OUR BIBLE & THE ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS by SIR FREDERIC KENYON - formerly Director of the British Museum - © Sir F Kenyon 1895. First published Eyre & Spottiswoode 1895. - fourth edition 1939. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


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WE have now completed the survey of the primary sources of our knowledge of the text of the Greek New Testament. We go out into a wider territory. Not Greek alone, but all the tongues of Pentecost - the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, sojourners in Rome, and Arabians - are now laid under contribution. We go to Syrian, and Egyptian, and Roman, and ask them when the sacred Scriptures were translated into their language, and what information they can give us as to the character and exact words of the Greek text from which their translations were originally made. And the answer is that the Word of God was delivered to the dwellers in some at least of these lands before the date at which the oldest of our Greek manuscripts were written. The Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts carry us back, as we have just seen, to about the middle of the fourth century - say, to AD 350 - and the papyri a century or more earlier. But the New Testament was translated into Syriac and into Latin by about AD150, and into Egyptian somewhere about AD 200; and the copies which we now possess of these versions are lineal descendants of the original translations made at these dates. The stream of textual tradition was tapped at these points, higher in its course than the highest point at which we have access to the original Greek. If we can ascertain with certainty what were the original words of the Syriac or Latin translations, we can generally know what was the Greek text which the translator had before him; we know, that is, what words were found in a Greek manuscript which was extant in the first half of the second century, and which cannot have been written very far from AD100. Of course variations and mistakes crept into the copies of these translations, just as they did into the Greek manuscripts, and much skill and labour are necessary to establish the true readings in these passages; but we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are working back at the common object (the recovery of the original text of the Bible) along an independent line; and when many of these lines converge on a single point, our confidence in the accuracy of our conclusions is enormously increased.

I. Eastern Versions.

I. Syriac Versions.

Diatessaron | St Ephraem's Commentary | Diatessaron:- Discovery | - Text | Dura Fragment | Old Syriac | Peshitta | Philoxenian/Harkleian Syriac

The Gospel was first preached in the East, and we will therefore take first the versions in the languages of those countries which lay nearest to Judaea. Of these, none can take precedence of the Syriac version. Syriac, as has been already stated (p.80), is the language of Mesopotamia and Syria, and was likewise (with some variety of dialect) the current language of everyday life in Palestine in the time of our Lord. More than one translation of the Bible was made into this language, and these will be described in order.

(a) The Diatessaron of Tatian.

Although Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, akin to that in use in Palestine at the time of our Lord, the Gospels were not written in that language, and had therefore to be translated from the Greek for the benefit of the Christians of the Syriac Church. The headquarters of Syriac Christianity was at Edessa, capital of an independent principality east of the great bend in the upper Euphrates. Now it is known that from about the third quarter of the second century the Gospel story circulated here in the form of a Gospel Harmony, known as the Diatessaron, from a Greek phrase meaning " harmony of four," the work of one Tatian, who died about AD180. The story of this work, its circulation, its disappearance, and its partial recovery in our own day, is one of the romances of textual history. 

Tatian was a native of the Euphrates valley, born about AD 110, who after travels in many lands was converted to Christianity and lived for many years in Rome as a disciple of Justin Martyr. He wrote a vehement defence of Christianity against the Greeks, but after the martyrdom of Justin in AD165 he was charged with heresy on account of his extremely ascetic views, and returned to his native land. Either before or after leaving Rome he compiled his Harmony. Whether the original language was Greek or Syriac is a matter of dispute. In favour of Syriac is the fact that its main circulation was in Syria; but against it are the weighty considerations

  1. that its title is Greek;
  2. that a Latin translation was made of it, which is not very likely if it were of purely Syrian origin;
  3. that it never fell under suspicion of heresy, which suggests that it was produced before Tatian left Rome;
  4. that its textual affinities are with the Western type;
  5. that, as there is no evidence of a pre-existing Syriac version of the separate Gospels, the natural course would have been to make the harmony first and then to translate it.

It therefore seems probable that Tatian made his harmony in Rome, but took it with him to Syria and there translated it into Syriac. What is certain is that it was in this form that the Gospel story principally circulated in Syria until the fourth century. After the adoption, however, of the Peshitta (see below) as the official Bible of the Syriac Church it fell into complete obscurity. In the sixth century Bishop Victor of Capua found an anonymous Harmony of the Gospels in Latin, which he guessed to be that of Tatian mentioned in the Church historians. His edition of it (with a Vulgate text unfortunately substituted for that which he found) is extant in the Codex Fuldensis (see below, p.176), written in AD541-6. A Dutch version also exists which seems to have been made from a Latin text in which the pre-Vulgate text was preserved. But apart from these evidences of precarious survival in the Middle Ages, which have only been recognised as such in the light of modern discoveries, the Diatessaron had wholly disappeared. 

Its recovery is a literary curiosity. During the controversy concerning the dates of the New Testament books arising out of the destructive criticism of Baur in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was much discussion of the Diatessaron and its character. Our earliest informant on the subject, the great Church historian Eusebius, in the fourth century, described it as "a sort of patchwork combination of the Gospels"; and if it were compiled, as its name seemed to imply, from the four canonical Gospels, it was decisive evidence that in the third quarter of the second century these four Gospels already stood out by themselves as the recognised and authoritative records of the life of Christ. Such a conclusion was, however, unacceptable to those who, like Baur, contended that the Gospels were not written till between AD 130 and 170; and consequently the statement of Eusebius was disputed. The expressions used by Eusebius might be taken to imply that he had not himself seen the work; and another early writer, Epiphanius, towards the end of the fourth century, stated that "some people" called it the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Hence it was maintained by some (notably by the anonymous author of Supernatural Religion, 1876, a controversial work which had considerable vogue for a time) that no such thing as a harmony by Tatian existed at all, and that Tatian's Gospel was identical with the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and that again with the Gospel according to Peter - both of them known then only by name and affording no evidence as to the date and authority of the canonical books.

St. Ephraem's Commentary.

The controversy on this subject was at its height in 1877 when Bishop Lightfoot wrote his well-known Essays on "SupernaturalReligion," in the course of which he stated the arguments for the common-sense view of the Diatessaron. These arguments were as strong as could reasonably be expected, so long as the Diatessaron itself was lost; yet at that very time demonstrative evidence on the point was in existence, though unknown to either party in the controversy. So long ago as 1836 the Fathers of an Armenian community in Venice had published an Armenian version of the works of St. Ephraem of Syria (a writer of the fourth century), among which was a commentary on the Diatessaron; but Armenian was then a language little known, and no attention was paid to it. In 1876, however, the Armenian Fathers employed Dr. George Moesinger to revise and publish a Latin version of it which had been prepared by the original editor, Dr. Aucher. Why so important a discovery still continued unnoticed is a puzzle which has never been solved; but unnoticed it remained until 1880, when attention was called to it by Dr. Ezra Abbot, in America, whereby it shortly became known to scholars in general. Ephraem's commentary included very large quotations from the work itself, so that its general character was definitely established, and no responsible scholar could question the fact that the Diatessaron was actually a harmony of (or, more accurately, a narrative compiled from) the four canonical Gospels.

