BOḴTĪŠŪʿ

 

BOḴTĪŠŪʿ, the name of the eponymous ancestor of a Syro-Persian Nestorian family of physicians from Gondēšāpūr, Ḵūzestān, 2nd/8th to 5th/11th centuries, and of several of its members.

This article will concentrate on those cultural factors which shaped the family’s intellectual profile before they entered the orbit of ʿAbbasid civilization; it will not give individual biographies of family members during the three centuries of their documented existence (148/765-ca. 452/1060), since both the civilization they lived in and their own orientation were funda­mentally Arabic or Syriac, not Persian. (For such information see D. Sourdel, “Bukhtīshūʿ,” in EI2 I, p. 1298, Ullmann, Medizin, index, s.vv. Baḫtīšūʿ, Ğibrīl, Ğurğīs, ʿUbaidallāh, Yūḥannā b. Baḫtīšūʿ; GAS III, index, s.vv. Buḫtīšūʿ, Ğibrāʾīl, Ğūrğis, ʿUbaidallāh, Yūḥannā b. Buḫtīšūʿ.) In later medical texts in Persian, the number of quotations from Boḵtīšūʿ, Jebrāʾīl or Jewarjīs is extremely limited, and their immediate source is Rāzī’s al-Ḥāwī (see Aḵawaynī Boḵārī, Hedāyat al-motaʿallemīn fi’l-ṭebb, pp. 452f., 710.16, and H. H. Biesterfeldt in EIr. I, pp. 706-07; L. Richter-Bernburg, Persian Medical Manuscripts at the Univer­sity of California, Los Angeles, Malibu, 1978 (Humana Civilitas, vol. 4), index, s.v. “Bokhtishuʿ.”

The name. Beginning with the early 5th century and spanning nearly 700 years, the Middle Persian-Syriac name “Jesus has redeemed,” indicative of the mixed cultural environment of Sasanian and early Islamic Mesopotamia, is well attested among Nestorians (Mari, pp. 28.6, 120.21; ʿAmr, p. 21.9); for its spelling and derivation see Justi, Namenbuch, p. 72a-b, s.v. Buxtyešūʿ, and Ph. Gignoux, Iranisches Personennamenbuch II/2, nos. 253-64. Medieval Muslims apparently felt the need of an explanation for this strange name, but the derivation Ebn Abī, Oṣaybeʿa—or his source­—proffers, “Jesus’ bondsman,” only shows that its actual meaning had become obsolete (I, p. 125, bottom).

The Gondēšāpūr background. Before the caliph al-Manṣūr called Jewarjīs b. Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ, the first family member to be known by more than mere name, to his court at Baghdad in 148/765, Jewarjīs had been in charge of the hospital, bīmārestān, of Gondēšāpūr, the see of the Nestorian metropolitan province of Bēṯ Hǰūzāyē and sometime Sasanian royal residence; Jewarjīs’s son Boḵtīšūʿ and his grandson Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ had similar functions there before entering caliphal service. It was doubtless their professional background and their influence as courtiers which made possible the introduction of the institution of the bīmārestān—in fact and name—into medieval Islam: Hārūn al-Rašīd charged Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jewarjīs with establishing a hospital at Baghdad (Jebrāʾīl himself in Yūsof b. al-Dāya’s account apud Qefṭī, p. 383.14f., and Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 174.17f.); yet beyond this bare fact, most details of interest, the functions, organization, and history of the Gondēšāpūr establishment, the theoret­ical scope of the medicine practiced there, even the language of transmission, remain elusive and shrouded in quasi-legendary accounts which do not easily yield reliable information (for a survey of Arabic sources see V. A. Eberman, “Shkola”).

