Chapter II:33: Syriac Versions: New Testament

The Syriac Version of the New Testament is not held to be of the same age among all. The Syrians maintain that this Version was undertaken by the Evangelist Mark himself.  Others judge that this was composed by an Apostolical men.  Again, others believe that this work was undertaken by the nascent Church of Antioch for its own uses.  From whom JACQUES BASNAGE dissents in a surprising manner, when he contends that this Version was not composed before the twelfth century.  Although the Author of this Version be uncertain, “yet the translation, prepared from a Greek and authentic text, is simple and accurate, in which the words answer as faithfully as possible to the words, and for which reason it is often a light to Interpreters;” if I might symbolize with FREDERIC SPANHEIM the Younger, Historia Ecclesiastica, Century II, chapter VII, § I, column 650:  whence it is deservedly held in great estimation among all.  Moreover, that this Version belongs to venerable antiquity, appears to be indicated both by the necessity of the Church of the Syrians, and also by the lack of the books, over which there was disputation in the Third Century and following, in the exemplar which in the Sixteenth Century Ignatius, Patriarch of Antioch,[1] sent into Europe,[2] from which JOHANNES ALBERTUS WIDMANSTADIUS, Jurisconsultus, Chancellor of the provinces of eastern Austria,[3] a little after the middle of the sixteenth Century, took care that the first edition of this Version be printed at Vienna:  which lack of books, nevertheless, was thereafter supplied out of other Manuscript Codices:  whence it is no trifling conjecture that a Version of the entire New Testament already existed among the Syrians from the earliest times; but because of which doubts were moved concerning some Books, that among the Syrians the Canonical confidence in these Books even began to labor, whence they were even omitted from the Canon of many Churches in Syria; and that thus these Books were not received into the Canon, of which the Patriarch Ignatius made use, and which, that it might be set down in type, he willed to be given.  Indeed, in the titles, which were added to the individual chapters of the New Testament, mention is made of the veneration of the cross, prayers for the dead, and other Papal ceremonies, which in the times of the Apostles were not yet received in the Apostolic Church:  but FREDERIC SPANHEIM the Elder, in Dubiis Euangelicis, and JOHANN HEINRICH HOTTINGER, in Analectis Historico-theologicis, observe that these titles are not of the same antiquity as the rest of the work; but that from the Vulgate Version various things were inserted into the Syriac Version in following ages whether by fraud, or under the pretext of correction.  Nevertheless, the Revisers of the new Dutch Version of the New Testament, among others also, set less value upon this Version:  see LODEWIJK GERARDUS VAN RENESSE’S[4] Commentariolus historicus, etc. in the Bylagen to NICOLAAS HINLOPEN’S Historie van de Nederlandsche Overzettinge des Bybels, page 138.  Concerning this Version consult LEUSDEN’S Philologum Hebræo-Græcum, Dissertation VII; SPANHEIM’S Historiam Ecclesiasticam, Century II, chapter VII, § I, column 650; BUDDEUS’ Isagogen ad Theologiam universam, book II, chapter VIII, § 5, tome 2, page 1528; RUMPÆUS’ Criticam ad Novi Testamenti Libros, pages 436-441, besides many others commended by Rumpæus.  Concerning the various Editions of this Version see RUMPÆUS’ Criticam ad Novi Testamenti Libros, pages 438 and following; and the Præfationem set before the edition of the Most Illustrious LEUSDEN and SCHAAF.[5]  That the Syriac Version of the New Testament was prepared in the Syrian dialect of Antioch, not the Syrian dialect of Jerusalem, following Walton OTHO VERBRUGGE observes, Observationibus philologicis de Nominum Hebræorum plurali Numero, Observation II, § 28, 30, pages 130, 133.

[1] Namely, Ignatius Abdallah I, who held the patriarchate from 1520 to 1557.

[2] This exemplar was missing 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

[3] Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter (1506-1557) was trained in law, theology, and oriental languages.  He served as a papal secretary for a time.

[4] Lodewijk Gerardus van Renesse (1599-1671) was a Dutch pastor and theologian.  He was appointed to work on the revision of the Dutch translation.

[5] Leusden and Schaaf published a Syriac edition of the New Testament in 1709.  Karl Schaaf (1646-1729) was a German orientalist, and professor of oriental languages at Leiden.

Leave a Comment