speak the whole day, and he was cheerful and laughed, being not at all afraid of death like other men. And he called straightway for Said the physician and deacon and said to him, 'Write what I shall tell thee,' and he made a beginning to his discourse [with these words]:—'The days of the child of man are like unto the grass, and like the flower of the field doth he grow up.' Then having completed the confession, as was right, he brought forth with his hand two statutes, one for the patriarchal throne, and the other for the throne of the Maphrian and forHis exhortations to the brethren. the ordering of his cell, and delivered them to his brother. And he began to give commands to his disciples, saying, 'Abide in love, and depart not from one another, and whensoever ye are gathered together in love I also am in your midst.' But they, poor, wretched beings, rent their garments and cast dust upon their heads, and were weeping until about three hours of the night had passed, when he who meanwhile had ceased not to talk and to laugh with a smiling face, went out like a lamp, or I should rather say like a brilliant and splendid torch, and he departedHe dies. to his Lord on the night of the thirty-third day of Tammûz (July) in the year 1597," i.e., A.D. 1286 1Universal manifestations of grief at his death.
When the Catholicus Mâr Yahbh Allâhâ, who was at that time in the city of Marâghah, heard of the death
of Bar-Hebraeus, he ordered that no man should go into the market and that no shop should be opened. The bell-ringer went forth and all the people were gathered together to the Maphrian's cell, and the Catholicus of the Nestorians sent there the pious folk who were with him, together with a number of large wax candles to be burnt during the funeral service, and the whole of the congregations of the Armenians and Greeks came likewise; about two hundred were assembled there and they continued in prayer from dawn untilSympathy of the Christian sects. the ninth hour. When the Nestorians, and the Greeks, and the Armenians had ended their prayers and had buried him in a suitable manner, they laid the holy body in the little altar at which he was wont to pray and to make offerings all the time he sojourned in Marâghah. Subsequently his body was removed to His body is removed to the Monastery of Mâr Mattai. the Monastery of Mâr Mattai, which was built in the early centuries of the Christian era in the mountain called Alpep by ancient Syrian writers 1, and Jebel Maḳlûb by the Arabs, situated at a distance of a few hours to the north-east of Môṣul (Nineveh). Here in a niche in the north-west corner of the same chamber in which Mâr Mattai is buried, is the tomb of Bar-Hebraeus; the Monastery is in the possession of the Jacobites, but it is sadly out of repair and most things of value have been plundered by Kurds, and only a few monks now live there. During the winter when the snow has fallen the Monastery is difficult of access, and even when there is no snow the path is steep and difficult 2.
From the facts stated above it is evident that all the Christians in Mesopotamia and in the countries about deplored the loss of Bar-Hebraeus with sincere grief, and there is little doubt that he was the greatest writer whom the Syrian Church ever produced 1. Great learning of Bar-Hebraeus.His knowledge of Greek and Arabic opened store-houses of learning which were closed to most of his fellow-countrymen, and his energy and general literary ability were remarkable. His works shew that he had studied deeply many subjects of which the other scholars of his Church were profoundly ignorant, and the ready wit of his many-sided mind and his lucid style enabled him to adapt the knowledge of extraneous and difficult subjects to his own needs, and to express them simply but clearly for the advantage of his readers. This is no place to give a catalogue of his works 2, and itHis untiring energy. must be sufficient to state that during the forty years which he passed in the service of his Church—eighteen years as bishop of various dioceses, and twenty-two years as Maphrian—he seems to have been able to master the philosophy of the Greeks and the Arabs, and to have made it available by his translations of their works for his fellow-countrymen. Philosophy, theology, natural science, history, medicine, the science of grammar, &c., were only a few of the subjects in the knowledge of which he excelled, and it is evident from a perusal of his works that he was no superficial student of the false sciences of the day, I mean astrology,
divinationHis service to the literature of his country., and so forth. The service which he rendered to his Church and her literature, and to his nation can hardly be overestimated, and Western scholars owe him a great debt of gratitude especially for his Universal History, his Storehouse of Secrets, and his grammatical works.