Discovery of the Diatessaron.

If matters had stopped there, the discovery, though of great importance for the "higher criticism" of the New Testament, would have had little bearing upon textual questions; but further developments were in store. In the course of the investigations to which Aucher's discovery gave rise it was pointed out that a work purporting to be an Arabic translation of the Diatessaron itself was mentioned in an old catalogue of the Vatican Library; and, on search being made, the description was found to be correct. The series of discoveries did not even end here; for the Vatican manuscript chancing to be shown to the Vicar-Apostolic of the Catholic Copts, while on a visit to Rome, he observed that he had seen a similar work in Egypt, which he undertook to obtain. The second manuscript proved to be better than the first, and from the two in conjunction the Diatessaron was at last edited by Ciasca in 1888, and dedicated to Pope Leo I, in honour of his Jubilee.

The Text of the Diatessaron.

The importance of this final publication lies in the fact that it enables us to learn something of the state of the text of the Gospels at the time when Tatian made his compilation from them. It is true that we only possess the Diatessaron in Arabic, but it is affirmed by competent scholars that the Arabic shows evident signs of being a very close rendering of the Syriac, and the character of the text supports this view. If the text of the Diatessaron had been altered at all, it would almost inevitably have been in the direction of assimilating it to the current text of the Gospels, as was actually done in Latin by Bishop Victor of Capua. The text of the Gospels in the Arabic Diatessaron has not, however, undergone this process of assimilation to any great extent; and it is therefore fair to accept it as at any rate an approximation to the text of Tatian. And here lies the gist of the whole discovery from the textual point of view; for the text of the Diatessaron is evidently of a distinctly Western type. There is also some kinship between it and the Old Syriac version, to be mentioned presently; but it will be better to reserve the discussion of this until that version has been described.

The Dura Fragment.

There is, however, yet another discovery, very recent in date, to be mentioned in connection with the Diatessaron. In 1920 British troops were in occupation at a place called Salihiyah on the western bank of the upper Euphrates, and there some English officers discovered the remains of a Roman fortress, on the walls of which were remains of ancient paintings. They reported their find to headquarters, and Miss Gertrude Bell, realising their importance, urged the American archaeologist Professor J. H. Breasted to visit the site. The troops were, however, on the eve of being withdrawn, and Professor Breasted was only able to have a single day there. Without that one day, all interest in the site might have been lost; but Professor Breasted and his colleagues were able to realise the value of the paintings and to take notes and photographs, and subsequently, when Salihiyah had come within the area of the French mandate, detailed excavations were undertaken by Professor Franz Cumont and Professor Breasted, subsequently continued by Yale University, under the direction of Professor M. Rostovzeff. These excavations revealed that the site was that of Dura-Europos, a Roman fortified frontier city, which after various vicissitudes had been captured by the Persians in AD256. Just before the final siege, the walls had been strengthened by a huge ramp on the inside, which sealed up the ruins of a quantity of buildings, including a Christian church and a Jewish synagogue;
and among them was a room with a number of papyrus and vellum fragments. One of these vellum fragments, when examined at Yale in 1933, proved to contain fourteen imperfect lines of the Diatessaron in Greek. The document is necessarily earlier than AD256, and may be assigned with certainty to the first half of the third century. 

This is the only extant fragment of the Diatessaron itself, as distinct from translations; and the fact that it is in Greek, although found in the extreme corner of Syria, has been used as an argument in favour of Greek being the original. This, however, cannot be pressed; for Dura was a commercial town and a military fortress, and there must have been many there, whether soldiers or civilians, who were unacquainted with Syriac. This is shown by the documents among which the fragment was found, which are commercial documents in Greek and military documents in Latin. The arguments for a Greek original are not therefore materially strengthened by this find. 

The text of the fragment contains the narrative of the petition of Joseph of Arimathea for the body of Jesus, and even within these fourteen lines all four canonical Gospels are employed, while two words are grammatically altered to suit the combination of phrases from different Gospels. This shows with what caution the evidence of Tatian, even when we can ascertain it, must be used; for we have to allow for editorial rehandling as well as the combination of words from the different Gospels in an intricate mosaic. It is the belief of von Soden that Tatian's Harmony exercised a very disturbing influence on the Gospel text; and this fragment indicates that this theory (which has not been favourably received) may need examination. It is only to be hoped that future discoveries will provide more material for its determination.

(b) The Old Syriac.

It has been seen that our knowledge of the Diatessaron, apart from references to it in Church historians such as Eusebius, is the fruit of modern discoveries. The same is true of the version which ranks next in time among the Syriac authorities. A century ago its very existence was unknown.

Some acute critics had indeed guessed that there must have been a version in Syriac older than that which bears the name of the Peshitta, but no portion of it was known to exist. In 1842, however, a great mass of Syriac manuscripts reached the British Museum from the library of a monastery in the Nitrian Desert in Egypt - the result of long negotiations with the monks by various travellers. Among them was the palimpsest under whose Syriac text is the copy of the Greek Gospels known as R (see p.150), many copies of the ordinary Syriac Bible, and other precious documents. But among them also were some eighty leaves of a copy of the Gospels in Syriac which Dr. Cureton, one of the officers of the Museum, recognised as containing a completely different text from any manuscript previously known. These leaves were edited by him, with a preface in which he contended that in this version we have the very words of our Lord's discourses, in the identical language in which they were originally spoken. The manuscript itself (of which a facsimile may be seen in Plate X) is of the fifth century, practically contemporary with the earliest manuscripts which we possess of the Peshitta Syriac; but Cureton argued that the character of the translation showed that the original of his version (which from the name of its discoverer is often known as the Curetonian Syriac, and is so referred to in the Variorum Bible) must have been made earlier than the original of the Peshitta, and that, in fact, the Peshitta was a revision of the Old Syriac, just as the Vulgate Latin was in part a revision of the Old Latin. 

On this point a hot controversy raged for some time, since scholars familiar with the Peshitta, some of whom had even been inclined to regard it as being as early as the second century, were not inclined to yield the primacy to the newcomer. This controversy, however, is now over. No one now doubts that the Curetonian MS. represents a version earlier than the Peshitta. On the one hand, as will appear shortly, the origin of the Peshitta is now almost certainly established; and, on the other, additional evidence has come to light with regard to the version represented by the Curetonian MS. 

