Middle East Resources

Review of the Arabic Text of MT. SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151

Review of the Arabic Text of MT. SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151

Bassam Michael Madany

INTRODUCTION

At the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in the wilderness that separates Egypt from Israel, there is an ancient monastery, St. Catherine's.  Its library contains thousands of precious manuscripts, all waiting to be explored.  One important manuscript is MT SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151. It has been microfilmed by a team of experts and is available at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

When Dr. Harvey Staal, a Reformed Church missionary in the Middle East, was taking advanced Arabic at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, one of his professors was Dr. Aziz Suriyal Atiya. Prof. Atiya was closely associated with the microfilming of the manuscripts, which was completed in the 1950s. Sensing that he had a potential scholar on his hands, Prof. Atiya encouraged Harvey Staal to work on the Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151.

Thus, began a lifetime project which culminated in the publication in 1985 of the manuscript in a two-volume work (English and Arabic).  Printed in Louvain, Belgium, the new volumes are part of a renowned series of Christian Oriental texts. This impressive and masterly work covered 1,800 pages of typed manuscript, and the final proof reading was done in Beirut, during the Civil War.

The Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151 was indeed a most exciting discovery.  It appears to be the oldest Arabic translation of the New Testament in existence.  The original manuscript was completed in Damascus, Syria, around 1000 years before the Smith/Van Dyck translation of the Bible appeared in Beirut in 1865.  Codex 151 consists of the Book of Acts, the Pauline and the General Epistles.

The translator was Bishr Ibn Al Sirri, an Eastern Christian living in Damascus, whose work was done about 200 years after the Arab conquest of the Middle East. Al Sirri chose to start the translation with Romans. 

In his introduction to the English translation of Codex 151, Dr. Staal makes the following observation:

“This has been a most interesting, inspiring, and profitable study, especially from two aspects—word study and interpretation.  There are several translations of individual words that add additional insight to our understanding of some of our basic Christian concepts.  It is also most interesting to read the comments made by Middle Eastern Christians of a thousand years ago, reflecting the theology of people from a cultural background very similar to that of our Lord.  We trust that some of this will carry over to you in the English translation.”
There is something mysterious and exciting about the desert monastery of St. Catherine.  When Dr. Staal visited there, he discovered that Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151 was a fascinating bound book of a large size, with a remarkable cover of wood and leather.  You could imagine, looking at it, that it was certainly one of a kind (perhaps the only Bible in Damascus in A.D. 867).

Those indeed were troubled times in the Middle East. The Mongolians who captured Baghdad in 1258, continued their march westward, causing great alarm in Syria.This manuscript probably was taken and deposited for safekeeping at the Monastery. As far as we know, it remained untouched until the microfilming in the 1950s.

Dr. Staal did not have to walk to St. Catherine's monastery. He flew to a small airstrip nearby.  He was able to spend five memorable days there after completing his work on microfilming copies of the manuscript.  What a thrill to see and touch and photograph the manuscript itself!

Dr. Staal recalls that he needed two hours to decipher just two lines when he first started on Philippians.  It was like working with a code. The dots, which ordinarily distinguish various letters of the Arabic alphabet, were omitted.  Evidently, they were not considered necessary for people educated enough to read the Bible!

For an example, consider that one particular mark ("stroke" in Arabic) like the bottom half of a circle could be taken for the letter "n", "b", "t", "th", or "y" according to where the dots were placed.  The translation work became easier only after Harvey became completely familiar with Al Sirri's script.  He spoke with great appreciation of the invaluable help of Dr. Jibrail S. Jabbur, of the American University of Beirut, who joined him in the labor of proofreading every word.  Dr. Jabbur was able to help him greatly with some almost undecipherable words.

For personal Bible study, Dr. Staal's English translation of this ancient manuscript would provide many new insights.  It simply is a literal translation of the Arabic text.  Here you have an interpretation of various passages of Scripture by a Christian of the 9th century A.D.  The translation into Arabic was made from the Aramaic (Syriac,) a language in common use in the Middle East for over 1000 years.

Al Sirri manuscript from A.D. 867 takes on immense importance.  It helps everyone to understand the tremendous roots of Middle Eastern Christianity. Thoughts of Eastern Christians living under Islamic rule can be gleaned from the comments on the NT passages in the footnotes It should be a boost to the self-image of Eastern Christians as they face tremendous problems, especially in Syria, where the Civil War has been going on unabated, since March 2011! 

I would like to pay special tributes to both the late Dr. Aziz Suriyal Atiya, and to my late colleague, Dr. Harvey Staal, whose contributions to the field of Biblical Studies are invaluable. 

For those of us, Arabic-speaking Eastern Christians, we are grateful to the Lord God who called these men to labor in their specialized fields of research and crowned their efforts with the discovery of Codex 151. Our ancestors Arabized but did not Islamize. They remained faithful to their Christian faith. As Dhimmis, they endured persecution and marginalization; but in due time, they played a major role in the Arab Renaissance of the 19th century. For the sake of brevity, we refer to the Arabic translation of the Bible as the “Smith-Van Dyck” translation; we should add the names of their Lebanese colleagues, Bustani and Yazigi!

During the spring of 1986, my wife Shirley and I were in Cyprus. Harvey and Hilda Staal had moved there from Beirut, where the Civil War was raging. One evening, while visiting the Staal’s, I received with joy the Arabic version and its English translation of MT. SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151. 

In this review, I propose to deal with the following subjects:   
                                        
The Arabic language in the 9th century, in comparison with contemporaneous Arabic, similarities and differences. 

The theology of Eastern Christianity, as revealed in Codex 151

The Value of the Syriac text of Codex 151, used by Al Sirri

The Arabic language in the 9th century, in comparison with today’s Arabic, similarities and differences. 

Unlike English and French, the two European languages I’m conversant with, the written Arabic language (known as Classical Arabic) retains a quality that “immunizes” it against obsolescence. 