Medieval Islamic biobibliographers, depending on apologetically tinged 3rd/9th-century Christian authorities, present the glowing picture of an unbroken Hippocratic tradition of medical practice and instruction at Gondēšāpūr from the very moment of the city’s foundation by Šāpūr I (esp. Qefṭī, p. 133, and Bar­hebraeus, Moḵtaṣar, p. 76.17f.), whereas contemporary or near-contemporary Christian sources on the pre­-Islamic history of Nestorianism maintain complete silence about a medical establishment of any kind at Gondēšāpūr. The earliest authentic evidence for its existence is furnished by Pethion’s report that Jewarjīs headed “the hospital of Gondēšāpūr” in 148/765 and by preserved fragments of his medical writings (the earliest mention of a “school” [oskūl] there relates to the first Islamic decades; Mari, p. 63.5-9). Jewarjīs’ activity as a clinical practitioner and teacher and as a medical author can be presumed to have followed the pattern of Nestorian tradition that had evolved at the latest by the middle of the 6th century a.d. Since that time, numerous hospitals had been set up in the region of Nestorian settlement; their administration could be vested in bishops, monasteries, parishes, or even private individuals (Synodicon Orientale, pp. 25, no. 7 [a.d. 410]; 125, nos. 26f. [a.d. 565]; 142ff., nos. 6f. [a.d. 585; tr. pp. 265, 384, 404]; Vööbus, Documents, pp. 123f., no. XXXVI; 131, no. L; Mari, p. 52.16; cf. Joannes Ephesinus apud C. Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum, 2Halis Saxonum 1928, p. 338b.23-29). As the (Greco-)Syriac term iḵsinoḏūḵīn (which uniformly denoted such infirmaries) implies, they originally served as inns for needy travelers; soon, however, they developed into places for the care of the sick. To what extent they also fulfilled academic functions as libraries and schools of medicine is largely unknown. One notable exception to this rule, however, is the xenodochium of Nisibis; it housed a library, provided instruction, and was some­how affiliated with the famous theological School of Nisibis, although contacts between students of divinity and of medicine were officially discouraged in 590 (Vööbus, Statutes, pp. 100f., canones XIX-XX; idem, History, pp. 282f.; “Chasteté,” p. 246, no. 39 [Syr. p. 25.7f.]; Chronique de Séert, p. 530.7ff.). Nothing is known of the medical textbooks used at Nisibis, but an idea of their contents can be formed on the basis of a study of extant Syriac works from the same period (see Ullmann, Medizin, pp. 100f., GAS III, pp. 176-79).

Nearly two centuries later, at the Gondēšāpūr hospital, conditions similar to those at Nisibis may still have obtained. Although the sources are vague about administrative details, the metropolitan appears to have exercised some form of supervision at Gondēšāpūr, at least in order to avoid conflicts with the Muslim authorities (Pethion apud Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 124.1-4; cf. Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jewarjīs’ account in Yūsof b. Ebrāhīm apud Qefṭī, p. 383.15-19/Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 174.18-21). Teaching was done by the head of the hospital (Pethion apud Qefṭī, p. 158.15ff./Oṣaybeʿa, I, 124.5ff.), and some books at least must also have been available, given Jewarjīs’ and his son’s and grandson’s writings and those by other authors of Ḵūzī affiliation, the most important names being Tīaḏūq, “al-Ḵūz,” Yūḥannā b. Māsawayh and Sābūr b. Sahl (see Ull­mann, Medizin, pp. 22f., 101f., 112-15, 300f.; GAS III, pp. 184f., 186, 207f., 231-36, 244). However, the extent of the Gondēšāpūr hospital library under Jewarjīs must have been rather limited, and the scope of his and his immediate successors’ medical knowledge still has to be assessed in detail, a task not made easier by the fragmentary preservation of most of the texts concerned (see Ullmann, Medizin, pp. 108f.; GAS III, pp. 209ff., 226f.). At any rate, the extant material clearly shows a preponderance of medicinal therapy over theory, a strong interest in cosmetic treatment (Jewarjīs apud Rāzī, al-Ḥāwī XXIII, pt. 2, pp. 33.12, 87.9, 119.6, 130.12, 170.6, 184.12; Ebn Joljol, p. 64.2f., even ascribes a Ketāb al-zīna to his son Boḵtīšūʿ) and a certain openness to magic and sympathetic remedies (Jewarjīs apud Rāzī, al-Ḥāwī IX, p. 138.6, X, p. 326.11; Boḵtīšūʿ, ibid., IX, p. 127.4, X, p. 315.7); above all, it tends to confirm those reports in the Muslim sources which describe Gondēšāpūr medicine as a combination of Greek and Indian traditions and their adaptation to local needs (Ebn Qotayba, al-Maʿāref, p. 658.17ff.; Qefṭī, p. 133.12-17; cf. Ṭabarī, I, p. 845.14ff.). This activity resulted in the discussion of diseases endemic to the region, such as smallpox and measles (Jewarjīs apud Rāzī, al-Ḥāwī XVII, pp. 16.12 etc., 31.14 etc.; a possible dependence of Ḵūzī physicians on western authors such as Ahron al-Qass remains to be examined, however), and in the integration of Indian and Iranian materia medica and pharmacy into the framework of late antique Galenism.

