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Murdock explains it all! (Pt 1)
Shlama all--

I have a detailed discussion by Murdock on the whole Peshitta-Peshitto, Philoxenian-Harkalean issues that I think is helpful. However I cannot post all of it in one shot due limitations by the forum. So here is part 1, and please also read pt 2 which will be right after. Enjoy!


THERE are three Syriac translations of the New Testament, which are denominated the Peshito, the Philoxenian, and the Hierosolymitan versions; and also two Syriac translations of the Old Testament, which are known by the designations of the Peshito, and the Syriac Hexapla. Of the first of these five versions, the Peshito New Testament, it is here proposed to give a pretty full account; and then to treat, more summarily, of the other versions in their order.



This is not only much older than the Philoxenian or the later Syriac version, but is very generally admitted to be the oldest version that has come down to us, of the New Testament in any language. It is called by the Syrians the Peshito version, on account of its style or character. The Syriac verb . . . . signifies to unfold or spread out that which was folded up, so that it can be seen in its true form, dimensions, and character. Hence the participle . . . . signifies spread out, not involved or folded up, simplex and not duplex; or, as applied to a translation, explicit, free from ambiguities, direct, simple, and easy to be understood. And precisely such is, in fact, the character of this venerable version.*

* It was therefore a great mistake of Bertholdt, (in his Einleitung in das Alt. u. Neue Testament, ?? 18, vol. i. ii. p. 593, ) to suppose, that this version was called the Peshito, because it was the version in common use, among the sects of Syrian Christians; thus making the word Peshito equivalent to the Greek . . . . ., and the Latin vulgata. The word does not denote an expansion or extension ad extera, or over a larger space, but an internal development, an unfolding, which exhibits the thing in its fair and full proportions.

The Peshito version embraces all the canonical books of the New Testament, except the
second Epistle of Peter, the second and third Epistles of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Apocalypse; that is, all the . . . . . . . . . . . . . of Eusebius, together with one only of the . . . . . . . . . . . viz., the Epistle of James. Thus the Peshito Canon embraces all the books, which were universally admitted to be genuine in the early ages of the Church; and it excludes all but one of the books concerning which there was for a time doubt and uncertainty. It is almost precisely the same with the Canon derived from the writings of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others in the first ages of the Church. And this may be considered as evidence of the high antiquity of the version. It was made before the New Testament Canon was fully settled.