For example, as I began reading Romans 1 in Codex 151, I did not encounter an archaic Arabic text, even though it differed from the Smith-Van Dyck translation that I have known since my earliest days. This may be explained by the fact that Classical Arabic is anchored to the language of the Qur’an, the first Arabic book in history. This is not to imply that the Arabic language hasn’t changed over the years. The style has changed greatly in comparison with that of the 19th century. Arabic has acquired a tremendous amount of new vocabulary throughout the 20th and early 21st  centuries. Still, it retains the quality of absorbing new terms, without making earlier words obsolete.

Thus, Arabic differs from the English language where the works of Chaucer are not readily understood and require “interpretation” by experts like the late C.S. Lewis. Another example would be The Song of Roland, that was written in Anglo-Norman, about Charlemagne’s nephew Roland, who was killed at Roncevaux; after returning from a battle against the Saracens in Spain. When I was studying French literature in the 1940s, the text of the epic required a translation into French, so that we could understand it.

An equally important fact revealed by the language of Codex 151, is the approximate date for the Arabicization of the Christians in Syria and Mesopotamia. Within 200 years after the Arab-Islamic Futuhat (Conquests), Christians began to use Arabic as their daily language, giving the impetus for translating the Scriptures into Arabic.

As Sidney H. Griffith put it in his book, “The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islami.

“By the ninth century in the Melkite community, it would seem that Arabic had already effectively replaced Greek for a century and more as the preferred ecclesiastical language from Alexandria in Egypt, to Jerusalem in Palestine, and even reaching to Antioch in Syria. Indeed, Jerusalem became the effective ecclesiastical center for the Arabic-speaking, Melkite church throughout the Oriental churches” ii

“It is notable that a Christian copyist working in Damascus in the middle of the ninth Christian century is already dating his text, a text obviously intended for Christian readers, according to the Islamic calendar, with no corresponding Christian dating. This usage bespeaks an already high degree of enculturation into the prevailing, public conventions of the World of Islam on the part of Arabic-speaking Christians in this milieu.”  iii
 

The theology of Eastern Christianity, as revealed in Codex 151; and Comparisons of Codex 151 with the Smith-Van Dyck translation. 

By reading the comments on the Biblical texts, we learn about the Evangelical beliefs of the Christians in Syria. 

Beginning with the Letter to the Romans, the translator underlined the man’s inability to please God by his own efforts. He comments, “It is necessary for every person to believe in Christ in order to be saved from that punishment.” Romans 2

Commenting on Romans 3:19, “Since we have demonstrated from the Torah itself that is not possible for man to justify himself by works, therefore he is forced to the righteousness which is from faith.”

Therefore, the greatness of the benefit of the righteousness of faith has been demonstrated and Christ was the reason for that. Then let us remain in nearness and fellowship to God; and his sure word indicated this. Romans 5:1

Romans 5:8 is translated, “Christ died in our place (or as our substitute)” is better than “on our behalf.” of the SVD (Smith/Van Dyck) translation.

Another example of the translator’s theological position, is his comment on Romans 7:12 “The Law then is pure, and the commandment is pure, just, righteous.”

He desires to show the weakness of the Torah in order that the power of the Gospel may be known. That is, it has made me see good from evil, but it did not make me free, but I am like a slave to sin. It did not make me free from sin, as Christ will make me in the hereafter.

Having mentioned Al-Sirri’s Evangelical belief, his comment on Romans 8:1, manifests a serious flaw in the Anthropology of the Eastern Churches, namely the dichotomy between “soul” and “body”, implying that while the body was impacted by the Fall, the soul remained untouched and can obey the Law. 

There is therefore no condemnation to those who do not walk in the body, in Jesus Christ.” 8:1

He says, then if it is demonstrated that the soul chooses to follow the law of God, and the body is prevented from that through sin, then by necessity there is a need for the coming of Christ who saves us from all of that by our faith in him.

The comments on Romans 9 -11, clearly indicate that the Eastern Churches differed from the Augustinian heritage, by positing that Election was based on God’s foreknowledge, and of those deemed worthy of this favor.

This is not all, but regarding Rebecca also, after intercourse with our father Isaac, before she gave birth to her two sons, and before the two of them did either good or bad, the choice of God was known beforehand in order to establish that it is not by works but by the One who appointed, because it was said that the older would be a slave to the younger, just as it is written, ‘Verily I love Jacob and I Hated Esau.’” 9:10-13
 
Comment:
It demonstrated that in order to teach you that God does not follow the arrangement of the essence [the order of nature], but he chooses for his character him who is worthy of his choice in accordance with what he knows about him beforehand.
 
Then what shall we say now? Perhaps there is injustice with God? Far be it from that! Behold he also said to Moses, ‘I will mercy on whom I have mercy, upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whom I have compassion.’ Nor is the matter  therefore in the two hands of him who wishes, nor in the two hands of him who strives, but in the two hands of the merciful God, because in the book he said to Pharaoh, ‘Verily I have raised you up for this, in order to show my power to you and in order that my name may be proclaimed in all of the earth.’ Then he therefore has mercy upon whom he wills and makes it difficult for whom he wills.” 9:14-18
 
Comment:
He says, Verily I said this to demonstrate that God does not follow the arrangement of nature, but by his grace he chooses those who are worthy. No one thinking [reasonable person] can say regarding me that I say the choice of God is foolish, or that is tyrannical. 

Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities, because there is no authority that is not from God.” Romans.” 13:1

Comment:
Many who became Christians and renounced the world, were thinking that it was not necessary to honor leaders, but it was necessary to hate them just as it was necessary to hate evil ones. The blessed Paul wanted to turn them aside, back from this idea, and teach them the place of authority in the world.

Codex 151 is more precise in its translation of certain Arabic words, such as in I Corinthians 2:16, “However, we verily have the mind of Christ.” 

The term  ’Aql, (Mind) in this translation, is more accurate than فِكْر, Fikr (Thought) used in SVD.
  
Codex 151 translates I Cor. 6:12. “Verily, everything is permissible for me, but not everything benefits me,” is clearer and better than “agreeable to me” in SVD.
                            
It’s noteworthy that In the comments of Codex 151, the formulation of the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of the Person of Jesus Christ, are in conformity with the Nicene Creed as interpreted at the Chalcedonian Council. While there is no direct reference to the Ecumenical Creeds, Arianism is mentioned as a heresy.

