Syriac Versions of the Bible

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The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

What Is Syriac?

antioch-of-syria-02Syriac is the language of ancient Syria and one of the dialects of Aramaic, which was an official language of the Persian Empire. It was spoken in northern Mesopotamia and around ancient Antioch. In the second or third century C.E., as a written language, Syriac came into wide use. Within this Western dialect of Aramaic, many important early Christian texts are preserved, and which is still used by Syrian Christians as a liturgical language. “And in Antioch [Syria], the disciples were first called Christians.” (Ac 11:26)

The Masoretic Hebrew text is the foundational text for all modern English translations of the Hebrew Scripture: the Codex Leningrad B 19A (of the National Library of Russia), as presented in R. Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (BHK), seventh, eighth and ninth editions (1951-55). An update of this work known as Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), 1977 edition. Codex Leningrad B 19A is the earliest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures (c. 1008 C.E.), which serves as a primary source for the recovery of details in the missing parts of the Aleppo Codex. The Aleppo Codex is an important Hebrew Masoretic manuscript from about 930 C.E. Codex Leningrad and the Aleppo Codex are the two most important Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts. These two Hebrew texts are the most significant manuscripts of the Old Testament to be discovered so far and as far as usefulness and significance, they could be compared to the counterpart Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the New Testament.

The Targums or the Vulgate have their own fair share of textual variants but the Peshitta has even more textual variants like the one we find above in Genesis 1:26.

Syriac Christianity is the form of Eastern Christianity whose formative theological writings and traditional liturgy are expressed in the Syriac language. See The Syriac Versions for the Syriac New Testament.

Antioch of Syria


Syria was a region with Mesopotamia to its East, the Lebanon Mountains on the West, the Taurus Mountains to its North, and Palestine and the Arabian Desert to its south. Syria played a very prominent role in the early growth of Christianity. The city of Antioch in Syria was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire. Luke tells us of “those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen [shortly after Pentecost, yet just before the conversion of Paul in 34 or 35 C.E.] made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch [of Syria] and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” (Ac 11:19-20, bold mine) Because of the thriving interest in the Gospel manifested in Antioch, where many Greek-speaking people were becoming believers, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, who then called Paul in from Tarsus to help. (Ac 11:21-26) Both Barnabas and Paul remained there for a year, teaching the people. Antioch became the center for the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. Moreover, “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Ac 11:26) While the New Testament letters were written in Koine Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire, Latin being the official language, it was thought best to make a translation of the New Testament books into Syriac in mid-second century C.E. as Christianity spread throughout the rest of Syria. This is why the Syriac versions are so highly prized by textual scholars.[1] Five different Syriac versions have been differentiated: The Old Syriac, the Peshitta, the Philoxenian Syriac, the Harkleian Syriac, and the Palestinian Syriac.

The Old Testament.—There are two Syriac translations of this part of the Bible, one made directly from the original language Hebrew, and the other from an ancient Greek version.

From the Hebrew.—1. Name.—In the early times of Syrian Christianity there was executed a version of the Old Test. from the original Hebrew, the use of which must have been as widely extended as was the Christian profession among that people. Ephrem the Syrian, in the latter half of the 4th century, gives abundant proof of its use in general by his countrymen. When he calls it “our version,” it does not appear to be in opposition to any other Syriac translation (for no other can be proved to have then existed), but in contrast with the original Hebrew text, or with those in other languages (Ephrem, Opera Syr. i, 380, on 1 Sam. 24:4). At a later period this Syriac translation was designated Peshito, a term in Syriac which signifies simple or single, and which is thought by some to have been applied to this version to mark its freedom from glosses and allegorical modes of interpretation (Hävernick, Einleit. I, ii, 90). It is probable that this name was applied to the version after another had been formed from the Hexaplar Greek text. (See below.) In the translation made from Origen’s revision of the Sept., the critical marks introduced by him were retained, and thus every page and every part was marked with asterisks and obeli, from which the translation from the Hebrew was free. It might, therefore, be but natural for a bare text to be thus designated, in contrast with the marks and the citations of the different Greek translators found in the version from the Hexaplar Greek.

Date.—This translation from the Hebrew has always been the ecclesiastical version of the Syrians; and when it is remembered how in the 5th century dissensions and divisions were introduced into the Syrian churches, and how from that time the Monophysites and those termed Nestorians have been in a state of unhealed opposition, it shows not only the antiquity of this version, but also the deep and abiding hold which it must have taken on the mind of the people, that this version was firmly held fast by both of these opposed parties, as well as by those who adhere to the Greek Church, and by the Maronites. Its existence and use prior to their divisions is sufficiently proved by Ephrem alone. But how much older it is than that deacon of Edessa we have no evidence. From Bar-Hebræus (in the 13th century) we learn that there were three opinions as to its age: some saying that the version was made in the reigns of Solomon and Hiram; some that it was translated by Asa, the priest who was sent by the king of Assyria to Samaria; and some that the version was made in the days of Addai the apostle and of Abgarus, king of Osrhoëne (at which time, he adds, the Simple version of the New Test. was also made) (Wiseman, Horæ Syriacæ, p. 90). The first of these opinions, of course, implies that the books written before that time were then translated; indeed, a limitation of somewhat the same kind would apply to the second. The ground of the first opinion seems to have been the belief that the Tyrian king was a convert to the profession of the true and revealed faith held by the Israelites; and that the possession of Holy Scripture in the Syriac tongue (which they identified with his own) was a necessary consequence of this adoption of the true belief: this opinion is mentioned as having been held by some of the Syrians in the 9th century. The second opinion (which does not appear to have been cited from any Syriac writer prior to Bar-Hebræus) seems to have some connection with the formation of the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch. As that version is in an Aramæan dialect, any one who supposed that it was made immediately after the mission of the priest from Assyria might say that it was then first that an Aramæan translation was executed; and this might afterwards, in a sort of indefinite manner, have been connected with what the Syrians themselves used. James of Edessa (in the latter half of the 7th century) had held the third of the opinions mentioned by Bar-Hebræus, who cites him in support of it, and accords with it.


It is highly improbable that any part of the Syriac version is older than the advent of our Lord, those who placed it under Abgarus, king of Edessa, seem to have argued on the theory that the Syrian people then received Christianity; and thus they supposed that a version of the Scriptures was a necessary accompaniment of such conversion. All that the account shows clearly is, then, that it was believed to belong to the earliest period of the Christian faith among them: an opinion with which all that we know on the subject accords well. Thus Ephrem, in the 4th century, not only shows that it was then current, but also gives the impression that this had even then been long the case. For in his commentaries he gives explanations of terms which were even then obscure. This might have been from age: if so, the version was made comparatively long before his days; or it might be from its having been in a dialect different from that to which he was accustomed at Edessa. In this case, then, the translation was made in some other part of Syria; which would hardly have been done unless Christianity had at such a time been more diffused there than it was at Edessa. The dialect of that city is stated to have been the purest Syriac; if, then, the version was made for that place, it would no doubt have been a monument of such purer dialect. Probably the origin of the Old Syriac version is to be compared with that of the Old Latin [see Vulgate]; and it probably differed as much from the polished language of Edessa as did the Old Latin, made in the African province, from the contemporary writers of Rome, such as Tacitus. Even though the traces of the origin of this version of the Old Testament be but few, yet it is of importance that they should be marked; for the Old Syriac has the peculiar value of being the first version from the Hebrew original made for Christian use, and, indeed, the only translation of the kind before that of Jerome which was made subsequently to the time when Ephrem wrote. This Syriac commentator may have termed it “our version” in contrast with all others then current (for the Targums were hardly versions), which were merely reflections of the Greek and not of the Hebrews original.

Origin.—The proof that this version was made from the Hebrew is twofold: we have the direct statements of Ephrem, who compares it in places with the Hebrew, and speaks of this origin as a fact; and who is confirmed (if that were needful) by later Syrian writers; we find the same thing evident from the internal examination of the version itself. Whatever internal change or revision it may have received, the Hebrew groundwork of the translation is unmistakable. Such indications of revision must be afterwards briefly specified.


From Ephrem having mentioned translators of this version, it has been concluded that it was the work of several: a thing probable enough in itself, but which could hardly be proved from the occurrence of a casual phrase, nor yet from variations in the rendering of the same Hebrew word; such variations being found in almost all translations, even when made by one person—that of Jerome, for instance; and which it would be almost impossible to avoid, especially before the time when concordances and lexicons were at hand. Variations in general phraseology give a far surer ground for supposing several translators.

It has been much discussed whether this translation were a Jewish or a Christian work. Some, who have maintained that the translator was a Jew, have argued from his knowledge of Hebrew and his mode of rendering. But these considerations prove nothing. Indeed, it might well be doubted if in that age a Jew would have formed anything except a Chaldee Targum; and thus diffuseness of paraphrase might be expected instead of closeness of translation. There need be no reasonable objection made to the opinion that it is a Christian work. Indeed it is difficult to suppose that, before the diffusion of Christianity in Syria, the version could have been needed.

History.—The first printed edition of this version was that which appeared in the Paris Polyglot of Le Jay in 1645; it is said that the editor, Gabriel Sionita, a Maronite, had only an imperfect MS., and that, besides errors, it was defective as to whole passages, and even as to entire books. This last charge seems to be so made as if it were to imply that books were omitted besides those of the Apocrypha, a part which Sionita confessedly had not. He is stated to have supplied the deficiencies by translating into Syriac from the Vulgate. It can hardly be supposed but that there is some exaggeration in these statements. Sionita may have filled up occasional hiatus in his MS.; but it requires very definite examination before we can fully credit that he thus supplied whole books. It seems needful to believe that the defective books were simply those in the Apocrypha, which he did not supply. The result, however, is, that the Paris edition is but an infirm groundwork for our speaking with confidence of the text of this version.

In Walton’s Polyglot, 1657, the Paris text is reprinted, but with the addition of the apocryphal books which had been wanting. It was generally said that Walton had done much to amend the texts upon MS. authority; but the late Prof. Lee denies this, stating that “the only addition made by Walton was some apocryphal books.” From Walton’s Polyglot, Kirsch, in 1787, published a separate edition of the Pentateuch. Of the Syriac Psalter there have been many editions. The first of these, as mentioned by Eichhorn, appeared in 1610; it has by the side an Arabic version. In 1625, there were two editions; the one at Paris edited by Gabriel Sionita, and one at Leyden by Erpenius from two MSS. These have since been repeated; but anterior to them all, it is mentioned that the seven penitential Psalms appeared at Rome in 1584. An English Translation of the Psalms of David was made from the Peshito by A. Oliver (Bost. 1861).

