Academy of Gondishapur

From Anthroposophy

The Academy of Gondishapur (Gundeshapur, or Jundi Sabur) was a center of highly developed intellectual science in Persia (current Iran) between approx. 600-900 and was the worldwide center of advanced intellectual thinking and new scientific impulses. It had a major impact on world history.

  • the impact still today due to the oriental spiritual stream of 'Arabism' (1925-03-GA026, LT177-179) - see more on Reconquista
  • Soratic impulse: the intention of Sorat for the year 666 was to deluge humanity with a knowledge and a culture which the gods had intended for men only during the third millennium, by bestowing the consciousness soul prematurely on Man around 666, thereby side-tracking normal development by mingling the intellectual soul's development with that of the consciousness soul. In case the impulse would have succeeded, geniuses would have arisen with inspired knowledge that mankind will only have around 2493, and delivered great advances to humanity's unbalanced immature soul moods of that period (1918-10-11-GA184).


  • the impulse of Gondishapur resuscitated the neo-Persian influence and Zarathustra-impulse (see Persian cultural age), but although the original intentions of the Soratic impulse were shunted, still its effects remain as an influence in humanity today (1918-10-16-GA182)
  • at the Academy of Gondishapur, all major works of the greek culture, both philosophical and scientific, were translated into arabic. Great spirits incarnated and brought major advances in many areas of science such as medicine, aritmethic, astrology, etc. (re von Gleich, see 'Further reading' section below).
  • in the Karmic Relationships cycle, Rudolf Steiner discussed some of the important Individualities connected to the academy of Gondischapur such as Haroun El Rachid (KRID=6), his counceller (KRID=17), Gebel El Tarik (KRID=7), Muawiyah (KRID=9), an astronomer around Manan (KRID=8). These incarnated again in the personalities of Lord Bacon, Charles Darwin, Woodrow Wilson, Laplace, Amos Comenius.
  • prophet Mohammed (approx. 570-632), founded the Islam and this countered the impulse of Gondishapur (1918-10-12-GA184)
    • However the oriental spiritual stream thus created also did away with the spiritual and put a strong focus on the physical only (1904-06-24-GA092). Mohammed's clairvoyance saw the elemental world and led to a monotheistic and (ahrimanic) intellectual religion with a luciferic paradise that stands opposed to threefolded divinity (1924-04-24-GA316), christianity (1913-01-03-GA069), spiritual science (1915-04-11-GA272, 1920-06-09-GA300). In the middle ages, around the 13th century, this oriental spiritual stream met, fructified and clashed with the european culture and christian religion (1911-03-13-GA124, 1924-09-10-GA346), more on Reconquista.


Lecture coverage and references

Overview coverage

Main cycle is GA184, with two main lectures are of 12 and 16 October 1918, but other lectures to be added also: 1918-10-11-GA184 and 1918-10-13-GA184.

Also 1918-10-20-GA185

Reference extracts


Just take the event, of very little interest to ordinary people, but all the same an extraordinarily significant event—take the event of the year 529, when the Emperor Justinian prohibited the further functioning of the Greek schools of philosophy—those schools which were the shining light of antiquity. So all the scholarship of olden times which had been drawn into the Greek schools of philosophy, and had produced an Anaxagoras, a Heraclitus, and later a Socrates, a Plato, an Aristotle—all this was swept away in 529 by a decree of the Emperor Justinian. True, it is possible to gain from history some idea of why Justinian swept away the old knowledge in Europe; but if we reflect honestly upon these matters, we shall remain dissatisfied with any of the explanations given. We fed the working of unknown forces. And it is strange that this event coincides—not exactly, but historical facts often appear to belong together when they are looked at from a later time—this event ties up with the expulsion of the philosophers from Edessa in the year 489 by the Isaurian, Zeno Isauricus. So from the most important places of that world the most learned men were driven out. And these men, who had preserved the ancient wisdom that had not yet been influenced by Christianity were obliged to wander forth. They fled to Nisibis, journeyed then to Persia and founded the Academy of Jundí Sábúr. (See note at end of lecture, p. 103.)