The "Book of Laughable Stories"The Book of Laughable Stories. which is edited and translated in the following pages, is a work which Bar-Hebraeus wrote in the late years of his life 1; it is called in Syriac both "Book of Laughable Stories", ### 2, and "Book of Refreshing "Stories", ###. An Arabic version of this work was made by its author which was entitled Daf‘ al Hamm, ### or "The Driving away of Care" 3; manuscripts of both works are scarce. The first 4 to make any portion of the work known to scholars was Adler, who in his Brevis linguae syr. institutio, Altona, 1784, published eight of the stories, which were republished by Bernstein 5 and others. In 1886 Morales published the text of sixty of the stories, with a German translation 6 and vocabulary, from the Vatican MS. No. CLXXIII. wherein the whole collection fills foll. 80-158; this MS. seems to date from the XIVth century of our era, but the last part of it was written by a later hand.
The text here given is taken from the India OfficeThe MSS. of the work. MS. No. 9, and from a copy of the "Laughable Stories" in my own possession. The India Office MS. consists of 444 paper leaves, measuring about 8 in. by 6 ¼ in. From fol. 1 to fol. 59, and from fol. 194 to the end the page is filled with two columns of 29 lines each; but from fol. 60 to fol. 193 the page only contains one column of 21 lines. The MS. is beautifully written in a fine Nestorian hand, and vowels and diacritical points have been added abundantly; two handwritings are distinguishable in the MS. The "Laughable Stories" begin on fol. 351 b, col. 1, and end on fol. 413 b, col. 2; they were copied by the famous Hômô 1, the son of Daniel the elder, of Al-ḳôsh, A. Gr. 2024 = A.D. 1712-13. My own copy is quite modern, but it was made by a good scribe from an ancient manuscript; if only he had followed his instructions and copied all the stories instead of making a selection from them we should probably have gained several additional, important textual variants. The MS. is in small quarto and the page contains usually about 17 lines; the titles, headings of chapters &c., are written in red, and at the end are a number of exhortations, of a miscellaneous character, to the reader to lead a godly, righteous, and sober life, followed by some verses on the death of the Patriarch John bar-Ma‘danî, who died in 1263.
The "Laughable Stories" of Bar-Hebraeus are inDescription of the work. number about seven hundred and twenty-seven, and these are divided into twenty chapters which vary in length. They were compiled from a variety of sources
during the later years of his life, and it is clear from his Prologue that he intended them to comfort, and amuse, and instruct those who read them. That they were not written for his own nation alone is clear from the fact that he recommends them to the Muslim, and to the Hebrew, and to the stranger as well as to the Syrian. Men of every taste and disposition can read therein with advantage, for the wise man will find wisdom therein, and the fool folly, and the pious piety, and the gay amusement, and the superstitious reasons for their superstitions.The miscellaneous character of the stories. A certain number of the stories are coarse 1 and refer to matters which are not generally discussed in a book intended for popular reading, but the compiler excuses himself for the insertion of such by saying that as "in the tabernacle of wisdom every kind of thing is necessary, nothing whatsoever that in a natural way sharpeneth the intelligence, and enlighteneth the understanding, and comforteth and rejoiceth the mind which is sorrowful and suffering should ever be rejected" (see p. 185). From the India Office MS. we may learn that certain stories of this class were not considered suitable for all readers, but the Western reader will probably doubt the wisdom of the man who made the selection. Thus the reader is told on the margin to skip (###) No. CCCXXVII, yet he is told to read (###) No. CCCXXVIII, which is more coarse; similarly he is told to skip Nos. CCCCVII and CCCCIX, but to read No. CCCCVIII. No. CCCCXI is passed over without note or comment,
as likewise is No. CCCCXXXVII, a most repulsive story. Whether we owe these marginal notes to tradition or to Hômô the scribe is a matter which cannot be cleared up at present. That any reference to the relations between the sexes should be expunged from a book intended for the use of monks or of men living in a monastery is not to be wondered at, but that the reader should be specially directed to read certain of the stories is a matter for surprise.
