Posted by on Sep 18, 2011 in Articles, Library | Comments Off on NEW LIGHT ON THE TEXTUAL TRADITION OF BAR BAHLUL’S BOOK OF SIGNS


Bar Bahlul was a tenth-century Nestorian who spent most of his life in
Baghdad1. He is primarily remembered today for his remarkable lexicon
of the Syriac language2. In the early 1970s Fuat Sezgin discovered in Istanbul
another work by Bar Bahlul, his Kitab al-Dala’il or Book of
Signs. This new text is not unlike a modern almanac3. It presents first
chronological synopses of the various feasts and festivals of the eastern
churches, as well as of the Jews, Muslims, Îarranian pagans, and others.
It then turns its attention to other matters — how to determine the health
of slaves, poisons, physiognomy, dream divination, and so on. Joseph
Habbi has now published an edition of this text4.

The only complete manuscript of the Book of Signs known to Habbi is
that discovered by Sezgin: Süleymaniye Ktp., Hekimoglu Ali Pa≥a
572.1, ff. 1a-291a, 556/1161. Another short excerpt of the text is preserved
in Süleymaniye Ktp., Fâtih 5411.4, ff. 113a-136b, 688/12895.
Habbi was aware of the existence of the latter but was unable to utilize it
in his edition6. In this note I would like to call attention to yet another,
fairly extensive excerpt of Bar Bahlul’s Book of Signs.
Vatican ar. 1304 consists of a number of works on the interpretation
of dreams. Two of these are well known: the dream manuals of Ibn
Ghannam (ff. 2a-167a) and Kharkushi (ff. 230a-314b)7. Sandwiched between
these is another (ff. 174a-229b) that Giorgio Levi Della Vida has

1 Little is known of his life. For an overview, see J. HABBI, Le Livre des Signes de alÎasan
b. Bahlul, in Oriens Christianus, 68 (1984), pp. 210-12. His Book of Signs must
have been composed between 942 and 968. See J.-M. FIEY, Sur le calendrier syriaque
oriental arabe de Bar Bahlul (942/968 A.D.), in Analecta Bollandiana, 106 (1988), p. 271.
2 R. DUVAL, ed., Lexicon syriacum auctore Hassan Bar Bahlul, Paris, 1886-1903.
3 For an overview of its content, see J. HABBI, Les sources du Livre des Signes d’alÎasan
ibn Bahlul, in Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 226 (1986), pp. 193-204.
4 Kitab al-Dala’il li-l-Hasan b. al-Bahlul, Kuwait, 1987. In 1985 F. SEZGIN published a
facsimile “edition” of the text: The Book of Indications (Kitab al-Dala’il) by al-Hasan
ibn al-Bahlul (Tenth Century A.D.), (Publications of the Institute for the History of Arabic-
Islamic Science, C10), Frankfurt am Main, 1985. But cf. J.M. WITKAM, Arabic Manuscripts
in Distress. The Frankfurter Facsimile Series, in Manuscripts of the Middle East,
4 (1989), pp. 174-80.
5 Corresponding to Chapter One of HABBI’s edition (pp. 57-67).
6 See the comments in the introduction to his edition (p. 24).
7 For Ibn Ghannam (d. 674/1294), see T. FAHD, La divination arabe, Leiden, 1966,
pp. 338-9. For Kharkushi (d. 405/1015), see my forthcoming study, Dream Interpretation
in the Early Medieval Near East.

described as the “Ta{bir ar-ru}ya di Abu}l-Îasan Ali b. Sa{id alÎawlani”
8. It is a question here of Ibn al-QaÒÒar al-Qayrawani, a North
African jurist who flourished in the early 5th/11th century9. Qayrawani
was a prolific author of dream manuals: three others are known10, with
Vatican ar. 1304.2 now making a fourth11.
Della Vida’s description of Vatican ar. 1304.2 is not entirely accurate.
He seems not to have noticed that the work of Qayrawani ended on folio
198a (not 229b). There follows Qayrawani’s dream manual a miscellany
of other texts on dreams. These were drawn from a number of different
sources: (1) ff. 198a-204b, a section entitled Baqiyah min ta{bir alaÌlam,
containing a collection of traditions on dreams, the source of
which I have been unable to determine; (2) ff. 204b-206a, selections
from Baghawi’s (d. 516/1122) SharÌ al-sunnah12; (3) ff. 206a-b, two

