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Three Streams of Human Evolution
GA 184

A Note on Jundí Sábúr

The city of Jundí Sábúr was founded by a Persian king, Shapur I (A.D. 224–241). Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was put to death there in 276. The first of the several events that led to the rise of the Academy of Jundí Sábúr occurred in 545, when the Bishop of Edessa enforced the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon against the Nestorians in his diocese; some of them migrated to Persia. A further purge of Nestorians occurred in 487, and in 489 the Emperor Zeno finally closed the Edessa school. The Academy of Jundí Sábúr, however, was not formally set going until after the Greek schools of philosophy had been closed by the Emperor Justinian in 528–29, during the reign of the Persian King Khusraw I (531–578).

Dr. De Lacy O'Leary, in his How Greek Science Passed to the Arabs (Routledge, 1949), says of Khusraw I: “He was a great admirer of Graeco-Roman culture and especially desired to introduce Greek science into his dominions. It was he who offered hospitality to the philosophers who were turned adrift when Justinian closed the schools of Athens, and provided for their safety and welfare when they desired to return to Greece. He desired to have in Persia a great Greek academy like that at Alexandria, and such an academy he established in the city of Jundí-Shápúr. There the Alexandrian curriculum was introduced and the same books of Galen read and lectured upon as at Alexandria.” The Academy became celebrated especially for its medical teaching; the other main subjects studied there are said to have been astronomy (there are records of an observatory) and mathematics.

These various events are referred to by Dr. E. G. Browne in his Arabian Medicine (Cambridge University Press, 1962): “The great development of the school of Jundí-Shápúr was ... the unforeseen and unintended result of that Byzantine intolerance which in the fifth century of our era drove the Nestorians from their school at Edessa and forced them to seek refuge in Persian territory. In the following century the enlightened and wisdom-loving Khusraw Anusharwan, the protector of the exiled Neo-Platonist philosophers, sent his physician Burzuya to India, who, together with the game of chess and the celebrated Book of Kalila and Dimna, brought back Indian works on medicine and also, apparently, Indian physicians to Persia. The school of Jundí-Shápúr was, then, at the time of the prophet Muhammad's birth, at the height of its glory. There converged Greek and Oriental learning, the former transmitted in part directly through Greek scholars, but for the most part through the industrious and assimilative Syrians, who made up in diligence what they lacked in originality.”

On the later history of the school, Dr. O'Leary writes: “When Baghdad was founded in 762, the Khalif and his court became near neighbours of Jundí-Shápúr, and before long court appointments with generous emoluments began to draw Nestorian physicians and teachers from the academy, and in this Harun ar-Rashid's minister Ja'far ibn Barmak was a leading agent, doing all in his power to introduce Greek science amongst the subjects of the Khalif, Arabs, and Persians.... Thus the Nestorian heritage of Greek scholarship passed from Edessa and Nisibis, through Jundí-Shápúr, to Baghdad.”

Dr. O'Leary quotes from E. Le Strange's Lands of the Eastern Khalifate (Cambridge, 1909): “Eight leagues north-west of Tustar, on the road to Dizful, lie the ruins now called Shahabad, which mark the site of Junday Sabur or Jundí-Shápúr. Under the Sassanians, Junday Sabur had been the capital of Khuzistan.”

See also the note on Jundí-Shápúr appended to The Redemption of Thinking, by Rudolf Steiner, translated and edited by Canon A. P. Shepherd and Mildred Robertson Nicoll (Hodder and Stoughton, 1956).

Further interesting references will be found in The Legacy of Persia, edited by A. J. Arberry (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1953).

C. D.