A new copy of the Old Syriac Gospels was discovered, and its text published at the very time when the first edition of this book was being written. In 1892 two enterprising Cambridge ladies, Mrs. Lewis and her sister, Mrs. Gibson, visited the Monastery of St. Catherine, on Mount Sinai, the place where Tischendorf made his celebrated discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus, and where Professor Rendel Harris had quite recently found a Syriac copy of a very early Christian work, hitherto supposed to be lost, the "Apology" of Aristides. These ladies photographed a number of manuscripts, among them a Syriac palimpsest which they had noticed as containing a Gospel text; and when they brought their photographs home, the underlying text of this palimpsest was recognised by two Cambridge Orientalists, Mr. Burkitt and Professor Bensly, as belonging to the Old Syriac version, hitherto known only in the fragments of Cureton. The palimpsest contains the greater part (about three-fourths, the rest being undecipherable) of the four Gospels. Naturally enough the announcement of the discovery aroused much interest, and another expedition was made to Sinai to copy the MS. in full, after which the half-obliterated writing had to be painfully deciphered and edited. The results are now part of the permanent stock of textual criticism. 

It is clear, in the first place, that the Sinaitic MS. does not represent precisely the same text as the Curetonian. The differences between them are much more marked than, say, between any two manuscripts of the Peshitta or of the Greek Testament. One striking proof of this may be found in the first chapter of St. Matthew; for whereas the Curetonian MS. emphasises the fact of the Miraculous Conception, reading in verse 16 [Plate X exhibits this portion of the Curetonian MS., the page containing Matt.i.14-23.] "Jacob begat Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, who bare Jesus Christ" (thus avoiding even the word "husband," which occurs in the Greek), the Sinaitic MS. appears at first sight even to deny it, reading "Jacob begat Joseph, and Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, begat Jesus who is called Christ." It is not surprising that some scholars were eager to claim this as the original form of the narrative, the story of the Divine Conception being (in their view) a later excrescence. It was, however, soon pointed out by Mr. Burkitt, one of the first editors of the Sinai manuscript, and eventually editor of the authoritative edition of the Old Syriac version, that the reading is not in fact unorthodox. It has long been recognised that the genealogy in St. Matthew is not the record of an actual line of descent, but rather of an official line of succession. Thus Salathiel was not the son of Jechonias, and the kings of Judah from Solomon to Jechonias, who figure in St. Matthew's genealogy, were not ancestors of Joseph. Hence there is no more reason for pressing the literal meaning of the word " begat" in the statement of the relationship between Joseph and our Lord, than there is elsewhere in the record. This explanation accounts for the fact that in other respects the language of the Sinaitic Syriac implies the Virgin Birth, [The title "Mary the Virgin" itself implies a comparatively late origin; and the phrase "before they came together," the quotation from Isaiah referring to the Virgin Birth, and the narrative of Joseph's doubts and behaviour are meaningless and unintelligible on the unorthodox interpretation.] while the very fact of the ambiguity of the phrase accounts for the alteration introduced into the Curetonian copy. It does not necessarily follow that the Sinaitic Syriac represents the original words of the Evangelist more accurately than the Greek text; but the former can be relieved from the charge of deliberate alteration of the text with a polemical motive. 

In other passages also the Sinaitic MS. shows noteworthy divergences from the Curetonian. Thus Sin. (to use its common abbreviation) omits Matt.xi.14 (one of the woes pronounced against the scribes and Pharisees), while Cur. has it. Cur. had the last twelve verses of St. Mark (only a portion survives, but enough to prove that it was there), but Sin. omits them. In Luke xi.2-4 Sin. gives a shorter version of the Lord's Prayer than Cur. In the narrative of the institution of the Lord's Supper (Luke x.) Sin. gives the verses in the order 19, 20a, 17, sob, 18, Cur. in the order 19, 17, 18, omitting 20, each representing a different attempt to get rid of the apparent double mention of the Cup. In Luke x.43, 44, Cur. gives the episode of the Angel and the Bloody Sweat, while Sin. omits it; and similarly Sin. omits, while Cur. has, the Word from the Cross, "Father, forgive them," etc., in xi.24. In John xi.39 Sin. has a curious addition, which is found nowhere else, after "Martha ... saith unto him," "Why are they taking away the stone?" Cur. is defective here, so it is impossible to say whether it agreed or differed. 

In spite of such not unimportant differences, there is no doubt that the two MSS. represent the same version, and that one of great antiquity. Its Syriac title, "The Gospel of the Separated," is evidently given to it by contrast with Tatian's Harmony, and seems to show that it is later than the Diatessaron. This is the conclusion of Burkitt, the best authority on the subject. He would assign it to a date about AD200, and believes that its original text was akin to, but not directly descended from, that found in א B, but modified by the insertion of Western readings derived from the Diatessaron. The Sinaitic represents the earlier form of the version, the Curetonian having been to some extent revised from later Greek MSS. It is probable that Old Syriac versions of other books than the Gospels originally existed, since St. Ephraem, whose date precedes the Peshitta, is known to have written commentaries on the Acts and Pauline Epistles, which implies the existence of Syriac translations. It is moreover unlikely that the Syriac Church, which appears to have possessed the Old Testament in its own language from the third century at latest, would have been content with a New Testament consisting only of the Gospels. But no trace has survived of an Old Syriac version of these books.

(c) The Peshitta (Pesh. in Variorum Bible).

This is the great standard version of the ancient Syriac Church, current and in general use from the fifth century onwards. Its history has only recently been elucidated by Burkitt. It was formerly supposed to have been used by St. Ephraem, who died in AD373, and some scholars put it back to the third, or even the second, century. Burkitt, however, showed that this belief was unfounded, and that there was no evidence of the use of this version before the fifth century, to which the earliest extant MSS. of it belong. Now it is on record that Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa from AD411-435, translated the New Testament from Greek into Syriac, and ordered a copy to be placed in every church in his diocese. It is therefore natural to conclude that the Peshitta, which is found in circulation in the generation after Rabbula, is in fact his translation, the prompt acceptance of which would be due to his authority. Rabbula is, in fact, the Jerome of the Syriac Church. 

The name means "simple" or "common," but the origin of it is unknown. The Peshitta (or Peshitto, as it is often less correctly written) is known to us in a much greater number of manuscripts than the Old Syriac, the total hitherto recorded being 243. Nearly half of these, including the most ancient, formed part of the splendid collection of Syriac MSS. from the Nitrian Desert to which allusion has already been made (p. 150), and are now in the British Museum. Of some of these, containing parts of the Old Testament, we have spoken above (p.80). Of those which contain the New Testament, two are of the fifth century (the oldest being Add. MS. 14,459, in the British Museum, containing the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark), and at least a dozen more are not later than the sixth century, three of them bearing precise dates in the years 530-39, 534, and 548. The Peshitta was first printed by Widmanstadt, in 1555, from only two manuscripts, both of late date. It was re-edited by Mr. Gwilliam in 1902-20 from some forty MSS., many of them of very early date, as shown above; but so carefully were the later copies of the Peshitta made, between the fifth and twelfth centuries, that the substantial difference between these two editions is very slight. 