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In the punctuation given in the Polyglots, a system was introduced which was in part a peculiarity of Gabriel Sionita himself. This has to be borne in mind by those who use either the Paris Polyglot or that of Walton; for in many words there is a redundancy of vowels, and the form of some is thus exceedingly changed.

When the British and Foreign Bible Society proposed more than fifty years ago to issue the Syriac Old Test. for the first time in a separate volume, the late Prof. Lee was employed to make such editorial preparations as could be connected with a mere revision of the text, without any specification of the authorities. Dr. Lee collated for the purpose six Syriac MSS. of the Old Test. in general, and a very ancient copy of the Pentateuch; he also used in part the commentaries of Ephrem and of Bar-Hebræus. From these various sources he constructed his text, with the aid of that found already in the Polyglots. Of course the corrections depended on the editor’s own judgment; and the want of a specification of the results of collations leaves the reader in doubt as to what the evidence may be in those places in which there is a departure from the Polyglot text. But though more information might be desired, we have in the edition of Lee (Lond. 1823) a veritable Syriac text, from Syriac authorities, and free from the suspicion of having been formed in modern times by Gabriel Sionita’s translating portions from the Latin.

But we now have in the MS. treasures brought from the Nitrian valleys the means of far more accurately editing this version. Even if the results should not appear to be striking, a thorough use of these MSS. would place this version on such a basis of diplomatic evidence as would show positively how this earliest Christian translation from the Hebrew was read in the 6th or 7th century, or possibly still earlier: we could thus use the Syriac with a fuller degree of confidence in the criticism of the Hebrew text, just as we can the more ancient versions of the New Test. for the criticism of the Greek.

In the beginning of 1849 the Rev. John Rogers, canon of Exeter, published Reasons why a New Edition of the Peschito, or Ancient Syriac Version of the Old Testament, should be published. There was a strong hope expressed soon after the issue of Canon Rogers’s appeal that the work would be formally placed in a proper manner in the hands of the Rev. Wm. Cureton, and thus be accomplished under his superintendence at the Oxford University press. Canon Rogers announced this in an Appendix to his pamphlet. This, however, has not been effected.

The only tolerable lexicon for the Old.-Test. Peshito is Michaelis’s enlarged reprint of Castell (Gött. 1878, 2 pts. 8vo), for Bernstein did not live to publish more than one part of his long-expected lexicon. See Syriac Language.

Identity.—But, if the printed Syriac text rests on by no means a really satisfactory basis, it may be asked, How can it be said positively that what we have is the same version substantially that was used by Ephrem in the 4th century? Happily, we have the same means of identifying the Syriac with that anciently used as we have of showing that the modern Latin Vulgate is substantially the version executed by Jerome. We admit that the common printed Latin has suffered in various ways, and yet at the bottom and in its general texture it is undoubtedly the work of Jerome: so with the Peshito of the Old Test., whatever errors of judgment were committed by Gabriel Sionita, the first editor, and however little has been done by those who should have corrected these things on MS. authority, the identity of the version is too certain for it to be thus destroyed, or even (it may be said) materially obscured.


From the citations of Ephrem, and the single words on which he makes remarks, we have sufficient proof of the identity of the version; even though at times he also furnishes proof that the copies as printed are not exactly as he read. (See the instances of accordance, mostly from the places given by Wiseman, Hor. Syr. p. 122, etc., in which Ephrem thinks it needful to explain a Syrian word in this version, or to discuss its meaning, either from its having become antiquated in his time, or from its being unused in the same sense by the Syrians of Edessa.)

The proof that the version which has come down to us is substantially that used by the Syrians in the 4th century is, perhaps, more definite from the comparison of words than it would have been from the comparison of passages of greater length; because in longer citations there always might be some ground for thinking that perhaps the MS. of Ephrem might have been conformed to later Syriac copies of the sacred text; while, with regard to peculiar words, no such suspicion can have any place, since it is on such words still found in the Peshito that the remarks of Ephrem are based. The fact that he sometimes cites it differently from what we now read only shows a variation of copies, perhaps ancient, or perhaps such as is found merely in the printed text that we have.

Relations to other Texts.—It may be said that the Syriac in general supports the Hebrew text that we have: how far arguments may be raised upon minute coincidences or variations cannot be certainly known until the ancient text of the version is better established. Occasionally, however, it is clear that the Syriac translator read one consonant for another in the Hebrew, and translated accordingly; at times another vocalization of the Hebrew was followed.

A resemblance has been pointed out between the Syriac and the reading of some of the Chaldee Targums. If the Targum is the older, it is not unlikely that the Syriac translator, using every aid in his power to obtain an accurate knowledge of what he was rendering, examined the Targums in difficult passages. This is not the place for formally discussing the date and origin of the Targums (q. v.); but if (as seems almost certain) the Targums which have come down to us are almost without exception more recent than the Syriac version, still they are probably the successors of earlier Targums, which by amplification have reached their present shape. Thus, if existing Targums are more recent than the Syriac, it may happen that their coincidences arise from the use of a common source—an earlier Targum.

But there is another point of inquiry of more importance: it is, how far has this version been affected by the Sept.? and to what are we to attribute this influence? It is possible that the influence of the Sept. is partly to be ascribed to copyists and revisers; while, in part, this belonged to the version as originally made. For, if a translator had access to another version while occupied in making his own, he might consult it in cases of difficulty; and thus he might unconsciously follow it in other parts. Even knowing the words of a particular translation may affect the mode of rendering in another translation or revision. Thus a tinge from the Sept. may easily have existed in this version from the first, even though in whole books it may not be found at all. But when the extensive use of the Sept. is remembered, and how soon it was superstitiously imagined to have been made by direct inspiration, so that it was deemed canonically authoritative, we cannot feel wonder that readings from the Sept. should have been, from time to time, introduced; this may have commenced probably before a Syriac version had been made from the Hexaplar Greek text; because in such revised text of the Sept. the additions, etc., in which that version differed from the Hebrew would be so marked that they would hardly seem to be the authoritative and genuine text.

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Some comparison with the Greek is probable even before the time of Ephrem; for, as to the apocryphal books, while he cites some of them (though not as Scripture), the apocryphal additions to Daniel and the books of Maccabees were not yet found in Syriac. Whoever translated any of these books from the Greek may easily have also compared with it in some places the books previously translated from the Hebrew.

Recensions.—In the book of Psalms this version exhibits many peculiarities. Either the translation of the Psalter must be a work independent of the Peshito in general, or else it has been strangely revised and altered, not only from the Greek, but also from liturgical use. Perhaps, indeed, the Psalms are a different version; and that in this respect the practice of the Syrian churches is like that of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England in using liturgically a different version of the book so much read ecclesiastically.

It is stated that, after the divisions of the Syrian Church, there were revisions of this one version by the Monophysites and by the Nestorians; probably it would be found, if the subject could be fully investigated, that there were in the hands of different parties copies in which the ordinary accidents of transcription had introduced variations.

The Karkaphensian recension mentioned by Bar-Hebræus was only known by name prior to the investigations of Wiseman; it is found in two MSS. in the Vatican. In this recension Job comes before Samuel; and immediately after Isaiah the minor Prophets. The Proverbs succeed Daniel. The arrangement in the New Test. is quite as singular. It begins with the Acts of the Apostles and ends with the four Gospels; while the epistles of James, Peter, and John come before the fourteen letters of Paul. This recension proceeded from the Monophysites. According to Assemani and Wiseman, the name signifies mountainous, because it originated with those living about Mount Sagara, where there was a monastery of Jacobite Syrians, or simply because it was used by them. There is a peculiarity in the punctuation introduced by a leaning towards the Greek; but it is, as to its substance, the Peshito version.

The Syriac Version from the Hexaplar Greek Text.—1. Origin and Character.—The only Syriac version of the Old Test. up to the 6th century was apparently the Peshito as above. The first definite intimation of a portion of the Old Test. translated from the Greek is through Moses Aghelæus. This Syriac writer lived in the middle of the 6th century. He made a translation of the Glaphyra of Cyril of Alexandria from Greek into Syriac; and, in the prefixed epistle, he speaks of the versions of the New Test. and the Psalter, “which Polycarp (rest his soul!), the chorepiscopus, made in Syriac for the faithful Xenaias, the teacher of Mabug, worthy of the memory of the good” (Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, ii, 83). We thus see that a Syriac version of the Psalms had a similar origin to the Philoxenian Syriac New Test. We know that the date of the latter was A.D. 508; the Psalter was probably a contemporaneous work. It is said that the Nestorian patriarch Marabba, A.D. 552, made a version from the Greek; it does not appear to be in existence, so that, if ever it was completely executed, it was probably superseded by the Hexaplar version of Paul of Tela; indeed, Paul may have used it as the basis of his work, adding marks of reference, etc.

This version of Paul of Tela, a Monophysite, was made in the beginning of the 7th century, for its basis he used the Hexaplar Greek text—that is, the Sept., with the corrections of Origen, the asterisks, obeli, etc., and with the references to the other Greek versions. The Greek text at its basis agrees, for the most part, with the Codex Alexandrinus. But it often leans to the Vatican, and not seldom to the Complutensian texts. At other times it departs from all.

The Syro-Hexaplar version was made on the principle of following the Greek, word for word, as exactly as possible. It contains the marks introduced by Origen, and the references to the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, etc. In fact, it is from this Syriac version that we obtain our most accurate acquaintance with the results of the critical labors of Origen.

History.—Andreas Masius, in his edition of the book of Joshua (Antwerp, 1574), first used the results of this Syro-Hexaplar text; for, on the authority of a MS. in his possession, he revised the Greek, introducing asterisks and obeli, thus showing what Origen had done, how much he had inserted in the text, and what he had marked as not found in the Hebrew. The Syriac MS. used by Masius has long been lost; though in this day, after the recovery of the Codex Reuchlini of the Apocalypse (from which Erasmus first edited that book) by Prof. Delitzsch, it could hardly be a cause for surprise if this Syriac Codex should again be found.