Still for us God the Father is one, from whom is everything. We are in him. The Lord Jesus Christ is one, by whose hand are all things. We also are by his hand.” I Cor 8:6

Comment: 
That is that divinity, creation, lordship, and control are common to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, to show the unity of God, because whoever is truly a lord is truly a god. And whoever is truly a god is truly a lord. In the name “Jesus Christ” there is an indication of the divinity and the humanity, because it indicates the person whom he took, and the Spirit who anointed him, and the Eternal Son who dwelt in him and was united with him, who is the Son of the Father.

Look at Israel which is according to the body.” I Cor 10:18

Comment: 
That is the physical Israel, that is the Jews, because the Israel of God is spiritual, that is, the Christians.

I have received from our Lord the thing I have instructed you.” I Cor 11:23

Comment:
That is in the four sections of the Gospel.

Note
The reference to the four-fold Gospel indicates that the translation of the NT books had been accomplished, even though Codex 151 includes only the Acts and the Epistles.

However, my brethren, regarding the spiritual things,” I Cor 12:1

Comment:
In the beginning of the matter of Chrsitianity, many of the believers were given spiritual gifts. Some of them prophesied concerning the matters that were coming. Some of them spoke in languages which they did not know previously. Some of them were given other gifts.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” II Cor 13:14

Comment:
This petition is according to the custom at the end of his letters. He did not want to make a distinction in separating these terms, but he meant, may there be to you the grace, love, and fellowship in Christ the Son, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. That is a definite reply to the followers of Arius, who argue that the Father is the Creator, and the Son is created, because the Father precedes in the arrangement. Behold, Paul has arranged the name of the Son before the name of the Father, to indicate that the essence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one. Putting the name first or last does not indicate a difference in the essence. Then Paul says, “Since you have been made worthy of the grace of God, you have been given Paradise in love, and you have received acceptance and fellowship with him.”

Galatians

In the Introduction to the Epistle to the Galatians, we notice the use of the Arabic term nazala i.e. descended, indicating that this Islamic concept of revelation was current among the Eastern Christians in Syria. Nowadays, Arabic-speaking Christians use the term wahi (inspired) as in II Timothy 3:16 كُلُّ الْكِتَابِ هُوَ مُوحًى بِهِ مِنَ اللهِ
 
Or, as in II Peter 21: 16b, the term is masuqeen (moved) بَلْ تَكَلَّمَ أُنَاسُ اللهِ الْقِدِّيسُونَ مَسُوقِينَ مِنَ الرُّوحِ الْقُدُسِ.

In the translation of Gal. 3:24 regarding the role of the Law, “Therefore, the Torah was for us a guide to Christ, in order that we may be made righteous from faith,” the term ‘daleel ‘(guide) is clearer than ‘muaddeb’ (pedagogue) used in SVD translation.

Philippians

Think this concerning yourselves, that which Jesus also thought, that one who, although he was in the likeness of God, did not count it stealing that he was equal with God; but he made himself destitute, took the likeness (form) of the servant, became in the likeness of mankind, and in form he was found as a man. He humbled himself and obeyed until death; however, the death was that of the cross. For this reason, God also exalted his standing, and gave him a name superior to every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, in earth, and under the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, in praise God his Father.” 2:5-11 

Comment:
Christ did not consider himself great because he was God, the Creator of everything, and he was not proud of his majesty, but accepted base matters below his greatness for the benefit of others. Because he was equal to God, he would have been able to use force against death and Satan to save his creation from the opponent; but since he wanted to pay the debt of Adam who desired to become a god, he became a submissive dying slave. Since he was a god by nature and did not take that by stealth or snatching from someone else, for that reason he made himself destitute of glory, because he knew he made himself destitute, no one could steal his greatness from him, because was essential, original, not brought in, borrowed; because submission by will does no harm to natural honor.

Colossians

Codex 151 begins with this brief Introduction explaining that the Judaizers had confused the new believers by teaching that keeping the Law was still a requirement. So, Paul wrote the Letter to remind them to remain faithful to the message of the Gospel that was delivered to them by Epaphras, the trusted emissary.

“[I thank] God the Father who made us worthy to share in the in the inheritance of the saints in light and saved us from the power of darkness. And he brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, through whom we have salvation and forgiveness of sins; that one who is the likeness of the unseen God, and the firstborn of all of the creation; by whom everything in heaven and in earth was created, all that is seen and all that is not seen, …everything was created by his hand and in him exists; and he is the head of the body of the congregation (church).” 1:12-18

Comment:
Some of Paul’s words point to the humanity of Christ which is united in the sonship, and some of it points to his divinity. Then his saying, ‘the beloved’ as the Greek text witnesses, points to the fact that we become partners in the humanity of Christ in ruling, as ruling is ours by nature.

First Thessalonians
Our evangelizing with you was not only in words, but also with our hands, and with the Holy Spirit, and with true conviction.” 1:5a

Comment:
In evangelizing you, we did not limit ourselves to speaking alone, but we joined signs and wonders with our words.

I would like you to know, oh my brothers, that concerning those who sleep, do not be mourning like the rest of the people who have no hope; because we who believe that Jesus has died and has been raised, then likewise also God will bring those who are asleep in Jesus with him.” 4:13,14


Comment:
He mentions now the hereafter and the good of the resurrection, and that for this reason excessive mourning was not befitting them. He says, ‘If we truly believe in the resurrection of Christ, then we must believe also that we shall also rise, just as he arose, that we may be with him in his reign.

Second Thessalonians
Then we are requesting of you, oh my brothers, either upon the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, or about being gathered to him, that you do not become quickly disturbed in your thoughts and do not be bewildered neither from a word, nor from a spirit, nor from a letter as if it were from us, alleging that behold the day of our Lord has arrived. Perhaps a person will deceive you with one of these things, because if the rebellion does not come first, and the person of sin appear, the son of destruction, that one who is the stubborn one; and the one who displays an arrogant behavior over everyone who is called a god, and a place of sacrifice, so that he even sits in the temple   God as a god, and thinks of himself as if he is God.” 2:1-4

Comment:
He came now to address them in the matter of the end of the world. He says, “However, do not accept a saying regarding that from one who wishes to deceive you and delude you that the time had come extremely near. Do not accept it from one who alleges that that was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.