Among the Aramaean Christians the tradition is universal, and uniform everywhere, that
this version was made at the time when Christianity was first preached, and when Christian churches were first established, in Syria and Mesopotamia: and, of course, that it was made by some one or more of the primitive Apostles and Evangelists, or by persons who were their companions and associates. Some name Mark the Evangelist; others, Thaddeus the reputed Apostle of Mesopotamia; others, Achaeus or Aghaeus, a pupil and immediate successor of Thaddeus.
Anterior to the present century, most of the Europeans who gave attention to Syriac
learning, so far assented to this Syrian tradition, as to maintain, that the Peshito version must have been made either by an Apostle, or by some companion and assistant of the Apostles. A few, however, men of talents and erudition, but not versed in Syriac learning, - e. g. Bp. Fuller, Grotius, and J. J. Wetstein,-maintained that the Philoxenian was the only Syriac version of the New Testament; and that, as this version was not made till the sixth century, of course that must be the date of our Syriac New Testament. Such reasoning needs no confutation at the present day. And accordingly, since the middle of the last century, all the learned men of Europe seem to be agreed, that the Peshito version was probably in existence in the latter part of the second century, and certainly in the beginning of the third. Thus Michaelis, Storr, Adler, Eichhorn, Hug, Bertholdt, Hoffman, Uhlmann, Horne, Guerike, Roediger, &c.
The more recent German writers content themselves with tracing back the existence of this version to the latter part of the second century. But the English, and also the Germans before the year 1800, very generally believed, and argued, that it must have been made either near the close of the first century, or early in the second century. Says the Rev. T. H. Horne, in his Introduction, (vol. i. p. 270. ed. New York, 1844): " Bishop Walton, Carpzov, Leusden, Bishop Lowth, and Dr. Kennicott, fix its date to the first century; Bauer, and some other German writers, to the second or third century; Jahn fixes it, at the least, to the second century; De Rossi pronounces it to be very ancient, but does not specify any precise date. The most probable opinion, (he adds,) is that of Michaelis, (Introduction to New Testament, vol. ii. P. 1, pp. 29-38,) who ascribes the Syriac version of both Testaments to the close of the first, or to the earlier part of the second century; at which time the Syrian churches flourished most, and the Christians at Edessa had a temple for divine worship erected after the model of that at Jerusalem: and it is not to be supposed that they would be without a version of the Old Testament, the reading of which had been introduced by the Apostles."
Those who attempt to trace back the existence of this version, by means of historical
proofs, tell us, that the Peshito version certainly existed, and was in common use, in the middle of the fourth century. For, at that period, Ephraim Syrus composed his voluminous writings, which abound in quotations and expositions of the sacred books, as they are found in this version. And going back of that period, we are able to trace a solid Christian literature, and a series of well-informed theologians reaching up to the age of Bardesanes, in the latter part of the second century. Now such able theologians, and such a Christian literature, could not have existed without a knowledge of the Scriptures: and yet, through all this period, we have no intimation that the Aramaean churches lacked the holy Scriptures in their vernacular tongue. We therefore infer that the Peshito version existed, and was in common use from at least as early as the latter part of the second century. And this inference seems to have the support of direct testimony. For Eusebius says, (H. E. iv. 22,) that Hegesippus, (who lived and wrote about A. D. 188,) "made some quotations from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and from the Syriac Gospel :"- . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . This language (as Hug has clearly shown: Einleitung, vol. i. p. 367, ed. 1826) implies that there was, in the days of Hegesippus, a Syriac Gospel, and that it was a different book from the Gospel according to the Hebrews.-And in the Passio Sancti Procopii Martyris, (annexed by Valesius to the Hist. Eccles. of Eusebius, lib. viii. c. 1, ed. Amsterdam, 1695. Annotatt, p. 154,) the martyr is said to have been born at Jerusalem, and to have passed his life at Scythopolis, where he performed three functions in the church,- " unum in legendi officio, alterum in Syri interpretatione sermonis, et tertium adversus daemones manus impositione consummans ;" until his martyrdom, under Diocletian, A. D. 303. The words Syri interpretatione sermonis, explicitly, make him the public translator, (of the Scriptures, undoubtedly,) from the Syriac language into some other, the Greek, most probably: for we may suppose there were some Greeks in the Syrian church of Scythopolis, for whose benefit the Scripture lessons were translated as they were read.
The arguments for carrying back the origin of this version to the last part of the first century and the first part of the second, are the following:-
1. This accords with the constant and uniform tradition of all the Aramaean churches, Nestorian, Monophysite, Melchite, and Maronite; in all of which this version has been in public use, time out of mind, and has ever been revered as coeval with the origin of those churches. Moreover, there is no contradictory tradition from any quarter; nor does ecclesiastical history afford any invalidating testimony. All the evidence in the case is therefore on one side, or stands uncontradicted and unopposed by any contrary evidence. By what laws of historic reasoning, then, can the tradition just referred to be set aside ?
