Review of the Arabic Text of Mt Sinai Arabic Codex 151

Written by Pastor Bassam Madany.

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The Syriac text of Codex 151 used by Al Sirri

 

The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition. The consensus within biblical scholarship, though not universal, is that the Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century AD, and that the New Testament of the Peshitta was translated from the Greek.

The Peshitta NT, published by the British & Foreign Bible Society, includes Acts 8:37.

“Then Philip said, ‘if you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ However, verse 37 does not appear in the text of Codex 151, indicating the existence of a different Syriac manuscript of the NT, that was used by the translator.

The Vulgate includes verse 37

« Dixit autem Philippus : Si credis ex-toto corde, licet. Et respondens ait : Credo Filium Dei esse Jesum Christum. »

Verse 37 is not in the1881 Greek NT of Westcott-Hort.

The SVD translation includes verse 37

37 فَقَالَ فِيلُبُّسُ:«إِنْ كُنْتَ تُؤْمِنُ مِنْ كُلِّ قَلْبِكَ يَجُوزُ». فَأَجَابَ وَقَالَ:«أَنَا أُومِنُ أَنَّ يَسُوعَ الْمَسِيحَ هُوَ ابْنُ اللهِ».

The Jesuit translation of the NT into Arabic includes the above text, as well as all later Arabic versions.

Codex 151 must have possessed a Syriac text that did not include Acts 8:37

The same fact is observed in the First Letter of John regarding the “Three Witnesses.”

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah, then he is born of God. And whoever loves the Father loves also the one is born of him. And in this we know that we are loving the sons of God, if we love God and do his commandments, because this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, because everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the overcoming that overcomes the world, our faith. Because who is the one who overcomes the world except that one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, this one who came by the mediation of the water and the blood, Jesus Christ? It is not by the water alone, but by the water and the blood, while the Spirit witnesses. And the Spirit is the truth. And they are three witnesses, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three of them are in one . If we accept the witness of people, then how much more the witness of God which is the greatest? And this is the witness of God which he witnessed concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God then he has this witness in himself. And whoever does not believe God, Then he has made him a liar, because he did not believe the witness which God witnessed concerning his Son. And this is the witness, that God granted us the life of eternity, and the life is in his Son.” John 5:1-11

In First John 5, Codex 151 reference to the “Three Witnesses” does not include 5: 7 “For there are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.”

However, it does appear in the Vulgate. « Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in cælo : Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus: et hi tres unum sunt. Et tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in terra : spiritus, et aqua, et sanguis : et hi tres unum sunt. »

1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament, does not include v. 7

6 ως δε επορευοντο κατα την οδον ηλθον επι τι υδωρ και φησιν ο ευνουχος ιδου υδωρ τι κωλυει με βαπτισθηναι 37 38 και εκελευσεν στηναι το αρμα και κατεβησαν αμφοτεροι εις το υδωρ ο τε φιλιππος και ο ευνουχος και εβαπτισεν αυτον 7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες 8 το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν

The SVD, the Jesuit and all other Arabic translations, include verse 7

6 هذَا هُوَ الَّذِي أَتَى بِمَاءٍ وَدَمٍ، يَسُوعُ الْمَسِيحُ. لاَ بِالْمَاءِ فَقَطْ، بَلْ بِالْمَاءِ وَالدَّمِ. وَالرُّوحُ هُوَ الَّذِي يَشْهَدُ، لأَنَّ الرُّوحَ هُوَ الْحَقُّ. 7فَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَشْهَدُونَ فِي السَّمَاءِ هُمْ ثَلاَثَةٌ: الآبُ، وَالْكَلِمَةُ، وَالرُّوحُ الْقُدُسُ. وَهؤُلاَءِ الثَّلاَثَةُ هُمْ وَاحِدٌ. 8وَالَّذِينَ يَشْهَدُونَ فِي الأَرْضِ هُمْ ثَلاَثَةٌ: الرُّوحُ، وَالْمَاءُ، وَالدَّمُ. وَالثَّلاَثَةُ هُمْ فِي الْوَاحِدِ.

The French original of the Jerusalem Bible conforms to the Greek text of the NT. “La Bible De Jérusalem, Les Editions du Cerf, Paros 1970. Le Nouveau Testament, Les Actes de Apôtres 8 :36

36 Chemin faisant, ils arrivèrent à un point d’eau, et l’eunuque dit : « voici de l’eau. Qu’est-ce qui empêche que je sois baptisé ? » 38 Et il fit arrêter le char. Ils descendirent tous deux dans l’eau, Philippe avec l’eunuque, et il le baptisa .

