Bar ʿAlī (ninth century CE) was the most important lexicographer of Syriac medical science. As a student of Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq, he is one of the key figures of Syriac medicine between the waning Greek and the upcoming Arabic medical tradition. His medical handbook (kunnāšā), discovered only a few years ago, is the most comprehensive medical text known in Syriac.
My project examines Bar ʿAlī’s strategies for overcoming a tension that beset medical writing in his day, that between learned and experienced knowledge. I trace the medical subdisciplines and sources he addresses and scrutinize his concepts of practical medicine and experience. Does Bar ʿAlī place value on experience in an Aristotelian way? Under what conditions does he accept second-hand experience, such as folk recipes?
The study will contribute to a larger picture of the most important oriental tradition of medicine before the advent of the Abbasid translation movement in eighth- to tenth-century Baghdad. In particular, it will analyze the distribution and relative prestige of theoretical and practical or experiential knowledge in Syriac academic medicine.
My project complements two other book projects in the field of Aramaic medical terminology and the healing properties of medicinal plants: one on Mandaic magico-medical texts (with Mark Geller and Bogdan Burtea) and one on Syriac recipes (with Mark Geller).