8 Elenco dei manoscritti arabi islamici della Biblioteca Vaticana. Vaticani, Barberiniani,
Borgiani, Rossiani (Studi e Testi, 67), Rome, 1935, p. 199.
9 Qayrawani seems to have escaped the notice of the medieval Muslim biographical
tradition, including that devoted to the Maliki school of jurists and to the city of
Qayrawan. Indications contained in his Mumatti{ (see next note) suggest that he flourished
in the early fifth century A.H. In particular, at fol. 169b he dates his reception of a
prophetic tradition to the year 420/1029. Qayrawani’s oneirocritic labors are treated at
length in my Dream Interpretation in the Early Medieval Near East.
10 The first is an enormous dream manual arranged by subject, entitled Kitab almumatti{
fi ta{bir al-ru}ya wa-sharÌ uÒuliha, extant only in Sül., Carullah 1571, 194ff.,
1049/1640. Although the ms. is not terribly old, it has suffered much due to water,
worms, and coal dust. There are also a significant number of lacunae in the text. It is thus
fortunate that there are two anonymous dream manuals that made extensive use of
Qayrawani’s Mumatti{: Sül., Hekimoglu Ali Pa≥a 590, 343ff., undated, and Sül., Bagdatlı
Vehbi Efendi 941, 121ff., 1005/1596, the latter being basically a mukhtaÒar. — The second
is a shorter dream manual arranged by subject and divided into 30 chapters, the order
of which follows closely that found in his Mumatti{. This work is extant in five mss.: (1)
Sül., Re≥it Efendi 1003.17, ff. 302b-319a, undated, (2) Top., Ah. III 1458.3, ff. 126a-154b,
868/1463, (3) Paris, BN ar. 2746, 44ff., undated, (4) Rabat, Îasaniyah 4536, 30ff.,
1159/1649, and (5) Milan, Bib. Amb. ar. n.s. 1031.7, ff. 111a-129a, 1050/1640. — The
third is another shorter dream manual that Qayrawani arranged not according to the objects
that appear in dreams, but according to their meaning, so that, e.g., all dreams meaning
that the dreamer will have political power are grouped in a single chapter. This work
is extant only in Rabat, Îasaniyah 5596, 57ff., undated.
11 This text is divided into 58 chapters, the order of which diverges sharply from that
found in his other dream manuals. Apart from a rather generic praise of God, the work
has no preface. Qayrawani begins immediately with his introduction, the themes of which
and even at times its wording closely parallel what is found in the first of his shorter
dream manuals. — There may be another copy of this work in Cairo. I have not yet been
able to examine the relevant ms., but have had to rely on F. SAYYID, Fihrist al-makh†u†at.
Nashrah bi-l-makh†u†at allati iqtanatha al-Dar min sanat 1936-1955, I, Cairo, 1961,
p. 243. SAYYID records that Dar al-kutub, Shanqi†i 57, 45ff., 1255/1839, contains a dream
manual entitled Kitab fi ta{bir al-ru}ya, which is ascribed to Abu al-Îasan {Ali b. Sa{id al-
Khawlani al-QaÒÒar. The incipit appears to be identical with that of the Vatican ms., although
SAYYID gives only the first six, rather generic words of the dibajah. SAYYID states,
however, that this dream manual contains 60 chapters (rather than 58).
12 Shu{ayb AL-ARNA}UT ed., SharÌ al-sunnah, XII, Beirut, 1983, p. 202-53 passim.

short poetic excerpts on dream interpretation, the first treating dreams of
people, the second, dreams of marriage13; (4) ff. 206b-207a, a passage
derived from an unnamed work (not a dream manual) in which it is explained
that the interpretation of a dream can vary with the month in
which it is seen; and (5) ff. 207a-229a, an untitled and unascribed dream
manual, which is in fact a copy (nearly complete) of the last chapter of
Bar Bahlul’s Books of Signs, that treating of dream interpretation14.
Although Hekimoglu 572.1 is a well written and relatively early copy
of Bar Bahlul’s Book of Signs, it is not without faults. The chapter on
dreams, in particular, is often obscure. This is due in part to its extremely
laconic style. In part it also stems from what can only be scribal
errors. (These problems are compounded by occasional misprints and
misreadings in Habbi’s edition). There is no need to give a complete collation
of this new manuscript witness. To establish its importance, a
small sample should suffice (corresponding to the first section of this
chapter in Habbi’s edition, pp. 382-5)15.

