EBN BOḴTĪŠŪʿ, prominent family of physicians of Gondēšāpūr at court during the early ʿAbbasid period. Notwithstanding their continued oral competence in Persian and the Persian aspects of their identity, the Boḵtīšūʿ family used Syriac and Arabic in their medical writings. Eminent members of this family are the following:

1. Jewarjīs b. Jebrāʾīl (d. after 171/787), the first member of the family to be called into caliphal service and thus to move from his home town Gondēšāpūr to Baghdad (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 149). This momentous event took place in, or slightly earlier than, 150/767, and is treated in a rather anecdotal way (idem, p. 123), plausibly projecting back into the past conditions which developed only in the course of the 3rd/9th century in Baghdad. Jewarjīs is called “head of the physicians of Jondēšāpūr” (idem, p. 148; Pethion-Qefṭī, p. 158) and was in charge of its hospital (bīmārestān). Jewarjīs’ appointment as physician-in-ordinary to al-Manṣūr (136-58/754-775) marked the beginning of his and his descendants’ prominence in Islamic medicine and Baghdad society. They were instrumental in the transfer of the institution of bīmārestān from the Nestorian community to Islam, even if only because they, rather than somebody else, happened to have the required influence at the caliphal court. Jewarjīs is represented as a man of worldly manners and fluent in both Persian and Arabic (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 124), besides using Syriac as a literary idiom. Only during the lifetime of Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq (d. 260/873) did the balance begin to tilt in favor of Arabic in scholarly writing (Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq, Resāla...elā ʿAlī b. Yaḥyā). Thus Jewarjīs composed his Konnāš, “medical pandects,” in Syriac, possibly at the behest of his grandson Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ (see below), and Ḥonayn translated them into Arabic (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 125). Indeed, this is the only work attributed to Jewarjīs by the bibliographers of the 7th/13th century (Ebn al-Qefṭī, p. 158; Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 125). It appears highly doubtful that Jewarjīs translated “books of the Greeks” into Arabic, as Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa or his source claims elsewhere (idem, pp. 123, 203).

2. Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jewarjīs (dates of birth and death unknown). He attended Hārūn-al-Rašīd as of 171/787 and was succeeded in 177/794 by his son Jebrāʾīl. Boḵtīšūʿ’s career and profile as a medical author resemble those of his father quite closely, if the sources are to be trusted. In particular, he is also said to have eloquently addressed the caliph in both Arabic and Persian (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 126). Like his father’s Konnāš, his own Moḵtaṣar and Taḏkera, the latter expressly written for his son Jebrāʾīl, were simple, practice-oriented manuals. Even if Boḵtīšūʿ’s colleagues did not hold him in such respect for his superior learning as Pethion asserts (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, pp. 125-28), his works may fairly represent the—truly modest— standard of medical scholarship of the day.

3. Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ and Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jebrāʾīl. During the generations of Boḵtīšūʿ’s son Jebrāʾīl (died in or shortly after 215/830; Yūsof b. Ebrāhīm apud Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, pp. 173-74, 135; Pethion sdate of 213 thus corrected) and grandson Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jebrāʾīl (d. 22 Ṣafar 256/30 January 870, idem, p. 144; Ebn al-Qefṭī, p. 104), and with their energetic support, professional horizons broadened and ambitions rose. Both commissioned translations of Greek works and thus contributed to the developing “movement” of the massive appropriation of Greek learning into Syriac first and subsequently into Arabic (Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq, index, s.vv. Ğibrīl b. Boẖtīšōʿ, Boẖtīšōʿ b. Ğibrīl). While in this process the non-Hellenistic, especially Persian, elements of the learned heritage tended to be overshadowed by magisterial Greek works, the Boḵtīšūʿ family’s everyday culture retained certain Persian features: Jebrāʾīl is still represented as thoroughly versed in the language and as citing approvingly the pre-Islamic, i.e., Sasanian, injunction against people aspiring beyond their inherited station in life (Ebn al-Qefṭī, p. 140; Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, pp. 131, 175). Above all, it was the Syro-Persian tradition of the Gondēšāpūr Nestorians which presumably gave Baghdad and Muslim society at large its first hospital (idem, p. 174); whether or not Hārūn al-Rašīd acted upon a suggestion by Jebrāʾīl, he put him in charge of establishing this bīmārestān. This was succeeded by a long series of distinguished institutions of this type which combined the theoretical and clinical study of medicine with the charitable purpose of providing health care for the needy. By comparison, Jebrāʾīl’s profile as the author of yet another “pandect” and of tracts on dietetics, fumigations, and sexual medicine appears undistinguished (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, p. 138); considering that two of them were dedicated to the caliph al-Maʾmūn, they must have been written in, or at least translated into, Arabic, even though Ḥonayn’s testimony clearly implies that Jebrāʾīl’s language of choice still was Syriac (Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq, index, s.v. Ğibrīl b. Boẖtīšōʿ). However, Ḥonayn also credits him with discernment as a reader of medical works and a sustained interest in Galen’s great exposition of “scientific method,” borhān (Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq, pp. 40, 47). By composing an introduction to logic (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 138), Jebrāʾīl may have wished to follow the Galenian model himself. In Islam, he certainly represents one of the earliest examples, if not the first, of the Hellenistic combination of medical and philosophical study.

