The Syrian Philosopher al-Shaykh Yahya Ibn ‘Adi (d. 974)

Posted by on Sep 24, 2016 in Library | Comments Off on The Syrian Philosopher al-Shaykh Yahya Ibn ‘Adi (d. 974)

Famous Syrians
The Syrian Philosopher al-Shaykh Yahya Ibn ‘Adi (d. 974)

In ancient times, the Syrians produced a number of distinguished men who excelled in sciences, literature, philosophy, theology and history. Some of them devoted themselves to translating works from Greek and Syriac into Arabic, especially in the time of the ‘Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun (d. 833), thus enriching the Arabic language. They also wrote valuable works and commentaries on different fields of knowledge.  One of these learned men was the Syrian philosopher Yahya Ibn ‘Adi, who flourished in the tenth century and achieved great fame in the time of the Abbasid Caliph al-Muti’ li Allah (945-973) for his works of philosophy, theology and literature. Therefore we decided to adorn al-Hikma (November 2, 1927) with his biography.
He was al-Shaykh Abu Zachariah Yahya ibn ‘Adi ibn Hamid ibn Zachariah of Takrit, who was born in Takrit in 893 A.D. Endowed with keen intelligence, he devoted himself at an early age to learning.  He moved to Baghdad, them the mother of all cities and the abode of learned men, and studied under Bishr ibn Matta (Matthew) ibn Yunus (Bishr ibn Matta, the Nestorian philosopher and physician, from the Monastery of Qunni. He was the teacher of al-Farabi (d. 940). He joined the school of Mar Mari and studied under the Syrian Orthodox monks Raphael and Benjamin. In al-Fihrist, Ibn al-Nadim mentioned him, saying, “The leadership of logicians in his time culminated in Abu Bishr.”) Abu Nasr al-Farabi [Abu Nasr was Muhammad ibn Tarkhan. He was born in Farab and moved to Baghdad to seek knowledge. He studied under Abu Bishr Matta and emulated his knowledge, style and philosophy. He died at Damascus in 951.], and others. He mastered philosophy, theology and literature and became a great authority of these disciples. He was excellent in translating from Syriac into Arabic using his own handwriting. He wrote many books in an elegant script. He was so prolific that he copied in one day and night a hundred folios or more. He made in his own hand two copies of al-Tabari’s commentary (on the Quran) and carried them to the neighboring kings. He also copied many books of scholastic theologians.
Yahya was famous for his adherence to religion. He defended tenaciously the faith of the Syrian Church and Christian dogmas, especially the Trinity and Tawhid (Monotheism) with decisive proofs refuting the ideas of detractors. What is worth mentioning in this context is that Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Isa al-Jarrah, the caliph’s vizier, invited Abu Muslim Muhammad ibn Bahr al-Isfahani to help him in some administrative matters. The two men could not agree with each other and decided to ask a distinguished learned man who had knowledge of these matters to help. The Vizier, Abu al-Hasan, suggested the name of a prominent Christian (Yahya ibn ‘Adi) to be their arbiter. Abu Muslim objected, saying that this man did not know how to count. Abu al-Hasan countered, saying, “Do you mean that he (Yahya) does not know how to count?” Abu Muslim said, “Yes, because to him one is three and three are one.” [Obviously the reference is to the Holy Trinity.]
Many students graduated under Yahya ibn ‘Adi, of whom we may mention the famous Syrian    Orthodox logician Ibn Zur’a. [ He is Abu Ali Isa ibn Ishaq the Syrian Orthodox of Baghdad. His biography is found in Ibn Abi Usaybi’a, Tabaqat al-Atibba’ (Categories of Physicians), 1: 235, and Jamal al-Din al-Qifti, Tarikh al-Hukama (History of Philosophers), 245. Ibn Zur’a left many works of philosophy and medicine and translations mentioned in al-Fihrist by Ibn a-Nadim, 264. He was a leading logician and philosopher and excellent translator. He died in 1008. See Bar Hebraeus, Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal (Compendium History of Dynasties), 315.)
Despite his wide knowledge and established disciplines of learning of, Yahya hardly bragged about himself. This is confirmed by Jamal al-Din al-Qifti, who in hisTarikh al-Hukama, 30, says, “I heard that Yahya ibn ‘Adi attended an assembly of some viziers in Baghdad on a delightful day. Many scholastic theologians were also present. Turning to these men, the vizier asked them to converse with Yahya ibn ‘Adi, chief of the philosophers’ group. Yahya excused himself from talking to the philosophers. The vizier asked him the reason. Yahya said, ‘They do not understand the rules of my philosophy, and I do not understand their terminology. I fear that what will happen to me is the same as what happened to al-Jubbai’ in his book al-Tasaffuh (Scrutinization), because he refuted the words of Aristotle, thinking that he had fully understood him. If he had known better, he would have not done this, because he was ignorant of the principles of logic. When the vizier heard Yahya, he believed that he was fair, and excused him from debating with the scholastic theologians.”