Page 382 — 4. UFOL : om. V. — Page 383 — 2. ‰« : v « H : om. V. —
8. UNN « : ULNN « V. — 11. U : U* V. — 11. Àb : f V. — 12. «oe«Ë :
ÂË«oeË V. — 13. t uKF l U Ë : om. V. — 13. ÂbIM : ÂbI H : ÂbI V. —
13. Á«d : Á«d Ë V. — 15. s U «Ë : l U «Ë V. — 17. Àb : ”d V. —
17. WMHF*« : om. V. — 18. …e M*« : …d M*« H : …d *« V. — Page 384 —
3. W L : W V. — 4. nOHF « ` UB « : trans. V. — 5. w Ë : w V. —
5. q I*« : q I*« H : qOI*« V. — 5. ÂU «Ë : ÂU «Ë V. — 6. _U : ÂUM V. — 6. t U « :
t U V. — 6. …oeU “ w Ë : …oeU “Ë V. — 8. ÊU «–U : ÊU «–«Ë V. — 8. oH « «–U :
oH « «–« t U V. — 9. U d « : UNM d « V. — 15. U2 : U V. — 15. ô : ô Ê«
V. — 17. ÊUBIM «Ë : ÊUBIM « Ë« V. — 18. U dOOG : U dO F V. — Page 385 —
2. U Ëd « dO F Ë : U ËdK dO F K Ë V. — 2. d F : d F V. — 3. rN UO : rN UO HV. —
4. r oe« —«Ë : rN oe« Ë« V. — 5. post dOEM «Ë add. ·ö)« Ë bC U …d Ë V. —
5. ·dB : ·dB V. — 5. ÁdOE Ë : ÁdOE Ë« V. — 6. d F Ë : d F Ë V.

Where H and V differ in ways that affect the sense of the text, V often
offers better readings. Note, for example, the following instances: (i) in
H, at 383.15 and 17, the ordinal al-thamin is repeated, while at 383.13,
al-sadis and al-sabi{ refer to just one type of dream; V offers a consecutive
numeration; (ii) at 383.18, the reading of H and Habbi’s tacit cor-

13 I have been unable to identify the provenance of these verses.
14 It corresponds to pp. 382.4-439.9 of HABBI’s edition.
15 H = Hekimoglu 572. V = Vatican ar. 1304.

rection make little sense; V does (“food that sends vapors to the
brain”); (iii) at 384.3, V’s sittah is superior to H’s khamsah (there is
an allusion here to a well-known Ìadith in which MuÌammad defined
the true dream as “one of the 46 parts of prophecy”); (iv) at 384.5,
V’s ayyam is clearly demanded by the sense of the passage (“and
when the trees blossom”); and (v) at 385.4, V’s adabihim appears to fit
the context better than H’s iradihim. Other examples could be noted.
Enough have been cited, however, to suggest the value of V for establishing
the text of Bar Bahlul’s Book of Signs.

This new witness to Bar Bahlul’s chapter on dream interpretation is
valuable for yet another reason. I have argued elsewhere that this chapter
is an abbreviated, but extremely accurate rendering of the dream manual
of Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276/889), the earliest extant Muslim dream manual16.
Ibn Qutaybah’s text rests on an extremely slight manuscript basis17.
The parallels between the two texts are so strong that any future
edition of Ibn Qutaybah’s text would have to take into account the witness
of Bar Bahlul. This can be done with far more confidence now that
an additional manuscript of the latter has come to light.

Duke University John C. LAMOREAUX
Department of Religion
Box 90964
Durham, NC 27708-0964
16 The Sources of Ibn Bahlul’s Chapter on Dream Divination, in Studia patristica,
vol. 33, Louvain, 1996, pp. 553-57
17 Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yah. ar. 196, 67ff., 845/1441, is the only complete
copy of Ibn Qutaybah’s dream manual, although a version of its introduction can be
found in Ankara Üniv. Dil ve Tarih-Cografya Fakültesi Ktp., Ismail Sâib 4501.2, ff. 180a-
217b, undated.