Le verset 37 est une glose tres anciennes provenant de la liturgie baptismale : « Philippe dit, Si tu crois de tout ton cœur, c’est permis. Celui-ci répondit : Je crois que Jésus-Christ est le Fils de Dieu . »

[Verse 37 is a very ancient gloss proceeding from a baptismal liturgy “Phillip said, if you believe with all your heart, it is permitted. He responded, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” ]

Première Epitre de saint Jean 5 [I John 5]

« 7 Il y en a ainsi trois à témoigner : 8 l’Esprit, l’eau, le sang, et ces trois tendent au même but. »

Des mss de la Vulgate ajoute la phrase suivante : « le Père, le Verbe, and l’Esprit-Saint, et ces trois sont un. » [Manuscripts of the Vulgate add the following sentence: “The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.”

Both Acts 8 and I John 5, prove the existence of a Syriac text of the NT that was used in Codex 151, and which agrees with Codex Sinaiticus , which dates to the mid-fourth century AD, that was discovered in 1844, by Constantin von Tischendorf [iv]

Prior to the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, the translations of the Bible relied on the Textus Receptus, its first printed version was done by Erasmus in the 16th century. It was the text used in Luther’s German Bible, the Tyndale and the King James English versions, as well as in other translations. After the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, all subsequent translations used it, such as in the Revised Version of 1881, its US version of 1901 (Known as the ASV), the RSV, the NIV and ESV.

Hopefully one day, a researcher at St. Catherine’s Monastery would discover the NT Syriac text that was used in the translation of Codex 151. It would be a very important event in the history of the Arabic-speaking Christians of the Middle East and North Africa.



[i] “The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam” Copyright © 2013 by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. Quotations from this work, are taken from the Kindle edition.

[ii] When in the second half of the eighth century CE, as we shall see, Arabic began to take its place among the languages of the Church of Jerusalem, it gradually grew in importance to the point that its use in theological discourse became one of the distinguishing features of a distinct Christian confessional community that emerged in the territories of the Caliphate, the Melkites. By the ninth century in the Melkite community, it would seem that Arabic had already effectively replaced Greek for a century and more as the preferred ecclesiastical language from Alexandria in Egypt, to Jerusalem in Palestine, and even reaching to Antioch in Syria. 48 Indeed, Jerusalem became the effective ecclesiastical center for the Arabic-speaking, Melkite church throughout the Oriental in any detail, however, we must first consider the general state of the manuscript evidence.

[iii] “It is notable that a Christian copyist working in Damascus in the middle of the ninth Christian century is already dating his text, a text obviously intended for Christian readers, according to the Islamic calendar, with no corresponding Christian dating. This usage bespeaks an already high degree of enculturation into the prevailing, public conventions of the World of Islam on the part of Arabic-speaking Christians in this milieu. Secondly, the translation was made from Syriac, indicating that the Melkite translator and scribe, Bishr ibn as-Sirri, was himself a Syriac-speaker, who belonged to an ecclesial community with an originally Syriac patristic and liturgical heritage, albeit that he was a congregant in an Arabic-speaking church, which professed the orthodoxy of the Greek-speaking Byzantine church of the Roman Empire.”

[iv] While a student at the University of Leipzig , Tischendorf began his work on the recensions of the New Testament text, a task that he was to pursue for the rest of his life. In 1844 he went to the Middle East . While working in the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula , he discovered, among some old parchments, leaves of what he was certain were among the oldest biblical manuscripts that he had ever seen. He was permitted to take 43 of these leaves back with him to Leipzig , and in 1846 he published a facsimile edition, taking care to keep secret the place where he had obtained them. In 1853 he made a second journey to Sinai with the hope of recovering the other leaves he had seen on his first trip, but he found no trace of them. He made still a third trip, with the support of the Russian government, in 1859. Just as he was about to give up all hope of finding the manuscripts, the steward of the monastery showed Tischendorf the manuscripts that he was looking for and others besides. After intricate negotiations, and for a sum that has been estimated at about $7,000, Tischendorf procured for the tsar Alexander II what is now known as the Codex Sinaiticus. In 1933 the codex was purchased from the Soviet government by the British Museum for £100,000 (about $500,000). These manuscripts date probably from the latter half of the 4th century, were probably written in Egypt, and include most of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament