Old Syriac Version Vetus Syra

Modern term for the NT versions prior to the Peshitta (excluding the Diatessaron), which includes 1. the ‘Curetonian’ and Sinaitic Gospel mss.; 2. quotations mainly in the writings of Aphrahaṭ, Ephrem, and in the Book of Steps; and 3. the Old Syriac heritage of early Peshitta mss. Frequently the term is restricted to the two mentioned Gospel mss. only. The Old Syriac Version is the earliest representative of the four-Gospel NT in the Syriac speaking area East of Antioch. As ewangeliyon da-mparrše (‘Gospel of the separate ones [i.e., books]’) it circulated beside the Diatessaron (ewangeliyon da-mḥallṭe, ‘Gospel of the mixed ones [i.e., books]’) and was replaced by the Peshitta in the course of the 5th/6th cent.

The ‘Codex Curetonianus’ (‘C’; Wright, Catalogue … British Museum, vol. 1, no. CXIX, ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,451) is named after W. Cureton, who identified the version and prepared the first edition in 1858. It is based on the 87 parchment folios which came to the British Museum in 1842–47 from Dayr al-Suryān in the Nitrian Desert (Egypt). The definitive edition, prepared by F. C. Burkitt (1904) includes three further leaves preserved at Berlin (Orient. Quart. 528, first ed. by E.  Roediger 1872) and gives the deviations of the Sinaitic ms. in the footnotes. One additional folio (still at Dayr al-Suryān) was published by D. McConaughy in 1987. The unusual sequence of the Gospels in this 5th-cent. codex is Mt, Mk, Jn, Lk. The text of the present-day ms. is Mt 1:1–8:22; 10:32–23:25; Mk 16:17–20 (Mk almost completely lost); Jn 1:1–42; 3:5–8:19; 14:10–2, 15–9, 21–4, 26–9; Lk 2:48–3:16; 7:33–15:21; 17:24–24:44. The three folios in Berlin: Jn 7:37–8:19; Lk 15:22–16:12; 17:1–23; the single folio published by D. McConaughy: Lk 16:13–17:1.

The ‘Sinaitic ms.’ (‘S’; ms. Sin. Syr. 30; Hatch, Album, plate XLVI) Agnes Smith Lewis and her twin sister Margaret D. Gibson discovered in 1892 during a visit at St. Catherine Monastery at Mount Sinai. This 4th/5th-cent. codex is a palimpsest, the original Gospel text was removed in the 8th cent. to reuse the parchment for the history of female saints. R. L. Bensly, J. R. Harris, and F. C. Burkitt assisted A. S. Lewis in the difficult decipherment of the under-writing, which required five additional journeys to St. Catharine and the application of a reagent. In 1894 the team of scholars published the palimpsest; some re-examined folios with improved readings followed in 1896. The standard edition of the Sinaitic ms. with further improvements and much additional material was published by A. S. Lewis in 1910, now with the deviations of Codex Curetonianus in the footnotes. The surviving 142 leaves preserve the text of Mt 1:1–6:10; 8:3–12:4, 6–25, 30–16:15; 17:11–20:24; 21:20–25:15, 17–20, 25–26, 32–28:7; Mk 1:12–44; 2:21–4:17, 41–5:26; 6:5–16:8; Lk 1:1–16, 38–5:28; 6:12–24:52; Jn 1:25–47; 2:16–4:37; 5:6–25, 46–18:31; 19:40–21:25. Some passages in Mt are partially illegible. Ultra-violet photography applied to the codex by K. and B. Aland in 1982 failed to decipher additional portions of the text.

The relation between C and S is not definitely settled. On the one hand, both mss. are too different to be copies of the same text; on the other, their agreements exclude the possibility of two different translations of the Greek. They are rather independent traditions of the same version and reflect a revisional development. This would imply a longer period of revision and allow for the possibility of originally more than two independent traditions side by side.

The date and origin of the Old Syriac Version are disputed too. The introduction of the Four-Gospel canon is certainly due to Western influence and corresponds with the advance of ‘orthodox’ Graeco-Roman theology and organization to Syria and Mesopotamia. This makes Antioch and Northern Palestine more probable as the place of origin than Edessa. The Old Syriac Version came into being in an area dominated by the Diatessaron, since ca. 170, which was replaced by the Four-Gospel canon only in the 5th cent. The first attempts to produce Separate Gospels may have started in the 3rd cent., and the archetype of C and S may tentatively be traced to these early efforts; however, the introduction of the Four-Gospel canon as the approved NT in the area East of Antioch cannot be dated earlier than the 4th/5th cent. The Four-Gospel canon was definitely settled in the time of Rabbula by a thorough revision of the Old Syriac textual traditions, which resulted in the Peshitta.