Jebrāʾīl’s son Boḵtīšūʿ marks the apogee, and subsequent catastrophe, of the family’s career at the ʿAbbasid court (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, pp. 138-44). Beyond the anecdotally romantic, though, he continued his father’s support for Ḥonayn (Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq, index, s.v. Boẖtīšōʿ b. Ğibrīl), no doubt contributing more in this indirect way to the spread of medical knowledge than through his own treatise on cupping (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 144).

4. Jebrāʾīl b. ʿObayd-Allāh. The last-mentioned Boḵtīšūʿ’s grandson Jebrāʾīl b. ʿObayd-Allāh b. Boḵtīšūʿ (b. 311/923, d. 8 Rajab 396/11 April 1006; Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 147), had, after difficult beginnings, a brilliant career in the Buyids’ orbit, and as a septuagenarian received an invitation by the Kurdish-Marvanid Momahhed-al-Dawla (387-401/997-1010) to his court at Mayyāfāreqīn (idem, pp. 144-48; Ebn al-Qefṭī, pp. 146-47). One of his medical teachers in Baghdad was a physician “known as Hormozd” (Ebn al-Qefṭī, p. 147), and he rose to prominence in Shiraz, where he caught, before long, the attention of the young Abū Šojāʿ Fannā Ḵosrow, the future ʿAżod-al-Dawla (d. 372/982), and henceforth was retained in his service. Eventually, after a sojourn in Shiraz of nearly three decades, he returned to Baghdad in ʿAżod-al-Dawla’s entourage, most probably in 367/978, and was appointed to the Buyid’s new hospital. Physicians in Baghdad, unhappy to be outshone by Jebrāʾīl, tried to rid themselves of him by naming him as the only competent candidate to attend to Ṣāḥeb Esmāʿīl b. ʿAbbād in Ray; one of the reasons they proffered was his command of the Persian language (Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 145). In the event, ʿAżod-al-Dawla dispatched him to Ray, where he treated Ṣāḥeb successfully and composed his lesser pandect for him; eventually, he dedicated his greater pandect, al-Konnāš al-kabīr, to Ṣāḥeb as well and named it al-Kāfī in his honor (idem, p. 146). According to his son ʿObayd-Allāh, it fast became a basic reference tool at the hospital of Ray, to which the author himself had donated a copy; at Baghdad, he gave a copy to the famed Dār-al-ʿElm (idem, pp. 146-47). Needless to say, all of Jebrāʾīl’s literary output was in Arabic. His fluency in Persian, highlighted in the above-mentioned anecdote, cannot but have furthered his career in the Buyid orbit; thus during an illness of the Daylamite prince Ḵosrowšāh b. Manāḏer, his services were again deemed indispensable. During the two decades following ʿAżod-al-Dawla’s death in 372/982, Baghdad remained his home, notwithstanding several extended periods of attendance to princes elsewhere and of perhaps privately motivated travel to Damascus, and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (idem, p. 146). Jebrāʾīl declined an invitation by the Fatimid caliph ʿAzīz (365-86/976-96), but eventually he accepted, as indicated above, employment as court physician to Momahhed-al-Dawla, and died in Mayyāfāreqīn. In addition to his above-mentioned medical works, he wrote on subjects of, broadly speaking, theological interest. His refutation of Judaism and his treatise on the agreement between prophetic and philosophical teachings, both regrettably lost, deserve special mention (idem, p. 148; Paul Sbath’s highly dubious Fehrest, which lists manuscripts of the two works, cannot qualify as reliable testimony for their preservation, cf. Graf, II, p. 111, no. 6). The latter, entitled Moṭābaqa (Agreement) reportedly a very erudite work, is reminiscent of analogous endeavors by Fārābī and his circle on the Muslim side.