First Timothy

Introduction

The Apostle Paul had left Timothy behind in the city of Ephesus, to tour in all the country of Asia and administer the churches that are in it. Then he wrote him this letter soon after he had left him, to warn the believers lest they be led to those calling for the keeping of the laws of Judaism in Christianity. And after that he counselled him regarding what it was necessary for him to do when he was the director (administrator) of the churches (congregations), and for that reason he added his words regarding all levels [of the congregation] and showed how everyone who considered himself a believer should be. He added what was necessary for the ministers (priests), and what was necessary for the deacons, and for the widows, and for the rest of the people. During that he made mention of faith, because it was appropriate to his teaching, and he did not fail to mention anything in this letter which was for the good of all the public.

And we know that the Torah is good, if the person conducts himself according to the Torah; since we know that the Law was not given for the righteous, but for the wicked.” 1:8, 9a

Comment:
He says ‘I said this saying not because I blame or reject the Torah, but to attach the blame to those who do not use it correctly.

The word is true, that if one desires being a bishop, then he desires a good work, except that it is necessary he be a bishop in whom there is no fault, and was the husband of one wife, whose mind is alert, and he is a chaste, serious, a lover of strangers, a scholar.” 3:1,2

Comment:
“He called being a bishop, a work and not an authority, to reprove the one who uses leadership like the authority of the people of the world. That is, he should not join together two wives or concubines with his wife, like the Jews, nor he should be like the pagans. However, if he married one wife and she died, in the presence of this, he has become in purity, so that the arrangement of the priest shall be higher than the general arrangement.”

Note
The Arabic text and its translation are not clear. Most likely it meant that a bishop (priest) may not remarry after the passing of his wife. It is a tradition that has been followed in the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and non-Chalcedonian.

“Then, if I am delayed, then you will know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the congregation (church) of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.”   I Timothy 3:15

Comment:
He means by the congregation (church) which is the pillar and foundation of the truth, the group of the believers, because when we are firm in the faith, then the truth is with us, but if we turn into infidelity, then the truth turns away from us, because the knowledge of truth in the world is seen through the believers.

And truly the mystery of this righteous (just) one is great, because he appeared in the body, and was justified in the Spirit, and showed himself to the angels, and was proclaimed among the peoples, and was believed on in the world, and ascended in glory.” I Timothy 3:16

Comment:
He says, “The mystery of our faith is great, that God the Word who is invisible in his essence, dwelt in one of us, and appeared in him to people in order to make all of them alive.”

II Timothy
I am indeed longing for the sight of you. Verily I indeed remember your tears, in order that I may be filled with happiness in the memory I have for your true faith, which dwelt first in Lois, your grandmother, and in your mother Eunice, and I know that is in you also. For this reason, I remind you to wake up the gift of God that is in you by the laying on of my hand, because God did not give us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power of love and exhortation.” II Timothy 1:4-7

Comment:
That is, it is not necessary for us to be dismayed by what is sent down on us of hardships, because in the grace of the Holy Spirit we have enough to strengthen us and make us firm in the love of God.

Titus
Then when the goodness and mercy of God, who makes us live, appeared, not by works of righteousness  which we did, but by his special mercy, he made us alive by the washing of the birth which was from before, and by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, that which he poured out upon us richly in Jesus Christ, the one who makes us live, that we may be made righteous by his grace Then we are heirs in the hope of eternal life.” 3:4-7

Comment:
That is that we may become righteous by our faith that he pours out upon us of his grace, and we inherit the eternal well-being of the hereafter.

Hebrews
A lengthy introduction explaining the reason for Paul’s omission of his usual salutations

“It was the intention of the Apostle Paul to answer these arguments with abundant wisdom; and he began the opening statement of his letter in answer to the opponents, and showed that Jesus, and not he alone, resembles the prophets, but the honor of his divinity is higher and more honorable without ending though that he was in his humanity while he had fellowship with them in nature. And he began to talk about the two natures as speaking in one aspect. And for that reason, words are found in it which refer to his divinity sometimes, and words in which he refers to his humanity sometimes. And he shows that he is greater than he prophets, and greater than the angels.”

In all sections and in all likenesses, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets previously, and in these last days he spoke to us in his Son whom he made an heir to everything, and in him he created the worlds.” 1:1,2

Comment:
However, with the first people, while the revelation of God was by means of those sections and likenesses, however, in these last times then he has spoken to us in his Son when he became incarnate.

And he made the cleansing of our sins and sat down at the right of Majesty in the heights. And all this is greater than the angels, just as the name of the one who inherits is greater than their name.” 1: 3b,4

Comment:
When he had shown the majesty of his divinity, he went on to mention his humanity, that is the person taken. He says that Christ, after he had suffered, purified our sins.

For this reason, it is necessary for us that we should be increasingly keeping (protecting) that thing which we heard so that we will not fall.” 2:1

Comment:
It is necessary to be on our guard, because if the Torah, which was sent down upon the hands of angels, had reached the place in its power where the one who disobeyed it was not saved from punishment because the punishment was attached to every law in it, if it were not kept; then verily how shall we be able to be saved from punishment, if we approach the matters of Christ with slackness?

Then let us be afraid therefore, lest while the promise to enter into his rest remains firm, there be found one of you who stays away from entering. Because we also have had the gospel preached to us just as those also had it preached to them, but the word which they heard was of no interest to them, because it was not mixed with faith to those who heard it.” 4: 1,2

Comment:
Then if we have heard this saying which David said by the revelation of the Spirit, and have seen what there was of the matter of the first ones and what happened to them, then it is necessary for us to fear lest we, while we were promised entrance into the rest, are lax in our striving; and in the wickedness of our consciences and our lives, we waver between ourselves and entering [i.e. the Rest].

And these, all of them, gave witness by their faith, while the promise was not fulfilled to them; because God had previously looked into our benefit so that they would not be made perfect without us.” 11:39,40

Comment:
He indicated by this saying that the time in which those righteous will be rewarded is one, and that they did all of these matters in faith, and they are still looking forward to the fulfillment of which they were promised, since they are not murmuring about receiving the reward with us, who have come after them by ages. And that, all of it, is an indication of their patience, and calls us to patience, and to imitating them in their striving, in order that we may share with them in paradise.