It is from a MS. in the Ambrosian library at Milan that we possess accurate means of knowing this Syriac version. The MS. in question contains the Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, minor prophets, Jeremiah, Baruch, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. Norberg published, at Lund in 1787, the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel from a transcript which he had made of the MS. at Milan. In 1788 Bugati published at Milan the book of Daniel; he also edited the Psalms, the printing of which had been completed before his death in 1816; it was published in 1820. The rest of the contents of the Milan Codex (with the exception of the apocryphal books) was published at Berlin in 1835, by Middeldorpf, from the transcript made by Norberg; Middeldorpf also added the fourth (second) book of Kings from a MS. at Paris. Rördam issued Libri Judicum et Ruth secundum Versionem Syriaco-Hexapalarem ex Codice Musei Britannici nunc primum editi, Græce translati, Notisque illustrati (in two fasciculi, 1859, 1861, Copenhagen, 4to). A competent scholar has undertaken the task of editing the remainder—Dr. Antonio Ceriani, of Milan. In 1861 appeared his Monumenta Sacra et Profana (Milan, tom. i, fascic. i), containing, among other ancient documents, the Hexaplar-Syriac Baruch, Lamentations, and the Epistle of Jeremiah. In the preface the learned editor states his intention to publish, from the Ambrosian MS. and others, the entire version, even the books printed before, of whose inaccurate execution he speaks in just terms. A second part has since appeared.

Besides these portions of this Syriac version, the MSS. from the Nitrian monasteries now in the British Museum would add a good deal more: among these there are six from which much might be drawn, so that part of the Pentateuch and other books may be recovered. These MSS. are like that at Milan, in having the marks of Origen in the text, the references to readings in the margin; and occasionally the Greek word itself is thus cited in Greek. The following is the notation of these MSS., and their contents and dates:

12,133 (besides the Peshito Exodus), Joshua (defective), cent. vii. “Translated from a Greek MS. of the Hexapla, collated with one of the Tetrapla.”

12,134, Exodus. A.D. 697.

14,434, Psalms formed from two MSS. cent. viii (with the Song of the Three Children subjoined to the second). Both MSS. are defective. Subscription, “According to the Sept.”

14,437, Numbers and 1 Kings, defective (cent. vii or viii). The subscription to 1 Kings says that it was translated into Syriac at Alexandria in the year 927 (A.D. 616).

14,442, Genesis, defective (with 1 Sam. Peshito). “According to the Sept.” (cent. vi).

17,103, Judges and Ruth, defective (cent. vii or viii). Subscription to Judges, “According to the Sept.;” to Ruth, “From the Tetrapla of the Sept.”

Rördam issued at Copenhagen in 1859 the first portion of an edition of the MS. 17,103: another part has since been published. Some of these MSS. were written in the same century in which the version was made. They may probably be depended on as giving the text with general accuracy.

Other Texts.—The list of versions of the Old Test. into Syriac often appears to be very numerous; but on examination it is found that many translations, the names of which appear in a catalogue, are really either such as never had an actual existence, or else that they are either the version from the Hebrew, or else that from the Hexaplar text of the Sept., under different names, or with some slight revision. To enumerate the supposed versions is needless. It is only requisite to mention that Thomas of Harkel, whose work in the revision of a translation of the New Test. will have to be mentioned, seems also to have made a translation from the Greek into Syriac of some of the apocryphal books—at least, the subscriptions in certain MSS. state this.

The Syriac New-Testament Versions.—These we may conveniently enumerate under five heads, including several recensions under some of them, but treating separately the notable “Curetonian text.”

The Peshito-Syriac New Test. (text of Widmanstadt, and Cureton’s Gospels).—In whatever forms the Syriac New Test. may have existed prior to the time of Philoxenus (the beginning of the 6th century), who caused a new translation to be made, it will be more convenient to consider all such most ancient translations or revisions together; even though there may be reasons afterward assigned for not regarding the version of the earlier ages of Christianity as absolutely one.


Date.—It may stand as an admitted fact that a version of the New Test. in Syriac existed in the 2d century; and to this we may refer the statement of Eusebius respecting Hegesippus, that he “made quotations from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Syriac,” ἔκ τε τοῦ καθʼ Ἑβραίους εὐαγγελίου καὶ τοῦ Συριακοῦ (Hist. Eccl. iv, 22). It seems equally certain that in the 4th century such a version was as well known of the New Test. as of the Old. It was the companion of the Old Test. translation made from the Hebrew, and as such was in habitual use in the Syriac churches. To the translation in common use among the Syrians, orthodox, Monophysite, or Nestorian, from the 5th century and onward, the name of Peshito has been as commonly applied in the New Test. as the Old. In the 7th century at least the version so current acquired the name of old, in contrast to that which was then formed and revised by the Monophysites.

Though we have no certain data as to the origin of this version, it is probable on every ground that a Syriac translation of the New Test. was an accompaniment of that of the Old; whatever therefore bears on the one, bears on the other also.

History.—There seem to be but few notices of the old Syriac version in early writers. Cosmas Indicopleustes, in the former half of the 6th century, incidentally informs us that the Syriac translation does not contain the Second Epistle of Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. This was found to be correct when, a thousand years afterwards, this ancient translation became again known to Western scholars. In 1552, Moses of Mardin came to Rome to pope Julius III, commissioned by Ignatius, the Jacobite (Monophysite) patriarch, to state his religious opinions, to effect (it is said) a union with the Romish Church, and to get the Syriac New Test. printed. In this last object Moses failed both at Rome and Venice. At Vienna he was, however, successful. Widmanstadt, the chancellor of the emperor Ferdinand I, had himself learned Syriac from Theseus Ambrosius many years previously; and through his influence the emperor undertook the charge of an edition which appeared in 1555, through the joint labors of Widmanstadt, Moses, and Postell. Some copies were afterwards issued with the date of 1562 on the back of the title.

In having only three Catholic epistles, this Syriac New Test. agreed with the description of Cosmas; the Apocalypse was also wanting, as well as the section John 8:1–11; this last omission, and some other points, were noticed in the list of errata. It also wants some words in Matt. 10:8, and 27:35; two verses in Luke 22—viz. 17, 18; and 1 John 5:7, all which are absent from Syriac MSS. In 2 Cor. 5:8 it has in the leaven of purity, which is found in Nestorian sources alone; but it has the usual reading in Heb. 2:9, not the Nestorian one χωρὶς θεοῦ. The editors appear to have followed their MSS. with great fidelity, so that the edition is justly valued. In subsequent editions endeavors were made conjecturally to amend the text by introducing 1 John 5:7 and other portions which do not belong to this translation. One of the principal editions is that of Leusden and Schaaf; in this the text is made as full as possible by supplying every lacuna from any source; in the punctuation there is a strange peculiarity, that in the former part Leusden chose to follow a sort of Chaldee analogy, while, on his death, Schaaf introduced a regular system of Syriac vocalization through all the rest of the volume. The Lexicon which accompanies this edition is of great value. This edition was first issued in 1708: more copies, however, have the date 1709; while some have the false and dishonest statement on the title-page, “Secunda editio a mendis purgata,” and the date 1717. The late Prof. Lee published an edition in 1816, in which he corrected or altered the text on the authority of a few MSS. This is so far independent of that of Widmanstadt. It is, however, very far short of being really a critical edition. In 1828 the edition of Mr. William Greenfield (often reprinted from the stereotype plates), was published by Messrs. Bagster; in this the text of Widmanstadt was followed (with the vowels fully expressed), and with certain supplements within brackets from Lee’s edition. For the collation with Lee’s text Greenfield was not responsible. There are now in Europe excellent materials for the formation of a critical edition of this version: it may, however, be said that, as in its first publication the MSS. employed were honestly used, it is in the text of Widmanstadt in a far better condition than is the Peshito Old Test. The best lexicon, which also serves for a concordance, is Schaaf’s (1709, 4to). The Peshito has been translated into English by Etheridge (1846, 1849, 2 vols. 12mo); and better by Murdock (in 1 vol. 8vo, N. Y. 1851).

Character.—This Syriac version has been variously estimated: some have thought that in it they had a genuine and unaltered monument of the 2d, or perhaps even of the 1st century. They thus naturally upheld it as almost co-ordinate in authority with the Greek text, and as being of a period anterior to any Greek copy extant. Others, finding in it indubitable marks of a later age, were inclined to deny that it had any claim to a very remote antiquity. Thus La Croze thought that the commonly printed Syriac New Test. is not the Peshito at all, but the Philoxenian executed in the beginning of the 6th century. The fact is, that this version as transmitted to us contains marks of antiquity, and also traces of a later age. The two things are so blended that, if either class of phenomena alone were regarded, the most opposite opinions might be formed. The opinion of Wettstein was one of the most perverse that could be devised: he found in this version readings which accord with the Latin; and then, acting on the strange system of criticism which he adopted in his later years, he asserted that any such accordance with the Latin was a proof of corruption from that version: so that with him the proofs of antiquity became the tokens of later origin, and he thus assigned the translation to the 7th century. With him the real indications of later readings were only the marks of the very reverse. Michaelis took very opposite ground to that of Wettstein; he upheld its antiquity and authority very strenuously. The former point could be easily proved, if one class of readings alone were considered; and this is confirmed by the contents of the version itself. But, on the other hand, there are difficulties, for very often readings of a much more recent kind appear; it was thus thought that it might be compared with the Latin as found in the Codex Brixianus, in which there is an ancient groundwork, but also the work of a reviser is manifest. Thus the judgment formed by Griesbach seems to be certainly the correct one as to the peculiarity of the text of this version. He says (using the terms proper to his system of recensions): “Nulli harum recensionum Syriaca versio, prout quidem typis excusa est, similis, verum nec ulli prorsus dissimilis est. In multis concinit cum Alexandrina recensione, in pluribus cum Occidentali, in nonnullis etiam cum Constantinopolitana, ita tamen ut quæ in hanc posterioribus demum seculis invecta sunt, plerique repudiet. Diversis ergo temporibus ad Græcos codices plane diversos iterum iterumque recognita esse videtur” (Nov. Test. Proleg. lxxv). In a note Griesbach introduced the comparison of the Codex Brixianus, “Illustrari hoc potest codicum nonnullorum Latinorum exemplo, qui priscam quidem versionem ad Occidentalem recensionem accommodatam representant, sed passim ad juniores libros Græcos refictam. Ex hoc genere est Brixianus Codex Latinus, qui non raro a Græco-Latinis et vetustioribus Latinis omnibus solus discedit, et in Græcorum partes transit.” Some proof that the text of the common printed Peshito has been rewrought will appear when it is compared with the Curetonian Syriac Gospels.

