Bible, New Testament manuscripts

Most of the important biblical mss. extant today derive from three ancient collections in the Near East: From Dayr al-Suryān, from the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai, and from Dayr al-Zaʿfarān near Mardin. A small part of the Nitrian collection (from Dayr al-Suryān) was acquired by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in the 18th cent., its larger part came to the British Museum (Library) during the 19th cent. The Sinaitic collection remained unmoved from the 6th cent. (the time of Emperor Justinian) until today, the mss. of Dayr al-Zaʿfarān moved to Mardin, Ḥimṣ, and Damascus.

1. No Syriac copy of the Diatessaron survived; Ephrem’s commentary is the only Syriac witness extant today (ms. Dublin, Chester Beatty Library 709; 5th/6th  cent., from Dayr al-Suryān).

2. Of the Old Syriac Version only two defective Gospel mss. survived: The 5th-cent. ‘Codex Curetonianus’ of the Nitrian coll. (now ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,451), edited for the first time by W. Cureton (1858) and again by F. C. Burkitt (1904); and the 4th/5th-cent. ‘Sinaitic Ms.’ (ms. Sinai Syr. 30; Hatch, Album , plate xlvi), a palimpsest which is not entirely deciphered, discovered in 1892 by Agnes Smith Lewis and published by her in 1894/96 and 1910.

3. Most of the Syriac NT mss. in the large collections are Peshitta mss. Among the ca. 100 of the British Library, ca. 60 are from the first millennium, and ca. 30 of them are 5th/7th-cent. mss. Thanks to the Nitrian collection of the British Library, we have a good knowledge of the early Peshitta, which originates from the beginning of the 5th cent. Though many mss. have lost their colophon, a considerable part of them can be assigned to the 5th/6th cent. on palaeographical grounds.

Early Peshitta mss. of the whole NT (according to the Peshitta canon) are ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,470 (5th/6th, Wright, Catalogue … British Museum, vol. 1, no. lxiii), Brit. Libr. Add. 14,448 (700/01, no. lxiv), ms. Sinai Syr. 17 (9th) and 54 (8th), ms. Damascus, Syr. Orth. Patr. Libr. 12/1 (7th/8th?), and ms. Mingana Syr. 103 (‘about AD 790’, according to Mingana, but rather 8th/9th cent.).

The oldest dated Gospel mss. are from the 6th cent.: ms. Dayr al-Suryān 10 (510); ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,459 fol. 67–169 (between 528/538, colophon damaged; no. ci; Hatch, Album, plate xiii); ms. Vat. Syr. 12 (548, plate xx); ms. Florence, Bibl. Laurenziana Plut. I,56 (586, plate xxxiv). Undated, but of the 5th/6th cent. are ms. Paris, Bibl. Nat. Syr. 296 fol. 1–38, Sinai Syr. 2, and nos. lxvi, lxvii, lxxiii, xc–xciv, xcvi, xcix, cx, cxiii in Wright, Catalogue … British Museum, vol. 1. Of special interest is Cod. Phillipps 1388 (5th/6th, Berlin). This Gospel codex is singled out by its archaic orthographical features; though doubtless a Peshitta codex, it preserved a considerable Old Syriac textual heritage.

The earliest Peshitta mss. of Acts and the Catholic Epistles are ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,473 (no. cxxv), Add. 17,120 (no. cxxvi), Add. 17,121 (no. cxxvii), Add. 14,472 (no. cxxviii, datable before 624), Add. 18,812 (no. cxxix), all of the 6th/7th cent.

The oldest Peshitta mss. of the Pauline Letters are ms. 3 of the Public Library in St. Petersburg (5th/6th), ms. Sinai Syr. 3 and 5 (both 5th/6th), Cod. Syr. 8 of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (6th/7th), and ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,476 (no. cxxxiii), Add. 14,480 (no. cxxxiv), both from the 5th/6th cent.; Add. 14,479 (dated 533/34, no. cxxxv), Add. 14,475 (no. cxxxvi), Add. 17,122 (no. cxxxvii) from the 6th cent.; Add. 14,477 (no. cxxxviii) and 14,481 (no. cxxxix) from the 7th cent.