2. The uncertainty which is found in the tradition, respecting the precise time, and place, and author of this version, is good evidence of the truth of the tradition; for it shows, that this version was made at so early a period, that the particular circumstances attending its formation were hid in obscurity.
This argument may be thus stated:-We know, that there was an uninterrupted series of learned writers in the Aramaean churches, from the times of Bardesanes, who was cotemporary with Irenaeus and Clemens Alex., in the latter part of the second century,- down to Barhebraeus in the thirteenth century. Yet not one of them could authenticate the universal tradition, or trace it to its source, or correct the minuter details of it. They could only repeat the generally received fact, that this version was made when their first churches were planted by the Apostles and their coadjutors; and then give their conjectures respecting the precise time, and place, and author of the version. And the early Greek Fathers, many of whom lived in Syria and Palestine, were equally in the dark respecting these points. Now the fair inference from these facts is, that the translation must have been made in the very earliest times of the Church, and so long before the days of the learned ecclesiastical writers,-(that is, before the times of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Bardesanes, Clemens Alex., &c.)- that the circumstances of the time, place, and author of the version could not be ascertained, and therefore the door was open for different conjectures respecting them.
For the due appreciation of this argument, it should be recollected, that from the termination of the New Testament narratives to about the middle of the second century,- (that is, for about 60 or 80 years,)-the only Christian writers were those called the Apostolic Fathers; whose writings are few and meagre, and scarcely throw any light on sacred literature and the occurrences in the churches. Hence, that early period was, emphatically, the OBSCURE AGE of the Church, and one which it has baffled the attempts of learned theologians to explore, from the times of Eusebius to the present day. After that period, learned Christian writers began to arise, and to multiply more and more; so that from that time onward, and especially after the commencement of the third century, All the more important occurrences in the Church became tolerably well known, being mentioned by the cotemporary writers; while all that occurred in the latter part of the first century, and in the first half of the second, is almost as little known as the events before the flood.
This argument receives confirmation from the fact, that the very early translation of the Scriptures into Latin, (which no one calls in question,) is exactly parallel with this asserted early origin of the Syriac version. Both versions were supposed to have been made in the times of the Apostles, or shortly after, and by an author, or authors, unknown to the subsequent ages. The chief difference in regard to them is, that there are said to have been several early Latin versions, one of which, being superior to the others, obtained the greatest circulation, and was called the ITALA, whereas we read of only one early Syriac version, that called the Peshito. Augustine's declaration concerning those early Latin versions is well known. He says, (de Doctrina Christ. 1. ii. c. 11Smile "One can easily enumerate those who translated the holy Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek; but not so, the Latin translators. For, in those early times of Christianity, whoever got hold of a Greek MS., and thought he possessed some knowledge of both languages, at once undertook to translate it."-In regard to these very early versions, both Latin and Syriac, the entire ignorance of all the learned fathers, in subsequent ages, as to their authors, and as to the precise time and place of their composition, arises from the same causes; namely, the very early period at which the versions were made, and the scantiness of the records of those times. And hence the vagueness, or the want of uniformity and consistency in the details, is the very best internal evidence of the general truth and authenticity of both traditions.
3. The character and circumstances of the first Syrian Christians, and of their teachers, would both demand and facilitate an early translation of the New Testament into the common language of the country. The first converts of that country were, doubtless, to a great extent, from among Jews. And we know that the first Christians were, generally, from the humbler walks of life, or from the common people,- that class of persons who, in Syria and Mesopotamia, spoke and understood no language but the Syriac. An early translation of the Scriptures into this language was therefore exceedingly necessary. Indeed, it was nearly indispensable for the due instruction of the new converts, and for qualifying their principal men to be teachers and guides in the new formed churches. What modern missionary attempts to propagate Christianity, and to establish Christian churches, in any unevangelized country, without at once putting the Bible into the hands of the common people, in a language they can understand ? -The first preachers of the Gospel in Syria and Mesopotamia, and the founders of the first Aramaean churches, we may suppose, were for the most part Palestine Jews. For such were all the Apostles, the seventy disciples, the seven Deacons, and among the Evangelists, Mark, Barnabas, Silas, and perhaps others. But to all the Jews of Palestine, an Aramaean dialect very similar to the Syriac, was vernacular, and was the ordinary language of all public addresses in the synagogues of their country. Hence we may suppose, that the Gospel was first preached among the Syrians in the Aramaean language, either in pure Syriac or in the dialect of the Jews. And if so, the first founders of the Syrian churches were fully competent, to give them Syriac translations of the several books of the New Testament, as soon as they successively arrived in the country. And we can hardly suppose it possible, that they would neglect a work so easy of accomplishment, so necessary to lighten their own labors, and so indispensable to the full establishment and permanent prosperity of the churches.