Judging by the phonetic forms of Indian and Iranian drug names in Arabic, which reflect Middle Persian models, the above-mentioned process took place during the Sasanian period, although a more precise dating and localization can hardly be undertaken. The presence of Iranian elements in Arabic medical terminology, not least the word bīmārestān itself, also raises the question of the role of the Persian language in the transmission of medicine in the (formerly) Sasanian dominions (see below). Arabic sources, no doubt reproducing Iranian traditions, date the introduction of Indian medicine to “al-Sūs” to the time of Šāpūr II; the physician he had called in from India had then imparted his knowledge to local adepts (see Ebn Qotayba and Ṭabarī, as above); such accounts need not be inherently wrong, witness the survey of a Sasanian “history of science” in Dēnkard, book four (see R. C. Zaehner, Zurvan, Oxford, 1955, pp. 7ff.; D. Pingree, The Thousands of Abū Maʿshar, Studies of the Warburg Institute 30, London, 1965, pp. 7ff.). In Rāzī’s quotations from Jewarjīs, an electuary (jawāreš) and a “medicine” (dawāʾ) are named for Kesrā and Qobād, respectively (al-Ḥāwī VII, p. 41.12), but the historicity of such names cannot, of course, be ascertained and at any rate, their connection with Gondēšāpūr remains tenuous at best.

The most reliable account of medical life in Gondēšāpūr under the Sasanians concerns a medical-philosophical disputation convened by order of the king during the twentieth year of “Kesrā’s” reign (Qefṭī, p. 133.17-23). The assembly was presided over by “Jebrāʾīl Dorostābād” as physician-in-ordinary to the king; other leading participants were “al-Sūfesṭāʾī” and “Yūḥannā.” While the last two cannot at present be identified, Jebrāʾīl is none other than the notorious Gabriel of Šīggār/Senjār of the Syriac and Christian Arabic sources (Chronicon anonymum, p. 19.10f.; cf. Synodicon orientale, p. 562.5; “Chasteté,” nos. 57-58 [Syr. p. 36.9, 15]; Chronique de Séert, pp. 498.3, 525.7; Vööbus, History, pp. 230, 306, 308, 315f., with refs.); his title of “head physician” is expressly given both with the Sasanian-Persian term drustabed (cf. MacKenzie, p. 28) and the Greek/Syriac archíatros. Thus the medical conference mentioned by Qefṭī can be dated to about 610, i.e., to the period of intrigue and conflict between Monophysites and Nestorians who both contended for Parwēz’s favor, Gabriel being the major proponent of Monophysitism at court (Vööbus, History, pp. 315ff.). In 612, at Gabriel’s instigation, an assembly of Nestorian bishops was convened for disputations at court (Synodicon orientale, pp. 562 etc., 580 etc.), but it is unknown whether this had anything to do with Qefṭī’s medical meeting.

Whereas the name Gondēšāpūr does not occur once in the Christian sources on Gabriel, it is known that in addition to Gabriel, a whole group of “Nisibene doctors” was in Parwēz’s service (Chronicon anonymum, p. 17.9; Chronique de Séert, pp. 521.9, 522.3-7, 525.5ff.); they, as well as Gabriel of Senjār, can be expected to have received their medical training at Nisibis, even though this is nowhere expressly stated. A good half century earlier, in 555, a Nisibene physician, Gabriel, was in attendance at the court of Ḵosrow I; at the suggestion of his Christian medical advisers and against all custom, Ḵosrow is even said to have established and endowed a hospital and appointed a staff of twelve physicians to it (Zacharias Rhetor, II, pp. 217.20f., 27-218.4); no other source is known which might corrobo­rate or disprove this account. In sum, while medical activity might well have flourished at Gondēšāpūr long before the time of Gabriel Drustabed, the earliest relatively certain date is 610, the year of the meeting reported by Qefṭī.

