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Novum Testamcntum XXVII, 3 (1983)



In the recently published Commentary on the Prologue of John the Syrian Orthodox theologian^ Philoxenus (died 523) has an important passage where, while charging the authors of the Peshitta translation of the New Testament with wilfulness in certain of their renderings, he explains how biblical translators should go about their work; it was because the Peshitta translators had failed in this respect that Philoxenus felt obliged to sponsor a new translation (or rather, revision)a task undertaken, as we know from other sources, by his chorepiskopos Polycarp, and completed in 508/9. Although we shall be concerned in this article with only one of the biblical verses that Philoxenus adduces, the passage is nevertheless worth giving at some length; in the following translation words added for the sake of the sense, and other explanatory material, are given in brackets.1
(p. 51) The Apostle (Paul) too did well to say here (i.e. Rom. 1:1) "he became" ( - Greek), and not "he was born in the flesh" ( - Peshitta) as those ancients who translated (appeq(w)) from Greek (into Syriac) were pleased to interpret (lampalfq), thus providing strength to the heretics, (enabling them) to understand one (i.e. the Son of God) as having been born in another (i.e. the son of Mary). Whereas (Paul) too concurs here as well with the Evangelists and the angel, each of whom spoke first of all of "becoming" and (only) then of "birth**. If the people who translated (paIeq(w)) imagined that it was not proper that (p. 52) the "becoming** of Christ, or of God, or of the Son, should be put (literally) into Syriac, then they should have realized that, for someone who is concerned to translate (npafleq) the truth, it is not right to choose phrases that are appropriate to each individual language, but rather to seek out what are the very words that have been uttered by God or by the Spirit through the prophets and the apostles. For what has been set down in the Holy Scriptures is not the product of human thoughts so that it is susceptible to correction or rearrangement through human knowledge. Pkiloxne de Mabbog. Commentaire du prologue johanniqite (ed. A. de Halleux; C.S.C.O. 380, Scr. Syri 165, 1977), pp. 5124-5317. For the importance of this text for its witness to the Philoxenian version of the Syriac New Testament see my "The resolution of the Philoxenian/Harclean problem", in New Testament Textual Criticism: Essays in Honour o/Bt M. Metzger (ed. E. J. Epp and G. D. Fee; Oxford, 1981), pp. 325-43.



With the Greeks each one of these phrases and words that we have mentioned as having been spoken by the Evangelists and Apostles is to be found exactly as we have given it, namely: "He became from the seed of David in the flesh" (Rom. 1:3, - Greek), and not "He was born in theflesh**( - Peshitta); and again, "The book of the becoming of Jesus Christ" (Matt. 1:1) and "The becoming of Jesus Christ is as follows" (Matt. 1:18). Seeing that the books of the New Testament were spoken in their language (i.e. Greek), it is all the more proper to defer to the wording that is to be found with them, rather than to what has been translated (etpaSSaq) by whoever it might be for that is just a matter of someone's opinion, and is not teaching that stems from the Spirit. Consequently, anyone who alters, or translates (mpaiSeq) in a different way phrases and words that have been uttered by the Spirit, such a person not only is reprehensible and blameworthy, but he is also a wicked blasphemer, and an associate of the Marcionites and Manichaeans who removed from the Scriptures things uttered by God, and at the same time altered things, replacing them by others that they supposed to be better. It was into this sort of iniquity that Theodore and Nestoriusthe leaders of the heresy of the man-worshippersalso fell, when they too attempted to alter some phrases of the Scriptures and to interpret (mpaflq) others in the opposite sense. For when the Apostle said "God sent his Son who became (flesh) from a woman, who became under the Law" (Gal. 4:4), indicating the distinction between the one Son by (lit of) nature, and the many (other sons), these men interpreted (paSSeq(w)) (p. 53) and blasphemously read as follows: "God sent his Son, him who became (flesh) from a woman, him who was under the Law", so as to show that the Son who became (flesh) from a woman and was sent, is different from the one who did not "become" and was not sent.2 The same applies to the passage in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Jesus the Son by the grace of God"that is, of the Father"tasted death on behalf of everyone" (Heb. 2:9, Greek). This they altered and wrote "apart from God", taking care to transmit (l-maSlmu) that this Jesus, who accepted death on behalf of us, is not God. And instead of what the Evangelist wrote, "The Word became flesh and dwelt in us" (John>l:14), Nestorius understood it (otherwise), reading it as follows: "Flesh came into being and the World dwelt in it". 3 Having deferred to such (opinions) those who of old translated the Scriptures missed the mark (or sinned) in many respects, whether out of their own wilfulness or out of ignorance; this was not just in passages which teach concerning the Economy in the flesh, but also in other matters, in passages on other topics. It was for this reason that we too have taken provision to have the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament translated anew (men d-rut netpaJiqn) from Greek into Syriac.