4. The character of the version itself affords evidence that it was produced in the very earliest ages of the Christian Church. Its style has all the simplicity and directness of those sincere and honest-hearted men who first propagated Christianity. It is, precisely, what its name Peshito implies-a perfectly explicit and lucid version, every word of which seems to be the spontaneous efflux of a warm heart, and of a mind fully master of its own conceptions. There is no pomp of words, no artificial constructions or phraseology, nothing that betrays vanity or ostentation, nothing factitious, elaborate, and studied. It exhibits no undue veneration for the technical terms of the new religion, or of the Church and its organization. Indeed, it seems not to know that there are technical words and phrases, belonging to the new dispensation. And although it is the translation of a sacred book, it seems to have no superstitious reverence for the mere words, the phraseology, or the grammatical constructions of the original text. To give the substance of what is written, and in the plainest, simplest manner possible, seems to be its sole aim. In these respects it stands alone among all the ancient versions of the Bible; and especially is it totally unlike the second Syriac version, which will be described hereafter. And this fascinating artlessness of the Peshito version, while it affords strong evidence of its very early formation, will account for its permanent and very strong hold on the affections of all Aramaean Christians in every age of the Church.
5. If this version was not made till near the end of the second century, it is utterly unaccountable that neither any notice of the time, place, and circumstances of its formation, nor any intimation whatever of its recent origin, can be found in any cotemporary, or any subsequent ecclesiastical writer, Syrian, Greek, or Latin. For if the Aramaean Christians had been destitute of the holy Scriptures in a language they could understand, during one hundred and fifty years, and had then first received the full light of the Gospel from this translation, surely the publication of it must have produced an astonishing change in the character and condition of the Aramaean churches. It must have formed a grand epoch in their history; and the learned writers of those times, witnessing the wonderful changes that occurred, could not have failed to notice them, and to dwell on them with wonder and delight. And yet no notice is taken of any such occurrences by any writer of those times, either Syrian or Greek. Surely this is very strange; and the advocates of this hypothesis may be challenged to produce a parallel case in the whole history of the Christian Church. For what other equally venerated version can be named that was made as late as A D. 200, and for so numerous a body of Christians, previously for ages destitute of a vernacular Bible, the formation of which is not noticed, nor even alluded to, by so numerous a body of writers, all deeply interested in the momentous transaction ?
If these arguments, collectively, afford satisfactory evidence in the case, then we are to believe that most of the books called . . . . . . . . . . . , or the greater part of those forming the proper Peshito Canon, were translated in the latter part of the first century, for so early they must have been well known in Syria, having, been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, A. D. 70.-The only books forming an exception are the Gospel and the Epistles of St. John, which, if written (as many suppose) near the end of the century, may not have reached Syria in time to be translated before the commencement of the second century.-The Peshito . . . . . . . . . . (namely, the 2d Epistle of Peter, the 2d and 3d of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Apocalypse) were undoubtedly translated considerably later. Their style, which differs somewhat from the rest of the Peshito, and approximates towards that of the Philoxenian, is evidence of this. Hug, indeed, (Introduction, i. p. 356,) maintains that these books originally formed a part of the Peshito Canon, and were afterwards left out of it; while others maintain that they belong exclusively to the Philoxenian version. Neither of these opinions is admissible. For if, according to Hug, they originally belonged to the Peshito version, it is strange that they should differ so much from the usual style of the Peshito, and also that they are found, almost invariably, omitted in the MSS. of this version. The opinion that they belong to the Philoxenian version, is equally objectionable, for the style of these books coincides more with that of the Peshito than with that of the Philoxenian, though differing from both. It is, moreover, scarcely supposable, that these important books remained unknown to the Syrians, and untranslated by them, until so late as the sixth century. Besides, they are actually quoted by Ephraim Syrus, in the middle of the fourth century, or more than 200 years before the Philoxenian version was produced. (See Hug, Introduction, vol. i. p. 356, and Michaelis, Introduction, ii. i. p. 55.) It is therefore probable that they were translated after the decease of those excellent men who translated the Peshito canonical books; and that, for this and other reasons, they were held in less estimation by the Syrian Christians, and were but rarely inserted among their canonical books.