Among the well-known men who wrote about Yahya ibn ‘Adi and related his achievements were Jamal al-Din al-Qifti, Ibn Abi Usaybi’a, Ibn al-Nadim, and Bar Hebraeus, already mentioned. Shihab al-Din al-‘Umari (d. 1347) also wrote about him in his book Masalaik al-Absar, 336-337, and so did Louis Cheikho (d. 1928), al-Makhtuta al-Arabiyya li Katabat al-Nasraniyya (Arabic Manuscripts of Christian Writers), 213, from whose writings we assembled this biography. [We should add here what Georg Graf wrote about Yahya ibn ‘Adi and his School. See Georg Graf, Geschichte der Christlichen Arabischen Literatur (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1947), 233-249. Tr]
In his chapter on Tabaqat al-Atibba’, al-‘Umari said, “Among them (learned men) is Yahya Ibn ‘Adi Abu Zachariah the logician, whose knowledge is like a meadow and whose pen is lightning. At the beginning of his career he was a prominent teacher and a guide of his denomination. He was known for the discipline of logic, although it was only a part of and an exclusive segment of his extensive general knowledge.”
Yahya Ibn ‘Adi lived 81 years, mostly spent in reading and writing. He died on Thursday, August 15, 1285 of the Greeks/974 A.D., and was buried in the Church of Mar Tuma (Thomas), in the district of Qati’at al-Daqiq in Baghdad. He asked his student Abu Ishaq Isa Ibn Zur’a to inscribe on his grave the following two lines of verse:
Many a dead man, because of his erudition, is still alive
And a live person, because of his ignorance, is already dead
So do possess knowledge to gain immortality
And do not consider the life of ignorance real.
Our Yahya, may God be gracious to him, was unique in his time for his learning. He was singled out as the leading logician of his age. If one recognizes that this age produced prominent men like the poet al-Mutanabbi (d. 965), al-Buhturi (d. 897), Abu Firas al-Hamdani (d. 967), al-Jurjani (d. 976), Ibn  al-‘Amid (d. 976), al-Farabi (d. 951), al-Tabari (d. 923), al-Mas’udi (d. 954), and al-Razi (d. 923),  he will realize the lofty degree to which this man had risen.
The Orientalist Rev. Augustine Périer studied the works of Ibn ‘Adi and published eight treatises by him, including his refutation of al-Kindi. His book, entitled Yahya Ibn ‘Adi, was submitted to the Sorbonne University in 1921 for obtaining the doctoral degree.
Those who copied Ibn ‘Adi’s ideas about the Trinity and the Unity of God are many. Among them was al-Shaykh al-Safi Ibn al-‘Assal, who described him as the Authority on the Christian Religion.
The writings of Yahya are numerous and testify to his excessive knowledge. Unfortunately only a few escaped the ravages of time. Following are his writings copied from Tarikh al-Hukama’ by Jamal al-Din al-Qifti. (Leipzig, 1903):
1) A refutation of those who claim that human actions are created by God and acquired by the slave (man).
2) A commentary on Aristotle’s Topics.
3) A treatise on the five topics of the eight heads.
4) A book on showing the excellence of the distinction between the philosophical dialectic and Arabic grammar.
5) A book on the excellence of logic.
6) A book on guiding him who has gone astray.
7) A book explaining that number and an addition to it are two essences which exist in the numbers themselves.
8) A treatise on extracting the implicit number.
9) A treatise on three subjects of the infinite.
10) Another comment on the same.
11) A treatise showing that everything connected is divided into disconnected components.
12) An answer by Yahya ibn’Adi about a chapter of the book of Abu al-Habash the grammarian (also called al-Hasan), who claimed the number is infinite.
13) A treatise on the idea that human actions are God’s creation and the accusation of the slave (man).
14) A book answering the problems raised by Bishr the Jew.
15) A commentary on Alexander’s treatise on the difference between the species and matter.
16) A treatise showing that heat is not an essence of fire.
17) A treatise on the infinite.
18) A refutation of him who says that the bodies are subject to disputation.
19) A commentary on the eighth treatise of Aristotle’s Physics.
20) A treatise showing that there is nothing existing which is infinite by number or volume.
21) A treatise proving false the idea of those who say that the bodies are a compound of undivided parts.