Notwithstanding the existence of ecclesiastical literature in Middle Persian and of some medical tracts even in Sogdian (Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, pp. 1229, 1392), Syriac was the idiom used for medical reading and writing at Gondēšāpūr during the Sasanian and the first two Islamic centuries; even if it was not Ḥonayn who translated Jewarjīs’s compendium into Arabic, nothing can cast any doubt on Oṣaybeʿa’s testimony that its original language was Syriac (I, p. 125 bottom). Jewarjīs’s grandson Jebrāʾīl and great-grandson Boḵtīšūʿ still preferred to read medical books in Syriac, as did their colleagues at Gondēšāpūr (Ḥonayn, Mā torjema, p. 5.2f. and index, s.vv. Boḫtīšōʿ b. Gibrīl, Gibrīl b. Boḫtīšōʿ). However, their literary use of Syriac was paralleled by that of Persian as a spoken language, including the oral discourse on medicine, witness the above-mentioned “Iranian” (here meant to include Indian) elements in Arabic medical terminology. While the Boḵtīšūʿ family acquired Arabic in the process of their integration into Islamic society, they preserved an oral competence in Persian for nearly 200 years (Pethion apud Oṣaybeʿa, I, pp. 124.10 [Jewarjīs], 126 ll. 10f. from bottom [Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jewarjīs): Yūsof b. Ebrāhīm apud Qefṭī, p. 140.8ff./Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 131 ll. 10f. from bottom [Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jewarjīs]; ʿObayd-Allāh b. Jebrāʾīl b. ʿObayd-Allāh b. Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ apud Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 145 ll.7f. from bottom [Jebrāʾīl b. ʿObayd-Allāh b. Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jewarjīs]).

Admittedly the descendants of Boḵtīšūʿ were not the only representatives of Syro-Persian Galenism in the formative period of Islamic medicine, and the prominence which the later biobibliographers accorded them perhaps derived from social status and certain šoʿūbī tendencies rather than from any outstanding contributions on their part, even though their practical acumen and sound theoretical knowledge were praised repeatedly (e.g., Pethion apud Qefṭī, p. 158.9-12/Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 123 ll. 3ff. from bottom, apud Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 126 ll. 7f. from bottom; Yūsof b. Ebrāhīm, ibid., I, p. 133 ll. 12f. from bottom). They successfully adapted to the transition from the relatively quiet existence of Christian notables in provincial Gondēšāpūr to the highly visible and materially rewarding, if not always enviable, life as courtiers of the caliph. The influence they thus gained among the leading circles of society at large and the patronage they were able to extend to translators of Greek medical texts (see Ḥonayn, Mā torjema, as above) both substantially furthered the diffusion of rational medicine and health care in ʿAbbasid Islam.

Review of sources. Neither Qefṭī’s nor Barhebraeus’s sources for their accounts of Gondēšāpūr’s medical history and especially for the conference of 610 have been identified to date; some Jacobite traditions may have entered into Qefṭī’s text, given its neutral tone toward Gabriel Drustabed. Barhebraeus generally de­pends on Qefṭī for his remarks on the Boḵtīšūʿ family and other Islamic physicians, but he also used Syriac, markedly non-Islamic, materials. For the period from the moment of Jewarjīs’ arrival at Baghdad in 148/765 to the death of Boḵtīšūʿ “the Younger,” i.e., Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ b. Jewarjīs, in 256/870, our main authorities are Faṯyūn al-Tarjomān (Pethion the Inter­preter; fl. 260/873; see Graf, II, pp. 120f., GAS III, p. 231), and Yūsof b. Ebrāhīm “Ebn al-Dāya” (Son of the wetnurse; d. ca. 265/878; see Graf, II, p. 113; GAS I, pp. 373f., III, p. 231; F. Rosenthal, “Ibn al-Dāya,” in EI2 III, pp. 745f.); both spent at least part of their lives at Baghdad in the company of those illustrious con­temporaries they later wrote about. Extensive frag­ments of their otherwise lost works have been preserved in Qefṭī’s and Oṣaybeʿa’s compilations; naturally, these include other sources from the same period as well, but here special mention is due of Esḥāq b. ʿAlī al-Rohāwī for his excerpts from another Baghdadi physician of the 3rd/9th century, ʿĪsā b. Māssa (Adab al-ṭabīb, facs. ed. F. Sezgin, Publications of the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science, C 18, Frankfurt am Main, 1985; Ullmann, Medizin, pp. 223f., 228; GAS III, pp. 257f., 263f.). Whereas the Nestorian Pethion is an open admirer of the Boḵtīšūʿ family (apud Oṣaybeʿa, I, p. 136.2-5), his coreligionist (?) Yūsof’s attitude to them is less partisan—he also transmits from their rivals—­but by no means negative, and ʿĪsā b. Māssa depends on Yūḥannā b. Māsawayh, whose relationship to Jebrāʾīl b. Boḵtīšūʿ was not free of tension. None of them is very rigorous about chronological detail; Pethion, espe­cially, stylizes his narrative in order to have it conform to his laudatory and parenetic tendencies, Yūsof’s material is rather in the nature of personal, at times anecdotal or gossipy recollections of an interested observer, and Yūḥannā b. Māsawayh figures as a social climber facing the well-established, haughty Boḵtīšūʿs. The particular narrative stance of each of these and other witnesses and the later authors’ dependence on them still have to be examined in detail. This is all the more essential as, outside the medical community of 3rd/9th century Baghdad, information about that community was extremely scant (cf. the confused notices on “Boḵtīšūʿ” in the Fehrest I, p. 296.23-27 and Ebn Joljol, pp. 61f.).