Most of those who carry back the origin of this version to the close of the first, and the commencement of the second century, regard Antioch as most probably the place where it was produced: because, there the first Syrian church was gathered, and chiefly by the labors of Barnabas and Paul; there also the Apostle Peter taught; and John, surnamed Mark; and Silas, a companion of Paul; and there the disciples first bore the name of CHRISTIANS. That city was the capital of all Syria; and thither Paul and Peter, and other apostolical men, often resorted. There the mother church of all Syria long flourished; and from it, undoubtedly, Christianity was propagated, not only throughout Syria, but also in Mesopotamia, and in all the countries in which the Syriac language prevailed. No place, in that early age, afforded such advantages, or afforded such inducements, for producing a correct Syriac version of the Christian Scriptures.
Michaelis, however, (Introduction, ii. i. 39,) dissents from this opinion: and he has been followed by most of the later German writers. He says: " The common opinion in Europe, that the version was made at Antioch- was never entertained in Asia :" and "it is highly improbable in itself: for, Greek being the current language in all the cities to the west of the Euphrates, and especially at Antioch, no motive could have existed for making a translation of the Greek Testament in that city. Though no tradition were still extant, that the Syriac version was written at Edessa, it would naturally occur as the most probable place, it being a city where the Christian religion was planted in the first century, was adopted by its sovereigns, who erected churches with all the magnificence of heathen temples,-was thence early and widely propagated in the eastern parts of Asia;-and a city, not only whose language was Syriac, but which, during many ages, was the eastern metropolis of the Christian world."-Again he says, (p. 74,) " Syria had an established church at an earlier period than any country in Europe, for the kings of Edessa were converted to Christianity before the middle of the first century, and the ceremonies of the Church were attended with solemnity and pomp. When a religion is thus publicly introduced, the first care is to procure an authentic version of the sacred writings for the public service."-But, surely, it is assuming a great deal, to affirm, that Greek was so far the current language of all Syria west of the Euphrates, and was so universally understood by the common people, that no translation of the Scriptures into Syriac was there needed. (See Dr. E. Robinson's Biblical Repository, vol. i. pp. 309-363, Andover, 1831.) And, although we admit that Christianity early gained a footing in Osrhoena, and particularly at Edessa, yet there is so much uncertainty about the conversion of Abgarus, and his making Christianity the religion of the state, in the first century, and so little evidence of the frequent resort of Apostles and apostolical men to that city, or that it was really " the eastern metropolis of the Christian world," till far into the second century,-that we may suitably hesitate on this subject. In our view, Antioch has as strong claims as Edessa, to be regarded as the birthplace of the Peshito, provided it originated from Apostles or apostolical men, and was written as early as the first century.