Minor Recensions.—Whether the whole of this version proceeded from the same translator has been questioned. Not only may Michaelis be right in supposing a peculiar translator of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but also other parts may be from different hands; this opinion will become more general the more the version is studied. The revisions to which the version was subjected may have succeeded in part, but not wholly, in effacing the indications of a plurality of translators. The Acts and Epistles seem to be either more recent than the Gospels, though far less revised; or else, if coeval, far more corrected by later Greek MSS.

There is no sufficient reason for supposing that this version ever contained the four catholic epistles and the Apocalypse, now absent from it, not only in the printed editions but also in the MSS.

Some variations in copies of the Peshito have been regarded as if they might be styled Monophysite and Nestorian recensions; but the designation would be far too definite, for the differences are not sufficient to warrant the classification.

The MSS. of the Karkaphensian recension (as it has been termed) of the Peshito Old Test. contain also the New with a similar character of text.

The Curetonian Syriac Gospels.—This, although in reality but a variety of the Peshito, exhibits such marked peculiarities that it may almost be called a distinct version.

History, Date, and Contents.—Among the MSS. brought from the Nitrian monasteries in 1842, Dr. Cureton noticed a copy of the Gospels differing greatly from the common text; and this is the form of text to which the name of “Curetonian Syriac” has been rightly applied. Every criterion which proves the common Peshito not to exhibit a text of extreme antiquity, equally proves the early origin of this. The discovery is in fact that of the object which was wanted, the want of which had been previously ascertained. Dr. Cureton considers that the MS. of the Gospels is of the fifth century, a point in which all competent judges are probably agreed. Some persons, indeed, have sought to depreciate the text, to point out its differences from the Peshito, to regard all such variations as corruptions, and thus to stigmatize the Curetonian Syriac as a corrupt revision of the Peshito, barbarous in language and false in readings. This peremptory judgment is as reasonable as if the old Latin in the Codex Vercellensis were called an ignorant revision of the version of Jerome. The judgment that the Curetonian Syriac is older than the Peshito is not the peculiar opinion of Cureton, Alford, Tregelles, or Biblical scholars of the school of ancient evidence in this country, but it is also that of Continental scholars, such as Ewald, and apparently of the late Prof. Bleek.

The MS. contains Matt. 1–8, 22; 10:31–23:25; Mark, the four last verses only; John 1:1–42; 3:6–7, 36; 14:11–29; Luke 2:48–3:16; 7:33–15:21; 17:24–26, 37. It would have been a thing of much value if a perfect copy of this version had come down to us; but as it is, we have reason greatly to value the discovery of Dr. Cureton, which shows how truly those critics have argued who concluded that such a version must have existed, and who regarded this as a proved fact, even when not only no portion of the version was known to be extant, but also when even the record of its existence was unnoticed. For there is a record showing an acquaintance with this version, to which, as well as to the version itself, attention has been directed by Dr. Cureton. Bar-Salibi, bishop of Amida in the 12th century, in a passage translated by Dr. C. (in discussing the omission of three kings in the genealogy in Matthew), says: “There is found occasionally a Syriac copy, made out of the Hebrew, which inserts these three kings in the genealogy; but afterwards it speaks of fourteen and not of seventeen generations, because fourteen generations has been substituted for seventeen by the Hebrews on account of their holding to the septenary number,” etc. This shows that Bar-Salibi knew of a Syriac text of the Gospels in which Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah were inserted in Matt. 1:8; there is the same reading in the Curetonian Syriac: but this might have been a coincidence. But in ver. 17 the Curetonian text has, in contradiction to ver. 8, fourteen generations and not seventeen; and so had the copy mentioned by Bar-Salibi: the former point might be a mere coincidence; the latter, however, shows such a kind of union in contradiction as proves the identity very convincingly. Thus, though this version was unknown in Europe prior to its discovery by Dr. Cureton, it must in the 12th century have been known as a text sometimes found; and, as mentioned by the Monophysite bishop, it might be more in use among his co-religionists than among others. Perhaps, as its existence and use is thus recorded in the 12th century, some further discovery of Syriac MSS. may furnish us with another copy so as to supply the defects of the one happily recovered.

Young Christians

Relation to the Peshito and to Older Texts.—In examining the Curetonian text with the common printed Peshito, we often find such identity of phrase and rendering as to show that they are not wholly independent translations; then, again, we meet with such variety in the forms of words, etc., as seems to indicate that in the Peshito the phraseology had been revised and refined. But the great (it might be said characteristic) difference between the Curetonian and the Peshito gospels is in their readings; for while the latter cannot in its present state be deemed an unchanged production of the 2d century, the former bears all the marks of extreme antiquity, even though in places it may have suffered from the introduction of readings current in very early times.

The following are a few of the very many cases in which the ancient reading is found in the Curetonian, and the later or transition reading in the Peshito. For the general authorities on the subject of each passage, reference must be made to the notes in critical editions of the Greek New Test.

Matt. 19:17, τέ με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ; the ancient reading, as we find in the best authorities, and as we know from Origen; so the Curetonian: τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; the common text with the Peshito. Matt. 20:22, the clause of the common text, καὶ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτιζομαι (and the corresponding part of the following verse), are in the Peshito; while we know from Origen that they were in his day a peculiarity of Mark: omitted in the Curetonian with the other best authorities. In fact, except the Peshito and some revised Latin copies, there is no evidence at all extant for these words prior to the 5th century. Matt. 5:4, 5: here the ancient order of the beatitudes, as supported by Origen, Tertullian, the canons of Eusebius, and Hilary, is that of placing μακάριοι οἱ πραεῑς, κ. τ. λ., before μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, κ. τ. λ.; here the Curetonian agrees with the distinct testimonies for this order against the Peshito. In 1:18, we know from Irenæns that the name “Jesus” was not read; and this is confirmed by the Curetonian: in fact, the common reading, however widely supported, could not have originated until Ἰησοῦς χριστός was treated as a combined proper name, otherwise the meaning of τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις would not be “the birth of Jesus Christ,” but “the birth of Jesus as the Christ.” Here the Curetonian reading is in full accordance with what we know of the 2d century in opposition to the Peshito. In 6:4 the Curetonian omits αὐτός; in the same ver. and in ver. 6 it omits ἐν τῷ φανερῷ: in each case with the best authorities, but against the Peshito. Matt. 5:44 has been amplified by copyists in an extraordinary manner: the words in brackets show the amplifications, and the place from which each was taken: ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῑν, Ἀγαπᾶτε τους ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν [εὐλογεῖτε τους καταρωμένους ὑμᾶς, Luke 6:28; καλῶς ποιεῖτε τοὺς μισοῦντας ὑμᾶς, ver. 27], καὶ προσεύχεσθε ὑπὲρ τῶν [ἐπηρεαζόντων ὑμᾶς καὶ, ver. 35] διωκόντων ὑμᾶς. The briefer form is attested by Irenæus, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, etc.; and though the inserted words and clauses are found in almost all Greek MSS. (except Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), and in many versions, including the Peshito, they are not in the Curetonian Syriac. Of a similar kind are Matt. 18:35, τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν: Luke 8:54, ἐκβαλῶν ἔξω πάντας καὶ: 9:7, ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ; ver. 54, ὡς και Ἠλιας ἐποιησεν: 11:2, γενηθητω τὸ θέλημά σου ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τις γῆς: ver. 29, τοῦ προφήτου: ver. 44, γραμματεῖς καὶ φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί: John 4:43, καὶ ἀπῆλθεν: 5:16, και ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι: 6:51, ἣν ἐγὼ δώσω: ver. 69, τοῦ ζῶντος.

On the other hand, the Curetonian often changes the text for the worse, as in the following examples:

In Luke 24 the fortieth verse is omitted, contrary to the Peshito and the most ancient uncial MSS. A, B, א. In Matt. 22:35, καὶ λέγων is read by the Curetonian; but it is absent from the Peshito, which is supported by B and א. In 7:22, the words “have we not eaten and drunk in thy name?” are inserted without any MS. authority, apparently from Luke 13:26. In 11:23, instead of the usual Greek text, it has “thou shalt not be exalted to heaven, but;” contrary to all authority, and betraying at the same time a Greek original with μή. In 21:9, it is added at the end, “and many went out to meet him, and were rejoicing and praising God concerning all that which they saw,” words wholly unauthorized. In ver. 23, διδάσκοντι is omitted without authority. In 23:18, from ὃς εἂν to ἐστιν are also left out, contrary to all external evidence. In Luke 8:16, is the unauthorized addition “he set forth another parable.” In 11:29, “except the sign of the prophet Jonas” is omitted, contrary to MSS. Luke 20:12 is omitted without authority. In 22, ver. 20 is wanting, and ver. 19 is put before ver. 17; διδόμενον is also absent in ver. 19 without authority. In John 5:8, we have the addition “go away to thy house.” So, too, in ver. 9, “and he took up his bed” is omitted. In 6:20, μὴ φοβεῖσθε are left out, against MS. authority.

The following are points of comparison with the noted early MSS.:

It often agrees with B, C, D, and the old Latin version before it was corrected by Jerome, especially its MSS. a, b, c; with D most of all. Very seldom does it coincide with A alone. Thus in Matt. 19:9 the words καὶ ὁ ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσας, μοιχᾶται are omitted, as in D, a, b, e, ff; and to ver. 28 a long passage is added which is only in D, a, b, c, d. It omits 16:2, 3, with B and two other uncial MSS.; though the old Italic has them, as well as D. In 13:55, it has Joseph with B, C, the old Italic, Vulgate, and other authorities.