Although numerous points in this excerpt call for comment, here we must confine ourselves to a single passage, that concerning Heb. 2:9b. As is well known, the vast majority of Greek manuscripts provides the following text in the second half of Heb. 2:9: ... ,
2 3

Cp. Liber Heraclidis (ed. P. Bedjan), p. 141. Cp. Liber Heraclidis (ed. P. Bedjan), p. 86.



while the variant , in place of , is found only b c in 0121 , 424 , 1739*, in the margin of one Vulgate manuscript and in some Peshitta manuscripts (the other Peshitta manuscripts imply a Greek text reading ). The reading is definitely older than the Nestorian controversy, seeing that it is 4 already known to several third and fourth-century writers; a number of modern scholars have argued that it actually represents the original text of the Letter.5 Whatever the original reading may have been (and this is not of concern here), it is clear that the poor attestation of in the extant manuscript tradition is the result of its adoption by writers of the strict Antiochene christological tradition and consequent rejection by all who preferred the Alexandrine christology of Cyriland in the sixth century this would have meant the vast majority of the Greekspeaking church. We can even see something of the process by which attitudes became polarized: whereas Diodore is still happy to accept either reading,6 Theodore regards as a deliberate alteration which he ridicules.7 By Philoxenus' time, nearly a cen tury later, the reading has come to be seen as a characteristic feature of theologians in the Antiochene christological tradition, having been dropped by all others: since the reading is by then only found among 'Nestorians', it is an easy step to go on to accuse them of inventing it. Nor is Philoxenus the only person
Origen, Ambrose, Jerome and others (conveniently listed by A. Harnack, "Zwei alte dogmatische Korrekturen im Hebrerbrief ', Sb. preuss. Ak. Wiss., phil.-hist. Klasse 1929, pp. 63-5). To these can now be added Diodore, Comm. in Ps. 8 (ed. J. M. Olivier; Corpus Christianorum, Series Graeca 6, 1980), p. 49, ... , , , , , , %p6fot\kov . 5 E.g. Harnack, op. cit., pp. 62-73; G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles (London, 1953), pp. 34-5; J. C. O'Neil, "Hebrews 2:9", J.T.S. ns 17 (1966), pp. 79-82; J. K. Elliott, "When Jesus was apart from God: an examination of Hebrews 2:9", Expository Times 83 (1971/2), pp. 339-41; O. Michel, Der Brujan die Hebrer (Gttingen, 1975), pp. 139-42. 6 Quoted in note 4. 7 Apud J. A. Cramer, Catenae Graecorum Patrum in N.T. VII (Oxford, 1844), p. 147, , " " " *", , . Theodore's quotation of Heb. 2:9 in his Catechetical Homilies was one of the passages singled out at Actio IV of the Fifth Council (13th May, 553): see J. Straub, Acta Cone. Oec. IV. 1, p. 59 (with references).