Now even among philosophers very little is said about this Academy of learning at Jundí Sábúr. But unless one has some knowledge of the character of this Academy, founded by those who had belonged to the ancient schools of learning, nothing about the whole evolution of modern humanity will be understood. For this ancient learning, carried over into Persia by the sages whom Justinian and Isauricus had banished, provided the basis for an enormously significant teaching which was given out in the seventh century at Jundí Sábúr. It was in Jundí Sábúr that Aristotle was translated. And the remarkable thing is that Aristotle (whose works might otherwise have been completely lost) had first been translated into Syrian, in Edessa, by those very men of learning who were later driven out by Zeno Isauricus. The Syrian translation was brought to Jundí Sábúr, and there translated into Arabic.

This rendering of Aristotle from the Greek into Arabic, by way of the Syrian language, indicates something very remarkable. Anyone who has an insight into the transformation that thoughts undergo when they are translated into another language—or when an attempt is made to translate them—will be able to grasp how, to put it hypothetically, a certain intention could have gone into presenting, not Aristotle the Greek, but the Aristotle who made his way into Arabic through the Syrian. Thus it came about that Aristotelian concepts were imbued with an Arabian light, thrown over them by the remarkable souls of the Arabians of that time, in whom the keenest thinking was united with a certain visionary capacity—a capacity, however, which took its course on logical lines and rose to actual perception. And so, in the light of this characteristic teaching, an impressive world-outlook developed in Jundí Sábúr during the seventh century.

What I have been referring to is not an imaginary event, nor something that never took place on earth; it was in Jundí Sábúr that the teaching I spoke of yesterday was given—a teaching which in its essential nature forms the greatest imaginable contrast to all that has developed from the Event of Golgotha. And it represented a definite endeavour by the sages of Jundí Sábúr. This endeavour—just as I told you yesterday—was on behalf of an all-embracing knowledge which was meant to replace the exertions of the Consciousness Soul. It would have made of man a mere man of the earth and would have shut him off from his true future—his evolution into the spiritual world. Men of wisdom would have arisen, but materialistically thinking men, men entirely of the earth. They would have been able to see deeply into what was spiritual and supersensible in the earth, but they would have been cut off precisely from the evolution intended for man by his creators—the evolution to Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit, Spirit-Man. Whoever has any inkling of the wisdom of Jundí Sábúr will indeed regard it as in the highest sense dangerous for mankind, but also as a phenomenon of great power. And the intention was to deluge with this learning not only the immediate vicinity but the whole of the then known civilised world—Asia, Europe, and everywhere.

The preliminaries for this were prepared. But the influence that was to have gone out from Jundí Sábúr was deadened, held back by retarded spiritual forces, which were nevertheless connected—although they form a kind of opposition—with the outflow of the Christ Impulse. Through the appearance of Mohammed and his visionary religious teaching, there was a deadening of the influence that was meant to go out from Jundí Sábúr. Above all in those regions where it was wished to spread the Gnostic wisdom of Jundí Sábúr, Mohammed took the ground from under its feet. He skimmed the cream off it, and so the Jundí Sábúr influence was left to trail behind and could accomplish nothing in face of what Mohammed had done. Here you can see the wisdom in world-history; we come to know the truth about Mohammedanism only when, in addition to other things, we know that Mohammedanism was destined to deaden the Gnostic wisdom of Jundí Sábúr, to take from it the strong Ahrimanically seductive force which would otherwise have been exercised upon mankind.

However, this wisdom of Jundí Sábúr has not entirely disappeared. We must follow attentively the evolution of mankind from the seventh century up to our own time, if we are to understand what has happened in connection with the Gnostic movement of Jundí Sábúr. The eminent teacher, whose name is unknown, but who was the greatest opponent of Christ Jesus, failed to achieve his purpose—the purpose of the teaching he gave to his pupils at Jundí Sábúr—but something else was achieved. Careful studies, however, are necessary in order to recognise what this was.