Colophon

“These letters which are fourteen, have been translated from Syriac into Arabic, and the weak, poor sinner Bishr ibn al-Sirri, has explained their comments as was possible for him, briefly, for his spiritual brother Solomon. And he completed that in the month of Ramadan, of the year two hundred and fifty-three, in the city of Damascus. And praise to God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.”

“May God have mercy upon the one who prays for the translator, the author, and the owner, with mercy and forgiveness.

“Oh Lord, forgive the one who made this book. Amen.”

 

The Book of the Abraksis, the Acts of the Apostles

[There is no Introduction to Acts. Comments begin in Chapter 5]


Then when they brought them, they made all of them stand before the group. Then the high priest began to say to them, ‘did we not strictly command you that you should not teach anyone in this name? Then you, however, then have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you wish to bring upon us the blood of this men. Simon answered with the apostles and said to them, ‘God has priority to be obeyed before people.” 5:27-29

Oh, stubborn (heard-shouldered) ones, and uncircumcised of your hearts and of your ears, you are at all times opposing the Holy Spirit like your fathers, even you also. Then verily which one of the prophets did not your fathers persecute and kill? They killed those who previously prophesied of the coming of the Righteous One, who you surrendered and killed, while you received the law by commandment of the angels and did not keep it. Then when they heard this they were filled with fury in their souls and began to gnash their teeth against him. And he, since he was filled with faith and he Holy Spirit, looked straight into heaven. Then he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right of God.” 7:51-55

Comment:
After that St Stephen made clear that the people have remained rebellious from the time of Moses, and then after Moses they had left the worship of God and worshipped idols, and that it is not a wonder that they now had opposed Christ and crucified him. How beautiful that he now turns his words to reprove them. He says. ‘You at all times are rebels, not wishing to remove the rebellion from your hearts and your hearings. By the Righteous One he means Christ, because he is truly the Righteous One, who makes righteous by faith in him, whoever believes in him.

And then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and said to him, ‘Arise and go down to the south in the wilderness road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ Then he arose and went down. Then one eunuch met him who had come from Ethiopia, the agent of Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia, and he was responsible for all her treasury. Then it happened that he had come to pray in Jerusalem. Then, when he was returning on his way back, he was sitting on his chariot and he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then, the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go forward and accompany the chariot. Then, when he went forward, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet. Then he asked him, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’  However, then he said, ‘How am I able to understand if no person makes me understand?’ Then he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. Then, however, the section of the book in which he was reading was this: Like the sheep for slaughter he was led, and like the ewe before the shearers he was silent. And thus, he did not open his mouth. In his humility, from prison and from quarreling he was led, and who will tell of his generation? His life was cut off from the earth.’ Then the eunuch said to Philip, ‘’\I ask you, whom did the prophet mean by this, himself, or another person?

“Then Philip opened his mouth and began from this very book to proclaim to him the matter of our Lord Christ. Then, while the two of them were going on the road, they reached one placed in which there was water. Then the eunuch said, ‘’Behold here is water. Then what hindrance is there for my being baptized?’  Then, he commanded that the chariot be stopped. Then both of them went down to the water and Philip baptized the eunuch. Then, when he went up from the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched up Philip so that the eunuch did not see him again, but he was continuing happily on his way” 8:26-39

 “Then, however Saul still then was filled with menacing and the fury of killing against the disciples of our Lord. And he asked for himself letters from the high priest In order that he might give then to the synagogues in Damascus so that if he found men or women living this way, he might make them prisoners, and take them to Jerusalem.” 9:1,2

Comment:
From here he begins to inform us of the news of Saul. And he describes first his opposition. Then, he follows that with his obedience. And verily he mentioned his opposition to the congregation (church) and his harming it. Then he followed that with his call from heaven, to indicate what the grace of the Spirit did in the administration of salvation to the nations (Gentiles). And that was because while the [Spirit] was able to choose one of those who believe for his work, but because they were still holding fast to the traditions and customs and were setting themselves apart from the nations (Gentiles) [the Spirit] was compelled to choose Saul.

And there were in the congregation (church) of Antioch, prophets and teachers. Barnabas, and Simon who was called Niger, and Lucius who was from the city of Cyrene, and Manean the son of the nursery of Herod the chief of the Quarter, (the tetrarch) and Saul. Then, when they were fasting and making intercession to God, the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Set apart for me Saul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them.’ And after they had fasted and prayed, they laid hands upon them and sent the two of them out.” 13: 1-3

Comment: 
From here he informs us about the experience of Saul and Barnabas for the making of the message to the nations (Gentiles) by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. He means by the work that the two of them would be servants entrusted with the proclaiming of the gospel to the nations (Gentiles) for their salivation. 

Then when Paul stood in the Areopagus he said, ‘Oh men Athenians, verily I see you are striving for excellence in your worship of demons in all conditions. And while I was walking around and seeing the houses of your ceremonies, I found one altar upon which was written, To the concealed god. Then that one whom you fear, while not knowing him, this is the one I am preaching to you, because God who created the world and all that is in it, since he is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples, the work of hands, and the hands of mankind do not serve him. And he is not in need of a thing, because verily he is the one who gives every person life and soul. And from one blood he create4d all the world of people so that they may be dwelling on the face of all the earth.  …And In this time, he commands all people to repent every person in every place, since he has raised up today the one by whom he is planning to judge all of the earth with justice, at the hand of the man whom he set apart, and to return every person to his faith by raising him from the dead. Then when they heard of the resurrection from the dead, some of them were ridiculing, while some of them were saying, verily we will listen to you about this another time.’ And thus, Paul went out from among them. And people of them joined him and believed. And one of them was Dionysius of the judges of Areopagus and a woman whose name was Damaris, and others with them.” 17:22-26 & 30-34   

Comment: 
St. Ephraim said that it is said severe drought and earthquakes happened in the city of Athens continuously. Then its people agreed to pray every day and offer sacrifices to all their gods. Then when they had completed the sacrificing to all of their gods, upon all of their altars, and did not see a benefit, they tore them down and threw them away, Then they gathered together and pondered and said, may there not be another god than these? Then who is this one that does not stop from agitating us?’ Then they erected an altar and said, This is for the god we do not know.’ And they wrote upon it, ‘To the concealed god.’ That is, to the veiled one. Then the mercy of God was demonstrated to them, and he had mercy on the narrowness of their minds and freed them from their difficulties.

