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Peshitta in the 300s - Printable Version

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Peshitta in the 300s - Thirdwoe - 02-05-2013

I came across this recently and thought it might be of intrest to some here...

"The date of the Peshitta is an important issue in NTTC. It was proclaimed the
"sheet-anchor" for the advocates of the Traditional (i.e., Byzantine) Text in
1897 at the Oxford Debate on NTTC. In 1901 F.C. Burkitt published the results
of his investigation into the Gospel-Quotations of Ephraem Syrus and concluded
that nothing stood in the way of the view that the Peshitta is a revision that
was created and energetically promoted by Rabbula, and that the "Old Syriac" was
used before Rabbula and the Peshitta was used thereafter. Burkitt's view
prevailed until A. Voobus reinvestigated the question and found many "Old
Syriac" readings in Syriac writers later than Rabbula; Voobus also thought that
Burkitt was quite wrong to assign the Peshitta to Rabbula.

Following the Council of Ephesus in 430, Cyril of Alexandria wrote "De Recta
Fide," and Rabbula translated Cyril's composition into Syriac in 432. This
composition contains many Scripture-quotations. Voobus thought that Rabbula had
preserved Cyril's comments but had replaced Cyril's Greek Scripture-quotations
with the equivalent quotations from Rabbula's own copy or copies ? and these do
not agree with the Peshitta. It would not make sense for Rabbula to create the
Peshitta and then prefer some other text from which to draw his quotations. So
if Rabbula did what Voobus thought he did, the implication is that Rabbula did
not create the Peshitta.

Matthew Black, in his essay "The NT Peshitta and Its Predecessors" (in the 1950
Bulletin of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, #1), disagreed with Voobus'
theory about the significance of the quotations in Rabbula's translation of "De
Recta Fide." Black wrote, "Comparison with the Greek text in Migne, however,
does not bear out this contention; there is decisive evidence that the
translator is rendering Cyril's quotations afresh." Yet when he starts to
defend this view, Black seems to be all over the map.

He conceded that the quotation of Luke 2:14 is from the Peshitta, and that "this
is one only of a number of such characteristic Peshitta renderings." Then,
comparing Rabbula to Jerome (which may be a not-thought-through analogy), he
proposed that perhaps "in rendering the quotations of Cyril, Rabbula inserts,
now a Peshitta reading, now a rendering familiar from the old Syriac." Then he
had another idea: perhaps the quotations in the Syriac translation of "De
Recta Fide" reflect an incomplete revision made by Rabbula, so that it appears
to be part-Peshitta and part-Old-Syriac, and the Peshitta as we know it
represents a later time.

It's almost as if Black was saying three things at once: First, that the
quotations in Rabbula's Syriac translation of "De Recta Fide" are based directly
upon Cyril's own quotations of Cyril's own text. Second, that several
Scripture-quotations in Rabbula's Syriac translation of "De Recta Fide" are
based on the Peshitta (and thus are not based directly upon Cyril's own
quotations of Cyril's own text). Third, that they are based on a
Proto-Peshitta, not the Peshitta (in which case, again, they are not based
directly upon Cyril's own quotations of Cyril's own text). (Black ended up
promoting the third idea, but in the 1950 essay he unfortunately presented Codex
Phillips 1388 as an example of this Proto-Peshitta text, which, as Black later
discovered, is not what it is.)

If such doublespeak is rejected, and if it is considered extremely unlikely that
only a Proto-Peshitta was available to Rabbula but the Peshitta itself was
available to his contemporary biographer, then the evidence is readily and
simply explained another way: Rabbula only selectively conformed Cyril's
quotations, using an "Old Syriac" sometimes and using the Peshitta sometimes.
(A situation which might be accounted for elegantly if Rabbula used small
codices, only some of which contained the Peshitta.)

This does not tell us the date of the Peshitta, but it may at least convey that
the Peshitta was known to Rabbula, that the Peshitta was not enthusiastically
promoted by Rabbula, and that when Rabbula died the Peshitta was just one of
several rival Syriac texts. I don't think we can get to the bottom of things
until "De Recto Fide" and Rabbula's Syriac translation of it are analyzed more.
(There might be something about this in "Rabbula of Edessa and the Peshitta" in
Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, April 1951, but I haven't been able to
obtain that yet.)

There is another text besides "De Recta Fide" which may offer a window through
which we can view the state of the Syriac text in the early 400's or perhaps
earlier. A Syriac translation of Eusebius' composition "Theophania" exists in
one copy which bears the date that we know as 411 A.D., along with the statement
that it was made in Edessa. Its text was published in the 1840's by Samuel Lee,
who considerately went through the trouble of translating it into an English
translation which can be accessed online (at <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m --> and at Roger
Pearse's Tertullian site under "Additional Fathers" in several parts, beginning
with the Preface at
<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... reface.htm</a><!-- m --> ).
The Syriac translation of "Theophania" from this sole copy includes many
Scripture-quotations, some of which are large.
In the Syriac "Theophania," according to Lee's footnotes, some
Scripture-quotations agree completely with the Peshitta, some agree but with
minor variations, and some disagree. John 1:10 is given according to the
Peshitta. Matthew 22:1-10 in the Syriac "Theophania" appears as in the Peshitta
"with some minor variations. So does Mt. 23:33. But Mt. 9:9-11 and Mt.
16:15-20 are provided in a form which disagrees with the Peshitto in many
respects. There are really a lot of quotations.

Lee proposed that a variety of subtle syntax-related points in the Syriac
translation of "Theophania" indicated that the translation had been made in
Palestine. He also proposed that at least a few generations of Syriac copies
existed between the initial translation-work and the production of the extant
Syriac copy. So although the copy is from Edessa, its text seems to have come
from Palestine. Lee also deduced, by comparing the Syriac text to parts of the
Greek text of "Theophania" that exist in various fragments, that the
translator's method was precise and literal.

Now, I think we can safely assume that Eusebius did not use the Peshitta. So
where the Syriac translation of "Theophania" agrees with a unique
Peshitta-reading, this is because a Peshitta-reading has been put in place of
Eusebius' quotation. Was this something that the producer of the extant copy
did in 411? Or was it something that the translator did, whenever "Theophania"
was initially translated into Syriac? If the latter is the case, and if the
features that (according to Lee) indicate that generations of Syriac copies
existed between the initial translation into Syriac and the extant copy, then
the Peshitta-readings that exist in the Syriac translation of "Theophania" are
not from the early 400's; they must be considerably earlier, possibly (Lee
contends, with some background justifying the idea) contemporary with Eusebius.
And if this is the case, the possibility exists that the Peshitta-readings in
the Syriac "Theophania" have the potential to become a new sheet-anchor of the
Byzantine Text, or, rather, to re-establish the Peshitta in that role.

Someone really should collect every Greek scrap of "Theophania" and compare the
Greek Scripture-quotations to the Syriac Scripture-quotations, in the hopes that
some of the Peshitta-quotations can be compared to their Greek counterparts, so
that we can see if these really are instances where the Peshitta has been
introduced as a substitute-text, or if the Peshitta fortuitously agrees with
Greek quotations in these places. Such a comparison seems to have the potential
to prove the existence of the Peshitta (or, at least, the parts of the Peshitta
that are quoted in "Theophania") in the mid-300's; it could also prove ? by
considering the quotations that disagree with the Peshitta ? that the Peshitta
existed in the 300's as one of several competitors."

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.


Re: Peshitta in the 300s - rramlow - 02-05-2013

That certainly is of interest. Thanks for sharing!