The question may be asked: How has it really come about that our present science has arisen, with its particular method of thinking? What I am now about to say is not unknown to conscientious historians. This present scientific method of thinking, as I described it for you yesterday, has not developed in a direct line from anything in Christianity—no, in reality it has nothing to do with Christianity as such. It is possible to trace step by step, from decade to decade, how the Gnostic wisdom of Jundí Sábúr—certainly in a deadened form—spread over Southern Europe and Africa to Spain, to France, to England, and then over the Continent by way of the monasteries. We can trace how the supersensible is driven out and only the sense-perceptible retained; we can trace the tendency, as it were, the intention. And that which arises from the deadening of the Gnostic wisdom of Jundí Sábúr is Western scientific thinking.

In this connection it is particularly interesting to study Roger Bacon—not Bacon of Verulam but Roger Bacon. Although he was a monk—not, however, looked upon very favourably by his colleagues—we can see how the Gnostic wisdom of Jundí Sábúr flowed into him. So little do men to-day know of the sources of what is working in their souls that they imagine they have a scientific thinking free from prejudice, whereas this “impartial scientific thinking” derives in fact from the Academy of Jundí Sábúr.

It is not true that the findings gained from spiritual vision are incapable of corroboration; but we have to set about it in the right way if in the life of outward experience we are to show how what is brought from the spiritual actually emerged. In the near future these considerations will be of extreme importance. For if men wish to extricate themselves from the confusion of to-day, the confusion of recent years, they will have to see the past in its true colours. The fact that to-day they are inclined to look at everything from a scientific angle has nothing directly to do with Christianity; it is the result of the conditions I have been describing. Thus in the evolution of Western culture we have these two forces, these two streams—on the one hand the Christian stream, on the other hand the stream that has so deeply influenced Western thinking, and can in fact be studied when we examine the spiritual life of the Middle Ages.

This spiritual life of the Middle Ages is studied very one-sidedly. But go and look at the pictures which were painted about the way in which the Schoolmen behaved towards the Arabian philosophers; see how in the sense of Western Christian tradition the Schoolman is shown standing there with his Christian doctrine and preparing to tread the Arabian men of learning under foot ... over and over again this same passionate theme, the treading under foot of the Arabian men of learning by the force of Christ. Look at this in the pictures arising from the Christian tradition of the West, and you will understand how there lives in these pictures the passionate wish of the Middle Ages to set Christianity in opposition to all that sprang originally from the enmity of the Academy of Jundí Sábúr towards the Christ; all the passionate feeling about the Arabian learning and its spreading over Europe, right up to the time of Maimonides Ramban and Avicenna—everywhere we find the echo of what I have been describing. But just think—man was intended, aided by the Mystery of Golgotha, to find the Consciousness Soul out of his personality, and then to rise further to Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit, Spirit-Man. The purpose of the genius of Gnostic learning, however, was that man should receive something through direct revelation, without needing from the fifteenth century onwards to develop his Consciousness Soul. He was to acquire as a revelation of genius all that otherwise he would have had to find through his own personal capacity, in conjunction with the divine-spiritual Beings appointed for him, among whom even Christ Jesus belongs. The thoughts of men such as Averröes, who had acquired the Gnostic wisdom of Jundí Sábúr in its deadened form, were focused upon this. Who would ever really understand, on reading the foolish, disconnected information given to-day in school-books about Averröes, why this Spanish-Arabian man of learning said: “When a man dies, it is only the substance of his soul that flows into the universal spirituality. Man has no personal individuality; all that is soul in separate men is merely a reflection of the one universal soul.” Why did he say this? He said it because it is part of the Jundí Sábúr wisdom, which told people not that each individual is to develop the Consciousness Soul, but that the wisdom of the Consciousness Soul was to come to them as a revelation from above. Then it would have been an Ahrimanic revelation, and the content of the Consciousness Soul would have really merged into monism, with the individual consciousness becoming merely semblance. Everything that lives in the cultural evolution of the West is illuminated when things are considered spiritually. Now we must ask ourselves over and over again, first: How can this evolution of the Consciousness Soul come about?—for it has to come about; and secondly: What prevents men to-day from turning to Spiritual Science, which alone can show them the way to the Consciousness Soul?

