7.htm
HOME WRITE TO ME... REFERENCES

Neil's Website | Ajit's Website

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Versions or Translations


We have other manuscript evidence for the New Testament in translations to various languages very early as well:

We have more than 15,000 existing copies of the various versions written in many different languages.  

The Latin and Syriac (Christian Aramaic), some of which were written as early as 150 A.D., such as the Syriac Peshitta (150-250 A.D.) (McDowell 1972:49; 1990:47).

l        The Lain version includes: 

·         Codex Bobiensis (Latin; copied in the 4th century, but containing at least a 3rd-century form of text)

·         Codex Vercellensis (Latin; copied in the 4th century)

Before St. Jerome’s translation, the Latin Vulgate, the Bible in Latin was termed Old Latin. Vetus Latina is a collective name given to the Biblical texts in Latin that were translated before St Jerome's Vulgate Bible (382-405 AD) became the standard Bible for Latin-speaking Western Christians. The phrase Vetus Latina is Latin for Old Latin, and the Vetus Latina is sometimes known as the Old Latin Bible.  It was, however, written in Late Latin, not the early version of the Latin language known as Old Latin. It is sometimes also known as the Itala (as in the Quedlinburg Itala fragment).By A.D. 250, Latin was the language of the Christian scribes and clerics, creating a need for a Latin Bible. The translation of the Bible into Old Latin varied among the different versions - probably the work of several different independent authors.  These variations caused Pope Damasus I (345-420) to ask St. Jerome, a Latin and Greek scholar to revise the Latin translation of the Bible.  His translation became known as the Latin Vulgate, which became the standard of the Catholic Church.


St Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius 340 - 420 AD)
 Ognissanti, Florence by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494)

By A.D. 383, Jerome completed his translation of the four Gospels based on the Old Latin, but compared to the Greek text.

l        Syriac Versions

There are over 350 existing copies of Syriac Bible.

·         Syriac Sinaiticus (Syriac; copied in the 4th century)

·         Curetonian Gospels (Syriac; copied in the 5th century)

l        The  Peshitta

The Peshitta is a Syriac Bible. Its creation represented an attempt to create a "standard version" of the Bible amidst a variety of other Syriac texts. There are many surviving manuscripts of the Peshitta, the oldest of which bears the date 442.

The name Peshitta means "simple" or "clear"    Written before Syrian Christians divided into two communities in 431 and this version therefore was accepted by both the Jacobites (Monophysites) and the Nestorians.   Syriac presents us with the text of the Holy Scriptures and the life and words of Jesus Christ in a language which is close to the language spoken by Christ and presents us with the oldest and the earliest translation of the Bible in any language. 

The Peshitta originated in Osrhoëne, a buffer state between the Roman and Parthian Empires. The language of Osrhoëne was Syriac, as it was for much of the area, except Antioch of Syria (see map). The Peshitta was probably written in the cities of Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey), Nisibis, and/or Arbela.


The Peshitta is the authoritative biblical text for today's Syrian Orthodox, Church of the East, and Maronite churches. The official New Testament canon includes 22 of the books in the Roman Catholic and Protestant canons but does not have 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Book of Revelation. In addition, this Syriac New Testament does not include Luke 22:17-18 and John 7:53-8:11.

Khabouris Codex
was written between 195-410 A.D., making it older than the earliest known Greek canons of the New Testament.

Map showing location of Edessa, Nisibis, and Antioch of Syria-  Bytes

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 29, by Irving L. Jensen)

 

The Syriac version is the standard bible of the Eastern Churches from Syria. 

According to Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII :

"With reference to....the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision."

If that is so the Greek and the Peshita were almost coexisting from the beginning of the Christian Church.  It is definitely certain that, the Syriac versions were in existence even if they were not in complete book form as they are found today.

According to Eusebius, when the Alexandrian Scholar named Pantaenus went  to India he found  a copy of the Gospel of Mathew in Aramaic left behind by  the Apostle  Bartholomew   (Eusebius HE 5.10.2-3). I come from the Syrian Christian Church of Malabar, India where the Syriac was the liturgical language until the time of reformation around 1876 and the Syriac Bible was regularly read in the service.  One of earlier known translations to Syriac is Tatian’s work called the Diatessaron, which was a harmony of the four Gospels.   Since Tatian was a cultic leader this was eventually became unpopular.  

·          Coptic translations

There are two main dialects - Sahidic, Bohairic - and two minor dialects - Akhmimic, and Fayyumic - in the Coptic language.    

Sahidic

The collection of manuscripts of Sahidic translations is often designated by copsa in academic writing and critical apparatuses. The first translation into the Sahidic dialect was made at the end of the 2nd century in Upper Egypt, where Greek was less well understood.

 

Some of the more notable manuscripts of the Sahidic are the following.

