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Aramaic Thoughts


The Peshitta - Part 3

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Important Manuscripts and Editions of the Peshitta

Early on in the course of these postings, the question of the Khaboris (or Khabouris) Codex came up. The Khaboris Codex is a tenth-century codex (that is, it is in a form like that of a modern book, rather than in a scroll) that contains the New Testament written in the Estrangelo Syriac script. It seems to be the most popular Syriac manuscript on the internet. It is a pretty manuscript, and it is very carefully copied, but unfortunately it has almost no real value for the investigation of the history and development of the Peshitta text. It is rather evidence of the New Testament text of the Peshitta after that text had already become standardized and fixed in the Syrian church.

The most important Syriac manuscript for scholarly purposes is that known as Codex Ambrosianus. It contains the entire Old Testament, and serves as the basic text for the critical edition of the Peshitta that is in the process of preparation. Most of this critical text has now been published in a number of separate volumes under the auspices of the Peshitta Institute. This particular manuscript dates back to the fifth century, and is one of a number of manuscripts from about the same period that are important for critical textual study of the Peshitta. I will deal with these more thoroughly in next week’s edition.

The writings of the early fathers of the Syrian church constitute another source of important evidence for the Peshitta text, insofar as they quote from the Peshitta. Their citations can be compared with known manuscripts for further evaluation of the development of the Peshitta text.

As regards published editions (printed, rather than hand-copied), the Peshitta unfortunately has not been well-served. The edition that has served as the basis of most reprints of the Peshitta is that of the 1645 Paris Polyglot. (A polyglot is essentially a parallel-text Bible with the text in different languages forming separate columns.) The Paris Polyglot text of the Peshitta was based on only a single manuscripts that was roughly contemporary with the Paris Polyglot, hence a very late and, to a certain extent, unreliable text. With reference to a few other earlier manuscripts, the text from the Paris Polyglot was reprinted by Bishop Walton in the 1657 London Polyglot. Most of the later printings of the Peshitta, done primarily for missionary work, have done nothing more than reprint Bishop Walton’s text. These include the edition published by Samuel Lee (1823); that published in Urmia (1852) by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; and that published by the Dominicans in Mosul (1887-91). These latter two did include some textual evidence from the Eastern Syriac tradition.

All of this is, of course, frustrating for someone who would learn Syriac and want to make intelligent use of the data from the Syriac tradition. Unlike the vast amount of textual work and publication that has been devoted to the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible, the Syriac tradition has not been well-served. But perhaps with the completion of the Peshitta Institute’s text, that situation can change.

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'Aramaic Thoughts' Copyright 2020© Benjamin Shaw. 'Aramaic Thoughts' articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to  2) 'Aramaic Thoughts' content may not be arranged or "mirrored" as a competitive online service.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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Meet the Author
Dr. Shaw was born and raised in New Mexico. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1977, the M. Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1980, and the Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981, with an emphasis in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament and Targumic Aramaic, as well as Ugaritic).

He did two year of doctoral-level course work in Semitic languages (Akkadian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Middle Egyptian, and Syriac) at Duke University. He received the Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation at Bob Jones University in 2005.

Since 1991, he has taught Hebrew and Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a school which serves primarily the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he holds the rank of Associate Professor.
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