Now yesterday I explained to you how the knowledge of nature—of which modern man is inordinately proud—leads to conceptions that do not reflect nature, but only its ghost. What men know of nature is not the truth; it is a ghost, and related to the reality of nature in the same way that a ghost is related to reality. But scientists are not aware of the ghostly nature of their knowledge, nor are they aware that what they know as Man is not Homo but Homunculus. Now the course of human evolution, which in its present character began during the fifteenth century and will continue to the middle of the fourth millennium, will be such that man will have increasingly to discern what he is really striving for in, let us say, his knowledge of nature, and how far he approaches reality with this knowledge. He will have to strive for knowledge and he will have to avoid the obstacles that meet him on the way. The most important obstacles—we have already described them from a certain point of view but we will call them up again before our souls—arise because in our scientific age, which is a child of the Academy of Jundí Sábúr, man pursues a ghostly knowledge, for he forms conceptions about nature from which all that is spiritual has departed. And we may ask—Why docs he do this?—for then we shall gain some idea of what man has to overcome. Why, then, does man unconsciously want this ghostly knowledge of nature and why is he so proud and overbearing about it? Why?



.. something of what was intended to happen, but was blunted in its effects, did indeed remain for humanity, inasmuch as out of those grand beginnings, fantastic Islam, pitiful Islam, emerged. But something further still happened to all that part of humanity in which the impulse of Jundi-Shapur had taken effect. From that neo-Persian influence by which, out of due time, the Zarathustra-impulse was resuscitated, humanity was given an ‘injection’, if I may use a homely expression. It was an injection reaching into its actual bodily constitution, and we are born with it to this day : it is an impulse actually identical with the one of which I spoke at the beginning. There was injected into humanity that sickness which, in its effect, leads to the denial of the Father God.

Please take me literally. Humanity — that is to say, civilised humanity — has a ‘thorn in the flesh’ today. St. Paul has much to say about this ‘thorn.’ [ See note 11 ] He speaks prophetically, as an especially advanced man; the thorn was in him already in his own day. To others it was given in the real sense only later on, in the seventh century. But its effects will become more and more widespread, more and more significant. A man today who surrenders wholly to this thorn, to this sickness — for in the physical body this thorn is an actual sickness — becomes an atheist, one who denies God, who denies the Divine. In every human being belonging to modern civilisation there is, fundamentally speaking, the tendency to atheism; the question is only whether a man lends himself to it. He has within him the sickness which incites him to deny the Divine, whereas if he obeyed the promptings of his true nature he would acknowledge God. His nature was, as it were, mineralised to a certain extent at that time, retarded in its development, with the result that we have within us the sickness which gives rise to the denial of Divinity.

This sickness has many consequences. Through it a bond of attraction is created between the soul of a man and his body stronger than that which formerly existed, stronger than that which arises from human nature itself. The soul is shackled more firmly to the body. Whereas through its essential being, the soul is not intended to share the destinies of the body, through this plan it would have taken a course leading to greater and greater participation in the destinies of the body, including those of birth, heredity and death.

The aim of the sages of Jundi-Shapur — in a more amateurish form it is also the aim of certain occult societies in our own time — amounted to nothing else than this: to make man very great, very wise, on the Earth, but, by instilling this wisdom, to lead his soul to partake of death, so that when he had passed through the Gate of Death he would have no inclination to participate in spiritual life or in subsequent incarnations. The intention was to sever man from his further evolution, and so win him for the aims of certain Beings in a quite different world. It was to preserve him as he is in his life on Earth, in order to divert him from the purpose of that earthly existence, which purpose he was meant to discover only slowly and by degrees, thereby finally attaining to Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit, Spirit-Man.