In reading the "Book of Laughable Stories" the most casual reader will observe that Bar-Hebraeus must have spent considerable labour in compiling his work, and it is certain that he must have read a vast amount of literature of all kinds written in several languages. Some of the sayings of the Greek, Persian, Indian, and Arabian sages he probably took from some work like that of Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Miskavaih (died A.H. 421 = A.D. 1030), who collected a number of precepts of the ancient sages of Persia, India, Arabia, and GreeceThe sources of the "Laughable Stories"., which were translated into Persian by Taḳî Shushtarî 1, and it seems that he supplemented these from notes made during the course of his own studies. It is clear that in some cases he amplified his text, and that in others he modified and gave a different turn to the original story. Some of the stories may have existed in more than one form, or they may have been told in different ways. Thus in No. CCCLXXX
Variant forms of the same stories.the scarabaeus is made to say to its mother, "Whithersoever I go men spit upon me," and its mother replies "It is because thy beauty and smell are pleasant." With this may be compared the Arabic proverb, "The beetle is a beauty in the eyes of its mother." 1 Again in No. CCCLXXV we have the story of the ape of the mosque and the dog, but the turn given to the story therein is quite different from that of the Arabic version 2. We may also notice in passing that stories told of one man by one author are told of some one quite different by Bar-Hebraeus. Thus in No. IV it is said that Socrates once saw a woman who had hanged herself, and that he remarked, "Would that all trees bore such fruit as this;" but in Diogenes Laertius (VI, 2) the saying is attributed to Diogenes the Cynic, and is thus given:—###." Method of editing employed b Bar-Hebraeus.From the fifth Chapter of the "Laughable Stories" we are able to see the plan upon which Bar-Hebraeus worked in making his compilation and to form an idea how far he followed his authorities, and how far he abridged them. In perusing the Chapter we see at once that he stands on his own ground, and that he is dealing with a class of literature with which he is familiar at first hand. The chief source of the stories of the Christian recluses is the Syriac version of Palladius’
work, and most of the "Sayings" attributed to them are from the Apophthegmata which usually follow it in MSS.; of the thirty-eight stories in the Chapter I have traced twenty-eight to Palladius.Use of the work of Palladius and the Apophthegmata of the Fathers. It will be seen from the full texts which accompany stories Nos. CXCVII, CCII, CCIX, how very much Bar-Hebraeus has condensed his authorities, but there is no doubt that he has in most cases preserved the pith of the stories in his own abridged versions. It is surprising, however, that he limited himself to thirty-eight stories, for the Syriac Palladius and the Apophthegmata form an almost inexhaustible mine for sayings and stories quite as remarkable as those which Bar-Hebraeus selected. It is difficult also to understand why the names of the chief actors in the stories are sometimes omitted. Thus "the certain man who was righteous according to this world" (No. CLXXVI) was Arsenius; the brother that "was perfect to such a degree that even wild animals became his friends and he used to nourish their young" (No. CC) was Macarius of Alexandria, and so on. Whether it be true or not the latter story has a pretty continuation in Palladius, for we read there that, a few days after the holy man had made the hyaena's cubs to see by spitting on their eyes and praying over them, the mother came into his cell dragging a goat-skin which she deposited at his feet, evidently intending it for his use. And the ascetic took it and wore it Stories of the Christian recluses.until he was an old man. On another occasion when the door of his cell was shut the hyaena jumped over the wall, bearing a young one in her mouth; Macarius saw that it too was blind and he treated its eyes, as he had those of the other cubs, successfully. The day following the mother brought back to the cell for the
holy man a sheep-skin, which subsequently became the property of the blessed woman Melania 1. A comparison of the other stories of the Christian recluses with the Syriac texts which I have given in the notes to them will shew that when Bar-Hebraeus found the facts briefly related in terse language he excerpted them without alteration; but when the opposite was the case he cut down the text, or paraphrased it, or explained it, or omitted whole passages, whenever it suited his views or convenience to do so. Moreover, I suspect that this would be found to be the case with almost every story in the book, if it were traced to its original form.
Superstition of Bar-Hebraeus.Judging from the group of stories of men whose dreams and divinations have come true it would seem that Bar-Hebraeus himself was somewhat superstitious, and that he was not free from many of the notions and beliefs common to the uneducated folk of his day. We have seen above (p. xiv) that several months before his death he became convinced that his whole life was to consist of three parts, each containing twenty years, and that the length of it was to be represented by the number of years which were to elapse between two periods when the planets Chronos and Zeus would be in conjunction in the sign of the Zodiac Aquarius; in other words, he believed that Chronos and Zeus were his planets and that the length of his life was in some way connected with their movements.Great antiquity of belief in magic. The interpretation of omens and dreams was a science in Babylonia and Assyria thousands of years before the time of Bar-Hebraeus, and there is no doubt that many popular beliefs belonging to a far older period
existed in his day. Thus in No. DXLVII a simpleton asks an astrologer to arrange that his son should be born under the sign of Hermes, meaning that he wishes him to be a scribe; now, the Greeks identified Hermes with the Babylonian god Nebo, who was the god of learning and the scribe of the gods, but the idea that a man would become a scribe because he was born when Nebo or Hermes was "ruling" belonged to a much older time than that of the Greeks. Stories of the speech of animals, likewise, have their originals in the literature of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and if we had records of the earliest peoples of these countries we should probably find that such originals were derived from writers belonging to still earlier nations, and that these in turn had borrowed from their predecessors.
