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Polycarpus, Moyses of Aghel

Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

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Polycarpus (5). Moyses of Aghel ( c. 550), in a Letter to Paphnutius prefatory to his Syriac version of the Glaphyra of Cyril of Alexandria, prepares his readers to find variations from the Peshitto in Cyril's citations of Scripture after the Greek, by referring them to "the translation of the N.T. and of David into Syriac" from the Greek, which "the Chorepiscopus Polycarpus made for Xenaias [Philoxenus] of Mabug" (Assem. ii. p. 82; see also Dr. Ign. Guidi in Rendiconti della R. Academia dei Lincei , 1886, p. 397). Now we know from Gregory Bar-hebraeus (Prooem. in Horr. Mystt. ) that, "after the Peshitto, the N.T. was more accurately translated again from the Greek at Mabug in the days of Philoxenus." The same facts are stated in a note purporting to be written by THOMAS OF HARKEL in 616, appended in slightly varying forms to many MSS. of the version of the N.T. known as the Harklensian, one of which (Assem. xi., now Cod. Vat. 268) is probably (Bernstein, Das Heil. Evang. des Joh. p. 2) of the 8th cent. In this MS., and others, the note gives also the date of this Philoxenian version, a.d. 508. In all of them it proceeds to describe the Harklensian version as based on this—in fact a revision of it; and the same description in more direct terms is given by Bar-hebraeus in two places in his Chronicon Eccl. (i. 49, ii. 22; Assem. ii. pp. 334, 411). We may safely infer that this earlier version was made by the Polycarp named by Moyses (and by no other writer) at the instance of his bishop, Philoxenus, the great Monophysite leader (485–522). The aim of Philoxenus in having the version made was probably, as the remark of Moyses suggests, to enable Syriac-speaking Monophysites to read the Scriptures as they were read by those Greek Fathers whom he owned as authorities and by their Greek-speaking brethren within the Antiochene Patriarchate. It does not appear that the translation shewed, or was ever impugned as shewing, a doctrinal bias.

Of the Philoxenian N.T. as it was before Thomas of Harkel revised it, we only know with certainty the few small fragments of St. Paul recovered by Wiseman from the margin of his MS. of the Karkaphensian Syriac, and pub. by him in Horae Syriacae (p. 178, n. 11).

It seems highly probable that we have a considerable portion of this original Philoxenian, in the version of the four minor Catholic Epistles (II. Peter, II. and III. John, and Jude) not included in the Peshitto though printed with it in the Polyglotts and in most Syriac New Testaments—first published by Pococke (1630) from a MS. of no great age (Bodl. Or. 119). These four Epistles in the version in question are found also in a few Paris MSS. (see Zotenberg's Catal. ), in one (formerly Wetstein's) at Amsterdam, in Lord Crawford's MS. in the Cambridge MS. (Oo. i. 1, 2), and in several MSS. in Brit. Mus.; one of which, Add. 14623 (7), written 823, is the oldest extant copy of this version. It is included also in the "Williams MS." of the N.T. Epistles, whence Prof. Hall issued it in photographic facsimile. This version is distinct from the Harklensian rendering of the same Epistles, which, however, though more servilely exact and grecised, is unmistakably founded on it. As then we have in this version the unmistakable basis of the Harklensian, and as the Harklensian is known to have been a revision of the Philoxenian, the identity of this version with the Philoxenian proper (as distinguished from the Philoxenian usually so-called, viz. the Harklensian revision) follows. We have then the materials for judging of Polycarp's merits as a translator, and we find reason to estimate them highly. The translation is in the main accurate and close without being servile. Dr. Scrivener (Intro. to N.T. p. 646, ed. 3) justly describes it as one which "well deserves careful study . . . of great interest and full of valuable readings," siding as it does frequently with the oldest Greek uncials. Here also we have material to determine the mutual relation between his work and Thomas's revision of it, and we conclude that the latter work is not (as has been taken for granted by many) a merely corrected re-issue of the earlier one, with merely linguistic alterations in the text and variants inserted on its margin; but is substantially a new version, proceeding on the lines of the former, but freely quitting them when the translator saw fit.

We are not informed what O.T. books were included in the work of Polycarp. Moyses mentions only his version of the Psalms, which is lost. But we have conclusive evidence that a Philoxenian Isaiah also existed; for a rendering of Is 9:6, differing from the Hexapla and from the Hebrew, but closely agreeing with a reading found in several MSS. of the LXX. (Holmes's 22, 36, 48, 51, 62, 90, 93, 106, 147, 233), is inserted on the margin of the Ambrosian Syro-Hexapla (8th cent.), and is there introduced as being "from the other text which was rendered into Syriac by the care of Philoxenus, bp. of Mabug," the word being the same as in the first citation (above) from the Chron. Eccl. of Bar-hebraeus. That the LXX. was in the hands of Syriac writers and translators before the time of Philoxenus is certain. Yet internal evidence conclusively proves that the Hebrew and not the LXX. is the main basis of the Peshitto Psalter.


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Polycarpus, Moyses of Aghel'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography.​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​p/polycarpus-moyses-of-aghel.html. 1911.