The human soul would have become more intimately bound up with the Earth than had been intended. Death, which is foreordained for the body only, would in a certain respect have become the destiny of the soul as well. This was prevented by the Mystery of Golgotha. Man did become related to death, but through the Mystery of Golgotha he has been given a means of protection against it. Although, on the one side, a certain stream in world-evolution brought about a relationship between the soul and the body stronger than that originally prescribed for man, in order to maintain the balance Christ linked the soul with the spirit more strongly than had been originally planned. Through the Mystery of Golgotha the human soul was brought nearer to the spirit. [ See note 12 ]


If we become aware that such views were still present in the Apocalypticer and in the souls of all the men of his time, it will enable us to look into his prophetic soul, which could survey the future in such broad strokes, in order to look at the way he looked at what poured over the Christianity which had become a semblance of itself in two directions around the year 666.

Here his prophetic eye fell upon that doctrine which had already arisen in the east in 666, and which goes back to that Muhammedanian mystery culture which knows nothing about the Son. This Islamic mystery culture doesn't know anything about the world structure to which I referred; it doesn't know about the two kingdoms, the realm of the Father and the realm of the Spirit; it only knows one rigid thing; only the Father exists for it, there is only one God. And everything else is his prophet — mainly Muhammed. This point of view makes Islam the polar opposite of Christianity. This viewpoint leads to the will to eliminate all freedom for all times to come, to the will for determinism, and this cannot be otherwise if one only thinks of the world in connection with the Father God.

However, the Apocalypticer feels that man cannot find himself like that. Man cannot be permeated by the Christ like that; he can't grasp his humanity if he only grasps this ancient teaching about the Father. The outer human form becomes Maya for a world conception which is so strongly closed off within; for man becomes man by taking hold of himself, by making Christ alive in himself and through the fact that he can fit himself into the spiritual order of things and into the realm of the spirit which is entirely free of nature. Thereby he becomes a man; but he doesn't become a man if he falls back into the view which only reckons with the Father God.

1925-03-GA026, LT177-179

in the Academy of Gondishapur it was also taken hold of by that Oriental spiritual stream which we may describe as 'Arabism'.

Arabism in one aspect of its nature, is a premature unfolding of the consciousness soul. Through the soul-life working prematurely in the direction of the consciousness soul, the possibility was given in Arabism for a spiritual wave to go forth, extending over Africa to southern and western Europe, and filling certain of the men of Europe with an intellectualism that should not properly have come until a later stage. In the seventh and eighth centuries, southern and western Europe received spiritual impulses which ought to have come only in the age of the consciousness (or spiritual) soul.

This spiritual wave was able to awaken the intellectual life in man, but not the deeper founts of experience whereby the soul penetrates into the world of Spirit.

And now, when in the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries Man exercised his faculty of knowledge, he could but reach down to those levels of the soul where he did not yet impinge upon the spiritual world.

Arabism, entering into the spiritual life of Europe, held back the souls of men, in knowledge, from the spirit-world. Prematurely it brought that intellect into activity which was only able to apprehend the outer world of nature.

This Arabism proved very powerful indeed. Whosoever was taken hold of by it, was seized by an inward — though for the most part quite unconscious — pride. He felt the power of intellectualism, but not the impotence of intellect by itself to penetrate into reality. Thus he gave himself up to the externally given reality of the senses, which places itself before the human being of its own accord. And it did not even occur to him to approach the spiritual reality.

The spiritual life of the Middle Ages found itself face to face with this position. It possessed the sublime traditions about the spiritual world. But the soul-life was intellectually so impregnated by the hidden influence of Arabism, that medieval knowledge found no access to the sources from which the contents of the great tradition had after all proceeded.


Related pages

References and further reading

  • Sigismund von Gleich: 'Geisteswissenschaftliche Entwicklungslinien im Hinblick auf den Impuls von Gondi-Schapur' (1925, 1983)
    • this booklet is a rich and excellent read, and given von Gleich published this in 1925, one can wonder in how much he received support from conversations with Rudolf Steiner to guide his research and writings
  • Karl Hummel: 'Die Anfänge der iranischen Hochschule Gundischapur in der Spätantike (1963)
  • Heinz Herbert Schoeffler or Schöffler: The Academy of Gondishapur (Translated by Harold Jurgens, in DE 1979 as 'Die Akademie von Gondischapur: Aristoteles auf d. Wege in d. Orient')