Hebrew Original of Matthew.—It is not needful for very great attention to be paid to the phraseology of the Curetonian Syriac in order to see that the Gospel of Matthew differs in mode of expression and various other particulars from what we find in the rest. This may lead us again to look at the testimony of Bar-Salibi; he tells us, when speaking of this version of Matthew, “there is found occasionally a Syriac copy made out of the Hebrew;” we thus know that the opinion of the Syrians themselves in the 12th century was that this translation of Matthew was not made from the Greek, but from the Hebrew original of the evangelist: such, too, is the judgment of Dr. Cureton: “this Gospel of Matthew appears at least to be built upon the original Aramaic text, which was the work of the apostle himself” (Preface to Syriac Gospels, p. vi).

We know from Jerome that the Hebrew Matthew had מחר where the Greek has ἐπιούσιον. We do not find that word here, but we read for both ἐπιούσιον and σήμερον at the end of the verse, “constant of the day.” This might have sprung from the interpretation, “morrow by morrow,” given to מחר; and it may be illustrated by Old-Test. passages, e.g., Numb. 4:7. Those who think that if this Syriac version had been made from Matthew’s Hebrew, we ought to find מחר here forget that a translation is not a verbal transfusion.

We know from Eusebius that Hegesippus cited from the gospel according to the Hebrews, and from the Syriac. Now in a fragment of Hegesippus (Routh, i, 219) there is the quotation, μακάριοι οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ὑμῶν οἱ βλεπόντες καὶ τὰ ὦτα ὑμῶν τὰ ἀκούοντα, words which might be a Greek rendering from Matt. 13:16, as it stands in this Syriac gospel as we have it, or probably also in the Hebrew work of the apostle himself.

From these and other particulars, Dr. Cureton concludes that in this version Matthew’s gospel was translated from the apostle’s Hebrew (Syro-Chaldaic) original, although injured since by copyists or revisers. The same view is maintained by the abbé Lehir (Étude, etc. [Par. 1859]); but it is vigorously rejected by Ewald (Jahrb. d. bibl. Wissenschaft, vol. ix) and many later critics.

The Philoxenian Syriac Version, and its Revision by Thomas of Harkel.—Philoxenus, or Xenaias, bishop of Hierapolis or Mabug at the beginning of the 6th century (who was one of those Monophysites that subscribed the Henoticon of the emperor Zeno), caused Polycarp, his chorepiscopus, to make a new translation of the New Test. into Syriac. This was executed in A.D. 508, and it is generally termed Philoxenian from its promoter. In one passage Bar-Hebræus says that it was made in the time of Philoxenus; in his Chronicon that it was done by his desire; and in another place of the same work that it was his own production. Moses Aghelæus (Assemani, Biblioth. Oriental. ii, 83) states that its author was Polycarp, rural bishop of Philoxenus. In an Arabic MS., quoted by Assemani (ibid. ii, 23), Philoxenus is said by a Jacobite author to have translated the four Gospels into Syriac.

History.—This version has not been transmitted to us in the form in which it was first made; we only possess a revision of it, executed by Thomas of Harkel in the following century (The Gospels, A.D. 616). Pococke, in 1630, gives an extract from Bar-Salibi, in which the version of Thomas of Harkel is mentioned; and though Pococke did not know what version Thomas had made, he speaks of a Syriac translation of the Gospels communicated to him by some learned man whom he does not name, which, from its servile adherence to the Greek, was no doubt the Harklean text. In the Bibliotheca Orientalis of Assemani there were further notices of the work of Thomas; and in 1730 Samuel Palmer sent from the ancient Amida (now Diarbekir) Syriac MSS. to Dr. Gloucester Ridley, in which the version is contained. Thus he had two copies of the Gospels, and one of all the rest of the New Test., except the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse. No other MSS. appear to have yet come to light which contain any of this version beyond the Gospels. From the subscriptions we learn that the text was revised by Thomas with three (some copies say two) Greek MSS. One Greek copy is similarly mentioned at the close of the Catholic epistles.

Ridley published in 1761 an account of the MSS. in his possession, and a notice of this version. He had intended to edit the text: this was, however, done by White, at different times from 1778 to 1803. After the publication of the Gospels, the researches of Adler brought more copies into notice of that part of the Harklean text. From one of the MSS. in the Vatican, John’s Gospel was edited by Bernstein in 1851. It will be noticed that this version differs from the Peshito in containing all the seven Catholic epistles.

Character.—In describing this version as it has come down to us, the text is the first thing to be considered. This is characterized by extreme literality: the Syriac idiom is constantly bent to suit the Greek, and everything is in some manner expressed in the Greek phrase and order. It is difficult to imagine that it could have been intended for ecclesiastical reading. It is not independent of the Peshito, the words, etc., of which are often employed. As to the kind of Greek text that it represents, it is just what might have been expected in the 6th century. The work of Thomas in the text itself is seen in the introduction of obeli, by which passages which he rejected were condemned; and of asterisks, with which his insertions were distinguished. His model in all this was the Hexaplar Greek text. The MSS. which were used by Thomas were of a different kind from those employed in making the version; they represented in general a much older and purer text. The margin of the Harklean recension contains (like the Hexaplar text of the Sept.) readings mostly, apparently, from the Greek MSS. used. It has been questioned whether these readings are not a comparison with the Peshito; if any of them are so, they have probably been introduced since the time of Thomas. It is probable that the Philoxenian version was very literal, but that the slavish adaptation to the Greek is the work of Thomas; and that his text thus bore about the same relation to that of Philoxenus as the Latin Bible of Arias Montanus does to that of his predecessor Pagninus. For textual criticism this version is a good authority as to the text of its own time, at least where it does not merely follow the Peshito. The amplifications in the margin of the book of Acts bring a MS. used by Thomas into close comparison with the Codex Bezæ. One of the MSS. of the Gospels sent to Ridley contains the Harklean text, with some revision by Bar-Salibi.

The marginal readings are probably the most valuable part of the version in a critical view. One of the Greek MSS. compared by Thomas had considerable affinity to D in the Gospels and Acts. Of 180 marginal readings, about 130 are found in B, C, D, L, i, 33, 69, etc. With D alone of MSS. it harmonizes nineteen times in the Gospels; with D and B seven times. With the Alexandrian, or A, alone, it agrees twice, but with it and others, D, L, eight times. With the Vatican, or B, alone, it harmonizes twice, but with it and others four times (see Adler, p. 130, 131).

Syriac Versions of Portions Wanting in the Peshito.—(I.) The Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third of John, and that of Jude.—The fact has already been noticed that the old Syriac version did not contain these epistles. They were published by Pococke in 1630 from a MS. in the Bodleian. The version of these epistles so often agrees with what we have in the Harklean recension that the one is at least dependent on the other. The suggestion of Dr. Davidson (Biblical Criticism, ii, 196) that the text of Pococke is that of Philoxenus before it was revised by Thomas seems most probable. But, if it is objected that the translation does not show as great a knowledge of Greek as might have been expected in the translation of the rest of the Philoxenian, it must be remembered that here he had not the Peshito to aid him. In the Paris Polyglot these epistles were added to the Peshito, with which they have since been commonly printed, although they have not the slightest relation to that version.

The Apocalypse.—In 1627 De Dieu edited a Syriac version of the Apocalypse from a MS. in the Leyden library, written by one “Caspar from the land of the Indians,” who lived in the latter part of the 16th century. A MS. at Florence, also written by this Caspar, has a subscription stating that it was copied in 1582 from a MS. in the writing of Thomas of Harkel in 622. If this is correct, it shows that Thomas by himself would have been but a poor translator of the New Test. But the subscription seems to be of doubtful authority; and, until the Rev. B. Harris Cowper drew attention to a more ancient copy of the version, we might well be somewhat uncertain if this were really an ancient work. It is of small critical value, and the MS. from which it was edited is incorrectly written. It was in the MS. which Abp. Usher sent as a present to De Dieu in 1631, in which the whole of the Syriac New Test. is said to have been contained (of what version is unknown), that having been the only complete MS. of the kind described; and of this MS., in comparison with the text of the Apocalypse printed by De Dieu, Usher says, “the Syriac lately set out at Leyden may be amended by my MS. copy” (Todd, Walton, i, 196, note). This book, from the Paris Polyglot and onward, has been added to the Peshito in this translation. Some have erroneously called this Syriac Apocalypse the Philoxenian, a name to which it has no title: the error seems to have originated from a verbal mistake in an old advertisement of Greenfield’s edition (for which he was not responsible), which said “the Apocalypse and the Epistles not found in the Peshito are given from the Philoxenian version.”

The Syriac Version of John 8:1–11.—From the MS. sent by Abp. Usher to De Dieu, the latter published this section in 1631. From De Dieu it was inserted in the London Polyglot, with a reference to Usher’s MS., and hence it has passed with the other editions of the Peshito, where it is a mere interpolation.

A copy of the same version (essentially) is found in Ridley’s Codex Barsalibæi, where it is attributed to Maras, 622; Adler found it also in a Paris MS. ascribed to Abbas Mar Paul.

Bar-Salibi cites a different version, out of Maras, bishop of Amida, through the chronicle of Zacharias of Melitina. See Assemani (Biblioth. Orient. ii, 53 and 170), who gives the introductory words. Probably the version edited is that of Paul (as stated in the Paris MS.), and that of Maras the one cited by Bar-Salibi; while in Ridley’s MS. the two are confounded. The Paul mentioned is apparently Paul of Tela, the translator of the Hexaplar Greek text into Syriac.


The Jerusalem Syriac Lectionary.—The MS. in the Vatican containing this version was pretty fully described by S. E. Assemani in 1756 in the catalogue of the MSS. belonging to that library; but so few copies of that work escaped destruction by fire that it was virtually unpublished and its contents almost unknown. Adler, who, at Copenhagen, had the advantage of studying one of the few copies of this catalogue, drew public attention to this peculiar document in his Kurze Uebersicht seiner biblisch-kritischen Reise nach Rom (Altona, 1783), p. 118–127, and, still further, in 1789, in his valuable examination of the Syriac versions. The MS. was written in 1031 in peculiar Syriac writing; the portions are, of course, those for the different festivals, some parts of the Gospels not being there at all. The dialect is not common Syriac; it was termed the Jerusalem Syriac from its being supposed to resemble the Jerusalem Talmud in language and other points. The grammar is peculiar; the forms almost Chaldee rather than Syriac; two characters are used for expressing PH and P.