“And from Miletus itself, he [Paul} sent and brought the ministers (priest) of the congregation (church) of Ephesus. Then, when they came to him, he said to them, ‘You know that verily, I from the first day I entered Asia, how I was with you all of the time, while I was worshipping God in great humility and with tears and tr4ials which were stirred up against me by the plots of the Jews. And for what reasons am I rebuked? It was the most fitting thing for your souls that I should proclaim to you while I was teachings it the streets and, in the homes, while I was urging Jews and pagans to repent to God, and faith our Lord Jesus Christ.

“And I am now a captive of the Spirit and am going to Jerusalem while I do not know what thing will come suddenly upon me there, but the Holy Spirit in every city is warning me and saying that bonds and hardships are awaiting me, but my soul is not counted as anything with me in the completion of my striving and the service which I received from the Lord Jesus, in order that I may witness to the Gospel of the grace of God. And I now know that verily you also will never see my face, oh all those for whom I travelled and preached to you the Kingdom. And for this reason, I warn you on the day of this people That verily I am pure from the blood of all of you and because I did not seek exemption from te4acdhing you all of the pleasure of God. Then guard yourselves and all of the flock over which the Holy Spirit has raised you up as bishops, that you may guard the congregation (church) of Christ which he purchased with his blood, because verily I know that after I leave, the fierce wolves will ente4r with you without co9mpassi0on for the flock. And from you also will arise men who will speak crooked things, to turn back the disciples so that that they will follow them. For this reason, be awake, remembering that I, for three years, did not stop by day or by night, while with tears I was preaching to each person of you. And I now commend you to God and to the world of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all of the saints. Silver or gold or clothes, I did not desire. And you know that for my needs and for those who were with me, these two hands served. And I have showed you everything, and thus it is necessary to work and to care for those who aree3 sick, and that they remember the words of our Lord, because that he said, ‘Blessing to the one who gives, more than the one who receives.’ Then when he said these sayings, he knelt down on his two knees and prayed, and all of the people with him.’’  And they embraced him and began kissing him, while they were especially in agony over these words which he said, that they would not see his face again. And they escorted him to the boat.” 20: 17-38

Then when the seventh day arrived, the Jews who were from Asia saw him in the temple. Then they aroused all of the people, and threw hands upon him while reviling and saying, ‘Oh men Children of Israel, help. This man who teaches in every place contrary to our people and contrary to the Torah and contrary to this country, has also brought in Gentiles into the temple and defiled the pure place. And that was because they had previously seen Trophimus, the Ephesian with him in the city, so were thinking that he entered the temple with Paul” 21:27-29

Comment:
This Trophimus was a believer from the nations (Gentiles), and Paul forbade him from entering with him into the temple, so that the Jews would not find a way for arguing. Then, however, the Asians then claimed about him that he had brought him into the temple.

And when Paul knew that some of the people were of the party of the Sadducees and some of them were of the part of the Pharisees he shouted in the assembly, ‘Oh men my brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of two Pharisees, and I am being judged on the hope of the resurrection of the dead’. Then when he said this, the Pharisees and the Sadducees fell upon one another, and the people were divided. And that was because the Sadducees maintain that there is no resurrection nor angles nor spirit. Then, however, then affirm all of them.” 23:6-8

Note
In the Arabic text of this passage, rather than simply transliterating Sadducees and Pharisees, as the Greek terms σαδδουκαιων and φαρισαιων are used, Bishr ibn al-Sirri, borrowed two Arabic terms from the broader Islamic culture. For Sadducees, he used Zanadiqa (plural of Zindiq, i.e. Unbelievers;) and for Pharisees, he chose Mu’tazila. While etymologically, Mu’tazila is equivalent to Pharisees, both signifying people who set themselves apart, the Separated; historically, Mu’tazila referred to the Islamic schools in Basrah and Baghdad; that advocated the use of reason, in the interpretation of the Qur’an. During the middle of the 9th century, they acquired the support of the Caliph al-Ma’moon in Baghdad. He sided with them in advocating the createdness of the Qur’an. However, Imam Hanbal, a founder of one of the four schools for the interpretation of Shariah, taught that the Qur’an was eternal!

“Then they appointed for him a day. Then many were assembled together and came to him where he was staying. Then he made clear to them the matter of the Kingdom of God, while he was encouraging them and convincing them about Jesus from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning until evening. Then, some people of them were persuaded by his speaking, while others were not persuaded. Then they left him, while they were not agreeing with one another. Then Paul said to them these words, ‘How beautiful what the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of Isaiah the prophet has become heavy, and their eyes have become regarding our fathers, when he says, ‘Go out to this people and say to them that you are hearing me a hearing but not understanding. And you are seeing but not distinguishing clearly, because the heart of this people has become thick, and their hearing has become heavy, and their eyes have become lusterless, so that they do not see withy their eyes, and do not hear with their ears, and do not understand with their hearts, and do not repent to me so that I will forgive them.’ Then know this therefore, that I will send this salvation of God to the nations (Gentiles), because they will obey it.” Then Paul rented for himself from his money, a house and remained in it for two years. And he was entertaining there all who were coming to him, while he was proclaiming the matter of the Kingdom of God and was teaching openly the matter of our Lord Jesus Christ without hindrance.”   28:23-31

Comment:
Because the essence of the divinity was one, it was possible to attribute the saying of the Father to the Son, and to the saying of the Son and the Father to the Spirit. And that is that Isaiah said this as if it is concerning the Father, and John said that Isaiah said this when he saw his glory and spoke about it. And Paul said here that the Holy Spirit spoke that. And This is an indication that the essence is one.
[In reference to verse 25, where Paul referred to the Holy Spirit speaking by the mouth of Isaiah]

At this limit Luke ended his stories, and that was because he was absent from him. And you will find in the beginning of the commentary of the letters of Paul, which I composed, an explanation of the condition of Paul, and that he came before Nero at this first time. Then he gained the victory and was released, and he remained after that for a period of two years and left. Then he returned and converted Nero’s relatives, and then was martyred at his two hands [i.e. during the reign of Nero] by the sword, patiently.”

Note
The above information regarding the conclusion of the Book of Acts, must have been part of an Eastern Christian tradition.

The Letters of John

“We proclaim to you that one who was found from the beginning, that one we heard and whom we saw with our eyes. We saw, and we touched with our hands, the one who is the Word of Life. And the life appeared, and we have seen, and we witness, and we proclaim to you the life of eternity, that which was found with the Father and which was revealed to us. And the things which we saw, and we heard, we are also informing you about it, so that you may have a part with us. Then, however, our partnership then is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we write t you this letter that our joy in you may be complete. And this gospel which we heard from him, and which we preach to you, is that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. Then if we say that we have fellowship with him while we are striving ion the darkness, then we are lying, and we are not walking in the truth. But if we ae walking in the light, just as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ his Son cleanses us from all of our sins. And if we say that we do not have sin, then verily we deceive ourselves and there is no truth in us. But if we confessed our sins, then he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins for us and to purify us from all of our iniquities. And if we say we do not sin, then verily we make him a liar and his word is not with us.”  I John 1

Comment:
“That is, we proclaim to you the only Son who continues to remain forever with his Father, without separation.

“He says, ‘We proclaim to you the one while he was born with an eternal birth for which there was no beginning, he continues to be from before all beings, the living among  them and the dead, and he is the Fountain of Life, because he is the Creator, the Maker, not only for the essences (natures) which do not speak only, but the Creator of living, speaking  ones also. And he has appeared in this time for the salvation of his creation and its renewal. And he named him “Word”, according to his naming in the Gospel, to indicate that we has born from the Father without separation, and without being behind him (less than him)” And we have explained the meaning in the commentary on the Gospel of John.

"We proclaim to you that one who became flesh. That is, he took a person for his revealing himself. And he made that one flesh, that is the person according to his own self, for the sake of the union which is inseparable. And from him we heard this teaching which we proclaim to all of the people.”

"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah, then he is born of God. And whoever loves the Father loves also the one is born of him. And in this we know that we are loving the sons of God, if we love God and do his commandments, because this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, because everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the overcoming that overcomes the world, our faith. Because who is the one who overcomes the world except that one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, this one who came by the mediation of the water and the blood, Jesus Christ? It is not by the water alone, but by the water and the blood, while the Spirit witnesses. And the Spirit is the truth. And they are three witnesses, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three of them are in one. If we accept the witness of people, then how much more the witness of God which is the greatest? And this is the witness of God which he witnessed concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God then he has this witness in himself. And whoever does not believe God, Then he has made him a liar, because he did not believe the witness which God witnessed concerning his Son. And this is the witness, that God granted us the life of eternity, and the life is in his Son. Everyone who holds on to the Son then, he holds on to the life also. And whoever is not clinging to the Son of God, then there is no life for him.”  I John 5:1-12

“And we know that whoever is born of God will never sin, because that one who is born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not come near him. We know that verily we are from God, and the world, all of it, is placed in the wicked one. And we know that the Son of God came and gave us a mind that we may know the truth, while we are in the truth in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and the life of eternity. Oh, my sons, keep yourselves from the worship of idols.” I John 5:18-21

The Syriac text of Codex 151 used by Al Sirri

The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition. The consensus within biblical scholarship, though not universal, is that the Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century AD, and that the New Testament of the Peshitta was translated from the Greek. 

The Peshitta NT, published by the British & Foreign Bible Society, includes Acts 8:37.

Then Philip said, ‘if you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ However, verse 37 does not appear in the text of Codex 151, indicating the existence of a different Syriac manuscript of the NT, that was used by the translator.

The Vulgate includes verse 37

« Dixit autem Philippus : Si credis ex-toto corde, licet. Et respondens ait : Credo Filium Dei esse Jesum Christum. »

Verse 37 is not in the1881 Greek NT of Westcott-Hort.

The SVD translation includes verse 37

  37فَقَالَ فِيلُبُّسُ:«إِنْ كُنْتَ تُؤْمِنُ مِنْ كُلِّ قَلْبِكَ يَجُوزُ». فَأَجَابَ وَقَالَ:«أَنَا أُومِنُ أَنَّ يَسُوعَ الْمَسِيحَ هُوَ ابْنُ اللهِ».

The Jesuit translation of the NT into Arabic includes the above text, as well as all later Arabic versions.

Codex 151 must have possessed a Syriac text that did not include Acts 8:37

The same fact is observed in the First Letter of John regarding the “Three Witnesses.”

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah, then he is born of God. And whoever loves the Father loves also the one is born of him. And in this we know that we are loving the sons of God, if we love God and do his commandments, because this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, because everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the overcoming that overcomes the world, our faith. Because who is the one who overcomes the world except that one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, this one who came by the mediation of the water and the blood, Jesus Christ? It is not by the water alone, but by the water and the blood, while the Spirit witnesses. And the Spirit is the truth. And they are three witnesses, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three of them are in one. If we accept the witness of people, then how much more the witness of God which is the greatest? And this is the witness of God which he witnessed concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God then he has this witness in himself. And whoever does not believe God, Then he has made him a liar, because he did not believe the witness which God witnessed concerning his Son. And this is the witness, that God granted us the life of eternity, and the life is in his Son.” John 5:1-11

In First John 5, Codex 151 reference to the “Three Witnesses” does not include 5: 7 “For there are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.”

