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RH Charles' Intro to Sirach - On the Syriac version - Printable Version

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RH Charles' Intro to Sirach - On the Syriac version - aux - 12-05-2017

I've been wanting to post this write up that I found a while back reading through RH Charles' OT Apocrypha and thought now would be a good time while I'm in the neighborhood. It may or may not help in Peshitta studies, I still find it interesting. Enjoy:

Pp 288-89 [reformatted]:

Quote:Sirach

§ 5. Other Ancient Versions.

i. The Syriac Version.

It is impossible to fix the date of the Syriac version of our book with any certainty ; the
earliest known MS. (Cod. Mus. Brit. 12142) belongs to the sixth century, but this MS. contains
already a very large number of scribal errors, which points to a long previous history ; it
seems, however, to be the parent of all other extant Syriac MSS. of Sirach, for its corruptions
occur in all of them. Wright, in speaking of the Syriac translations of the Old Testament
Apocrypha, the dates of which are quite unknown, says that ' it seems tolerably certain that
alterations were made from time to time with a view to harmonizing the Syriac text with that of
the Septuagint ', 2 a process which Burkitt thinks ' may have begun as early as the episcopate of
Palut (about A.D. 200) ', which would imply the existence of a Syriac version some time previous
to this date.

Although some scholars long ago sought to show that the Syriac version of Sirach was a
translation from the Hebrew, their contention was combated by Syriac scholars, who maintained
that it was translated from the Greek. 3 The discovery of the Hebrew text has, however, definitely
settled the matter ; if there was reason to believe, as was certainly the case, that the Syriac text
itself presented indications of its having been translated from Hebrew and not from Greek, there is
absolutely no doubt about this now that we can compare the Syriac with the Hebrew. Nevertheless,
the Syriac translation was not made from the original form of the Hebrew, though from a form
which seems to have been in many respects nearer to the original form than that represented in the
recently found Hebrew MSS. This fact makes the Syriac version valuable for correcting, where
necessary, the Hebrew text in the form in which we now have it ; and for those large portions of the
book of which the Hebrew text has not been found the Syriac is, of course, indispensable. Another
fact which makes the Syriac version valuable is that it contains a number of verses and parts of
verses which are only found elsewhere either in the Hebrew alone, or in isolated Greek MSS., in
some few cases also in the Old Latin version. 4 ' In some instances the Syriac has retained the
correct text where both the Hebrew and the Greek agree in having gone astray. But in a consider-
able number of passages the Syriac is not a translation of the Hebrew, but of the Greek ; 5 it is
possible that the reason of this was that in such cases the Greek version represented what the
original Syriac translator believed to be the reflection of a more original form of the Hebrew than
that which he had before him ; or else, and this is more probable, it may be that the Syriac, as we
now have it, has been corrected on the basis of the Greek ; this would have been a very natural
proceeding (even if a comparatively speaking pure Hebrew text had been available) at a time when
the Greek Bible was regarded in the Christian Church as more authoritative than the Hebrew.
That the Syriac translator of Sirach was a Christian seems more than probable. The Greek
MS. or MSS. which the Syriac translator made use of contained elements representing the
secondary Greek text, and it was a text which had undergone deterioration in other respects.' 6
In any case, the Syriac version is one which has a distinct value ; nevertheless it must be used with
caution, for, in spite of what has been said about its usefulness and importance, it has some grave
blemishes which must be taken into consideration when utilizing it. Smend says it is the worst
piece of translation in the whole Syriac Bible, though in many cases it is uncertain in what pro-
portion its mistakes are due to the translator himself, or to the Hebrew text which he had before
him, or to some deteriorated Greek text which he utilized, or to textual corruptions which crept
in during the process of transmission. But, however this may be, the fact remains that the work
of translation has been done carelessly and without much trouble having been expended upon
it ; paraphrases abound ; sometimes they are of a purely arbitrary character, at other times they
apparently represent what the translator believed to be the general meaning of the original, which
he did not understand in all its details ; in yet other cases these paraphrases were evidently due to the
desire to give a Christian sense to a passage. But perhaps the most serious blemish in this version
is the large number of omissions ; Smend says that these amount to 370 stichoi, or one-ninth of the
whole book. In many cases it is evident that the Syriac translator had what seemed to him good
reasons for omitting certain passages ; thus, as a Christian he felt justified in omitting such words
as these :

Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead as from one that is not,
(But) he that liveth and is in health praiseth the Lord (xvii. 28).

It was probably owing to an anti-Jewish tendency that he omitted xxxvii. 25 :

The life of a man {numbers) days but few,
But the life of Jeshurun days innumerable.

A similar reason would account for the omission of xxxviii. 11, xlv. 8-14, parts of 1. 18-21, and
the litany after li. 12, though this last is also omitted in the Greek version. Quite comprehensible
are the omissions of xxxiii. 26 (<& xxx. 35) and xxxvi. 21, 23 (<& 26, 28) ; but why such passages,
e.g., as xli. 14 — xlii. 2, and most of xliii. 11-33 should have been passed over it is impossible to say,
excepting on the supposition that they are difficult ones to translate, and the Syriac translator did
not feel inclined to undertake the task.

It will thus be seen that while the Syriac version has a distinct value of its own and can
certainly not be neglected, it must nevertheless be used with great caution ; indeed, the student will
be wise never to utilize it without at the same time referring to the Greek. It should be added that
in this version the right order of the chapters is preserved.



2 Syriac Literature, p. 4, quoted by Burkitt in EB, iv. 5026.
3 Smend, op. cit., p. exxxvi.
4 See e.g. ii. 18d, xxv. 8 6, xlvii. 23e, xlviii. 12c,d, li. 11 d, 19d, 26d.
5 See e.g. xxvi. 19-27, xliii. 1-10.
6 Oesterley, Ecclesiasticus, in the Cambridge Bible, p. ci.


https://archive.org/stream/apocryphapseudep00char#page/288/mode/2up