That the foundations of the Peshitta go back to a very early date is shown by the fact that it does not contain those books of the New Testament which were the last to be generally accepted. All copies of it omit 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. It is a smooth, scholarly, accurate version, free and idiomatic, without being loose, and Greek texts of the Syrian family have evidently been used for it. Its relations with the Old Syriac have been discussed above. It appears to be not so much a revision of it (at any rate as it appears in the Curetonian and Sinaitic MSS.) as a later version based in part upon it, but upon other materials as well. On the whole it represents the Byzantine text in an early stage, but more ancient elements can sometimes be discerned in it.

(d) The Philoxenian or Harkleian Syriac.

In the year 508, Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabug, in Eastern Syria, thinking the current Peshitta version did not represent the original Greek accurately enough, caused it to be revised throughout by one Polycarp; and in AD616 this version was itself revised, with the assistance of some Greek manuscripts in Alexandria, by Thomas of Harkel, himself also subsequently Bishop of Mabug. This version had practically escaped notice until 1730, when four copies of it were sent from the East to Dr. Ridley, of New College, Oxford, from which, after his death, an edition was printed by Professor J. White in 1778-1803. It is now known to us in many more manuscripts, a total of about fifty (all in the Harkleian revision) being recorded. A large proportion of these are in England. The best is said to be one in the Cambridge University Library, written in 1170, but a copy of the seventh century and another of the eighth century exist at Rome, another at Florence bears the date AD 757, and there are two of the tenth century in the British Museum. 

The original Philoxenian version was written in idiomatic Syriac, but of this only the four minor Catholic Epistles were known, these having been adopted into the Syriac New Testament after being omitted in the Peshitto. They were edited by Pococke in 1630. A copy of the Apocalypse in this version was, however, discovered in a MS. in the John Rylands Library at Manchester by Dr. Gwynn of Dublin, and published in 1897. The Harkleian revision was of a totally different character, being literal in the extreme, and made from MSS. of a Western type. It is therefore of some use as evidence of Western readings. 

(e) The Palestinian Syriac.

There is yet another version of the New Testament in Syriac, known to us only in fragments, in a different dialect of Syriac from all the other versions. It is believed to have been made at Antioch in the sixth century, and to have been used exclusively in Palestine. It was originally discovered at the end of the eighteenth century by Adier in a Lectionary (containing lessons from the Gospels only) in the Vatican Library, and was fully edited by Erizzo in 1861-64 and by Lagarde in 1892. Since then fragments of the Gospels and Acts have come to light in the British Museum and at Leningrad; fragments of the Pauline Epistles in the Bodleian and at Mount Sinai; and two additional Lectionaries were found at the latter place by Mrs. Lewis, and edited by her. The text of this version is mixed. 

This closes the list of Syriac Versions, [Another Syriac version is sometimes enumerated, styled the Karkaphensian; but this is not a continuous version at all, but a collection of passages on which annotations are made dealing with questions of spelling and pronunciation. It is like the Massorah on the Hebrew Old Testament, and probably derives its name from the monastery in which it was compiled.] which rank among the oldest and most interesting of all translations of the New Testament. From Syria and Mesopotamia we pass now to the neighbouring country of Egypt.

II. Egyptian Versions.

Memphitic | Thebaic | Other Versions: Armenian | Georgian | Gothic | Ethiopic | Arabic

The history of the Coptic language, as it existed in Egypt at the time when the Christian Scriptures were translated in that country, has been told in a previous chapter (p.81). There can be no doubt that, Christianity spread into Egypt at a very early date. Alexandria, then the headquarters of Greek literature, possessed a large colony of Jews, by and for whom the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures had been made; and religious thought and philosophy nourished among them. Apollos, the disciple of St. Paul, was a Jew of Alexandria; and the intercourse of Alexandria with Palestine, with Syria, and with Asia Minor made it inevitable that the new religion should spread thither soon after it had overleapt the boundaries of Palestine itself. At what precise date the New Testament books were translated into the native language of Egypt we cannot tell. Some time would elapse before the faith spread from the Greek-speaking population to the Coptic natives; some time more before oral teaching was superseded by written books. But by or soon after the end of the second century it is probable that the first Coptic versions had been made. Our knowledge of these versions is, for the most part, of quite recent growth, and is growing still through the discovery of manuscripts in Egypt. Different dialects were spoken in different parts of the country, and each of these came in course of time to have its own version of the Scriptures. Until recently only two of these versions were known; we are now acquainted, more or less, with five, but whether each of them possessed a complete Bible of its own is quite uncertain.

(a) The Memphitic or Bohairic Version

(Memph. in Variorum Bible) was the version current in Lower {i.e.. Northern) Egypt, of which the principal native town was Memphis. Originally, however, the dialect in which it is written belonged only to the coast district near Alexandria, and another dialect was in use in Memphis itself; hence it is better to avoid the term Memphitic, and use the more strictly accurate name Bohairic (from Bohairah, the Arabic name of Lower Egypt). This was the most developed and most literary dialect of the Egyptian language, and ultimately spread up the country and superseded all the other dialects. The consequence of this is that the Bohairic is the Coptic of today, so far as the language still exists, and that in the Bohairic dialect alone was the complete New Testament known before the discoveries of the last generation. All the other Coptic versions existed in fragments only. 

The Bohairic version was first made known by some Oxford scholars at the end of the seventeenth century, and the first printed edition of it was published at Oxford by Wilkins in 1716. Neither in this nor in any subsequent edition was sufficient use made of the manuscripts available for comparison, until the production by the Rev. G. Horner of a full critical edition in 1898-1905. Over a hundred manuscripts exist and have been examined, and of these Horner used forty-six in the Gospels and thirty-four in the other books. None of them is very early. The oldest and best is a MS. of the Gospels at Oxford, which is dated AD1173-4; there is one at Paris dated in 1178-80; there is another, in the British Museum, of the year 1192; others are of the thirteenth and later centuries. There is indeed a single leaf of the Epistle to the Ephesians which may be as early as the fifth century (in the British Museum), but this exception is too small to be important. The Apocalypse was not originally included in this version, and we know that in the third century its authenticity was questioned in Egypt. The translation is generally good and careful, so that it is easy to see what was the Greek which the translator had before him in any particular passage. The text, too, is of an excellent type. Excluding passages which appear only in the later MSS., and which evidently were not in the original version, the Bohairic text is mainly of a Neutral or Alexandrian type, with not much mixture of Western readings, and little or nothing of Syrian. The doubt about the last twelve verses of St. Mark appears in the best MS., which gives the shorter alternative ending (as in L, see p.150) in the margin. Otherwise all the Bohairic MSS. have the usual verses 9-20. The passage John vii.53-viii.11 is omitted by all the best MSS. In Acts also the Bohairic text is definitely Alexandrian. The date of the version is probably in the first half of the third century.

(b) The Thebaic or Sahidic Version

(from Es-sa'id, the Arabic name of Upper Egypt) (Theb. in Variorum Bible). - Again, Thebaic is the older name, Sahidic the more accurate and the one now in general use.