22) A treatise exposing the falsehood of those who maintain that God knows probable things before they exist.
23) Another commentary on the same.
24) A treatise showing that there is no contradiction in the quantum.
25) A treatise on the idea that the diameter does not partake with the side.
26) Several questions regarding the Isagoge.
27) A treatise on the idea that the persona is a collective name.
28) A treatise on the whole and the parts.
29) Expounding the small Alpha [A] of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
30) A treatise on the necessity of knowing the essence of form, division, the kind, the particular and the nonessential in order to establish the proof.
31) A treatise on everything in existence.
32) A treatise demonstrating that every connected object is subject to infinite division..
33) A treatise on affirming with the the strongest evidence the nature of what is probable and directing attention to it. [It is also said to present proofs to show the corruption of this nature.]
34) A treatise on the Unity of God.
35) A treatise showing that the Categories are ten, no more or no less.
36) A treatise on the idea that the form is not a type of the nine Categories.
37) A treatise explaining that the existence of nonessential things is not intrinsic to the nonessential categories.
38) A comment on the part which is indivisible.
39) Many commentaries on the same.
40) A commentary on things Yahya said while treating the excellence of logic.
41) Several comments on Abu Bishr Matta on matters concerning logic discussed by them.
42) A treatise on the division of genus and names, which Aristotle did not divide into their medium kinds and persons.
43) A treatise on the four scientific subjects concerning the three topics of the divine, the natural and the illogical.
44) A treatise on the right path leading to the Posterrior Analytics.
45) A book on suspecting the invalidity of the probable.
46) The answer of al-Darimi and Abu al-Hasan, the scholastic theologian, to the question of the invalidity of the probable.
47) A debate between him and Ibrahim ibn ‘Adi, the scribe, and his refutation of Ibrahim’s idea that the body is an essence and an accident.
48) A treatise about the answer of Ibrahim ibn ’Adi the scribe.
49) A tract he wrote for Abu Bakr al-Adami al-Attar regarding the ideas of philosophers which have been established after meticulous investigation and scrutiny.
Apart from what has been mentioned above, Yahya wrote many more works. Among these is his Kitab Tahdhib al-Akhlaq (The Training of Character), an important work in which he expounded human character in detail. Despite its small size, it is a treasure of wisdom and a fountain from which the wise and the ignorant man can draw. An ancient copy of it is at our St. Mark’s Library in Jerusalem. It consists of 99 folios which we will publish, God willing. It has already been published in Beriut and Egypt. It was also appended to the book entitled Tuhfat al-Azman fi Adab al-Fityan, serialized by the erudite Muhammad Kurd Ali, President of the Arab Academy in Damascus, in the Academy’s Periodical. But it was erroneously ascribed to Al-Jahiz. Later, however, Kurd Ali corrected this error when the Patriarch of the Rum Orthodox, Gregorius Haddad, alerted him to it.
One manuscript (Paris MS 169) contains twelve treatises, some of which are theological, treating the Trinity, the Unity of God and the Incarnation; others are philosophical and disputatious. Some of the latter are a refutation of ‘Ali ibn ‘Isa al-Jarrah, Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, and answers to the questions raised by Abu Sa’id ibn Dawud ibn ‘Isa. They were mentioned by Rev. Cheikho in his book al-Makhtutat al-Arbaiyya li Katabat al-Nasraniyya (Arabic Manuscripts of Christian Authors). Yahya also has a book titled Kitab al-Shudhur al-Dhahabiyya fi Madhhab al-Nasraniyya: Muqtatafat min Aqwal Yahya ibn ‘Adi, a copy of which is at the Medicis Library. [This book has been erroneously ascribed to Yahya ibn ‘Adi. It is only an anthology written by several authors, including Ibn ‘Adi, in defense of the Christian doctrine. See Matti Moosa, “Florentine MS 299: A New Source on Ahmad ibn al-Tayyib al-Sarakhsi,” in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 92, No. 1 (January-March, 1972): 19-24.] In his book Usul al-Din, Ibn al-Assal mentions a treatise by Yahya ibn ‘Adi entitled “Dalil Aqli fi Annahu Ta’ ala Ya’lam al-Juz’iyyat wa al-Kulliyat wa al-Farq bayn al-Ilmayn” (A Rational Proof that God Knows the Particulars and the General Conceptions and the Difference Between Them). Another treatise mentioned by Ibn al-‘Assal is on the idea that the world is not ancient. It is supported by rational and traditional evidence, followed by deliberations on the same topic. Al-‘Assal also related Yahya’s refutation of Ali ibn ‘Isa al-Warraq.