to make this accusation, for the later Greek Chalcedonian writers 8 9 Oikumenios and Theophylact do exactly the same. Syriac writers from the mid fifth-century onwards were sharply divided in the positions they took on Christology, and it will come as no surprise that writers belonging to the Church of the East 10 regularly quote Heb. 2:9 with the reading "apart from God", while Syrian Orthodox authors equally regularly provide either "in his grace, G o d " (the other reading found in Peshitta manuscripts) or "by the grace of God", an exact translation of the Greek which would be known to them from the Philoxenian and Harklean ver n sions and from Syriac translations of Greek writers. It is accordingly a matter of some interest to see what is the situation at Heb. 2:9b in actual manuscripts of the Peshitta. That the witness of Peshitta manuscripts at this point is divided has not escaped the notice of scholars, among whom Wescott has so far probably provided the most detailed information; 12 Wescott, however, only made use of a small proportion of the readily accessible early manuscripts of the Peshitta, and so a more extensive enquiry may not be out of place here. For the present purpose 31 Peshitta New Testament manuscripts dating between the fifth and thirteenth centuries (inclusive) have been sampled; this represents a high proportion of the extant Peshitta manuscripts in western libraries belonging to this time scale that preserve the passage. 1 3 With the manuscripts belonging to the later part of this period it is possible to tell their ecclesiastical K. Staab, Pauluskommentare aus der griechischen Kirche (N.T. Abh. 15, 1933), p. 462. 9 P.G. 125, col. 209B-D. 10 E.g. Babai, Liber de Unione (ed. A. Vaschalde; C.S.C.O. 78, Scr. Syri 34), pp. 60, 62, 64, 179. The eighth-century writer Shahdost claims that the wording 'he, God, in his goodness' ( - reading bt below) is a deliberate falsification of the original text which he supposes to be "apart from God': L. Abramowski and A. E. Goodman, A Nestorian Collection of Christological Tests (Cambridge, 1972), I, p. 7 - , p. 7. 11 E.g. Severus, L'apologie du Philalthe(e. R. Hespel; C.S.C.O., 318, Scr. Syri 136), p. 17; La PhilaUthe (C.S.C.O. 133, Scr. Syri 68), pp. 12,36, 186, 191,265, 287 (at p. 36 a marginal gloss gives a free form of the Peshitta reading, d-alh btaybt fem mawt hlp kulnS). 12 . F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (2nd ed. London, 1892), pp. 60-62. 13 See the list given by J. T. Clemons, An Index of Syriac Manuscripts Containing the Epistles and the Apocalypse (Studies and Documents 33, 1968). Several of the manuscripts which he lists for Hebrews are in fact incomplete and do not contain the passage in question.



allegiance on grounds of script, but for the earlier centuries this is not normally possible. Besides the two basic Peshitta readings, " i n his grace, God" (-, below), and *'apart from God" (=rf), there also occur two small variants of the former reading, "God in his grace" ( * b), and "in grace, God" ( = c). Thus in Peshitta manuscripts we have the following four possible readings: h gr b-faybteh alh hlp kulns fem mawt = a 'for he in his grace God for the sake of everyone tasted death' h gr alh b-taybteh ... b 'for he, God, in his grace . . / h gr b-faybt alh ... - c 'for he in grace God ...' h gr sfar men alh ... = d 'for he apart from God ...' All these of course conflict with the more exact translation of the Greek that is found in the Philoxenian (as quoted by Philoxenus in the passage translated above), in the Harklean and in quotations of the passage found in Syriac translations of Greek writers, all of which have "by the grace o/*God". It will be convenient first of all to set out the evidence of the Peshitta manuscripts consulted in tabular form. The witnesses are given in chronological order, by century,14 and where the ecclesiastical allegiance of the manuscript is evident the symbol W (Western, i.e. Syrian Orthedox or Maronite) or E (Eastern, i.e. Church of the East) is prefixed to the manuscript number. In the first column the reading can be assumed to be a unless otherwise stated. An asterisk denotes the reading of the first hand, before correction. Unless otherwise specified all Add. ( Additional) and Or. ( = Oriental) manuscripts cited belong to the British Library. From this table it will be apparent that from at least the eleventh century onwards it can be safely predicted that East Syrian manuscripts will contain the reading d ('apart from God'), while West Syrian ones will have readings a, b or c. It is no surprise to find this state of affairs reflected in the printed editions: those in
14 For dating I have relied on the catalogues except in the case of Mingana syr. 103, which cannot be as old as Mingana claimed ("c. 790'*).