 This is the version which was current in Upper (i.e. Southern) Egypt, of which the chief town was Thebes. Its existence was not noticed until the end of the eighteenth century, and the first printed edition of a few fragments of it was that of Woide, published at Oxford, after his death, in 1799. Since that date our knowledge of the Sahidic version has enormously increased. It exists only in fragments, but these fragments are now very numerous indeed, so that it has been possible for Mr. Horner to put together a practically complete Sahidic New Testament, with, at any rate in the Gospels, not less than three witnesses for almost every passage. Many of the fragments are of very early date, going back to the fifth, and even to the fourth, century. The British Museum acquired in 1911 a copy of Acts (with Deuteronomy and Jonah) which can be securely dated to the first half of the fourth century; and the British and Foreign Bible Society has a copy of St. John's Gospel, probably of the second half of the same century, discovered by Mr. J. L. Starkey when working for one of Sir Flinders Petrie's expeditions in 1923. The Sahidic version is probably somewhat earlier than the Bohairic, but there need not be much interval between them. It was formerly supposed that it leant rather to the Western type of text, but fuller knowledge has shown that, while it contains some readings which are also found in Western MSS., it is fundamentally and preponderantly of the same family as א B. In Acts less than one-eighth of the characteristically "Western" readings have Sahidic support. 

The specimen shown in Plate XI is taken from the MS. of Acts mentioned above, which is the oldest substantial MS. of the Sahidic version. It is a papyrus codex, and a note at the end is written in a common non-literary hand of about the middle of the fourth century. The MS. itself, therefore, is not later than that date. The page reproduced contains Acts viii.34-ix.3. Verse 37 (the eunuch's declaration of faith) is omitted, as it is by א A B C, etc. 

The remaining Coptic versions may be dismissed very briefly. They have only recently been discovered, they are known as yet only in a few fragments, and their characteristics cannot yet be said to be established. Hence they have not yet made their appearance in critical editions of the New Testament, and may for the present be disregarded. They are

(c) the Fayumic,

or version current in the district of the Fayum, west of the Nile and south of the Delta, from which an enormous number of Greek and Coptic papyri have reached Europe in recent years. It appears to be related to the Sahidic, being probably descended from an early form of the same version,

(d) The Middle Egyptian,

found in manuscripts from the region of Memphis, related, like the Fayumic, to the Sahidic.

(e) The Akhmimic,

found in a number of fragments from the neighbourhood of Akhmim, the ancient Panopolis, from which also came the manuscript containing the extraordinarily interesting portions of the apocryphal Gospel and Revelation of Peter which were published in 1892. This is said to be the earliest dialect of the Coptic language, but at present only a few small fragments of the New Testament have been published, the first to appear being the discovery of Mr. W. E. Crum. It is as certain as such speculations can be that our knowledge of the Egyptian versions will be very greatly increased within the next few years, but whether any of them will be found to have a text to any material extent independent of the Sahidic is at present doubtful. 

The remaining Oriental versions of the New Testament may be dismissed with a very short notice. Their evidence may sometimes be called into court, but it is seldom of much importance. 

The Armenian version,

as we have it now, dates from the fifth century. Up to about the year 390 Armenia, the country to the east of Asia Minor and north of Mesopotamia, lying between the Roman and Persian empires, possessed no version of its own; but between that date and AD400 translations of both Old and New Testaments were made, partly from Greek and partly from Syriac. This version shows a marked affinity with the Old Syriac in the Gospels. About the year 433 these translations were revised with the help of Greek manuscripts brought from Constantinople, presumably of the Byzantine type. The result was the existing Armenian version, which consequently has, as might be expected, a very mixed kind of text. One very interesting piece of evidence has, however, been preserved in an Armenian manuscript. Most of the oldest MSS. of the Gospels in this version omit the last twelve verses of St. Mark; but one of them, written in the year 989, contains them, with a heading stating that they are "of the Elder Ariston."
[The credit of this discovery belongs to Mr. F. C. Conybeare, of University College, Oxford.]
This has been taken to mean Aristion, who lived in the first century, and is mentioned by Papias, his younger contemporary, as having been a disciple of the Lord. If the tradition which assigns to him the authorship of Mark xvi.9-20 could be accepted, it would clear up the doubts surrounding that passage in a satisfactory way. It would show that St. Mark's Gospel was left unfinished, or was mutilated at a very early date, and that a summary of the events following the Resurrection, written by Aristion, was inserted to fill the gap; and we gain the evidence of another witness of our Lord's life on earth. There is, however, no confirmation of this story. The earliest MS. of the Armenian Gospels is dated in the year 887; there are probably two others of the ninth century and six of the tenth. The rest of the New Testament is only found in copies containing the whole Bible, which are rare and never older than the twelfth century. 

The Georgian version

deserves brief mention here, since modern scholars (principally F. C. Conybeare in England and R. P. Blake in America) have shown that it was made from an Armenian text older and better than any extant Armenian MS.; and Blake concludes that the Greek text on which it is ultimately based was of the Caesarean type. It is therefore a useful witness for the reconstitution of the Caesarean text. 

The Gothic version, 

as has already been stated (p.83), was made for the Goths in the fourth century, while they were settled in Moesia, before they overran Western Europe. It was made by their Bishop Ulfilas, and was translated directly from the Greek. We know it now only in fragments, more than half of the Gospels being preserved in a magnificent manuscript at Upsala, in Sweden, written (in the fifth or sixth century) in letters of gold and silver upon purple vellum. Some portions of the Epistles of St. Paul are preserved in palimpsest fragments at Milan; but the Acts, Catholic Epistles, and Apocalypse are entirely lost. The Greek text used by Ulfilas seems to have been of the Syrian type in the New Testament, just as it was of Syrian (Lucianic) type in the Old.

The Ethiopic version

belongs to the country of Abyssinia, and was probably made about the year 600; but most of the existing manuscripts (of which there are over a hundred) are as late as the seventeenth century, only a few going back as early as the fifteenth, the oldest of all (at Paris) being of the thirteenth century. Little is known about the character of the text, as it has never been critically edited.

Several Arabic versions are known to exist, some being translations from the Greek, some from Syriac, and some from Coptic, while others are revisions based upon some or all of these. None is earlier than the seventh century, perhaps none so early; and for critical purposes none is of any value. 

Other Oriental versions (Slavonic, Persian) are of still later date, and may be ignored.

2. The Western Versions.

Old Latin | Vulgate

We now pass to the Western world, and trace the history of the New Testament as it spread from its obscure home in Palestine to the great capital of the world, and to the countries in its neighbourhood which owned its sway and spoke its language. In speaking of the Latin Bible we are at once taking a great step nearer home; for Latin was the literary language of our own forefathers, it was in Latin that the Bible first reached our land, and the Latin Bible was for centuries the official Bible of our country. Nay, more, it was from the Latin Bible that the first English Bibles were translated. Therefore we have a special interest in the history of this version, an interest which is still further increased by the remarkable character which it possessed in its earlier stages, and by the minuteness with which we are able to trace its fortunes in later days. We have already described the Latin versions in relation to the Old Testament; we have now to speak of them in relation to the New. 

In the Old Testament we have seen that there are two Latin versions, known as the Old Latin and the Vulgate; and we have seen that of these the Vulgate is the more important as an aid to the recovery of the original Hebrew text, because it was translated directly from the Hebrew, while the Old Latin was translated from the Septuagint; and also because the Vulgate is complete, while the Old Latin has come down to us only in fragments. In respect of the New Testament the relative importance of the two is somewhat different. Here we possess both versions practically complete: and whereas the Old Latin was translated direct from the original Greek, the Vulgate was only a revision of the Old Latin. Moreover, we possess a few manuscripts of the original Greek which are as early as the Vulgate; but the Old Latin was made long before all but a few of our manuscripts were written, and takes us back to within a generation or two of the time at which the sacred books were themselves composed.

The Old Latin Version

is consequently one of the most valuable and interesting evidences which we possess for the condition of the New Testament text in the earliest times. It exists, however, in a variety of forms, and its precise history is obscure. The conclusions at which Hort arrived were as follows. It has already been said (p. 84) that it was originally made in the second century, perhaps not very far from AD150, and probably, though not certainly, in Africa. Another version, apparently independent, subsequently appeared in Europe; and the divergences between these rival translations, as well as the extensive variations of text which found their way into both, made a revision necessary, which was actually produced in Italy in the fourth century, and to which Augustine refers as superior to its competitors. Hence it is that three different families or groups can be traced - the African, the European, and the Italian. We are able to identify these several families by means of the quotations which occur in the writings of the Latin Fathers. Thus the quotations of Cyprian, who died in 258, give us a representation of the African text; the European text is found in the Latin version of the works of Irenaeus, which was probably made at the end of the second century, or very shortly afterwards; while the Italian text appears conspicuously in Augustine (AD 354-430). By the help of such evidence as this we can identify the texts which are found in the various manuscripts of the Old Latin which have come down to us. 

This distinction into three families, though accepted by Wordsworth and White, the editors of the Vulgate, has not been universally approved. Bentley in the past and Burkitt in our own day disputed the existence of the Italian revision, the latter arguing with much force that Augustine's "Italian" text was in fact Jerome's Vulgate, which he certainly used in his longer quotations (such as could not be made from memory) in the latter part of his life. What is certain is that a distinction can be drawn between an extremer and a less extreme form of the Old Latin, and that the former is found in authorities connected with Africa (such as the manuscript mentioned below as k, and the quotations in Cyprian), and the latter in authorities connected with Europe (such as a and b). But the manuscripts differ very much among themselves (as Jerome complained), and probably no coherent history can be made of them. 

Owing to the fact that the Vulgate eventually superseded the Old Latin as the Bible of the Western Church, manuscripts of the latter are scarce, but when they exist are generally very old. No copy contains the whole of the New Testament, and very few are perfect even in the books which they contain. Thirty-eight manuscripts of the Old Latin exist; of these, twenty-eight contain the Gospels, four the Acts, five the Catholic Epistles, eight the Pauline Epistles, and three the Apocalypse, of which a practically complete text is also preserved to us in the commentary of Primasius, an African Father of the sixth century. Manuscripts of the Old Latin are indicated in critical editions by the small italic letters of the alphabet.

One of the oldest and best is the CODEX VERCELLENSIS (a), of which a facsimile is given in Plate XXIV.

It contains the four Gospels, in the order usual in the Western Church - namely, Matthew, John, Luke, Mark. It is written in silver letters, in very narrow columns, on extremely thin vellum stained with purple.

The passage shown in the Plate is John xvi.23-30. In verse 26 this MS. has a curious reading, due to an accidental omission of words: instead of "Ye shall ask in my name; and I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you," it has "ask in my name, and I will pray for you." The passage may be seen at the top of the second column: "in nomine meo petite et ego rogabo propter vos," the words "et ego" being added above the line. This manuscript was written in the fourth century, and is consequently as old as the oldest Greek uncials of the Bible. It is now at Vercelli in Italy. 

Other important MSS. of the Old Latin are, for the Gospels, the CODEX VERONENSIS(b), of the fourth or fifth century, one of the most valuable of all;

CODEX COLBERTINUS (c),an extraordinarily late copy, having been written in the twelfth century, in Languedoc, where the tradition of the Old Latin text lingered very late, but containing a good text;

CODEX PALATINUS(e), fourth or fifth century, very incomplete, containing a distinctly African type of text;

CODEX BRIXIANUS (f), sixth century, with an Italian text;

CODEX BOBIENSIS (k), fifth or sixth century, containing the last half of Mark and the first half of Matthew in a very early form of the African text;

the Latin text of the CODEX BEZAE(d), for which see p.144.

In the Acts, there are CODEX BEZAE (d), as before;

the Latin text of the CODEX LAUDIANUS (e), see p.148;

CODEX GIGAS(g), of the thirteenth century, the largest manuscript in the world, containing the Acts and Apocalypse in the Old Latin version, the rest in the Vulgate; and some palimpsest fragments (h and s) of the fifth or sixth century.

The Catholic Epistles are very imperfectly represented, being contained only in the CODEX CORBEIENSIS, of St. James (f ), of the tenth century, and portions of the other epistles in other fragmentary MSS.

The Pauline Epistles are known in the Latin version of the CODEX CLAROMONTANUS(d2), for which see p.148;

e, f, g are similarly Latin versions of other bilingual manuscripts; and the remaining authorities are fragments.

The Apocalypse exists only in m of the Gospels and g and h of the Acts.

It must be remembered, however, that these MSS. are supplemented by the quotations in Latin Fathers, which are very numerous, and which show what sort of text each of them had before him when he wrote. 

It may be interesting to mention which manuscripts represent the various families of the Old Latin text. The African text is found in k and (in a somewhat later form) e of the Gospels, h of the Acts and Apocalypse, in Primasius on the Apocalypse, and in Cyprian generally. The Italian text, which is the latest of the three, appears in f and q of the Gospels, q of the Catholic Epistles, r of the Pauline Epistles, and in Augustine. The remaining MSS. have, on the whole, European texts (b being an especially good example), but many of them are mixed and indeterminate in character, and some have been modified by the incorporation of readings from the Vulgate. 

It has been said above (p.111) that the Old Latin version testifies to a type of Greek text of the class which has been described as "Western." This applies especially to the African group of the Old Latin, which is often found in alliance with Codex Bezae. The European MSS. have less strongly marked divergences from the ordinary text, and may perhaps have been affected by comparison with Greek MSS. The earlier forms of the Old Latin, however, are distinctly Western, as has been shown in describing the peculiar readings of this class of text; and since the original translation into Latin was made in the second century, and perhaps early in that century, it shows how soon considerable corruptions had been introduced into the text of the New Testament. It is, indeed, especially in the earliest period of the history of the text that such interpolations as those we have mentioned can be introduced. At that time the books of the New Testament had not come to be regarded as on a level with those of the Old. They were precious as a narrative of all-important facts; but there was no sense of obligation to keep their language free from all change, and additions or alterations might be made without much scruple. Hence arose the class of manuscripts of which the Old Latin version is one of the most important representatives.

The Vulgate.

The history of this version has already been narrated in connection with the Old Testament. It was in the year 382 that Pope Damasus entrusted Jerome with the task of producing an authoritative revision of the Latin Bible which should supersede the innumerable conflicting copies then in existence. A settled version of the Gospels was naturally regarded as the prime need, and this was the first part of the work to be undertaken. Jerome began cautiously. A wholly new version of the familiar text would have provoked much opposition, and Jerome consequently contented himself, as Damasus had intended, with merely revising the existing Old Latin translation. He compared it with some ancient Greek manuscripts, and only made alterations where they were absolutely necessary to secure the true sense of a passage. Minor corrections, though in themselves certain, he refrained from introducing, in order that the total change might be as little as possible. The Gospels were completed in 384, and the rest of the New Testament, revised after the same manner, but still more slightly, appeared later (the exact date is not known). The Old Testament, which, as we have seen, was an altogether new translation from the Hebrew, was not finished until twenty years after this date. 

The New Testament was consequently a distinct work from the Old, and was made on a different principle. It was based on the "Italian" type of the Old Latin, from which it differs less than the Italian differs from the primitive "African" text. The revision that produced the Italian text consisted largely, as we have seen, in the introduction of Syrian readings into a text that was mainly Western in character. Jerome's revision, which was based on MSS. of a "Neutral" (or, as it seems preferable to call it, Alexandrian) character, removed many of the Syrian interpolations, but still left the Vulgate a mixed text. Its evidence is, consequently, of less value than that of the earlier versions; but it must be remembered that all the authorities used by Jerome in the production of the Vulgate must have been as old as, or older than, the oldest manuscripts which we now possess. 

Manuscripts of the Vulgate are countless. There is no great library in Western Europe which does not possess them by scores and by hundreds. After existing side by side with the Old Latin version for some centuries it became universally adopted as the Bible of Western Christendom, and was copied repeatedly in every monastery and school until the invention of printing. Hence when we come now to try to recover the original text of the Vulgate, we are confronted with a task at least as hard as that of recovering the original text of the Greek Bible itself. It is believed that over 8,000 manuscripts exist in Europe, and the majority of these have never been fully examined. [Dr. Gregory (1909) gives a list amounting to 2,472, but his enumeration does not pretend to be anything like exhaustive.] It is only known that the text has been very considerably corrupted, partly by intermixture with the Old Latin version during the time when both translations were simultaneously in use, partly by the natural accidents attending the text of any book which has been repeatedly copied. We shall see in the next chapter what attempts were made to correct it during the Middle Ages. In modern times no complete critical edition has yet been produced. Our great English scholar Richard Bentley examined and caused to be examined a considerable number of manuscripts, but never advanced so far as to form a revised text of any part of the Bible. At last, about 1877, the work was undertaken at Oxford, being planned by John Wordsworth, with whom, on his appointment to be Bishop of Salisbury in 1885, was associated H. J. White, afterwards Dean of Christ Church. The Gospels appeared in 1889-98, and Acts in 1905. Bishop Wordsworth died in 1911, but White carried on the work as far as Ephesians before his death in 1934. Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians have since appeared (1937) under the editorship of the Rev. H. F. D. Sparks, and it is hoped that the completion of the New Testament is in sight. Meanwhile very serviceable pocket editions have been produced by White (1911) and Nestle (1906; twelfth edition, 1937), the former giving the revised text of the large Oxford edition and the latter the official Clementine text, both with brief critical apparatus.

The best manuscript of the Vulgate is the CODEX AMIATINUS, of which a reduced facsimile, showing the lower half of the page, is given in Plate XXV. This has a special interest for Englishmen, apart from the value of the text contained in it, as having been produced in England at the beginning of the eighth century. Its English origin was only discovered about fifty years ago, and in a curious way. On its second page is an inscription stating that it was presented to the abbey of Monte Amiata by Peter of Lombardy, and it was always supposed to have been written in Italy. But Peter's name, was obviously written over an erasure, and, besides, spoilt the metre of the verses in which the inscription is composed. Still, the truth was never suspected until a brilliant conjecture by the Italian G. B. de Rossi, confirmed by a further discovery by Professor Hort, showed that the original name was not Peter of Lombardy, but Ceolfrid of England. Then the whole history of the MS. was made clear. It was written either at Wearmouth or at Jarrow, famous schools in the north of England in the seventh and eighth centuries (having probably been copied from MSS. brought from Italy by Ceolfrid), and was taken by Abbot Ceolfrid as a present to Pope Gregory II in the year 716. It was used in the revision of the Vulgate by Pope Sixtus V in 1585-90, and its present home is in the great Laurentian Library at Florence. It is a huge volume, each leaf measuring 19.5 by 13.5 inches, written in large and beautifully clear letters. The passage shown in the Plate is Luke iv.32-v.6. An example of a correction may be seen in column 2, thirteen lines from the bottom, where the singular imperative laxa has been altered by a corrector to the plural laxate, which corresponds more exactly with the original Greek. The text is carefully and accurately written, and it is taken by Wordsworth and White as their first and most important authority. 

An interesting addition has lately been made to its history. It is recorded by Bede that Ceolfrid had two other copies of the Bible made, besides that which he took as a gift to the Pope. In 1909 a single leaf, in writing closely resembling that of the Amiatinus, was discovered by the Rev. W. Greenwell in a curiosity shop in Newcastle, and within this last year eleven more leaves, which had been utilised to form the covers of estate accounts in the north of England, were (largely through the agency of Viscount Wakefield and the Friends of the National Libraries) secured for the nation. All twelve leaves, which include parts of i and 2 Kings, and unquestionably form part of one of the sister codices of the Amiatinus, are now in the British Museum, where they are a monument of the time when, under the leadership of Benedict Biscop, Ceolfrid, and especially Bede, the north of England led the Western world in scholarship. 

Among the other most important MSS. of the Vulgate are the CODEX FULDENSIS, written in AD 546 for Bishop Victor of Capua, containing the whole New Testament (together with the apocryphal Epistle of St. Paul to the Laodiceans), the Gospels being arranged in a consecutive narrative, based on the Diatessaron of Tatian (see above, p.156); CODEX CAVENSIS (ninth century), witten in Spain, and with a Spanish type of text; CODEX TOLETANUS (eighth century), very similar to the Cavensis; the LINDISFARNE GOSPELS (about AD 690), a splendid north English copy, resembling the Codex Amiatinus in text, described more fully on pp. 184-6; the HARLEIAN GOSPELS (sixth or seventh century), in the British Museum; the STONYHURST GOSPELS (seventh century), formerly at Durham, now at Stonyhurst, written in a beautiful little uncial hand; and the manuscripts exhibiting the revision by Alcuin, described in the following chapter.

Wordsworth and White classify them into the following groups:

  1. Northumbrian, headed by the Amiatinus, with the Lindisfarne and Stonyhurst Gospels, which they regard as the best, and which Dom Chapman would trace back to the edition prepared by Cassiodorus in the sixth century;
  2. a less good group headed by the Harleian Gospels, regarded by C. H. Turner as representing non-Cassiodorian texts from Italy;
  3. an Irish group, headed by the Book of Armagh (eighth or ninth century);
  4. a group, of which a seventh-century MS. in the Bodleian is the chief representative, intermediate between groups 2 and 3;
  5. a Spanish group, headed by the Cavensis and Toletanus; and
  6. texts representing the revisions of Alcuin and Theodulf, to be described in the next chapter.


3. Summary.

Byzantine | Alexandrian | Caesarean | Western | Syriac

Such, then, is the list of the witnesses on whom, together with the quotations in the Fathers, we have to depend for the establishment of the best attainable text of the New Testament. It will have been seen that the picture presented by Westcott and Hort in 1881, though in the main holding its ground, has undergone certain modifications as the result of the discoveries of the last fifty years. It would be rash to claim that finality has yet been reached; but at each stage of the journey it is useful to sum up the results which appear to have been reached, if only to serve as a basis for further examination, or as an hypothesis by which future discoveries may be tested.

The classification now suggested is as follows:

(α) Byzantine,

a title which seems preferable to Hort's "Syrian," as avoiding confusion with "Syriac" and as more descriptive of the text which came to be generally adopted in the Byzantine Church. This is the text found in the vast majority of later MSS., which from them passed into the earliest printed texts, and which was the universally "received text," until it was challenged by modern scholarship and by the results of modern discoveries. Its characteristic features are verbal revision in the direction of smoothness, intelligibility, ease of comprehension, concordance between different narratives of the same event. It seems to be the result of a long-continued process of minor revision in the interests of the ordinary reader. The earliest traces of it appear in the quotations of Chrysostom, who worked at Antioch until 398 and then at Constantinople until 407, and it seems to have established itself in the Metropolitan Church in the course of the next centuries, until by the eighth it is found in practically complete possession of the Greek world. The oldest and most important MSS. which show readings of this type are A and C in the Gospels, W except in Mark, and the purple MSS. N, O, Σ, Φ; after these follow the great mass of later uncials and minuscules. It can now, however, generally be discarded when it comes into competition with the earlier families.

(β) Alexandrian,

substantially identical with Hort's "Neutral." The latter title is better avoided, since it now appears that this type of text cannot claim an uncontaminated descent from the originals, but is rather the result of skilled editorial handling of good materials; also that it is not a text universally current in Egypt (though that is its main home), but is rather the product of a well-equipped scriptorium in a particular place, which can hardly be other than Alexandria. To this family belong in the first line the great uncials B and א, often supported by L R T Z, also by A and G except in the Gospels, by the minuscules 33, 81 and 157, and the Coptic versions, both Sahidic and Bohairic. Of the Fathers, Origen is the one who most often has readings of this type.

(γ) Caesarean.

The discovery of this family of text has been described above (p.117). So far, its character has only been established in Mark, the Gospel which (being the shortest and containing the least of our Lord's teaching) appears to have had the least circulation in the early Church, and so escaped revision and corruption. Here it is found in the Codex Koridethianus (Θ), the groups of minuscules known as Family 1 and Family 13, the Chester Beatty papyrus P45, the Armenian and Georgian versions, and the quotations in the later works of Origen and in Eusebius. It clearly established itself in the library at Caesarea, where Origen and Eusebius worked, but there is evidence, especially in P45, of its circulation in Egypt, and that may well be its original home. In character it lies between the Alexandrian and Western.

(δ) Western.

As stated above, it was formerly the custom to label as "Western" any reading which was earlier than "Syrian," but was not found in the "Neutral" authorities. In this way it was argued that the Western text was in early times prevalent, not only in the West, but also in Syria and even in Egypt; that it was in fact the original form of text, from which the "Neutral" was derived by drastic editorial revision. But the growth of evidence and investigation has shown that in this sense no such thing as a Western text exists at all. The Syriac and Egyptian variants from the "Neutral" or Alexandrian text do not by any means always or generally coincide with those of the Latin authorities; and it is not possible to trace them to a common source, or reconstruct a Western text on these lines at all. On the other hand, if it is once recognised that it is not necessary to group in a single family all readings with early attestation which do not belong to the Alexandrian family, it is easy to segregate one group of these which have a common character, and whose attestation is definitely Western. This is the type of text found in Codex Bezae and the other Graeco-Latin uncials D2 E3 F2 G3, the African form of the Old Latin version, especially in the MSS. k and e, and the quotations in Cyprian, Priscillian, Tyconius and Primasius. It is a type marked by striking variations from all other groups, especially in the Gospels and Acts. In the Acts especially it abounds with variants which some have thought superior to the Alexandrian and Byzantine texts, and which, if not original, must be due to deliberate alterations by someone who regarded himself as having authoritative information. Specimens of these variants will be found in Appendix I.

(ε) Syriac.

It seems necessary to separate the Old Syriac version from the Western family with which it was formerly associated. It is in fact nearer akin to the Alexandrian type, though independent of it; and such infusion of Western readings as it has may well be attributed to the influence of Tatian's Diatessaron. It may therefore be regarded rather as the local text of the Church of Edessa, influenced at first by the Western text imported by Tatian from Rome, and eventually revised under Byzantine influences by Rabbula into the form of the Peshitta, which became the authorised Bible of the Syrian Church. 

When, however, all these families have been marked off and labelled, it must be recognised that they have not exhausted the early history of the New Testament text. No one of these families can be taken as containing the whole authentic truth; all reach back to a period of uncertainty out of which they gradually emerged; and they do not all between them cover the whole of the material. In addition to the readings which can be attributed with some certainty to one or the other family, there is a residue of unassigned readings, relics of a time when there was much variation among the texts of the sacred books (especially the Gospels) circulating among the widely scattered Christian communities, out of which the families or types which we have now learned to discern were gradually formed. If this be so, we must recognise that absolute certainty in details is unattainable; that even if the Alexandrian type (or the Western or Caesarean, if anyone prefers it) is generally superior, it cannot always be right, and we must be prepared to consider alternative readings on their merits. We must be content to know that the general authenticity of the New Testament text has been remarkably supported by the modern discoveries which have so greatly reduced the interval between the original autographs and our earliest extant manuscripts, and that the differences of reading, interesting as they are, do not affect the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.