Finally, Yahya ibn ‘Adi composed a few lines of verse in answer to those who reject the mysteries of religion because they cannot understand them. [See Paris MS 101, folio 45.] The following two lines were published in al-Mashriq 23 (1925): 600-602:
You have investigated the reality of meanings
But could not understand them because you have not
Perused them thoroughly.
The sun is hidden from the one who has no sight
But cannot be hidden from the one with full sight.
This is all that we could find about the chronicles of the famous Yahya ibn ‘Adi .We ask God to raise for the Syrian nation men like him in fulfillment of the following adage:
If one of our prominent men is passed away
Another will be raised who will establish
What remarkable men said and did.
(Al-Hikma — 1928–02–04)
Under the Shadow of the Jasmine, or At the Monastery of Qinneshrin
This significant article was published by our colleague magazine al-Sa’ih when His Grace (Bishop Aphram Barsoum) was on his latest journey to the New World (America). It was prefaced with the following foreword, which is sufficient to reveal His Grace’s high position in the two worlds of literature and history. We decided to publish this article and the foreword for the benefit of the readers of al-Hikma.  We have adorned it with the photograph of this venerable learned man, hoping to publish some of his writings in future issues.
Al- Sa’ih said that from the ancient land of the East, the cradle of spiritual revelation and the stage of the prophets, His Grace the learned Mar Severus Aphram Barsoum, carried to us literary fragrances filled with invigorating noble memories of the spiritual history of Syria. They contain a description of the fertile ground of the spiritual ancient giants of the East.  They surely elevate the soul, arouse its devotion, awaken it from its slumber, and prompt it to comprehend those glories over which time has drawn a curtain.
His Grace has been so gracious as to have us publish some of these literary fragrances on the pages of al-Sa’ih.  The readers will find that, among the princes of the Eastern Church, there were those who are worthy to be called princes of eloquence who strove to guide their nation with the pastoral staff and the pen. The pastoral staff was meant for the benefit of the souls, while the pen was for the benefit of the intellect.
What a lush and spacious orchard with flowing streams, tall trees, ripe fruits, beautiful and flowers, salubrious breeze and scented breaths, is more excellent than a pleasurable amusement under the shadows of the Jasmine at the Monastery of Qinneshrin.
You have captivated us, son of Aphton, [Yuhanna (John), son of Aphtonia, is one of the famous Syrians for his piety and knowledge. He descended from an ancient noble family and acquired a considerable portion of piety, learning and excellent character. His reputation was attributed to his righteous mother (Aphtonia). He founded the Monastery of Qinneshrin (Eagles’ Nest) between Aleppo and Manbij (Mabug). Because of his sound administration, the monastery produced for the Syrian nation a select group of famous men who were well versed in philosophy and theology. They were proficient in both the Syriac and Greek languages. He died in the year 539, and his name was added to the synaxarium of the saints. For more on John of Aphtonia see Patriarch Barsoum, al-Lulu al-Manthur, trans. Matti Moosa with the title The Scattered Pearls (Gorgias Press, 2003), 289-290.] by the beauty of your monastery, which is the grazing ground for the deer of Christ. You have elevated us with the charming beauty of your own soul. If your soul had not been so charming, it would have not reflected the rays of its beauty on your monastery, which is but a glimpse of your noble soul and great spirit.
Between Aleppo and Manbij you have founded an institute for those who desire the fear of God and shun the world. Thus, thousands rushed to you and planted themselves by your spiritual streams and were watered by the drops of the dew of your learning for five long centuries.
What heroes you have produced, and what men you have offered the church of Jesus beginning with Athanasius I, who for forty years steered the ship of the Apostolic See and led it to the harbor of happiness. After Athanasius I came his brother Severus, the faithful bishop of Samosata, who performed miracles; Jirjis I,  who faced hardships and conquered them and by his resolution and faithfulness until he won the crown of life; Dionysius of Tell Mahre, the hero of the See of Antioch and the wise man of the ninth century; and the eloquent Theodosius, the energetic metropolitan of Edessa; and all the shepherds installed by the Holy Spirit as the bishops of Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia), Afghanistan, Syria, Arabia, Armena and Persia.
And when the lover of immaculate souls, the Savior of mankind, descended into His garden, to the beds of spices, to browse and gather lilies, he gathered the lilies of your talented ones and adorned them with the dew of contentment and blessedness, and guided them to his heavenly gardens, that they may diffuse eternal fragrance.
The souls of the Arameans long for the fragrance and aroma of your garden whenever you are mentioned, O Monastery of Qinneshrin. They desire to sit under your shadows and sing the songs of eternity forever.
(Al-Hikma, No. 1 (Jerusalem, January, 1929), pp. 5-7.)