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Comparison of Syriac Gospels
October 31, 2003
Davis, CA

Can anyone briefly summarize the textual and historical differences between the Sinaiticus, Curetonianus, Peshitta and Harklean Versions of the Aramaic New Testament?


Shlama Akhi Otto,

How's this for brief?

(1) The Peshitta is, aside from script, the original NT word-for-word carefully copied from the original 1st-century apostolic texts.

(2) In 2nd century, Tatian the Assyrian compiled an Aramaic harmony of the Peshitta gospels called the "damkhaltey" (in Latin called "Diatesseron"). The Aramaic no longer survives, the only surviving Semitic translation is the Arabic.

A. S. Marmardji produced overwhelming evidence that the Arabic version was a direct translation from an Aramaic copy and not from a Greek translation (The substance of his evidence is presented by T. Baarda, ???The Author of the Arabic Diatessaron,??? in Early Transmission of Words of Jesus, Thomas, Tatian and the Text of the New Testament (ed. J. Helderman and S. J. Noorde; Amsterdam: VU Boekhandel/Uitgeverij, 1983) 233-46.)

There are at least seven copies of the Arabic extant (For the details of these MSS see Baarda, ???The Author of the Arabic Diatessaron,??? 207-49.). The colophon to MSS B O E and S states that the translation was made by Ibn-at-Tayyib.

Ibn-at-Tayyib was a prominent presbyter within the Church of the East, being a secretary of the Patriarch Eliyah I of Bagdad. He died AD 1043. (For an extensive and detailed description of the translator and his work see G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur II (Citt?? del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1947) 160-76. Cf. also P. E. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza (Oxford: Blackwell, 1959) 297-313, esp. p. 309.))

The Arabic Diatesseron reads identically to the Peshitta. (c.f., Ciasca, Tatiani Evangeliorum)

An important witness to the authenticity of the Arabic Diatesseron is Mar Ephraem (4th century), whose pericopes in his commentary on the Diatesseron have been checked and found to be identical to the Arabic (c.f., James Hamlyn Hill, A Dissertation on the Gospel Commentary of S. Ephraem the Syrian (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896). L. Leloir (???Le Diatessaron de Tatien,??? Orient syrien 1 [1956] 208-31, 313-34.)

The fact that the Arabic was translated directly from the original Aramaic is recorded directly in the subscription of the manuscript itself:

Quote:"Here endeth the Gospel which Tatianus compiled and named Diatessaron, i.e., The Fourfold, a compilation from the four Gospels of the holy Apostles, the excellent Evangelists (peace be upon them). It was translated by the excellent and learned priest, Abu'l Fa??ra??j ??Abdulla ibn-at-Tayyib1 (may God grant him favour), from Syriac into from an exemplar written by isa2 ibn ali' al-Motatabbib, pupil of Honain ibn-Isha??k (God have mercy on them both). Amen"

The Arabic Diatesseron, translated directly from the Aramaic Diatesseron (which no longer survives) reads IDENTICALLY to the Peshitta. In fact, F.C. Burkitt was so disturbed by this fact that he tried to explain it away by saying that the Arabic translation had to have been corrected to read like the Peshitta (F. C. Burkitt, Evangelion da-Mepharreshe, 2 vols.; Cambridge: University Press, 1904.) I have already demonstrated how F.C. Burkitt tried to make the Peshitta the handiwork of Rabbula, in my debate with Darrell Conder. Now this is the same person who was so worried after he found out that the Arabic matched the Peshitta readings, that he theorized that it MUST have been tampered with!

(3) Both manuscripts of the Old Scratch (c and s) are derived from Diatesseron (W. Petersen, (???New Evidence for the Question of the Original Language of the Diatessaron,??? in Studien sum Text und zur Ethik des Neuen Testaments. Festschrift zum 80. Geburtstag von Heinrich Greeven [ed. W. Schrage; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1986] 325-43, esp. p. 331)

The Old Scratch was called "Evangallion de'Mapherrashe" (the seperated gospels) by all ancient witnesses. It is this very phrase which is used by Rabbula, the Monophysite Tyrant of Edessa, when he destroyed all the copies of the Diatesseron he could find and then issued the following order:

The Tyrant of Edessa Wrote:"Let the presbyters and deacons give heed that in all the churches there be provided and read a copy of the Evangellion de'Mapherrashe"

It is, in fact, this same title that is used of the Old Scratch in the Aramaic patristic writings.

The Old Scratch was the work of Rabbula, who created the Old Scratch as a revision from the Peshitta (via the "Diatesseron") and revised it according to the Western Greek text in Alexandria, the home of his Monophysite heresy.

(4) The Philoxenian was another Monophysite (SOC) version created by Philoxenos of Mabbug; hence, the name Philoxenian version. The motivation behind this revision was theological in nature. Philoxenos contended that Peshitta readings gave room for what he called a "Nestorian" interpretation....he says:

Philoxenus of Mabbug Wrote:"It was for this reason that we have now taken the trouble to have the Holy Scriptures translated anew from Greek into Syriac."

As we can see, the motivation behind this translation was a theological one. This was caused by the Christological controversies of the fifth century.

The Philoxenian version did not find favor among the Syriac Christians; as a result, not a single manuscript survives.

(4) The Harklean was created by Thomas of Harkel in 616 AD, another Monophysite and enemy of the Church of the East. It was a revision of the work of Philoxenus. The Harklean became popular in the SOC and was used in its liturgy for centuries. Eventually, the translation lost favor because of its obscure Aramaic, and is rarely used today by that church.

The Harklean is the only Aramaic version which includes the 5 disputed books that never made it into the original 22-book canon of the Peshitta.

That, in a nutshell, is the history of the Aramaic NT. <!-- sSmile --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/smile.gif" alt="Smile" title="Smile" /><!-- sSmile -->
+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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Is the Harklean the Peshitto? Because I thought the Peshitto had the 5 also.
Shlama Akhi Chris,

Thanks for the correction.

The Peshitto is essentially the same as the Peshitta, except for 3 major things:

(1) Acts 20:28
(2) Hebrews 2:9
(3) The Peshitto manuscripts after 508 A.D. contain the 5 books from the Philoxenian version.
+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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Is it possible that there are Aramaic originals for the Apocalypse and the 4 General Epistles omitted by The COE NT ?
I see big differences in Gwynn's version of these books and the Harclean text. Have you compared those two texts ?

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Dave B
Shlama Akhi Dave,

No, I have not done an in-depth comparison of the Harclean vs. Peshitto western 5. I've always taken the word of the scholars that the western 5 were introduced into the Peshitto during the days of Philexenos of Mabbug - and that it was his translation (not Thomas of Harkel's later revision) which was the basis of the western 5 in the Peshitto.

As far as the CoE omitting the 5 in the original Aramaic, I suppose anything is possible but it is not probable. There is no indication whatsoever that the early fathers in Persia were even aware of these other 5 books. They don't quote from them. The lectionaries are missing any references to them.

I can't imagine why they would have rejected them. The manuscripts of both the SOC (before 7th century) and the CoE are missing these books - so it's not just a CoE thing.
+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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ograabe Wrote:October 31, 2003
Davis, CA

Can anyone briefly summarize the textual and historical differences between the Sinaiticus, Curetonianus, Peshitta and Harklean Versions of the Aramaic New Testament?



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