The great value of this translation depends on its high antiquity, on the competence and fidelity of the translators, and on the near affinity of its language to that spoken by our Lord and his Apostles. In all these respects it stands pre-eminent among the numerous versions of the New Testament.
On this subject we will here give the published statements of various learned men who have devoted particular attention to this unrivalled version.
JAMES MARTINI, a Professor at Wittemberg, in his elaborate Preface to the Syriac New Testament, edited by Trostius, in 1610, says: " Let those who speak lightly of this version know, that the Syriac, if not the very language in which CHRIST himself conversed with his Apostles, approaches very nearly to the vernacular tongue of our Saviour and his companions, and that into it the recent books of the New Testament were the first of all translated, and that, too, at the very time when the Apostles, (those divine teachers whom Christ himself had educated, and who were enlightened and instructed by the Holy Spirit,) were laying the first foundation of the Christian church among the nations. I admit that it is a version, but it is the first and most ancient of all versions. It is a version, I say, but one to be preferred before all others, as being more authentic and more correct. It is a version, I say again, but made either by some one of the Evangelists, or certainly by one of those who had the Apostles present with them at Antioch, whom they could consult and hear speak on many of the obscurer passages. And therefore to this version only can we safely go, when any obscurity or difficulty occurs in the original Greek. This only can be safely consulted and relied upon, whenever there is doubt respecting the import or the rendering of any passage. By this only is the Greek text illuminated and correctly explained. For the authority of this version very nearly approximates (proxime accedit) to that of the Greek original."
WOLFGANG FRANCIUS, a colleague of Martini, in his Treatise on Hermeneutics,
(p. 46,) says: "This version, all the learned pronounce and declare to be the purest of all versions: and, doubtless, it was so exactly transferred by the holy men, because Christ spoke and discoursed in the Syriac language: so that we cannot doubt, that the Apostles and the apostolical men carefully inquired after and laid up the very words of Christ, and, with a holy veneration, endeavored to record them in this version."- And (p. 38) he says: "Among all the versions of the New Testament, that which holds the first rank, and is the most exact, felicitous, and divine, is certainly the Syriac, which, undoubtedly, was most faithfully handed down by apostolical men, who remembered well the recently uttered words of Christ and his Apostles, and understood their meaning. For CHRIST himself used this language."
EMANUEL TREMELLIUS, in the Preface to his Syriac New Testament, A. D. 1568, says: "It is entirely consonant with truth, that this version was formed at the very commencement of the Christian church, either by the Apostles themselves or by their disciples: unless we would suppose that in writing they had regard only to strangers, and cared little or nothing for their own countrymen."
BRIAN WALTON, in the Prolegomena to his Biblia Polyglotta, (p. 92,) says: "The Syriac version of the New Testament exhibits the native aspect, (faciem nativam,) of the original text, and confirms its integrity. For it follows the Greek text for the most part, . . ., strictly. For, the New Testament being written in Greek, by men whose vernacular language was Syriac, everywhere savors of Syriasms. Hence, Ludovicus de Dieu (in his Harmonia trium Linguarum) affirms, that the true import of the phraseology of the New Testament can scarcely be learned, except from the Syriac. For no one will say that the phraseology of the Evangelists and Apostles is pure Greek: and it would be easier for Europeans to imitate the elegance of Plato and Aristotle, than for Plato and Aristotle to explain to us the New Testament, because the holy men conceived in Syriac, that which they wrote in Greek, injecting, the force of their vernacular tongue into foreign words." After accounting for some diversity in the orthography of certain Syriac words, such as Golgotha, Aceldama, Mammona, &c., in the Greek and Syriac New Testaments, by saying, that the Peshito of both Testaments is written in the Antiochian dialect, and not in the dialect of Jerusalem, he concludes thus: " From these most ancient versions we infer, that this (the Syriac) language is of the highest importance, because the writers of the New Testament, to whom this language was vernacular, first preached the divine oracles in it to the Jews, and to the nations around them, and afterwards wrote them out in Greek, yet retaining everywhere the spirit (gustum) of the Syriac. Nay, it was vernacular to the Lord and Saviour himself; He drew it in with his mother's milk: and in it, the only-begotten Son of God revealed to the world the will of God, and the express promises of eternal life. This language, He consecrated by his holy lips; in this language, He taught the doctrines of the Gospel; in it, He offered his prayers to the Father, laid open the mysteries hidden from the world, and heard the voice of the Father coming from heaven: so that we may say,

