3- Bar Daysan (d. 222)

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(d. 222)

Bar Daysan was born a heathen at Edessa on July 1, 154 A.D. and grew up in the palace of its king, Manu VIII. Together with Manu’s son Abgar he received the highest level share of learning and education. He embraced Christianity and was ordained a deacon and perhaps also a priest. But, because he was becoming involved in false heathen doctrines from which he had not yet been freed, he was renounced by the Church. He died in 222 A.D.

Bar Daysan was an eminent and eloquent writer and philosopher. He wrote many books in Syriac of which nothing has survived except a small treatise entitled The Laws of the Countries, which he dictated to his disciple Philip and in which he discussed fate and predestination. Among his lost writings are his treatise on astrology mentioned by George, bishop of the Arabs, and also a hundred and fifty songs written after the manner of the Psalms of David. St. Ephraim, who mentioned these songs, states that Bar Daysan incorporated in them his unorthodox doctrine and teaching and taught them to the youths of Edessa in charming tunes of his own composition.5 He also established a sect known as the Daysaniyya which included many educated and wealthy people. When St. Ephraim came to live in Edessa in 363 A.D., he endeavored to suppress the songs by composing songs of similar meters and melodies. Furthermore, Rabula, bishop of Edessa, (d. 435) was able to convert most of his (Bar Daysan’s) followers to orthodoxy. Only a few of them remained and were scattered in many countries particularly in Persia. A remnant of this sect survived until the tenth century.
Bar Daysan was not the father of Syriac poetry and the creator of its meters as some contemporary writers maintain. Syriac poetry existed well before the time of Bar Daysan. Bar Daysan, however, expanded and diversified its meters. It is said that he had a son named Harmonius, who surpassed his father in the art of poetry. This theory seems to have been unanimously accepted by the historians of the Middle Ages. In fact, Sozomin and Theodoret went a step further by maintaining that Harmonius was the one who composed the songs for the youths of Edessa, and that he was the one who was opposed by St. Ephraim. However, the surviving poetry of St. Ephraim mentions Bar Daysan and not his son.6 Of these songs of Bar Daysan, only five lines survive in a book written by Theodore bar Kuni, a seventh-century writer.
Bar Daysan had several companions and disciples who translated his writings into Greek. All or some of these writings reached Eusebius of Caesaria, who praised Bar Daysan in his Ecclesiastical History, because of his preoccupation with preaching the Gospels at the beginning. Eusebius also ascribed to him a dialogue opposing Marcian the heretic, and a treatise on Fortune which was also mentioned by Epiphanius and Jerome. However, this latter treatise may be the treatise entitled The Laws of the Countries, as many contemporary historians of literature maintain.
3- Bar Daysan (d. 222)