4. No early copy of the Philoxenian version (507/08) survived. Remnants (partly in Maronite tradition) ascribed to this version preserve the extra-Peshitta texts (2 Pet., 2–3 John, Jude, and Rev.) and were published by J. Gwynn 1897 (Rev., based on ms. Crawford Syr. 2, 12th/13th, now John Rylands Library, Manchester) and 1909. Among Gwynn’s 20 mss. the oldest dated (823) is ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,623 (Wright, Catalogue … British Museum, vol. 2, no. dcclxxxi; Hatch, Album, plate xcviii). Today at least ten more are availiable, all of the second millennium: ms. Damascus Patr. 1/2; ms. Mingana Syr. 480; ms. Bibl. Ambrosiana B20.2 inf. (Milan); ms. Vat. Syr. 461; 475, 486, ms. Paris, Bibl. Nat. Syr. 429, ms. Berlin, Diez A. quart. 105, ms. Mardin Orth. 36/2.

5a. The mss. of the Ḥarqlean version (615/16) usually catch the eye by the numerous Greek and Syriac words quoted in the margins and by the critical signs (asterisks and obeloi) inserted into the text. But this typical feature of the Ḥarqlean version was already reduced by revisional development during the first millennium, and then completely omitted in mss. mainly of the second millennium. Nevertheless, the oldest dated Ḥarqlean ms. (Florence, Bibl. Laurenziana Plut. I,40, dated to 756) already omits all marginal annotations (although there are Greek notes), and one of the latest (ms. Oxford, New College 333, 12th/13th cent., the whole NT, breaking off Heb. 11,27) belongs to those with the fullest margin. The editio princeps (1778–1803) of J. White is based on this late ms., which in fact accumulates the marginalia of two different stages of development. The dominance of White’s Gospel text was recently balanced by ms. Vat. Syr. 268, published by G. A. Kiraz in 1996 (as the Ḥarqlean line in Kiraz, CESG). This ms. from the Nitrian coll. in the British Library represents the most original text and margin of the Ḥarqlean Gospels by its unrevised non- and pre-Byzantine readings. Though the date ‘1170 A. Gr.’ (858/59) on the almost illegible fol. 172v is not the original date of the ms. as Hatch, Album, plate lxix declares (for details see Kiraz, CESG, vol. 1, xlvi– xlvii), it is assigned to the 8th/9th cent. on palaeographical grounds. Important Gospel mss. with marginal notes of the first revisional stage are ms. Vat. Syr. 267 (8th), ms. Harvard Syr. 16 (8th/9th), ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 7163, and ms. Mingana Syr. 124 (both 9th/10th), ms. Syr. Orth. Patr. Libr. 12/8 (1055, from Dayr al-Zaʿfarān), ms. Syr. Orth. Patr. Libr. 12/9 (998/999; formerly ms. Jerusalem, St. Mark 25, Hatch, Album, plate lxxvi), ms. Chester Beatty Syr. 3 (1177, copied from a model of 841; Hatch, Album, plate lxxxiii). Mss. of the first millennium without marginal notes are ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,469 (935/36), and ms. Cambridge, Univ. Library or. 227 (1061/62, with asterisks and obeloi).

5b. The second revisional stage (traceable in the Gospels only) is ascribed to Dionysios bar Ṣalibi according to a subscription in ms. Oxford, New Coll. 334 (12th/13th) and ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 17,124 (1233/34), both with marginal notes (Wright, Catalogue  … British Museum, vol. 1, 42). Connected with this unhomogeneous stage are some 15 late mss. of which ms. Baghdad, Chaldean Monastery no. 25 (12th/13th; Vosté no. 16), ms. Paris, Bibl. Nat. Syr. 53 (12th), and ms. Oxford, New Coll. 333 (12th/13th) are furnished with marginal and asterisked annotations.

5c. Only two mss. of Acts (of unkown revisional stage) are available today: ms. Oxford, New Coll. 333 (12th/13th) and ms. Cambridge, Univ. Libr. Add. 1700 (1169/70, Hatch, Album , plate cxxix). Both mss. provide all books of the NT (without Rev.), only the first offers the Ḥarqlean marginal annotations. Besides these two mss. ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,474 (9th) includes the Catholic Epistles (with annotations; 1 Pet. Peshitta). The Cambridge ms. also includes the two letters to the Corinthians ascribed to Clement of Rome. Ms. Jerusalem, St. Mark 37 (9th, with annotations) is the only early witness for St. Paul’s Letters. Revelation is represented by ca. ten late mss., ms. Mardin Orth. 36/2 (13th; ed. by A. Vööbus [as 35/2] in CSCO 400 with an informative introduction) is furnished with a subscription, and marginal/asterisked readings. The book of Rev. in the Ḥarqlean version is still waiting for a critical edition; I. R. Beacham has, however, provided a thorough investigation.