" Lingua hominum est lingua nobilitata Dei."

And, as a poet has said of a Syrian lexicographer,

" Nos docet hic unus, Numinis ore loqui."

Moreover, this is the language of the Christian doctors through nearly all the East, as appears from the Liturgies and Divine Offices almost everywhere performed in it."
REV. EZRA STILES, D.D., Pres. of Yale College, in his Inaugural Oration, says: " Kindred with this, [the Hebrew,] or rather a bath-kol, and daughter-voice, is the Syriac, in which the greater part of the New Testament (I believe) was originally written, and not merely translated, in the Apostolic age.... The Syriac Testament, therefore, is of high authority; nay, with me, of the same authority as the Greek."
The opinion of Dr. Stiles, that the greater part of the books of the New Testament were originally written in Syriac, and not merely translated, is far from being so strange as to have no other advocate. Many have believed that Matthew's Gospel and the Epistle to the Hebrews, if not also some other books, were originally written in Hebrew or Jewish Aramaean. And J. A. Bolten (in his German Translation of the Epistles, with Notes, Altona, 1800, 2 vols. 8vo.) maintains, that nearly all the Epistles must have been first composed by the Apostles in Aramaean, their native tongue, and then committed by them to some of their Grecizing companions, (e. g. Titus, Timothy, Tertius, Sosthenes, &c.,) by whom they were translated into Greek before their publication. And Bertholdt (Einleitung, ?? 46, vol. i. p. 148-154) accedes to, and defends, this opinion. And he thinks that, after due time for reflection, the learned world will generally come into it. Such an hypothesis does not militate at all against the authority of the original Greek, because it supposes the Greek translation to have been made by the special direction of the Apostles, and to have been inspected, and fully approved by them. But it does show us that the Syriac version may be something more than a mere translation, and may have nearly, or quite equal authority, with the Greek.
JOHN D. MICHAELIS, in his Introd. to the New Testament, (translation of Marsh, ed. London, 1802, vol. ii. P. I. p. 40, &c.,) says: " The Peschito is the very best translation of the Greek Testament that I have ever read; that of Luther .... holding the second rank. Of all the Syriac authors with which I am acquainted, not excepting Ephraim and Bar-Hebraeus, its language is the most elegant and pure; not loaded with foreign words, like the Philoxenian version and other later writings, and discovers the hand of a master in rendering those passages where the two idioms deviate from each other. It has no marks of the stiffness of a translation, but is written with the ease and fluency of an original: and this excellence of its style must be ascribed to its antiquity, and to its being written in a city that was the residence of Syrian kings.... It is true that the Syriac version, like all human productions, is not destitute of faults, and (what is not to be regarded as a blemish) differs frequently from the modern mode of explanation. But I know of none that is so free from error, and none that I consult with so much confidence, in case of difficulty and doubt. I have never met with a single instance where the Greek is so interpreted, as to betray any weakness or ignorance in the translator and though in many other translations, the original is rendered in so extraordinary a manner as almost to excite a smile, the Syriac version must ever be read with profound veneration." After a few sentences, Michaelis adds: "The affinity of the Syriac to the dialect of Palestine, is so great as to justify, in some respects, the assertion that the Syriac translator has recorded the actions and speeches of Christ in the very language in which he spoke.... The difference between the dialect which was spoken by Christ, and that of the Syriac translator, consisted almost wholly in the mode of pronouncing; and if a proper use had been made of this advantage, the Syriac version would be the most valuable commentary on the New Testament. Many obscure passages would be made clear, if the words were still on record which Jesus spoke with his disciples in the Aramaean language. But the translator appears not to have been fortunate in rendering passages of this nature.... This circumstance alone affords sufficient evidence that the Syriac version was not written by one of Christ's immediate disciples."-(Ibid. p. 44.) " The Syriac version .... leads us sometimes to just and beautiful explanations, where other help is insufficient, e. g. Matt. vi. 7; John, xvi. 2; Rom. ix. 22; and xiii. 3; and confirms some ancient rites in which we are deeply interested, such as the celebration of Sunday, 1 Cor. xi. 20. And in discovering either the meaning of an unusual word, or the unusual meaning of a common word, where no assistance can be had from the Greek authors, the Syriac version may be of singular service, as the translator was probably acquainted with the language of common life, as well as the language of books; and is, at least, of equal authority with a Greek lexicon of later ages."-(p. 45.) "The chief advantage to be derived from the Syriac version is, in applying it to the purposes of criticism. Its high antiquity, and frequent deviation from the common reading in passages of importance, must recommend the use of it to every critic, who in general will find himself rewarded for his trouble.... The difference between the Syriac version and the greatest part of the Greek manuscripts, is no ground for condemning the former. It is natural to suppose, from its great antiquity, that it must deviate in many cases from the Greek manuscripts, the oldest of which were written above four hundred years later, and are mostly the productions of countries remote from Syria."
Shlama w'burkate
Andrew Gabriel Roth

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