5. ʿObayd-Allāh b. Jebrāʾīl. Jebrāʾīl’s son Abū Saʿīd ʿObayd-Allāh (d. in the decade of 450/1058-68) apparently spent all his life in Mayyāfāreqīn, succeeding in actual fact, if not formally, to his father’s position at court. Momahhed-al-Dawla was followed by his able nephew Naṣr-al-Dawla (r. 401-53/1010-61), whose long reign marked the Marwanids’ apogee. The major local historian, Ebn al-Azraq, records the construction of a hospital in 414/1023 and mentions ʿObayd-Allāh’s responsibilities as kāteb and ḵāzen, administrative and financial official, in this context, but leaves unmentioned ʿObayd-Allāh’s possible medical responsiblities (Aḥmad b. Yūsof, p. 123). ʿObayd-Allāh’s closeness to the amir may also be reflected in the fact that his friend Ebn Boṭlān dedicated his famous Daʿwat al-aṭebbāʾ (p. 3, tr., p. 47), to Naṣr-al-Dawla in 450/1058. ʿObayd-Allāh presented his master with the Ketāb ṭabāʾeʿ al-ḥayawān wa ḵawāṣṣehā wa manāfeʿ aʿżāʾehā, a treatise on animals and their occult “medicinal” properties, which is largely based on the pseudo-Aristotelian Ketāb noʿūt al-ḥayawān (Ullmann, 1971, pp. 23-24, 28; cf. Sezgin, GAS III, pp. 351f., no. 2; for Pers. tr. of this work dated 698/1298, see Yohannan, pp. 381-89; Gray, pp. 20-25; cf. M. S. Simpson, “The Role of Baghdād in the Formation of Persian Painting,” in Adle, pp. 91-116). His al-Rawżat al-ṭebbīya (ed. P. Sbath, Cairo, 1927) presents definitions of fifty philosophical and medical terms, and in his Resāla fi’l-ṭebb wa’l-aḥdāṯ al-nafsānīya (ed. F. Klein-Franke, Beirut, 1977) he engages in the much-discussed argument about love passion as an ailment of the mind (Biesterfeldt and Gutas, pp. 23, 24, 47-48, 55). His book of anecdotes and biographies of physicians, Ketāb manāqeb al-aṭebbāʾ, has survived only through ample quotations by Ebn al-Qefṭī and Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, who depend on him for their account of earlier members of his family. ʿObayd-Allāh’s interests also included problems of “physics” as understood in medieval Aristotelianism. These works convincingly demonstrate ʿObayd-Allāh’s broad-based education, which included competence in Syriac; thus he translated a work by Elias Nisibenus (975-after 1049) on the laws of inheritance (Graf, II, pp. 186-87, no. 11). It would not seem exaggerated to give his father credit for ʿObayd-Allāh’s careful schooling and to see Jebrāʾīl’s wide-ranging interests continued in his son’s literary production, although the northern Jazīra itself remained a fairly congenial environment for indigenous Christian communities long after the end of the Marwanid dynasty.




Sources: Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, ʿOyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭebbāʾ, ed. Emraʾ-al-Qays b. Ṭaḥḥān [i.e., August Müller], Cairo, 1299/1882; Königsberg, 1884.

Aḥmad b. Yūsof Ebn al-Azraq Fāreqī, Taʾrīḵ al-fāreqī, eds. ʿA.-L. ʿEważ Badawī and M. Šafīq Ḡorbāl, Cairo, 1379/1959.

Moḵtār b. Ḥasan Ebn Boṭlān, Daʿwat al-aṭṭebāʾ, ed. F. Klein-Franke, Wiesbaden, 1985; tr. F. Klein-Franke as Ibn Butlān. Das Ärztenbankett, Stuttgart, 1984.

Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq, Resāla...elā ʿAlī b. Yaḥyā fī ḏekr mā torjema men kotob Jālīnūs be ʿelmeh wa baʿż mā lam yotarjam, ed. G. Bergsträsser, as Ḥunain Ibn Isḥāq über die syrischen und arabischen Galen-übersetzungen, AKM 17/2, Leipzig, 1925 and with supplement as Neue Materialien zu Ḥunain Ibn Isḥāq’s Galenbiblio-graphie, AKM 19/2, Leipzig, 1932.

Ebn al-Qefṭī, Taʾrīḵ al-ḥokamāʾ, eds. A. Müller and J. Lippert, Leipzig, 1903.

Studies: C. Adle, ed., Art et société dans le monde iranien, Bibliothèque iranienne 26, Paris, 1982.

H. H. Biesterfeldt and D. Gutas, “The Malady of Love,” JAOS 104, 1984.

G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, 5 vols., Studi e testi 118, 133, 146, 147, 172, Vatican City, 1944-53.

B. Gray, Persian Painting, Geneva, 1961.

C. Hillenbrand, “Marwānids” in EI ² VI, pp. 626-27.

Idem, “Mayyāfāriḳīn, 2. The Islamic Period” in EI ² VI, pp. 930-32.

M. Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam, Leiden and Cologne, 1970.

Idem, Die Natur- und Geheim-wissenschaften, Leiden and Cologne, 1971.

A. Yohannan, “A Manuscript of the Manāfeʿ al-Ḥaiwān in the Library of Mr. J. P. Morgan,” JAOS 36, 1917, pp. 381-89.

(Lutz Richter-Bernburg)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 6, 2011

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