 

Bibliography:

In addition to the references given in the text the following works have been quoted: Sources: ʿAmr, Maris Amri et Slibae de patriarchis Nestorianorum commentaria, ed. H. Gismondi, 2 vols. text, 2 vols. tr., Rome, 1896-99; Abu’l-Faraj Ḡrīḡūrīūs Barhebraeus, Chronicon Syriacum, ed. P. J. Bruns and G. Kirsch, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1789, esp. I, p. 62.9-­12, and II, p. 59 (= ed. P. Bedjan, Paris 1890, p. 57.12-15; same as in al-Moḵtaṣar, see above); idem, Taʾrīḵ moḵtaṣar al-dowal, ed. A. Ṣāleḥānī, 2nd ed., Beirut, 1958; “Le livre de la chasteté,” ed. J. B. Chabot in Mélanges d’archéologie et d’histoire 16, 1896, pp. 225-92 plus 80 pages Syriac text; Chronicon anonymum de ultimis regibus Persarum, ed. I. Guidi, 2nd ed., Louvain, 1960; (CSCO 1); Chronique de Séert, ed. A. Scher, Paris, 1908-19 (Patrologia Orientalis IV, pp. 215-312, V, pp. 217-344, VII, pp. 95-203, XIII, pp. 437-639); Ḥonayn, Mā torjema, ed. G. Bergsträsser as Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq über die syrischen und arabischen Galenübersetzungen, with suppl. Neue Materialien zu Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq’s Galenbibliographie, AKM XVII 2 and XIX, 2, Leipzig, 1925 and 1932; Aḥmad b. al-Qāsem b. Ḵalīfa Ebn Abī Oṣaybeʿa, ʿOyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭebbāʾ, ed. Emraʾ al-­Qays b. al-Ṭaḥḥān [i.e., August Müller], Cairo, 1299/1882 and Königsberg 1884; Ebn Joljol, Solay­mān b. Ḥassān, Ṭabaqāt al-a¡tebbāʾ, ed. F. Sayyed, Cairo, 1955; Mari, see ʿAmr; Ebn al-Qefṭī: ʿAlī b. Yūsof b. Ebrāhīm, Eḵbār al-ʿolamāʾ be-aḵbār al-­ḥokamāʾ, ed. of al-Zawzanī’s epitome al-Montaḵabāt wa’l-moltaqaṭāt by A. Müller and J. Lippert as Ibn al-­Qifṭī’s Taʾrīḫ al-ḥokamāʾ, Berlin, 1903; ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moslem Ebn Qotayba, Ketāb al-maʿāref, ed. Ṯ. ʿOkkāša, Cairo, 1960; Abū Bakr Moḥammad b. Zakarīyāʾ al-Rāzī, Ketāb al-ḥāwī fi’l-ṭebb, 24 vols., Hyderabad, 1955-71 (Maṭbūʿāt Dāʾerat al-Maʿāref al-ʿOṯmānīya. Selsela jadīda, 4, I-XXIII, 2); Synodi­con orientale, ed. J. B. Chabot, Paris, 1902 (= Notices et extraits des mss de la Bibliothèque Nationale XXXVII); Zacharias Rhetor, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. E. W. Brooks, 2nd ed., Louvain, 1953 (CSCO 83, 84, 87,88).

Studies:

V. A. Eberman, “Meditsinskaya shkola v Djundishapure,” Zapiski kollegii vostokovedov pri Aziatskom muzee Rossiĭskoĭ akademii nauk 1, 1925, pp. 47-72; G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, 5 vols., Vatican City, 1944-53 (Studi e testi 118, 133, 146, 147, 172); D. N. Mackenzie, A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary, London, 1971; M. Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam, Leiden and Cologne, 1970 (HO, 1. Abtlg., Erg. Bd. VI, 1); A. Vööbus, Syriac and Arabic Documents Regarding Legislation Relative to Syrian Asceticism, Stockholm, 1960 (Papers of the Estonian Theological Society in Exile 11); idem, The Statutes of the School of Nisibis, Stockholm, 1962 (ibid., 12); idem, History of the School of Nisibis, Louvain, 1965 (CSCO 226, Sub­sidia 26).

(Lutz Richter-Bernburg)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

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