p. xxviii p. xxix
BY THE POWER OF GOD, THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE, THE
CAUSE OF ALL BLESSINGS, I WRITE THE "BOOK OF LAUGHABLE
STORIES WHICH GREGORY BAR-HEBRÆUS, THE MAPHRIAN OF
THE EAST, COLLECTED WITH MUCH CARE AND DILIGENCE.
MAY HIS PRAYERS BE WITH US!
xiii:1 The chief facts of the life of Bar-Hebraeus are given by Assemânî, Bibliotheca Orientalis, ii. p. 244 f.; Bar-Hebraeus, Chron. Eccles., ii. col. 431 ff.; and Wright, Syriac Literature, p. 265 ff.
xiv:1 Ed. Abbeloos and Lamy, pt. ii. col. 431 ff.
xiv:2 In Syr., ###, i.e., "He who maketh [the Church] to flourish."
xiv:3 The text of this curious passage runs:—### p. xv ###. See Assemânî, B.O., ii. 263; Chron. Eccles., ii. col. 467.
xvi:1 The first edition of this work was published at Oxford in 1663 tinder the title of "Historic Compendiosa Dynastiarum," ed. E. Pococke.
xvii:1 For the text see B. O., ii. p. 264 f; and Chron. Eccles., ii col. 471 if.
xviii:1 See Hoffmann, Auszüge, p. 19.
xviii:2 For a view of this Monastery see Badger, The Nestorians, vol. i. p. 97.
xix:1 See B. O., ii. p. 269 ff.; Wright, Syriac Literature, p. 265 ff., 269 ff.
xix:2 Jedenfalls ist Barhebraeus einer der hervorragendsten Männer seiner Kirche and seiner ganzen Nation. Noeldeke, Orientalische Skizzen, p. 273.
xx:1 Wright, Syr. Lit., p. 280.
xx:2 Or ###; Chron. Eccles., ii. col. 479; B.O., ii. p. 271. No. 21, and p. 306.
xx:3 See Wright, op. cit., p. 281.
xx:4 Nestle in Z.D.M.G., Bd. xl. p. 410, note 1.
xx:5 See Chrestomathia Syriaca, Leipzig, 1832, p. vi.
xx:6 See Z.D.M.G., Bd. xl. pp. 410-456.
xxi:1 See Hoffmann, Opuscula Nestoriana, pp. I and XXIII. When I was at Al-ḳôsh in November, 1890, I talked with two men who claimed descent from this famous Hômô.
xxii:1 I.e., Nos. XXVI, XXXVII, LX, CCCXXVII, CCCXXVIII, CCCCVII, CCCCVIII, CCCCIX, CCCCXI, CCCCXXXVII, DI, DV, DXX, DXXXVII, DXLV, DLXIII, DLXX, DLXXIV, DLXXXI, DCXXXV, DCXXXVII, &c.
xxiii:1 See Brit. Mus. MS. Orient. No. 457, of the Jâvidân Khirad which, inter alia, contains the Precepts of Buzurjmehr (fol. 20 a), the Maxims of the Sages of India (fol. 59 a), the Proverbs of the Arabs (fol. 111 b), and the Proverbs of the Greek Sages (fol. 119 a). See Rieu, Catalogue of the Persian MSS. in the British Museum, p. 441 a.
xxiv:1 ### Burckhardt, Arabic Proverbs, No. 60. p. 16.
xxiv:2 They met a monkey defiling a mosque. "Dost thou not fear," said they, "that the Lord will transform thee?" He replied, "Yes, if He should make me a gazelle." ###, See Burckhardt, Arabic Proverbs, No. 132. p. 35.
xxvi:1 For the text see infra, pp. 49, 50.