HEBREWS 2 : 9 B IN SYRIAC TRADITION TABLE Date Fifth/Sixth century Reading a (b, c) Add. 14470 (b over erasure) Add. 14475 Add. 14476 Add. 14479 (a over erasure) Add. 14480 (a over erasure) Add. 17122 Add. 14448 (a over erasure; 699-700) Add. 14477 W Add. 14478 (a over erasure - c; Serugh, 621/2) Add. 14481 (b) Reading d


Add. 14479* (Edessa, 533/4) ?Add. 14480* E Add. 14448*

Seventh century

Eighth century Ninth century Tenth century Eleventh century Twelfth century

E Add. 7157 (d over erasure; Adiabene, 767/8) W Add. 14474 W Add. 17115 W Add. 17123 (a over erasure) W Add. 17123* E Mingana syr. 103 E Add. 7158 (1026/7) E Vat. syr. 510 E Oxford Dep. Or. d. 2 W Cambridge Oo. 1.2 E Harvard syr. 4 (1199/1200) W Oxford syr. d. 7 (b) E Or. 2289 E Add. 7159 W Add. 7160 (b) (1203) E Or. 2695 (1202/3) W Add. 17124(1233/4) E British and Foreign Bible Society ms 446 (1215/6) W Add. 17227(1254) E Or. 4051 W Add. 14680 (a, corrected to b W Add. 14681

Thirteenth century

East Syrian script, based on East Syrian manuscripts have , 15 while those in serto script, based on West Syrian manuscripts, have a, or . 1 6
15 E.g. Urmiah 1846 (both Classical and Modern Syriac; the latter has a marginal note giving the reading of the Greek, "by the grace of God": this got into the text of later editions of the Modern Syriac New Testament); Mosul 1883/92; New York 1901 etc. 16 Reading a is found, for example, in Lee's edition (1823) and the standard British and Foreign Bible Society edition; b occurs in Widmanstadt, Gutbir, Schaaf, the Triglot of 1890 and others. The estrangelo edition published by The Way International (New Knoxville, 1983) has a.



The situation in the earlier manuscripts is less clear cut, and of particular interest are those manuscripts where the reading has been altered: Add. 14470, f. 136a. 1 : a second estrangelo hand has written the words h gr alh b-faybteh hlp (-b) over an erasure. Unfortunately it is not possible to discern what was the original reading. The manuscript was in West Syrian hands in the ninth century; its original ecclesiastical provenance is not clear. Add. 14480, f. 114b.2: a much later hand has erased a line and substituted b-faybteh alh ( = a). The original reading cannot be discerned, but was probably star men alh ( = d). Add. 14479, f. 90b: an untidy medieval serto hand has written b-faybteh ( = a) over an erasure; the original text almost certainly had sfar men ( = d). Add. 14448, f. 202a: a serto hand has written b-fayb(t)eh over an erasure; the original East Syrian estrangelo hand almost certainly had sfar men ( = d). Add. 14478, f. 123b: b-faybt ( = c) has been corrected to the standard b-faybuteh ( = a). Add. 7157, f. 186b.2: a second hand has written sfar men over an erasure. The original reading is illegible; Wescott indeed states that it was b-faybteh, but this, although a priori likely and perhaps correct, is problematic since sfar is written on one line and men on the next: if b-faybteh is the original reading, then the word has been broken over the line, a practice very unusual in a manuscript of this date (later East Syrian examples, however, are not uncommon). It should be noted that the manuscript contains Euthalian material (which is definitely of West Syrian provenance), 17 and so it is possible that the Biblical text too was copied from a West Syrian model. Add. 17123, f. 70b: the text has sfar men, but a slighdy later hand has corrected this in the margin to b-faybteh. It is remarkable that this manuscript, written in a serto hand with estrangelo admixture (and hence probably West Syrian) should attest sfar men. ' Add. 14680, f. 178a: a second hand has placed three dots arranged in a triangle above the two words b-faybteh alh, thus altering reading a to reading b.
17 See my "The Syriac Euthalian Material and the Philoxenian version of the New Testament", Z.NW. 70 (1979), pp. 120-30.