In Adler’s opinion its date as a version would be from the 4th to the 6th century; but it can hardly be supposed that it is of so early an age, or that any Syrians then could have used so corrupt a dialect. It may rather be supposed to be a translation made from a Greek lectionary, never having existed as a substantive translation. To what age its execution should be assigned seems wholly uncertain. A further account of the MS. of this version, drawn up from a comparison of Assemani’s description in the Vatican catalogue, and that of Adler, with the MS. itself in the Vatican Library, is given in Horne’s Introd. iv, 284–287. The only complete passage published till recently was owing to Adler—viz. Matt. 27:3–32; and scholars could only repeat or work upon what he gave. But the version has been published entire by Minischalchi Erizzo (Verona, 1861, 1864, 2 vols. 4to; the first containing the text, with a Latin translation; the second, prolegomena and a glossary). Critical editors of the Greek Testament cannot now overlook this very valuable document, whose readings are so important. It contains the following portions of the Gospels: all Matthew except 3:12; 5:34–41; 6:25–34; 7:19–23; 8:14–19; 10:9–15, 23–31, 34–36; 11:16–26; 12:1–29, 38–50; 13:1–43, 55–58; 14:1–13, 35, 36; 15:1–20, 29–31; 16:1–12, 20–28; 17:20, 27; 18:5–9, 11, 21, 22; 19:1, 2, 13–15; 20:17–28; 21:44–46; 26:40–43; all Mark except 1:12–34, 45; 2:13, 18–22; 3:6–35; 4; 5:1–23, 35–43; 6:6–13, 31–56; 7:1–23; 8:1–26, 32, 33; 9:1–15, 31, 41–50; 10:1–31, 46–52; 11:1–21, 26–33; 12:1–27; 13; 14; 15:1–15, 33–42; all Luke except 1:69–75, 77–79; 3:23–38; 4:1–15, 37–44; 5:12–16, 33–39; 6:11–16, 24–30, 37–49; 7:17, 18, 30–35; 8:22–25, 40; 9:7–21, 45–56; 10:13–15, 22–24; 11:1–26, 34–54; 12:1, 13–15, 22–31, 41–59; 13:1–10, 30–35; 14:12–15, 25–35; 15:1–10; 16:1–9, 16–18; 17:1, 2, 20–37; 18:1, 15–17, 28–34; 19:11–48; 20:9–44; 21:5–7, 20–24, 37, 38; 22:40, 41, 46–71; 23:1–31, 50–56; all John except 2:23–25; 3:34–36; 4:1–4, 43–45; 6:34, 45, 46, 71; 7:30–36; 11:46, 55–57; 13:18–30; 19:21–24.

As to the readings, it appears to us that they are such as characterized the 5th and 6th centuries. The text is not that of א, B, Z, or even D, but rather that of A and C. In Matt. vi, it has the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer, which is not in א, B, D, Z; it has John 7:53–8:11; contains John 5:3, 4; has the usual order of the fourth and fifth verses in Matt. v; and has the later enlarged form of ver. 44. It also contains the last twelve verses of Mark xvi, contrary to א and B; has υἷος, not θεός, in John 1:18; and in Matt. 22:35 has the later reading καὶ λέγων, omitted in B, L, and the Peshito. It has also οἱ δώδεκα in Luke 22:14, with A, C, E, etc., but contrary to א, B, D, the Curetonian Syriac, and Italic. In John 1:27 it has the words ἐμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, contrary to א, B, L, and the Curetonian Syriac; but with A, E, F, etc., the old Italic, Vulgate, and Peshito. In Matt. 19:17 it has the old and genuine τί με ἐρωτᾷς περὶ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ, in John 3:15, μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλά are omitted with א and the Curetonian Syriac, E, etc. On the whole, while it is easy to see a number of the oldest readings in the text, such as those in א, B, the old Italic, D, etc., yet the readings of a later period prevail. Its text, though often differing from the Peshito, is neither older nor better.


SYRIAC (Peshito) VERSION, Relation of, to the Septuagint and Chaldee. One of the most mooted points which have vexed scholars is the question as to the relation of the Peshito to the Sept. and Chaldee version.

Relation to the Septuagint.—A good deal has been written concerning this question, pro and con. To the former side belong Gesenius, Credner, Hävernick, and Bleek; to the latter, Hirzel and Herbst. Without adducing the arguments used on both sides, it must be admitted that an influence of the Sept. upon the Peshito cannot be denied, and to this supposition we are led by a comparison of the one with the other. To make our assertion good, we will present the following passages from different books, and the reader can draw his own inferences. We commence with the Book of Genesis:

Septuagint. τῇ ἕκτῃ—Syr. שתיתיא. From the art. Talmudic Notices on the Septuagint, s. v. Septuagint in this Cyclopædia, it will be seen that the Sept. changed here purposely “seventh” into “sixth.” If the Peshito version were made only from the original Hebrew, there was no reason why the השביעי of the Hebrew should be translated as if it read הששי, like the reading of the Sam., Sam. vers., and Syr., which all followed the Sept.

2:4. ארץ ושמים—Sept. τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν; Syr. שמיא וארעא.

  1. מאיש—Sept. ἐκ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς αὐτῆς; Syr. דמן גברה.
  2. והיו—Sept. καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο; Syr. ונהוון תריהון.

3:2. מפרי עץ—Sept. ἀπὸ παντὸς ξύλου; Syr. also has כל.

  1. עלה—Sept. φύλλα; Syr. טרפא.
  2. ויאמר—Sept. καὶ εἶπεν Ἀδάμ; Syr. also supplies אדם.
  3. ויאמר—Sept. καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεός; Syr. ואמר לה מריא.
  4. אל־האשה—Sept. καὶ τῇ γυναικί; Syr. ולאנתתא.

4:8. אחיו—Sept. διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πέδιον; Syr. נרדא לחקלתא.

  1. ויאמר—Sept. καὶ εἶπε κύριος; Syr. ואמר לה מריא.

צעקים—Sept. βοᾱͅ; Syr. גלא.

  1. לכן—Sept. οὐχ οὕτως; Syr. לאהכנא.
  2. כשם—Sept. ἐπι τῷ ὀνόματι; Syr. עלשם.
  3. את־אשתן—Sept. Εὔαν τήν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ; Syr. לחוא אנתתה.

ותלד—Sept. καὶ συλλαβοῦσα ἔτεκεν; Syr. וילדת ובכנת.

5:23. ויהי—Sept. καὶ ἐγένοντο; Syr. והוו (id. ver. 31).

  1. ממעשנו—Sept. ἀπὸ τῶν ἐργῶν ἡμῶν; Syr. מן עבדין.

מן—Sept. καὶ ἀπό; Syr. ומן.

6:20. מכל—Sept. and Syr. ומכל.

7:2. שנים—Sept. δύο δύο; Syr. תרין תרין.

  1. גם—Sept. and Syr. וגם.
  2. וכל—Sept. and Syr. ומכל.
  3. ההרים—Sept. τὰ ὄρη ὑψηλά; Syr. טירא רמא.

8:7. ויצא יצוא ושוב—Sept. καὶ ἐξελθὼν οὐκ ἀνέστρεψε; Syr. ונפק מפק ולא הפך.

  1. כל—Sept. and Syr. וכל (id. ver. 19).
  2. וקר—Sept. and Syr. קר.

וקיץ—Sept. and Syr. קיץ.

9:2. בכל—Sept. καὶ ἐπι πάντα; Syr. ועלכל.

  1. מיד איש—Sept. ἐκ χειρός; Syr. ימן אידא.
  2. שרצו—Sept. καὶ πληρώσατε; Syr. ואולדו.
  3. בבהמה—Sept. καὶ ἀπὸ κτηνῶν; Syr. ועם בעירא.

11:27. את נחור—Sept. καὶ τὸν Ναχώρ; Syr. ולנחור.

12:3. ומקללך—Sept. καὶ τούς καταρωμένους σε; Syr. ומליכניך.

  1. ויאמר—Sept. καὶ εἷπεν αὐτῷ; Syr. ואמר לה.
  2. נא—Sept. and Syr. omit (id. 13:8).

13:7. ישב—Sept. κατῴκουν; Syr. יתבין.

14:1. אריוך—Sept. and Syr. ואריוך.

ותרעל—Sept. Θαργάλ; Syr. תרעיל.

  1. שנאב—Sept. and Syr. ושנאב.
  2. בהם, in Ham—Sept. ἅμα αὐτοῖς; Syr. דבהין.
  3. בהררם—Sept. ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσι; Syr. דבכורי.
  4. שדה, the country—Sept. τοὺς ἄρχοντας; Syr. רישנא.
  5. סדם עמרה—Sept. Σοδόμων καὶ βασιλεὺς Γομόῤῥας; Syr. דסדום ומלכא דעמורא.

14:20. בידך—Sept. ὑποχειρίους σου; Syr. באודיך.

15:5. ויאמר—Sept. καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ; Syr. ואמר לה.

  1. והאמן—Sept. καὶ ἐπίστευσεν Ἅβραμ; Syr. והימין אברם.

16:2. נא—Sept. and Syr. omit.

  1. בידך—Sept. ἐν ταῖς χερσί σου; Syr. באידיכי.
  2. ילדה—Sept. ἔτεκεν αὐτῳ; Syr. דאתילד לה.

17:16. מלכי—Sept. καὶ βασιλεῖς; Syr. ומלכא.

  1. אלהים—Sept. ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Ἀβραάμ; Syr. לאברהם.

לזרעו—Sept. καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ; Syr. ולזרעה.

18:5. אחר—Sept. καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο; Syr. ובתר כן.

  1. מאברהם—Sept. ἀπὸ Ἀβραἁμ τοῦ παιδός μου; Syr. מן עבדי אברהם.
  2. כי רבה—Sept. πεπληθύνται πρός με; Syr. עלתקדמי.
  3. לא אעשה—Sept. οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσω; Syr. לא אחבלאן.

19:3. אפה—Sept. ἔπεψεν αὐτοῖς; Syr. אפא להון.

  1. ויאמר—Sept. εἶπε δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς; Syr. ואמר להון.
  2. מן המקוב—Sept. ἐκ τοῦ τόπου τούτου; Syr. מן אתרא הנא.

20:15. אבימלך—Sept. Ἀβιμέλεχ τῷ Ἀβραάμ; Syr. לאברהם.

