The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception

By Peter W. Flint; Patrick D. Miller Jr. | Go to book overview

THE PLACE OF THE SYRIAC VERSIONS
IN THE TEXTUAL HISTORY OF THE PSALTER

ROBERT J. V. HIEBERT


INTRODUCTION

The Classical Syriac1 versions of the Bible are of considerable text critical significance, as a perusal of editions like Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (B H S), Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum (Göttingen), and The Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies) makes clear. When it comes to the Old Testament, the fact that Syriac was the first Semitic language into which the whole of the original Hebrew/Aramaic canon was translated2 further demonstrates that the importance of this segment of the larger textual history must not be underestimated. In this essay, highlights of that history are surveyed and comparisons of Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac versions are carried out in order that the kinds of textual relationships that exist among them may be explicated.


ORIGINS OF THE SYRIAC BIBLE

Textual scholars have debated when the process of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Syriac began. Some have associated it with developments in the mid-first century CE in the kingdom of Adiabene in Mesopotamia east of the Tigris River. The Jewish historian Josephus and midrashic sources describe members of the royal house at that time reading the Torah and converting to Judaism.3 Such accounts, it

1 This dialect is sometimes called Eastern Aramaic. It is to be distinguished
from Christian Palestinian Aramaic or Palestinian Syriac, a Western Aramaic
dialect, into which the Old Testament was translated from the Septuagint. Only
parts of this translation are extant (S. P. Brock, “Syriac Versions,” ABD 6.794-99,
esp. 794; A. Vööbus, “Syriac Versions,” lDBSup, 848-54, esp. 849-50). The fo-
cus in this essay is on Classical Syriac versions of the Bible.

2 M. P. Weitzman, The Syriac Version of the Old Testament: An Introduction
(University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 56; Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1999) 2.

3 Josephus {Ant. 20.17-53, 71, 75) reports on the conversion of Queen Helena

-505-

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