Paul the Persian

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Paul the Persian or Paulus Persa was a 6th-century East Syrian theologian and philosopher who worked at the court of the Sassanid king Khosrau I. He wrote several treatises and commentaries on Aristotle, which had some influence on medieval Islamic philosophy. He is identified by some scholars with Paulus of Nisibis (d. 571 CE)[1] and with Paul of Basra.[2] According to Jackson, he was "a Christian who may have studied Greek philosophy in the schools of Nisibis and Gundeshapur".[2] He is remembered for his writings in Syriac for his royal patron.[3] These include his notes in Syriac on Aristotle's Logic, in which he declares the superiority of science over faith.[4]


Paul the Persian is known from the 9th-century The Chronicle of Seert and from the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum of the 13th-century Jacobite historian Bar-Hebraeus. These sources indicate that he was born in Dershahr in Persia. Bar-Hebraeus mentions that he lived during the time of the Nestorian patriarch Ezekiel (567-580). According to Bar-Hebraeus, Paul was a cleric in the Church of the East and well versed in ecclesiastical and philosophical matters.

Paul wrote two known works. He produced an introduction to the philosophy of Aristotle, which was delivered before the Persian King Chosroes I, and later translated into Syriac by Severus Sebokht. The same work was also translated into Arabic at a later date.[5] The other work extant is On Interpretation, which has never been published.

Both the Chronicle of Seert and Bar-Hebraeus record that he aspired to become metropolitan of Fars, and, failing to be elected, converted to Zoroastrianism.[6] However this is not otherwise documented and may merely be the product of the rivalry between the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church and the Nestorian Church of the East. The entry in the Chronicle of Seert reads:

(Chosroes) was very learned in philosophy, which he had studied, it is said, under Mar Bar Samma, bishop of Qardu, and under Paul the Persian Philosopher, who, being unable to obtain the metropolitan see of Persia, renounced the Christian religion.[7]


  • Prolegomena to Philosophy and Logic[8]
  • Treatise on the Logic of Aristotle the Philosopher addressed to King Khhuosrowousrowau (in Syriac; British Museum ms. 988 [Add. 144660], ff. 55v-67rv; Wright 1872, 1872, p. 1161);[9] translated into Latin by J. P. N. Land[10]


  1. ^ C. H. M. Versteegh, Greek elements in Arabic linguistic thinking, BRILL, 1977, ISBN 90-04-04855-3
  2. ^ a b A. V. Williams Jackson, Zoroastrian Studies, Kessinger Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-7661-6655-4
  3. ^ Tjitze J. Boer, transl. Edward R. Jones, The History of Philosophy in Islam, 1904 (republished 1933 as ISBN 1-60506-697-4)
  4. ^ Abd al-Raḥmān Badawī, Quelques figures et thèmes de la philosophie islamique, Maisonneuve & Larose, 1979, ISBN 2-7068-0779-2
  5. ^ D. Gutas, Paul the Persian on the classification of the parts of Aristotle's philosophy: a milestone between Alexandria and Baghdad, Der Islam 60 (1983), 231-67, esp. 250-254 on the Arabic translation, attributing it to Abu Bishr Matta.
  6. ^ Article on Priscianus of Lydia
  7. ^ Addai Scher, ed., Histoire Nestorienne (Chronique de Seért), Patrologia Orientalis, 7 (1910), 147.
  8. ^ History of civilizations of Central Asia, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 81-208-1540-8
  9. ^ Byard Bennett, "Paul the Persian", Encyclopaedia Iranica, accessed 2009-07-10. Contains a detailed bibliography of works on Paulus Persa.
  10. ^ J. P. N. Land, Anecdota Syriaca, vol. 4, v. 4, IV, Leiden, 1875

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