A special category of biblical mss. are the mss. of the so-called Masora.

6. Dated and datable mss. of the Peshitta (first millennium): Complete NT: ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,448 (700/01), Add. 7157 (767/68); ms. Pierpont Morgan Library 236 (749/750), ms. Paris, Bibl. Nat. Syr. 342 (894); Gospels: ms. Dayr al-Suryān 10 (510); ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,459, fol. 67–169 (between 528/38), ms. Vat. Syr. 12 (548), ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,464 (before 583), ms. Florence, Bibl. Laurenziana Plut. I,56 (586; the Rabbula Gospels), ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,460 (599/600), Add. 14,471 (614/15); Acts/Cath. Epistles: ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,472 (before 624); Pauline Epistles: ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,478 (ante 621/22), Add. 14,479 (533/34).

For two reasons Peshitta mss. offer good conditions for qualified dating. Firstly, the number of dated and datable mss. is considerable. There are at least 10 such mss. of the 5th–8th cent.; their palaeographical features and codicological data offer help for an approximate dating of undated codices. Secondly, the large number of Peshitta mss. allows for tracing the development of variant readings. Considering the place of the dated mss. within this development, it is mainly possible to assign an approximate date to undated mss. by knowledge of their variants; e.g., misdated mss. corrected this way are ms. Sinai Syr. 3 (5th/6th, not 7th cent.), ms. Vat. Syr. 266 (10th/11th cent., not 7th); ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,478 (5th/6th cent., not 621/22, which is the date of the owner’s note).

See Fig. 29, 30, and 31 .


  • I. R.  Beacham, The Harklean Syriac Version of Revelation: Manuscripts, text and methodology of translation from Greek (Ph. D. Diss., Birmingham; 1990).
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Without Mushe of Nisibis, where would we be?’ JEastCS 56 (2004), 15–24.
  • S. P.  Brock, The Bible in Syriac Tradition (2nd ed. , 2006).
  • J. T.  Clemons, ‘A checklist of Syriac manuscripts in the United States and Canada’, OCP 32 (1966), 224–51; 478–522.
  • J. T.  Clemons, An index of Syriac manuscripts containing the Epistles and the Apocalypse (1968).
  • J.-B.  Chabot, ‘Note sur la polyglotte de la Bibliothèque Ambrosienne de Milan’, OCP 13 (1947), 451–3.
  • A.  Desreumaux, Répertoire des bibliothèques et des catalogues de manuscrits syriaques (1991). (supplemented by Cl. Détienne, in LM 105 [1992], 283–302)
  • J.  Gwynn, Remnants of the later Syriac versions of the Bible (1909).
  • Hatch, Album.
  • Kiraz, CESG.
  • J.  J.  Leroy, Les manuscrits syriaques à peinture conservés dans les bibliothèques d’Europe et d’Orient (1964).
  • Ph.  Pusey and G. H.  Gwilliam, Tetraeuangelium Sanctum (repr. of the 1901 ed. with a new introduction on the Gospel mss. , 2003).
  • J. D.  Thomas, ‘A List of Manuscripts Containing the Harclean Syriac Version of the NT’, Theological Review (of the Near East School of Theology) 2 (1979), 26–32 .
  • E.  Tisserant, Specimina codicum orientalium (1914).
  • A.  Vööbus, Studies in the History of the Gospel Text in Syriac (2  vols.; 1951/1987).
  • A.  Vööbus, The Apocalypse in the Harklean version (CSCO 400; 1978).
  • Wright, Catalogue … British Museum, vol. 3, preface. (on the acquisition of the ‘Nitrian collection’).

| Bible, New Testament manuscripts |


Front Matter A (73) B (53) C (26) D (36) E (27) F (5) G (30) H (22) I (31) J (15) K (11) L (12) M (56) N (19) O (3) P (28) Q (11) R (8) S (71) T (39) U (1) V (5) W (3) X (1) Y (41) Z (4) Back Matter
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