21:8. יצחק—Sept. Ἰσαὰκ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ; Syr. ברא לסחקועה.

  1. עם (2.)—Sept. and Syr. omit.
  2. לגוי—Sept. εἰς ἕθνος μέγα; Syr. לעמא רבא.
  3. שם—Sept. καὶ ἐπέθηκεν; Syr. וסם.
  4. ויכע—Sept. καὶ ἐφύτευσεν Ἀβραάμ; Syr. ונצב אברהם.

22:13. אהר—Sept. εἷς; Syr. חד.

  1. את יחידך—Sept. τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ δὲ ἐμέ; Syr. ליהידיך מני.

23:14. לו—Sept. and Syr. omit.

  1. על פני—Sept. ὃ ἔστιν ἀπέναντι; Syr. דכדם.

24:21. מהריש—Sept. καὶ παρεσιώπα; Syr. ומתבקא.

  1. גם מקום—Sept. καὶ τόπος; Syr. ואף אתרה.
  2. ויאמר—Sept. και εἶπεν αὐτῷ; Syr. ואמר לה.
  3. ויאמר דבר—Sept. καί εἶπεν, Λάλησον; Syr. ואמרין לה אמר.
  4. לבני—Sept. τῷ υἱῷ μου ἐκεῖθεν; Syr. לברי מן תמן.
  5. ישלה—Sept. αὐτὸς ἐξαποστελεῖ; Syr, הו נחרד.
  6. שלחני—Sept. ἐκπέμψατέ με ἵνα ἀπέλθω; Syr. שדרוני אזל.
  7. ויאמר אחיה—Sept. εἷπαν δἐ οἱ ἀδελφοἱ αὐτῆς; Syr. ואמרו לה אהין.

אהר—Sept. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα; Syr. והידין.

  1. רבקה—Sept. Ῥεβέκκαν την ἀδελφὴν αὐτῶν; Syr. לרבקא חתהוו.

25:5. ליצהק—Sept. Ἰσαὰκ τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ; Syr. ליסחק ברה.

  1. ושבע—Sept. καὶ πλήρης ἡμερῶν; Syr. ושבע יומתה.

Without enlarging our collation, it must be seen at once that the agreement between the Sept. and the Syriac version cannot be merely accidental, and the most sceptic must admit that the Sept. has been made use of by the Syriac translators. Is this inference correct, we may go a step farther and say what holds good for the one must also be good for the other; or, in other words, the Syriac translator made use of the Sept. for the other books too. And, indeed, Gesenius has produced a number of examples from the book of Isaiah to show that the Sept. was followed even in free and arbitrary interpretations (comp. his Commentar über den Jesaia, i, 82 sq.); and, in like manner, Credner, who has minutely examined the minor prophets in his De Prophetarum Minorum Versionis Syriacæ quam Peschito vocant Indole, thinks that the Sept. was employed there. A similar result will be achieved in comparing the book of Jeremiah. Thus,

2:25. נואש—Sept. ἀνδριοῦμαι; Syr. אתחיל: both derive it from איש, instead of from יאש (comp. also 18:12).

  1. כיעלכל אֵלֶה—Sept. ἐπὶ πάσῃ δρυΐ; Syr. תחית כל אילן: both probably reading אֵלָה.

3:2. כַעֲרָבִי—Sept. κορώνη; Syr. נעבא, reading כָעֹרֵב.

  1. משבח—Sept. κατοικία; Syr. עמורתא, deriving from ישב.

8:21. השברתי—Sept. and Syr. omit.

15:6. נלאיתי הנחם—Sept. καὶ οὐκέτι ἀνήσω αὐτούς; Syr. ותוב לא אשבוק להון: both reading הַנִּחֵם for הִנָּחֵם.

17:16. יום אָנוּשׁ—Sept. ἡμέραν ἀνθρώπου; Syr. יומא דברנשא: both reading אֶנוֹשׁ.

18:14. מצור שָׂדַי—Sept. ἀπὸ πέτρας μαστοί; Syr. מן טור תדיא: both reading שָׁדַי.

48:2. גם מדמן תדמי—Sept. καὶ παῦσιν παύσεται; Syr. אפן משתק אן השתקין: both regarded מדמן not as a proper noun, but as an Aramaic infinitive of דָמַם.

50:21. ואל יושבי פקוד הַרב. In the Masoretic text the Athnach under פקוד indicates that it belongs to יושבי. The Sept. connects פקוד with חרב, also reading חֶרֶב ἐκδικησον μάχαιρα; in like manner the Syr. connects and translates אתתעירי חרבא.

It would be useless to adduce more examples for our supposition since we do not write a dissertation, but for a cyclopedia which, so far as the point in question is concerned, has treated that subject in such a full way as neither the introductions to the Old Test. nor cyclopedias and dictionaries of the Bible have done before, if they ever touched this point fully.

There is yet another matter which we should not pass over, and to which, as it seems, little attention has been paid. We mean the titles of the Syriac psalms, which are found neither in the Hebrew nor in the editions of the Sept. The titles are partly historical, partly dogmatical; the former speak of David or the Jewish people, the latter of Christ and his Church. Now the question arises, if the Syriac translators really perused the Sept., as our supposition is, how is it that the titles found in the Syriac psalms are not to be met with in the Sept.? But the question is easily answered, when we consider the fact that these titles are not only found in the commentary of Eusebius, but also in the Codex Alexandrinus. From the latter they were reprinted in Walton’s Polyglot (vol. vi, pt. vi, p. 137 sq.), and again by Grabe, in the fourth volume of his edition of the Sept. A comparison of the titles as found in the Alex. Codex with those in the Peshito shows that the dogmatical part of these titles are a later addition, otherwise we could not account for the omission in the Greek, if really the latter had copied the Peshito. Deducting these additions, the titles otherwise agree with each other. Thus the title of Psa. ii reads: προφητεία περὶ Χριστοῦ καὶ κλήσεως ἐθνῶν; Syr. מטל קריתא דאממא רמז נביותא מטל שחה דמשיחא: Psa. iii, προφητεία γενησομένων ἀγαθῶν τῷ Δαυίδ; Syr. אמיר לדויד על טבתא דעתידן: Psa. iv, προφητεία τῷ Δαυὶδ περὶ ὧν πέπονθεν; Syr. לדויד מטל הלין דשח.


Relation to the Chaldee.—That there is a tolerable likeness between the Syriac and Chaldee in many places cannot be denied. Gesenius has produced a number of examples from Isaiah to show that the Targum was used there (Comment. i, 83 sq.). Credner is of the same opinion in regard to the minor prophets (De Prophetarum, etc., p. 107). Hävernick and Herbst are of an opposite opinion, and yet the original traces of a use of a Targum are too distinct to be denied, as the following examples in Genesis must show:

2:1. כל צבאם—Chald. Onk. כל חיליהון; Syr. כלה חילהון.

  1. וישבת—Chald. Onk. ונח; Syr. ואתתניח.
  2. מקדם—Chald. Onk. מל קדמין; Syr. מן קדים.
  3. בעבורך—Chald. Onk. בדיליכי; Syr. מטלתך.
  4. להט החרב—Chald. Onk. שנן חרבא; Syr. שננא דחרבא.

6:14. קנים—Chald. Onk. מדורין; Syr. מדירא.

7:4. ממטיר—Chald. Onk. מחית מטרא; Syr. מחת מטרא.

8:1. וישכו—Chald. Onk. ונחו; Syr. ואתתניחו.

  1. על הרי אררט—Chald. Onk. על טורי קרדו; Syr. על טורי קרדי.
  2. ישבתו—Chald. Onk. יבטלון; Syr. נבטלון.

10:10. שנער—Chald. Onk. בבל; Syr. בבל.

11:28. על פני—Chald. Onk. בחיי; Syr. בחיי.

11:14. את חניכיו—Chald. Onk. ית עלמוהי; Syr. עלימוהי.

ליעקב; Syr. לקישיא ללבן ובכיריא ליעקוב נהוין.

31:9, 16. ויצל—Chald. ואפרש; Syr. ופרש.

  1. בכר הגמל—Chald. בעביטא רגמלא; Syr. בעביטא דגמלא.

37:25. ארחת ישמעאלים—Chald. שיירת עדבאי; Syr. שירתא דערביא.

44:30. ונפשו קשורה בנפשו—Chald. ונפשיה הביבה ליה כנפשיה; Syr. ונפשה חביבא לה ליך נפשה.

47:21. ואת העם העביר אתו לערים—Chald. וית עמא אעבר יתהון מקרוי לקרוי, i.e. and the people he made him to pass from city to city; Syr. ולעמא שני אנין מן קרא לקרא. This is a very obvious imitation of the Chaldee.

49:3. ראשית אוני—Chald. ריש תקפי; Syr. ריש תוקפי.

We could thus go on with the other books of the Pentateuch, but our examples are sufficient to show that the priority belongs to the Chaldee of Onkelos, and not to the Peshito. Our supposition being correct, the assertions of those must fall to the ground who would put Onkelos in the 2d or 3d century. On the contrary, we believe that the Targum of Onkelos belongs to the time of Christ—provided the Syriac version of the Pentateuch belongs to the 1st century of the Christian æra—and thus the notices concerning Onkelos which we find in the Talmud are confirmed anew. Our examples from the book of Genesis leaving it beyond a shadow of doubt as to the dependence of the Syriac version upon the Chaldee, the Chaldee of the book of Proverbs will prove this more fully. Thus we read:

Chaldee—Prov. 1:4.


למתן לשברי ערימותא ולכלאי ידיעתא ותר עיתא

למתל לשברא ערימותא ולכליא ידעתא ותרעיתא


נבלענון כשיול לחיי ולדלא מום חיך נחהי גובא

ונבלעיוהי איך שיכל לחיא ועדלא מום איך נחתי גובא


תריצתא ואזלין בארחתא דחשוכא

ישבקיו אורחא תריצתא ומהלקין באורחא דחשוכא


דארחתהון מעקמן ומפתלין שביליהון

אורחתהון מעקמן ומפתלין שביליהון

14:7. בחצצון תמר—Chald. Onk. בעין גדי; Syr. בעין גד.

18:12. אחרי בלתי היתה לי עדנה—Chald. בתר דסיבית תהא עלימו לי; Syr. מן בתר דבלית הויא לי עלימותא.