What was the original Peshitta reading? At first sight the fact that we have at least four manuscripts altered from dto a, and only one doubtful one from a to d, might lead one to suggest that d is the original and that the reading a, already in several fifth to seventhcentury manuscripts, is due to anti-Nestorian bias, once d had become established (already by Theodore of Mopsuestia's time) as a key text for the Antiochene christological tradition. This is certainly a possible hypothesis, but I am inclined to think that the situation was more complex and that the evidence would be better interpreted somewhat differently. U p to its closure in 489 the Persian School at Edessa served as the channel by which Antiochene theology (especially that of Theodore) reached the Syriac world. If, as must have been the case, the teachers at the School were aware of Theodore's views on the correct reading at Heb. 2:9, they would hardly have tolerated a Peshitta reading which explicidy went against his opinion; 18 and at this date no objection would have been felt to 'correcting* the Peshitta (supposing it originally had reading a) to concur with the Greek text advocated by the 'Exegete' par excellence, seeing that the Peshitta (at least as far as the Gospels were concerned) was already the outcome of a revision which aimed at a closer correspondence to the Greek. On this second hypothesis, then, that the original reading of the Peshitta was b-faybteh alh, and not star men aloha, we would have two series of changes: (1) The first stage would take place at the Persian School of Edessa, from the 430's onwards, propagating Theodore's reading (i.e. our d) in Peshitta manuscripts. Since the School was extremely influential (even on West Syrian writers like Philoxenus and Jacob of Serugh in matters of exegesis), it would not be surprising if manuscripts copied there, with reading d, reached circles which disliked the School's christological teaching. We thus have the background set for the second set of changes: (2) From the late fifth century onwards manuscripts which were descended from Peshitta texts 'corrected' to Theodore's reading at the Persian School were now 'corrected' back to reading a. This is the stage which we actually witness in Add. 14480 and 14479 (the latter indeed written in Edessa in 533/4).
18 All the more so in that the Peshitta reading a was suspiciously Theopaschite in language.



The choice between these two hypotheses could be settled once for all if we had a quotation of Heb. 2:9 in a Syriac author writing before the 430's. Unfortunately, however, neither Aphrahat nor the Liber Graduum obliges, but we do have Ephrem's Commentary on the Pauline Episdes, preserved only in Armenian. Molitore retroversion into Greek of Ephrem's quotations of Paul suggests that Ephrem tantalizingly omitted the key words of interest to us when he commented on the passage;19 reference to the Armenian,20 however, suggests that this is in fact not quite the case: ayl pcarawkc ew patuov zor asacc Dawif etc psakeacc vasn zi astuac vasn amenayn mardkan zmah aiekeacc. But (he) whom David said that 'He crowned with glory and honour': (this is) because 'God, for the sake of all mankind, tasted death'.21 Both the Latin translation of the Commentary and Molitor failed to observe that 'God' was part of the quotation; this was presumably because they had the Greek reading *by the grace of God' in mind, rather than the Peshitta 'in his grace, God'. But even if 'God' is not stricy part of the quotation, Ephrem could not possibly have written this sentence if his Syriac New Testament text had sfar men alh (reading d); on the other hand his words reflect very closely reading a, with God as subject of the verb 'tasted': all he has done is to abbreviate the text slighdy by omitting 'in his grace'. We may accordingly safely conclude that the second hypothesis is to be preferred, and that the original Peshitta version of Heb. 2:9b read h gr b-faybteh alh hlp kulnsfem mawt, 'for he in his grace, God, tasted death on behalf of everyone'.
J. Molitor, Der Paulustext des HL Ephrm (Monumenta Biblica et Ecclesiastica 4, 1938), p. 124. 20 Srboyn Ep^remi matcnagrutHuntf III (Venice, 1836), p. 200; Latin translation in S. Ephraem Syri Commentarii in Epstolas D, Pauli (Venice, 1893), p. 206. There seems to be no question of any contamination from the text of the Armenian New Testament here. 21 The syntax is awkward, and it is not clear exactly how it should be taken; possibly the Armenian translator read sm (b-rtieh) in place of the Peshitta's sim. The passage continues: 'For it was not possible for the Immortal by nature to die in the body in which he died: as though he died while he did not die. Now because he did not die in (his immortal) nature, he put on death in name, out of love for us: since by nature he was above death, death could not touch him.'

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