J. Rendel Harris

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James Rendel Harris (Plymouth, Devon, 27 January 1852 – 1 March 1941) was an English biblical scholar and curator of manuscripts, who was instrumental in bringing back to light many Syriac Scriptures and other early documents. His contacts at the Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt enabled twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson to discover there[1] the Sinaitic Palimpsest, the oldest Syriac New Testament document in existence. He subsequently accompanied them on a second trip, with Robert Bensly and Francis Crawford Burkitt, to decipher the palimpsest.[2] He himself discovered there other manuscripts (073, 0118, 0119, 0137, a Syriac text of the Apology of Aristides[3] etc.,). Harris's Biblical Fragments from Mount Sinai appeared in 1890. He was a Quaker.[4]


He was educated at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was a fellow in mathematics from 1875 to 1878, in 1892, and from 1902 to 1904.[5] Harris spent as much time in the Near East as he could. During the same time, he served as professor of New Testament Greek at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, US (1882–85) and at Haverford College (1882–92). In 1889 and 1890, while on leave from Haverford, he purchased 47 rolls and codices written in Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian and Ethiopic. He said that these texts, which discussed biblical and linguistic topics and some of which were as old as the 13th century, were "all acquired by the lawful, though sometimes tedious, processes of Oriental commerce". Upon his return, he donated them to Haverford. They are held by the college library's Quaker Collection.[6] He taught theology at Leiden University (1903–04). After this, he was appointed director of studies at the Society of Friends' Woodbrooke College, near Birmingham.

Harris represented two prestigious libraries during his lifetime: Johns Hopkins, and John Rylands Library, Manchester, where he became the curator of manuscripts. Most of his publications dealt with biblical and patristic history; he was an extremely prolific writer.[7] He examined the Latin text of the Codex Sangallensis 48.

Included among the topics on which he wrote are: the Apology of Aristides (1891), the Didache, Philo, the Diatessaron, the Christian Apologists, Acts of Perpetua, The Odes and Psalms of Solomon (1909), the Gospel of Peter, and other Western and Syriac texts, and numerous works on biblical manuscripts.[8]

In 1933, a Festschrift was published in his honour, called Amicitiae Corolla : a volume of essays presented to James Rendel Harris on the occasion of his 80th birthday.



  1. ^ Lewis, Agnes Smith, In the Shadow of Sinai, p. vi
  2. ^ Soskice, Janet Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels. London: Vintage, 157 – 180
  3. ^ Soskice, Janet Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels. London: Vintage, 110 – 111
  4. ^ Bernet, Claus, in Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL), Band 30, Nordhausen 2009 [1]
  5. ^ "Harris, James Rendel (HRS870JR)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  6. ^ Haverford College
  7. ^ Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. [Obituary notice] vol. 26 p. 10-14; 1941
  8. ^ Falcetta, Alessandro (2004). "James Rendel Harris: A Life on the Quest". Quaker Studies. 8: 208–225. 

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