ואדני זקן—Chald. ורבני סיב; Syr. ומרי סאב.

21:31. ויטע אשל—Chald. ונצב נצבא; Syr. ונצב נצבתא.

22:6. מאכלת—Chald. סכינא; Syr. סקינא.

23:13. כסף השדה—Chald. כספא דמי חקלא; Syr. כספא דמי חקלא.

24:34. תפל מעל הגמל—Chald. אתרכינת; Syr. אתרכינת.

27:3. תליך—Chald. סיפך, Syr. סיפך.

30:14, 15. דודאים—Chald. יברוחין; Syr. יברוחא.

28. נקכה שכרך—Chald. פריש; Syr. פריש.

33. והיה העטפים ללבן והקשרים ליעקב—Chald. והין לקישיא ללבן ובכיריא

We will not increase the quotations, but let the student examine passages like 1:6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 18, 21–23, 25, 30, 33; 2:1, 4, 10, 14, 17, 21; 3:2, 4, 6–8, 12, 15, 19, 21, 25, 29; 4:2, 3, 10, 11, 14, 18, 21–23, 25–27; 5:2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, 16, 18, 21, 23; 6:1, 2, 4–6, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 26, 28, 34; 7:2–4, 10, 16–18, 23–25; 8:4, 8, 10, 12, 13, 20, 23, 26, 32; 9:4, 5, 11, 14; 10:3–5, 7, 9, 16, 22, 30, 31; 11:7, 13, 14, 18, 21, 22, 26, 27, etc.—altogether more than 300 passages where he will find a striking similarity between these two versions.

Besides this similarity, there are a great many passages in which the Chaldee and Syriac deviate from the Hebrew, and the inner connection of both versions with each other can no longer be doubted. Thus Prov. 1:7, the Hebrew reads, יראת יהוה ראשית דעח—i.e. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom;” but the Chaldee reads, ריש חכמתא דחלתא דיי—i.e. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God;” and so also the Syr. ריש חקמתא דחלתא דמריא: or xvi, 4, כל פעל יהוה למענהו—“The Lord has made all things fot himself;” the Chaldee paraphrases, כלהין עובדין דאלהא לאילין דמשתמעין ליה—i.e. “All works of God are for those who obey him;” and thus also the Syr. כלהין עבדוהי דמריא לאילין דמשתמעין לה. Without increasing the number of such passages, we will adduce some in which both versions entirely give up the Masoretic text and follow another reading: thus Prov. 1:24, for ותמאנו the Chaldee reads ולא תאמינו, for the translation is ולא הימנתון, and so also the Syriac, ולא הימנתון: 5:9, the Chaldee reads הונך instead of הודך, for the translation is חילך, and so in the Syriac, הילך: 9:11, for כיבי the Chaldee reads כיבה, for the translation is מטול דבה, and in the Syriac מטל דבה. These examples, which could be increased greatly (comp. 3:27; 5:4, 9, 19, 21; 7:2, 23; 8:3; 9:11; 10:4; 11:26; 12:4, 19, 21, 28; 13:15, 19; 14:14; 15:4; 19:19, 23; 20:4, 14, 20; 21:4, 30; 22:11, 16; 24:5, 22; 25:20, 27; 26:5, 7, 10; 28:5, 11; 29:18, 21; 30:31; 31:6), leave no doubt that the Chaldee and Syriac stand in a relation of dependence to each other.


But in speaking of a relation of these versions, it must not be understood as if they relate to each other as the original and copy, but this relation consists in that the author of the one version, in preparing the same, followed mostly the other without giving up his independence entirely. This we can see from the eighty-two passages in which the Chaldee follows the Masoretic text, while the Syriac deviates from it, as 2:16; 3:30; 4:3, 11, 22, 25, 27; 7:7, 8, 10, 22; 8:7, 11, 35; 9:12, 18; 10:10, 12, 19, 24, 26; 11:9, 10, 16, 19, 24, 29; 12:17, 23; 13:1, 10, 23; 14:7, 17, 22, 23, 33, 35; 15:10, 14, 16, 17, 22, 30; 16:7, 26; 17:4, 9, 15; 18:1, 3, 6, 15; 19:1, 4, 22, 29; 21:14; 22:3, 19; 23:2, 6, 30, 34; 24:10, 26, 32, 33; 25:4, 11, 10, 13, 21, 22; 26:2, 11–13, 17–19, 26; 30:15, 19; or from those passages in which the Syriac agrees with the Masoretic text against the Chaldee, as 6:35; 7:15; 8:29; 10:29; 11:4; 14:24; 15:32; 16:5, 17:5, 16; 18:17; 19:2, 13; 23:28; 24:9, 14; 25:9; 28:1; 31:3.

To these examples from the book of Proverbs, we could also add a number from other books, but we believe we have proved sufficiently our assertion. As this Cyclopedia, so far as we known, is the only one in which this question has been treated to such length, future investigations based upon these must show the tenability or otherwise of our assertion. See also Schönfelder, Onkelos und Peschito (München, 1869); Mayabaum, Ueber die Sprache des Targum zu den Sprüchen und dessen Verhältniss zum Syrer, in Merx, Archiv für wissenschaftliche Erforschung des Alten Testaments, ii, 66 sq.; Dathe, Opuscula, p. 106 sq.; Frankl, Studien über die Septuaginta und Peschito zu Jeremia, in Frankel-Grätz, Monatsschrift, 1872, p. 444 sq.

Syr′ian (אֲרַמִּי, Arammî, Gen. 25:20; 28:5; 31:20, 24; Deut. 26:5, 2 Kings 5:20; fem. אֲרַמִּיּה, Arammiyâh, 1 Chron. 7:14, “Aramitess;” plur. masc. אֲרַמִּים, Arammîm, 2 Kings 8:28, 29; 16:6 [where the text has ארומים, which the marg. corrects to אֲרוֹמִים, Edomites]; 2 Chron. 22:5; but “Syrians” is elsewhere the rendering of אֲרַם, Arâm; Σύρος, Luke 4:27), an inhabitant either of Western Syria, i.e., on the Mediterranean (2 Kings 5:20), or of Eastern, i.e., Mesopotamia (Gen. loc. cit.). See Syria.

Syrian Churches, a general name for that portion of the Oriental Church which had its seat in Syria, and which was anciently comprehended in the patriarchate of Antioch and (after that of Jerusalem obtained a distinct jurisdiction) in the patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Syrian Church of the early centuries was exceedingly flourishing. Before the end of the 4th century, it numbered 119 distinct sees, with a Christian population of several millions. The first blow to the prosperity of the Syrian Church was the fatal division which arose from the controversies on the incarnation. See Eutyches; Jacobites; Monophysites; Nestorians. The Eutychian heresy, in one or other of its forms, obtained wide extension in Syria; and the usual results of division ensued in the corruption and decay of true religion. The Moslem conquest accelerated the ruin thus begun; and from the 7th century downwards, this once flourishing Church declined into a weak and spiritless community, whose chief seat was in the mountains, and whose best security from oppression lay in the belief on the part of the conquerors of their utterly fallen and contemptible condition. Under the head Maronites has been detailed the most remarkable incident in the later history of the Syrian Church. This branch of the Eastern Christianity, although for the most part divided from the orthodox Greek Church by the profession of Monophysitism, took part with the Greeks in their separation from the West, under Michael Cerularius; and the reunion of the Maronites to Rome had the remarkable result of establishing side by side, within the narrow limits occupied by the Christians under the Moslem rule in Syria, two distinct communities, speaking the same language, using the same liturgy, and following the same rites, and yet subject to two different patriarchs, and mutually regarding each other as heretics and apostates from the ancient creed of their country.


The chief peculiarity of the Syrian rite, as contradistinguished from the Greek, consists in its liturgy, and the language of that liturgy, which is Syriac, and with which the people, and, in many cases, the priests, are entirely unacquainted. The liturgy is known as the Liturgy of St. James. The Syrians agree with the Greeks in the use of unleavened bread, in administering communion under both heads, in permitting the marriage of priests (provided they marry before ordination), and in administering the unction of confirmation at the same time with baptism, even to infants.

The Christian community of Syria may at present be divided into four classes: the Maronites, the Greeks (who are also called Melchites), the Monophysites, who are called Jacobites, and the primitive Syrian Christians (not Maronites) who are in communion with Rome. This last-named community forms the small remnant of the ancient Syrian Church which remained orthodox during the controversy on the incarnation, at the time of the general lapse into Monophysitism. To these are to be added the Christians of the Latin rite. The Maronites number about 150,000; the Greeks are said to be about 50,000; the Jacobites of Syria and of Armenia Proper are said to reckon together about 40,000 families, of whom, however, but a small proportion (probably scarcely 10,000 in all) can be set down to the account of the Syrian Church. The non-Maronite Syrians who follow their national rite, but are in communion with Rome, are supposed to amount to about 4000. The resident Latins are chiefly members of the religious orders who from immemorial time have possessed convents in the Holy Land, and European Catholics who have settled permanently or for a time at Jerusalem, Beirût, and Damascus. None of these can in any way be regarded as belonging to the Syrian Church. It may be well to add that the belief, and, in most particulars, the disciplinary practice, of these several classes coincide substantially with those respectively of the same communities in the other churches of the East. All (with the exception of the Maronites and the few United Syrians) reject the supremacy of the Roman see. The Syrians of the Greek communion reject the double procession of the Holy Ghost; and the Jacobites firmly maintain their old tenet of Eutychianism. Among them all are to be found monks and religious females. All enforce celibacy on their bishops, and refuse to priests the privilege of contracting a second marriage, or of marrying after ordination. The practice of fasting prevails among all alike. They receive and practice the invocation of saints and prayers for the dead, and the use of painted, although not of graven, images. Many particulars regarding them are to be gleaned from the memoirs of recent missionaries of the several denominations, among which the letters published from time to time by the French Society for the Propagation of the Faith, although naturally tinged with some sectarian coloring, are particularly full and interesting.—Chambers’s Encyclop. s. v. See Etheridge, Hist., Liturgy, etc., of Syrian Churches (Lond. 1846); Benin, Traditions of Syr. Churches (ibid. 1871).

[1] Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament (Oxford, England, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1977), 4-5.



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