Quotations of the Old Syriac type are in the writings of Aphrahaṭ, Ephrem, in the ‘Book of Steps’, and in a few additional documents; they are collected by Burkitt, Leloir, and Kerschensteiner. Here the qualification ‘Old Syriac’ refers to the pre-Peshitta origin of the texts. In the Gospels comparison with C, S, and the Peshitta is possible; outside of the Gospels, where there is no direct attestation in Old Syriac mss., solely the Peshitta can be compared. It is not certain whether these quotations reflect an established Old Syriac Version or individual attempts of translation. In the Gospels the Diatessaron is quoted side by side with the Separate Gospels (labelled as ‘the Greek’ by Ephrem); this may reflect the dominance of the Diatessaron and the circulation of Old Syriac textual traditions in the 4th cent. According to Ephrem’s commentary on the Pauline epistles (preserved in Armenian), an additional (3rd) epistle to the Corinthians was part of the Old Syriac NT canon. The Catholic Epistles probably were not included in the canon; although 1 Pet and 1 Jn are known, they are never qualified as ‘Scripture.’

The Old Syriac heritage of early Peshitta mss. is a minor source of the Old Syriac Version and still awaiting exploitation. This heritage derives from the Old Syriac prehistory of the Peshitta and was set out in some detail by A.  Allgeier (1932) and A. Juckel (2003). M. Black launched the hypothesis of a ‘Pre-Peshitta’ (1952), produced by Rabbula and closer to the Old Syriac than the definitive Peshitta. From this Pre-Peshitta remaining Old Syriac elements were successively (though insufficiently) eliminated by further revision. Whatever the role of Rabbula in this context may be, the agreement of the definitively revised Peshitta with the Old Syriac is striking. Majority readings as well as minority readings (represented by single or several mss. only) of the definitive Peshitta participate in this agreement. Access to this source of the Old Syriac Version is given by the collation of Peshitta mss. presented in the Gospel volume prepared by Ph. E.  Pusey / G. H. Gwilliam (1901). Among these mss. Codex Phillipps 1388 (5th/6th cent.) is the most prominent witness. Further collations are necessary to exploit this source of the Old Syriac Version sufficiently in order to reconstruct the pre-Peshitta as far as possible.


  • A. Allgeier, ‘Cod. Phillipps 1388 in Berlin und seine Bedeutung für die Geschichte der Pešitta’, OC 29 (1932), 1–15.
  • M.  Black, ‘Zur Geschichte des syrischen Evangelientextes’, Theologische Literaturzeitung 77 (1952), 705–10.
  • F. C.  Burkitt, Evangelion da-Mepharreshe (2 vols.; 1904).
  • F. C.  Burkitt, Ephraim’s quotations from the Gospel (1901).
  • A.  Hjelt, Syrus Sinaiticus (1930).
  • A.  Juckel, ‘A Re-Examination of Codex Phillipps 1388’, Hugoye 6.1 (2003).
  • A.  Juckel, ‛Research on the Old Syriac heritage of the Peshitta Gospels. A collation of MS Bibl. Nationale syr. 30 (Paris)’, Hugoye 12.1 (2009).
  • J. Kerschensteiner, ‘Beobachtungen zum altsyrischen Actatext’, Biblica 45 (1964), 63–74.
  • J. Kerschensteiner, Der altsyrische Paulustext (CSCO 315; 1970).
  • Kiraz, CESG, with plates.
  • L.  Leloir, L’Évangile d’Éphrem d’après les oeuvres éditées (CSCO 180; 1958).
  • J. A.  Lund, The Old Syriac Gospel of the distinct evangelists. A key-word-in-context concordance (3 vols.; 2004).
  • D. McConaughy, ‘A recently discovered folio of the Old Syriac (syc) text of Luke 16,13–17,1’, Biblica 68 (1987), 85–8.
  • A. Smith Lewis, The Old Syriac Gospels or Evangelion da-Mepharreshê (1910).
  • E. J.  Wilson, The Old Syriac Gospels. Studies and comparative translations (2 vols.; 2nd ed. 2003).

| Old Syriac Version |


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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