Bible, Old Testament manuscripts

The oldest dated mss. are both of the 5th cent.: a palimpsest of Isaiah (5ph1 in the Leiden Peshitta edition; 459/60), and a Pentateuch (5b1; 463/4). Of the ca. 50 Peshitta mss. dating from before ca. 1000 (eleven of which are dated), two-thirds consist of single books, the remainder being groups of books (especially, the Pentateuch), with the exception of three entire Old Testaments (7a1, 8a1, and 9a1). Occasionally a biblical book is transmitted in the same ms. as non-biblical texts. Outside the Pentateuch there is no fixed order of books, even in the rare mss. with the entire OT; there the contents as well vary, especially as far as the so-called ‘deutero-canonical’ or ‘apocryphal’ books are concerned. In the E.-Syr. tradition a grouping of books known as Beth Mawtbe came into use, consisting of the historical books, less Chronicles, followed by Proverbs, Sirach, Qohelet, Ruth, Song, and Job (Psalms were usually copied separately). Another grouping is of ‘Books of the Women’ (Ruth, Esther, Susanna, Judith).

In the earliest mss. lections are sometimes indicated within the biblical text, but more frequently lections were added in the margins by later hands. About the 9th/10th  cent. the first lectionary mss. appear, with the readings in the sequence of the liturgical year. Illustrations are extremely rare; with the exception of a portrait of David in a Sinai ms. of Kings (7h10) these are confined to two de luxe productions with the entire OT (8a1, 12a1). Bilingual mss. are also very rare and almost all are Syriac with Arabic; an exceptional case is a pentaglot Psalter, Syriac with Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopic (Rome, Barberiniani Or. 2; 14th cent.).

Of the versions other than the Peshitta, the most important ms. is the large Syro-Hexapla in Milan, containing the prophetic and wisdom books (8th cent.). The first half of this ms., still extant in the 16th cent., has been subsequently lost, with the result that for several books no Syro-Hexapla ms. is available; Exodus, however, is preserved in a ms. dated 697. Occasionally the Syro-Hexapla features in a separate column alongside other versions: with Peshitta (Isaiah; 9k3); with Greek and Arabic (Psalms; ed. N. Pigulevskaya, Palestinskii Sbornik 1[63] [1954], 59–90); and in a polyglot Psalter (with Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic). Passages from the Syro-Hexapla were sometimes used in lectionary mss. Some books of Yaʿqub of Edessa’s revision survive in mss. copied only a decade or two after his death. That of Samuel has lections supplied (with a table indicating where to find them) in an early second hand.

See Fig. 95.


  • F. Briquel Chatonnet and Ph. Le Moigne (ed.), L’Ancien Testament en syriaque (ÉtSyr 5; 2008).
  • S. P. Brock, ‘A fourteenth-century polyglot Psalter’, in Studies in Philology in Honour of R. J. Williams, ed. G. E. Kadish and G. E. Freeman (1982), 1–15.
  • L.-A.  Hunt, ‘The Syriac Buchanan Bible’, OCP 57 (1991), 331–69. (12a1)
  • C. Pasini, ‘Per la storia della siro-esaplare ambrosiana’, OCP 71 (2005), 21–58.
  • Peshitta Institute, List of Old Testament Peshiṭta manuscripts (Preliminary Issue) (1961). (New edition in preparation)
  • R.  Sörries, Die Syrische Bibel von Paris. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, syr. 341. Eine frühchristliche Bilderhandschrift aus dem 6. Jahrhundert (1991). (= 8a1)
  • W.  van  Peursen, ‘La diffusion des manuscrits bibliques conservés: typologie, organisation, nombre et époques de copie’, in L’Ancien Testament en syriaque,ed. F. Briquel Chatonnet and Ph. Le Moigne (ÉtSyr 5; 2008), 193–214.

How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Bible, Old Testament manuscripts,” in Bible, Old Testament manuscripts, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Bible, Old Testament manuscripts,” in Bible, Old Testament manuscripts, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Bible, Old Testament manuscripts.” In Bible, Old Testament manuscripts. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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