However, it does appear in the Vulgate.   « Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in cælo : Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus: et hi tres unum sunt. Et tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in terra : spiritus, et aqua, et sanguis : et hi tres unum sunt. »

1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament, does not include v. 7

6 ως δε επορευοντο κατα την οδον ηλθον επι τι υδωρ και φησιν ο ευνουχος ιδου υδωρ τι κωλυει με βαπτισθηναι 37  38 και εκελευσεν στηναι το αρμα και κατεβησαν αμφοτεροι εις το υδωρ ο τε φιλιππος και ο ευνουχος και εβαπτισεν αυτον 7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες 8 το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν

The SVD, the Jesuit and all other Arabic translations, include verse 7

6هذَا هُوَ الَّذِي أَتَى بِمَاءٍ وَدَمٍ، يَسُوعُ الْمَسِيحُ. لاَ بِالْمَاءِ فَقَطْ، بَلْ بِالْمَاءِ وَالدَّمِ. وَالرُّوحُ هُوَ الَّذِي يَشْهَدُ، لأَنَّ الرُّوحَ هُوَ الْحَقُّ. 7فَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَشْهَدُونَ فِي السَّمَاءِ هُمْ ثَلاَثَةٌ: الآبُ، وَالْكَلِمَةُ، وَالرُّوحُ الْقُدُسُ. وَهؤُلاَءِ الثَّلاَثَةُ هُمْ وَاحِدٌ. 8وَالَّذِينَ يَشْهَدُونَ فِي الأَرْضِ هُمْ ثَلاَثَةٌ: الرُّوحُ، وَالْمَاءُ، وَالدَّمُ. وَالثَّلاَثَةُ هُمْ فِي الْوَاحِدِ.

The French original of the Jerusalem Bible conforms to the Greek text of the NT. “La Bible De Jérusalem, Les Editions du Cerf, Paris 1970. Le Nouveau Testament, Les Actes de Apôtres 8 :36

36 Chemin faisant, ils arrivèrent à un point d’eau, et l’eunuque dit : « voici de l’eau. Qu’est-ce qui empêche que je sois baptisé ? » 38 Et il fit arrêter le char. Ils descendirent tous deux dans l’eau, Philippe avec l’eunuque, et il le baptisa.

Le verset 37 est une glose tres anciennes provenant de la liturgie baptismale : « Philippe dit, Si tu crois de tout ton cœur, c’est permis. Celui-ci répondit : Je crois que Jésus-Christ est le Fils de Dieu. »

[Verse 37 is a very ancient gloss proceeding from a baptismal liturgy “Phillip said, if you believe with all your heart, it is permitted. He responded, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”]

Première Epitre de saint Jean 5 [I John 5]

« 7 Il y en a ainsi trois à témoigner : 8 l’Esprit, l’eau, le sang, et ces trois tendent au même but. »

Des mss de la Vulgate ajoute la phrase suivante : « le Père, le Verbe, and l’Esprit-Saint, et ces trois sont un. » [Manuscripts of the Vulgate add the following sentence: “The Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.

Both Acts 8 and I John 5, prove the existence of a Syriac text of the NT that was used in Codex 151, and which agrees with Codex Sinaiticus, which dates to the mid-fourth century AD, that was discovered in 1844, by Constantin von Tischendorf

Prior to the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, the translations of the Bible relied on the Textus Receptus, its first printed version was done by Erasmus in the 16th century. It was the text used in Luther’s German Bible, the Tyndale and the King James English versions, as well as in other translations. After the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, all subsequent translations used it, such as in the Revised Version of 1881, its US version of 1901 (Known as the ASV), the RSV, the NIV and ESV.

Hopefully one day, a researcher at St. Catherine’s Monastery would discover the NT Syriac text that was used in the translation of Codex 151. It would be a very important event in the history of the Arabic-speaking Christians of the Middle East and North Africa.

 

_______________________________
 

i“The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam” Copyright © 2013 by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. Quotations from this work, are taken from the Kindle edition.

iiWhen in the second half of the eighth century CE, as we shall see, Arabic began to take its place among the languages of the Church of Jerusalem, it gradually grew in importance to the point that its use in theological discourse became one of the distinguishing features of a distinct Christian confessional community that emerged in the territories of the Caliphate, the Melkites. By the ninth century in the Melkite community, it would seem that Arabic had already effectively replaced Greek for a century and more as the preferred ecclesiastical language from Alexandria in Egypt, to Jerusalem in Palestine, and even reaching to Antioch in Syria. 48 Indeed, Jerusalem became the effective ecclesiastical center for the Arabic-speaking, Melkite church throughout the Oriental in any detail, however, we must first consider the general state of the manuscript evidence.

iii“It is notable that a Christian copyist working in Damascus in the middle of the ninth Christian century is already dating his text, a text obviously intended for Christian readers, according to the Islamic calendar, with no corresponding Christian dating. This usage bespeaks an already high degree of enculturation into the prevailing, public conventions of the World of Islam on the part of Arabic-speaking Christians in this milieu. Secondly, the translation was made from Syriac, indicating that the Melkite translator and scribe, Bishr ibn as-Sirri, was himself a Syriac-speaker, who belonged to an ecclesial community with an originally Syriac patristic and liturgical heritage, albeit that he was a congregant in an Arabic-speaking church, which professed the orthodoxy of the Greek-speaking Byzantine church of the Roman Empire.”

ivWhile a student at the University of Leipzig, Tischendorf began his work on the recensions of the New Testament text, a task that he was to pursue for the rest of his life. In 1844 he went to the Middle East. While working in the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula, he discovered, among some old parchments, leaves of what he was certain were among the oldest biblical manuscripts that he had ever seen. He was permitted to take 43 of these leaves back with him to Leipzig, and in 1846 he published a facsimile edition, taking care to keep secret the place where he had obtained them. In 1853 he made a second journey to Sinai with the hope of recovering the other leaves he had seen on his first trip, but he found no trace of them. He made still a third trip, with the support of the Russian government, in 1859. Just as he was about to give up all hope of finding the manuscripts, the steward of the monastery showed Tischendorf the manuscripts that he was looking for and others besides. After intricate negotiations, and for a sum that has been estimated at about $7,000, Tischendorf procured for the tsar Alexander II what is now known as the Codex Sinaiticus. In 1933 the codex was purchased from the Soviet government by the British Museum for £100,000 (about $500,000). These manuscripts date probably from the latter half of the 4th century, were probably written in Egypt, and include most of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament