Monday, March 13, 2017

On the Origin of the Pericope Adulterae in the Syriac NT

Here is an interesting detail about the origin of John 7.53-8.11 in the Syriac tradition. Apparently, in the excellent Mingana collection at the University of Birmingham, there is a “handsome and sumptuous” manuscript containing the New Testament and a number of other treatises. So says A. Mingana in his Catalogue (vol. 1, col. 863). One important feature of this manuscript that Mingana reports is this:

The Syriac can be translated as follows:
This story (ܣܘܢܬܟܣܝܣ = σύνταξις) is not found in all manuscripts. But Abba Mar Paule found it in one of the Alexandrian manuscripts and translated it into Syriac as written here from the Gospel of John.
From this, J. de Zwaan, writing in 1958, draws this conclusion:
Paul of Tella, who was the leading spirit in the translation of the Hexaplaric O.T. by order of Athanasius I, and under whose auspices Thomas of Harkel laboured on the N.T. at the same time and the same place, viz. the Enaton-monastery near Alexandria (615-617), is, therefore, responsible for the introduction of John vii.53-viii.11 in MSS. of the Syriac N.T.  
This is interesting as it confirms the hypothesis that on Paul’s initiative the Harklean enterprise (whatever it has been: translation, revision, collation or mere annotating) was completed.  
And this is important as it adds probability to the surmise that Thomas’ work should be considered as analogous to the O.T. enterprise. For textual criticism e.g. the question, whether ‘Western’ copies could be present in the viith century in Alexandria and be still valued there by experts as authoritative, this point is very important.
Now, we know that in most of the NT, Thomas actually used a nearly Byzantine text and in the Catholic Epistles he used something more distinctive, a possible precursor to the Byzantine text (so K. Wachtel). Where Thomas gave “Western” readings, so far as I understand it, is primarily in the margin in Acts.

So I’m not convinced with Zwaan that this remark in Mingana Syr 480 shows that the “Western” text was valued in the 7th century in Alexandria. But it is still significant if Zwaan is right that this confirms Paul of Tella’s involvement in both the Syro-hexapla and the Harklean NT and that he is somehow responsible for the inclusion of the Pericope Adulterae in the latter.

You can find this and more discussed in Chris Keith’s excellent book on the Pericope Adulterae. For more on the manuscript sources, see Gwynn.

* * *

For more on the PA in Syriac and Arabic, see Adam McCollum’s blog post on a 17th cent. Garshuni lectionary which has the following note pictured below:
Know, dear reader, that this pericope [pāsoqā] is lacking in our Syriac copy [lit. the copy of us Syriac people], but we have seen it among the Latins [r(h)omāyē], and we have translated it into our Syriac language and into Arabic. Pray for the poor scribe!
Marginal note in CCM 64, f. 79r, (17th cent.) explaining the origin of the Pericope Adulterae.


  1. I would dispute the identification of [r(h)omāyē] as Latins. I can't speak directly to 17th century Aramaic, but throughout Islamic Arabic, that word refers to Asian Greeks, not European Latins. Latins were called Franki.

  2. It would be interesting were the Syriac of the PA in the Mingana MS back-translated into Greek so as to allow comparison against my collation data involving the extant Greek continuous-text and lectionary MSS (Pete Williams?).

    Although the rendering of individual words might be somewhat ambiguous, the inclusion or exclusion of particular words or phrases would be of importance when attempting to identify the particular stream of tradition to which the Greek source MS may have belonged.

  3. Fr Peter Hill3/14/2017 4:02 am

    May I offer a few observations?
    First, the scholion cited by De Zwaan (Mingana Cat. Vol. 1 col. 870) comes from Mingana Syr. MS 480 (fol. 246b), a large pandect codex completed in A.D. 1713 and copied from an exemplar completed the previous year (1712). It contains a number of items related to the Harklean, not least a copy of the Gospels with commentary that evidence the influence of Bar Salibi’s revision of the 12th cent. The pericope de adultera does not appear in any extant copy of the first millennium. A. Juckel (“Zur Revisionsgeschichte der Harklensis,” p. 65) suggests that the pericope was introduced into the Harklean tradition by Bar Salibi. Otherwise the pericope and scholion appear (to the best of my knowledge) only in four other Harklean copies: Oxford New College MS 334 (13th cent., manifestly influenced by Bar Salibi’s revision); British Libray Add. 17,124 (A.D. 1234, a copy of Bar Salibi’s revision); Paris Syr. MS 54 (A.D. 1192, in the margin); and Paris Syr. MS 56 (A.D. 1264, as a colophon to the Gospel of John). Again, to the best of my knowledge, the earliest extant Syriac copy of the pericope was inserted by a 9th cent. hand in a copy of the Peshitta, British Library Add. 14,470 (5th/6th cent.).
    Second, the Paul mentioned in the scholion actually is styled “Abbot Mar Paul”. However, at the time when the Syrohexapla and the Harklean were prepared (A.D. 615–17), Paul of Tella was a bishop. While not altogether impossible, it is very unlikely that a bishop would have been styled simply as “Abbot”. Sebastian Brock suggests that the Paul in question was the 7th cent. Paul of Edessa (see Metzger, Early Versions, p. 65 n.2); however that Paul also was a bishop and unless the title of abbot refers to an earlier stage in his career, the identification remains questionable.
    Third, even in the unlikely event that the scholion does refer to Paul of Tella, de Zwaan went too far in suggesting that this datum indicates that the Harklean was completed “on Paul’s initiative.” All the evidence indicates that the Harklean was initiated by Thomas of Harqel (though encouraged by the then Syriac patriarch, Athanasius I) and completed by him and his assistants. The Harklean and Syrohexapla were analogous undertakings, but while there are some indications that Thomas assisted with the Syrohexapla, there none that Paul of Tella was directly involved with the Harklean.
    Fourth, as noted, the textline (as opposed to the margin) of the Harklean Gospels is basically Byzantine in character, though with a significant accretion of non-Byzantine readings. Clearly Thomas had at least one Greek copy of Byzantine character. But what must not be overlooked is that the Harklean is a revision of the Philoxenian version. In the few instances where the Philoxenian and Harklean can be compared in the Gospels, the differences tend mostly to be philological not textual; notwithstanding that Thomas did make numerous textual emendations to his Grundtext. Hence in A.D. 615/16 A.D. Thomas revised the basically Byzantine text evidenced by the Philoxenian (completed in A.D. 507/8), which in turn conformed the Syriac text to Byzantine-like copies that dated at least from the 5th century.

    1. Fr Hill, many thanks for these helpful comments. I am particularly interested in the connection between Thomas's work on the Harklean NT and Paul of Tella's work on the Syrohexapla. So thanks for that info.

      Regarding Thomas's MSS, he only used one in the Catholic Epistles but 2 (v.l. 3) in the Gospels and Paul. I do agree that he was revising the Philoxenian but, as he says, he revised it inline with his "good" Greek MS(S). In the Catholic Epistles, the differences between the Harklean and Philoxenian are more than merely philological. Many are textual and since that is where we have both translations extant at some length, I think that comparison may be more useful. But that may be due more to the fact that his text in the Catholics is not a mature Byz text. I haven't done much work in the Gospels myself, so perhaps my ignorance needs correction on that.

      Also did you mean New College MS 333 (not 334)?

  4. I think the earliest appearance of the PA in Syriac sources is Brit.Lib. Add. MS 17202 containing the Chronicle of Pseudo-Zacharaiah Rhetor. The MS is dated to 569 – 624 CE. 569 is the terminus post quem when the anonymous monk in Amida compiled the work which included a unique version of the pericope adulterae derived from a Gospels book that was once owned by a bishop Mara (or Moro).

  5. Fr Peter Hill3/14/2017 9:40 am

    Thanks Tommy and you are right. I should have been clearer, the earliest occurrence of the PA in a copy of the Peshitta is (I think)from the 9th cent.

  6. Fr Peter Hill3/24/2017 1:01 am

    Hi Peter, and belated thanks for your response.

    Yes, I do mean New College 334, which White collated with New College 333 (his base text) and one other copy in preparing his edition.Its identity as a copy of the Bar Salibi revision of the Gospels is established in part by the colophon to that effect on fol.76a. However, NC334 also evidences other revisional influences. The Bar Salibi colophon rules out the often assigned date of the 12th cent. Probably it is a copy of the early to mid-13th cent.
    Further, I should add that Gwynn, Remnants (pp.3-4) lists most of the Syriac copies of the Paul-form of the PA (8th cent.?), including those I listed earlier that have both the Paul scholion and the PA; the form of the PA associated with copies of the Harklean, chiefly from the 12th cent. onwards. He notes two copies of an unattributed version (based on Paul PA?). He lists also three copies of the somewhat 'eccentric' Mara-form, known from Ps.Zecharias,and which appears to date from the 5th cent., and a 19th cent. copy from Malabar that appears to render the PA from the Latin Vulgate.
    As well as Min.480, which of course was unknown to Gwynn, it should be noted that the PA Paul-form also occurs in Brit.Lib. Add. 17124 (A.D. 1233/34), which in the Gospels is a fine example of the Bar Salibi revision of the Harklean.