·         The Crosby-Schøyen Codexis a papyrus manuscript of 52 leaves (12x12 cm). It contains the complete text of Book of Jonah and 1 Peter (2 Maccabees 5:27-8:41, Melito of Sardis, Peri Pascha 47-105, unidentified Homily). It is dated to the 3rd or 4th centuries and is held at the University of Mississippi.

·         British Library MS. Oriental 7594 contains an unusual combination of books: Deuteronomy, Jonah, and Acts. It is dated paleographically to the late 3rd or early 4th century.

·         Michigan MS. Inv 3992, a papyrus codex, has 42 folios (14 by 15 cm). It contains 1 Corinthians, Titus, and the Book of Psalms. It is dated to the 4th century.

·         Berlin MS. Or. 408 and British Museum Or. 3518, being parts of the same original document. The Berlin portion contains the Book of Revelation, 1 John, and Philemon (in this order). It is dated to the 4th century.

·         Bodmer XIX— Matthew 14:28-28:20; Romans 1:1-2:3; 4th or 5th century.

·         Bodmer XLII— 2 Corinthians; dialect unknown; Wolf-Peter Funk suggest Sahidic;

 

Bohairic

The Bohairic (dialect of Lower Egypt) translation was made a little later, as the Greek language was more influential in lower (northern) Egypt. Probably, it was made in the beginning of the 3rd century. It was a very literal translation. Bohairic was the dominant language of the Coptic church.

The original {Old} Bohairic version is well represented by manuscripts. More than a hundred of manuscripts have survived. All have the last twelve verses of Mark.

·         The earliest surviving manuscript of the four Gospels is dated A.D. 889. It is not complete.

·         Papyrus Bodmer III is the oldest manuscript of the Bohairic version.  It was discovered by John M. Bodmer of Geneva in Upper Egypt. It contains the Gospel of John, dated palaeographically to the 4th century. It contains 239 pages, but the first 22 are damaged.

·         Huntington MS 17, bilinguical Bohairic-Arabic, dated to 1174, the oldest manuscript with complete text of the four Gospels in Bohairic.

·         Huntington MS 20, bilinguical Bohairic-Greek, with complete text of the four Gospels.

·         Oriental MS 424, bilinguical Bohairic-Arabic, dated to 1308, with complete text of the Pauline epistles, Catholic epistles, and the Acts.

·         Codex Marshall Or. 5.

Akhmimic, and Fayyumic

Codex Glazier, manuscript of Acts

The only survived witnesses of an Akhmimic and a Fayyumic Versions are in fragmentary pieces (designated by copakh, and copfay).

·         The Schøyen Codex, a papyrus manuscript. It contains Gospel of Matthew. Dated to the early 4th century. It is the earliest Matthew in any Coptic dialect.

·         Codex Glazier, contains Acts 1:1-15:3, housed at the Pierpont Morgan Library.

·         P. Mich. inv. 3521, Gospel of John in Fayyumic, ca. A.D. 325.


Coptic - Book of Mark

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 30, by Irving L. Jensen)

 

The Latin Vulgate was the most prominent of the ancient versions. It was the official Bible of Christendom in Europe for a thousand years. The earliest translations appeared in North Africa in the second century (See below Map), and Jerome made his standard version during the years A.D. 383-405. See below Map (Latin Version) shows later European versions that are traced back to the Latin Bible. Those versions are west of the dashed line on the map. Note that the first English (Anglo-Saxon) Bible was based on the Latin version.

8,000 to 10,000 Latin Vulgate manuscripts in existence.

 

Vulgate of Mark 1:1 in an illuminated manuscript held at Autun

 

 

·         Armenian (400 A.D.)

 

Next to the Latin Vulgate, the Armenian translation of the Bible has the greatest number of manuscripts, 1,244 numbered completely or in part. The Armenian version was produced in the 5th century an Armenian priest, Mesrop Mashtotz (361-439) who developed the Armenian alphabet. Prior to this, all the books written were in either Greek or Syriac (Aramaic).

The source of the Armenian Bible’s translation is the Septuagint for the Old Testament and the Syriac Peshitta.  

 

Bohairic

 

The Bohairic (dialect of Lower Egypt) translation was made a little later, as the Greek language was more influential in lower (northern) Egypt. Probably, it was made in the beginning of the 3rd century. It was a very literal translation; many Greek words, and even some grammatical forms (e.g. syntactic construction μεν — δε) were incorporated to this translation. For this reason, the Bohairic translation is more helpful in the reconstruction of the early Greek text than any other ancient translation. Bohairic was the dominant language of the Coptic church

 

The original {Old} Bohairic version is well represented by manuscripts. More than a hundred of manuscripts have survived. All have the last twelve verses of Mark.

·         The earliest surviving manuscript of the four Gospels is dated A.D. 889. It is not complete.

