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CHAP. XIV. The Syriac version proposed as a good means to determine
the canon of the New Testament. An historical account of the version.
PROP. XV. The translation of the books of the New Testament in Syriac
is of very considerable service in determining and fixing the
canon of those books. THE truth of this proposition depends upon the antiquity of the version ; for if the most ancient Christians are to be judges, and their testimony is to determine in this matter, (as has been proved, Prop. III.) their judgment can no way be more evident, than in the collection or choice which they made of books to be translated into their own language; and if such collection of books was made by the eastern churches in the time, or at least near the time of the apostles, it must consequently be of great weight in deciding this matter. That therefore which is incumbent on me, in order to establish this new proposition, is to shew, that the Syriac version of the New Testament was made in or near the apostles' times. And in this matter I shall think it worth while to be somewhat particular and large, not only because the proof of this will be of such prodigious service to our present purpose, and to many other valuable ends ; but hereby hoping withal to do somewhat towards reviving the credit of this most ancient monument of Christianity, and influencing some at least to learn the language of this version, which is both so useful and so easily learnt.
In my Vindication of St. Matthew's Gospel, I have attempted something of this same sort; but as that happened to be in the last sheet of the book, the inconveniency of the press obliged me to contract my thoughts; for which reason, as well as for the sake of those who have not seen that book, I shall not judge it amiss to make use of any thing which I have there said, adding any discoveries I have since made on the subject. In managing of which I will produce,
1. All that is historical concerning it.
3. Some arguments by which the antiquity of the version will be established.
1. As to the history of this version. It is a constant and ancient tradition among the Syrians, that it was made by Saint Mark. This account we have from Postellus, who travelled into the eastern parts of the world, in order to inform himself of all that he could among them, who declares, that the Syrians delivered it to him as an ancient tradition, « that St. Mark “ translated his own Gospel, and the rest of the books of the “ New Testament, into his own country's [i.e. the Galilæan or
Syriac] language u.” The first time the Europeans became acquainted with this version, was in the year of Christ 1562, on this occasion : Ignatius, a patriarch of Antioch, hearing of the advantages of printing, sent a certain priest of Mesopotamia, called Moses Meridinæus, into Europe with a copy of the Syriac Testament, to be printed for the benefit of the Christians in those eastern parts of the world; who, failing in the execution of his design both at Rome and at Venice, at length fortunately met with Albertus Widmanstadius in Germany, who with the encouragement and assistance of the then emperor Ferdinand, caused it to be printed in Syriac characters. In this edition were wanting, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third Epistles of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Revelation. After this edition of Widmanstadius at Vienna, several others were soon published by Tremellius, Guido Fabritius, (who had the advantage of an ancient manuscript, which the aforementioned Postellus procured in his travels in the Levant country,) Trostius, and others. All these were published without the four mentioned catholic Epistles, and the Revelation; though these have been since added in the later editions of the French and English Polyglotts, and those of Gutbirius and Schaaf, for which the world is obliged to Mr. Pocock of Oxford, and the learned De Dieu; the former of which first published the four Epistles out of an ancient manuscript, that lay concealed in the Bodleian at Oxford, and the latter the Revelation, out of a manuscript of Scaliger's in the library at Leyden. This is all I know relating
u Guid. Fabrit. Præfat. in Syr. Test.
* See the Prefaces of the several editions, especially that of Schaaf's.
to the history of this version ; except that I have somewhere read, that some of the Syrians ascribe this version to Thaddæus, one of the apostles, as its author, who composed it for Abgarus, king of Edessa; and that there are several manuscripts of the whole, or some parts of the translation now in Europe; viz. two in the duke of Florence's library, one of which is above a thousand years old, the other not much less ; three in the French king's not very old, one of which Gutbirius had from Constantine l’Empereur, that of Postellus, and those above mentioned y.
2. I proposed in the next place to shew, what the judgment and opinion of learned men concerning the antiquity of this version has been. And though I never thought numbers any evidence of truth, yet they certainly are of appearance of truth; and it must needs be very unreasonable to suppose a great number of disinterested persons of sense and learning would receive that for truth, which at least had not some plausible reasons to support it; such certainly is the case in respect of this translation.
The first I produce is Tremellius, who published it and translated it into Latin. By whom,” says he, “or by what
authors, or what time the Syriac version was made out of “ its original Greek, we are not yet able positively to deter“mine, any more than concerning the authors who made the “ Greek version of the Old Testament, and the old Latin
Vulgate; But it seems every way probable, that it was made “ in the very infancy of the church of Christ, either by the
apostles themselves or their disciples ; unless we will imagine “ them in their writings to have had a concern only for the 6 churches of foreign nations, and none for those of their own
Our learned Mr. Fuller a calls it, “most ancient, a very ex“ cellent and truly divine monument of Christianity."
Alsted b, “ The Syriac version of the New Testament is to “ be attributed to the church of Antioch, while yet in its in“ fancy, and to those in that city who were first called Chris
y Simon, Critic. Hist. of the New Test. Par. 2. c. 14.
2 Præfat. in Vers. Syr.
66 tians; and though the author of it be not certainly known, “ yet it is very likely it was made either by some apostles, or 6 their disciples."
Jacobus Martini, in his Preface to Trostius's editions, “It " is a version, but the first and most ancient of all—it is a “ version preferable to all others; it is a version made either
by one of the evangelists, or by some of the Christians at “ Antioch, who had the opportunity of consulting with the “ apostles there."
Frederic Spanheim the father d had the same opinion of its antiquity.
Bishop Walton has attempted to prove it was made in the apostles' time e.
Frederic Spanheim the son f, in his Ecclesiastical History, places this version in the second century after Christ; assenting to the agreed opinion of learned men, that it was made very near the apostles' time.
Father Simon no where contradicts the abovementioned opinions, but allows its claim to the greatest antiquity just ; and well observes, that “it preceded all those schisms, which 66 afterwards divided the eastern nations into different sects: “ and this,” he adds, “is the cause why they all equally
esteem it 8."
Such have been the received sentiments of the learned concerning this version, though I confess none of these, or any other I have met with, seem to have treated the subject with that accuracy, or in that full manner its importance requires. I shall therefore make it the business of the following chapter, to evince its true antiquity in the clearest and best method I am able.
• See more of this in that preface.
d Dub. Evang. Par. 1. Dub. 23. §. 4. and Par. 2. Dub. 5. §. 4.
Prolegom. in Polyglott. 13. §.15.
f Histor. Christ. Sæcul. 2. c. 7.
8 Critic. Histor. of the New Test. Part 2. c. 13.
CHAP. XV. An attempt towards proving, that the Syriac version was
made in the apostles' times : a particular account of the Syriac language ; its rise, nature, and use among the Jews
in our Saviour's time. Having given the history and judgments of others about the Syriac version, I am now to endeavour,
3. To establish its antiquity. And here I find it necessary to premise, that such proof is not to be expected here, as of some other facts near the apostles' times, because we have now extant scarce any Christian writings of those times, by men who understood this language, except the apostles themselves. Notwithstanding, I hope the following observations will make it something more than probable, that the Syriac version was made in or near the apostles' times.
Obs. 1. The Christian religion was first published and received in Syria. I need not particularly enter into the geography of this country; it is certain the limits of it have been variously described by the ancients: it is enough for me to observe, that in the time, to which my subject relates, under the name Syria was included all that part of Asia, which was bounded on the north by mount Amanus, which separated it from Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Armenia; on the east by the river Euphrates, which separated it from Mesopotamia; on the south by Arabia ; on the west by that which is called the Syrian sea, or the end of the Mediterranean, and part of Egypth. In these confines Christianity had its birth, and here it first spread. This is evident to those who are acquainted with the history of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and consider, that in this country was Judæa, Samaria, Phenicia, &c. and that in it were Jerusalem, the towns of Galilee, Damascus, Antioch, Cæsarea, Seleucia, and others, which we read of so often in the forementioned history, where the first churches of Christians were planted. In this country our Saviour lived and preached: in this country the apostles first travelled and spread the gospel; here they made immediately innumerable converts, and formed them into churches pro
h Vide Cluver. Geogr. 1. 5. C. 20.