·         Papyrus Bodmer IIIis the oldest manuscript of the Bohairic version. It was discovered by John M. Bodmer of Geneva in Upper Egypt. It contains the Gospel of John, dated palaeographically to the 4th century. It contains 239 pages, but the first 22 are damaged.

·         Huntington MS 17, bilinguical Bohairic-Arabic, dated to 1174, the oldest manuscript with complete text of the four Gospels in Bohairic.

·         Huntington MS 20, bilinguical Bohairic-Greek, with complete text of the four Gospels.

·         Oriental MS 424, bilinguical Bohairic-Arabic, dated to 1308, with complete text of the Pauline epistles, Catholic epistles, and the Acts.

·         Codex Marshall Or. 5.

 

Akhmimic, and Fayyumic Versions

 

Codex Glazier, manuscript of Acts

 

The only survived witnesses of an Akhmimic, and an Fayyumic Versions are in a fragmentary pieces (designated by copakh, and copfay).

·         The Schoyen Codex, a papyrus manuscript. It contains Gospel of Matthew. Dated to the early 4th century. It is the earliest Matthew in any Coptic dialect.

·         Codex Glazier, contains Acts 1:1-15:3, housed at the Pierpont Morgan Library.

·         Gothic (4th century)

A page of the Codex Argenteus

Ulfilas, or Gothic Wulfila: little wolf or belonging to Wolf (also Ulphilas. Orphila) (ca. 310 – 383;), bishop, missionary, and Bible translator, was a Goth or half-Goth and half-Greek from Cappadocia who had spent time inside the Roman Empire at the peak of the Arian controversy. Ulfilas was ordained a bishop by Eusebius of Nicomedia and returned to his people to work as a missionary. In 348, to escape religious persecution by a Gothic chief, probably Athanaric he obtained permission from Constantius II to migrate with his flock of converts to Moesia and settle near Nicopolis ad Istrum in modern northern Bulgaria. There, Ulfilas translated the Bible from Greek into the Gothic language. For this he devised the Gothic alphabet.  Fragments of his translation have survived, notably the Codex Argenteus held since 1648 in the University Library of Uppsala in Sweden. A parchment page of this Bible was also found in 1971 in the Speyer Cathedral.

·         Georgian (5th century),

According to Orthodox tradition, Christianity was first preached in Georgia by the Apostles Simon and Andrew in the 1st century. The western Georgian Kingdom of Iberia became one of the first states in the world to convert to Christianity in 327 C.E., when the King of Iberia, Mirian II, established it as the state religion. It became the state religion of Kartli (Iberia) in 337.  The date varies in the numerous accounts and historical documents. According to Georgian chronicles, St. Nino of Cappadocia converted Georgia to Christianity in 330 C.E. during the time of Constantine the Great. By the middle of the fourth century though, both Lazica (formerly the Kingdom of Colchis) and Iberia adopted Christianity.

Flag of Georgia (country)
Georgian flag

The Georgian Orthodox Church, originally part of the Church of Antioch, gained its autocephaly and developed its doctrinal specificity progressively between the 5th and 10th centuries. The Bible was also translated into Georgian in the 5th century, as the Georgian alphabet was developed for that purpose. As was true elsewhere, the Christian church in Georgia was crucial to the development of a written language, and most of the earliest written works were religious texts.

A page from a rare Georgian bible, dating from AD 1030, depicting the Raising of Lazarus

 

·         Ethiopic (6th century)

 


BL Add. MS 59874 with Ethiopic Gospel of Matthew

Abba Garima (one of the Nine Saints, Abba Gerima or Aba Isaac (Yisaq)).  arrived from Constantinople in 494 AD and legend has it that he was able to copy the gospels in a day because God delayed the sun from setting.

A page from the Garima Gospels - the world's oldest hristian book found in a remote monastary in Ethiopia

A page from the Garima Gospels - the world's oldest Christian book found in a remote monastery in Ethiopia

The incredible relic has been kept ever since in the Garima Monastery near Adwa in the north of the country, which is in the Tigray region at 7,000 feet.  Experts believe it is also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. They were written on goat skin in the early Ethiopian language of Ge'ez. Carbon dating, however, gives a date between 330 and 650.

A page from the Garima Gospels - the world's oldest hristian book found in a remote monastary in Ethiopia

The incredible relic has been kept in the Garima Monastery near Adwa in the north of Ethiopia (Ethiopian Review July 5, 2010)

·         Nubian (6th century) (McDowell 1972:48-50).

Nubians are the ancestors of modern Northern Sudanese people. According to the Biblical Table of Nations, the Nubians/ Kushites are the descendants of Ham, the son of Noah. According to the system of linguistic classification, the modern Nubian language is identified as a member of the Nilo-Saharan language group.