Syriac Sinaiticus

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Syriac Sinaiticus, folio 82b, Gospel of Matthew 1:1-17. Superimposed, life of Saint Euphrosyne.

The Syriac Sinaiticus or Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus (syrs), known also as the Sinaitic Palimpsest, of Saint Catherine's Monastery (Sinai, Syr. 30), or Old Syriac Gospels is a late-4th- or early-5th-century manuscript of 179 folios, containing a nearly complete translation of the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament into Syriac,[1] which have been overwritten by a vita (biography) of female saints and martyrs with a date corresponding to AD 697.[2] This palimpsest is the oldest copy of the Gospels in Syriac, one of two surviving manuscripts (the other being the Curetonian Gospels) that are conventionally dated to before the Peshitta, the standard Syriac translation.[3]


Both the Syriac Sinaiticus (designated syrs) [Sinai, Syr 30] and the Curetonian Gospels (designated syrcur) [British Library, Add 14451; Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, Orient Quad 528] known as the Old Syriac version[4] contain similar renderings of the Gospel text; its conformity with the Greek and the Latin has been debated.[5] Additional passages of the Old Syriac version were discovered among the New Finds (1975) of Saint Catherine's Monastery (Sinai, Syr. NF 37, 39).[6][7] Even so, syrs retains some readings from even earlier lost Syriac Gospels and from the 2nd-century Septuagint manuscripts, which brought the four Gospels into harmony with one another through selective readings and emendations.[8]

It had been ascertained that the Diatessaron, or Harmony of the Four Gospels, composed by Tatian in the second century, had to be supplanted in the Syrian churches. There was a promulgation by Bishop Rabbula of Edessa in between AD 411 and 435, that four separate Gospels come into being in use in Syriac churches.[9]

The importance of such early, least conforming texts is emphasized by the revision of the Peshitta that was made about 508, ordered by bishop Philoxenus of Mabbog. His revision, it is said, skilfully moved the Peshitta nearer to the Greek text; "it is very remarkable that his own frequent Gospel quotations preserved in his writings show that he used an Old Syriac set of the four Gospels".[10]


The palimpsest was identified in the library at Saint Catherine's Monastery in February 1892 by Agnes Smith Lewis, who returned with a team of scholars in 1893 that included J. Rendel Harris, F. C. Burkitt, and R. L. Bensly to photograph and transcribe the work in its entirety.[11] It is still kept by the Saint Catherine’s Monastery (Sinai, Syr. 30).

The German theologian Adalbert Merx devoted much of his later research to the elucidation of the Sinaitic Palimpsest, the results being embodied in Die vier kanonischen Evangelien nach dem ältesten bekannten Texte (1897–1905).

The Sinaitic Palimpsest immediately became a central document in tracing the history of the New Testament. The palimpsest's importance lies especially in making the Greek New Testament manuscripts understandable to Aramaic speaking communities during that period.

Notable readings[edit]

John 5:46–6:11
Matthew 15:12–27

The palimpsest lacks the last 12 verses of Mark, Christ's agony (Luke 22:43–44), the Pericope Adulteræ (John 7:53–8:11), and the reconciliation of Pilate with Herod (Luke 23:10–12).[12]

In Matthew 1:16, it contains "Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, begat Jesus, who is called the Christ"[13]

In Matthew 4:10, it contains a singular reading reflecting the Greek ὕπαγε ὀπίσω σου ('get you behind' or 'get behind you').

Matthew 12:47 is omitted, as in א*, B, L, Γ, 1009, 12, ff1, k, syrc, copsa.[14]

In Matthew 14:12, it reflects πτωμα ('corpse') with א B C D L Θ f1 f13 33 565 700 892 1241 1424 e k 844 2211 syrc, p copbo

In Matthew 16:12, it reflects της ζυμης ('leaven') with D, Θ, f13, 565, a, b, ff2

Matthew 21:44 is omitted, as in 𝔓104, D, 33, ita.b.d.e, ff1, ff2, r1, Irenaeuslat, Origen, Eusebius

In Matthew 27:9, text reflecting Ιερεμιου ('Jeremiah') is omitted, as in Φ 33 ita itb syrp copbo

In Matthew 27:16, it reflects Ἰησοῦν τὸν Βαραββᾶν ('Jesus the Barabbas') with Θ f1 700* arm geo2

In Mark 2:26, the phrase when Abiathar was high priest is omitted, as in D, W, 1009, 1546, ita.b.d.e.ff2.i.r1.t

In Mark 10:2, the phrase the Pharisees came is omitted, as in D, ita.b.d.k.r1, (syrcur)

In Mark 10:7, the phrase and be joined to his wife is omitted, as in א, B, Ψ, 892*, 2427, 48, goth.[15]

In Luke 4:17, it reflects ἀνοίξας ('opened') with A, B, L, W, Ξ, 33, 579, 892, 1195, 1241, 547, syrh, pal, copsa, bo

In Luke 9:35, it reflects ἐκλελεγμένος ('Elect One') with 𝔓45 𝔓75 א B L Ξ 892 1241 ita.aur.ff2.l vgst copmss

In Luke 10:41b–42a, the phrase you are worried and being troubled about many things, but only one thing is needed is omitted, as in ita.b.d.e.ff2.i.l.r1 Ambrose

In Luke 23:34, the phrase And Jesus said: Father forgive them, they know not what they do is omitted, agreeing with 𝔓75, א1, B, D*, W, Θ, 0124, 1241, a, Bezaelat, copsa, copbo.[16]

Luke 24:40 is omitted, as in D ita.b.d.e.ff2.l.r1, syrcur

In Luke 24:52, the phrase after worshiping him is omitted, as in D ita.b.d.e.ff2.geo2.l (syrcur)

In Luke 24:53, it reflects εὐλογοῦντες ('blessing') with 𝔓75 א B C* L

In John 1:34, it reflects ὁ ἐκλεκτός ('the Elect One') with 𝔓5 𝔓106vid א* itb.e.ff2* syrcur

In John 6:23, the phrase the Lord having given thanks is omitted, as in D 091 ita.e syrcur

In John 6:42, the phrase and his mother is omitted, as in א* W itb syrcur

In John 6:46, it contains a singular reading reflecting the Greek θεον πατερα ('God the Father').

In John 6:47, it reflects ὁ πιστεύων εις θεον ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον ('he who is believing in God has life everlasting') in agreement only with syrcur.

In John 6:51, it reflects του εμου ἄρτου ('my bread') with א ita.e.r1

In John 6:64, the text who they are who are not believing, and is omitted, as in 𝔓66* ite syrcur

In John 7:32, the phrase the chief priests and the Pharisees is omitted, as in 118 itb.e

In John 8:16, text reflecting πατήρ ('father') is omitted, as in א* D 1655* itd syrcur

In John 8:53, the phrase our father is omitted, as in D W ita.b.c.d.e.ff2.j.l coppbo

In John 9:18, the phrase had been blind and had received sight is omitted, as in 𝔓66* f1 565 itmss copbo

In John 9:35, it reflects υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ('Son of Man') with 𝔓66 𝔓75 א B D W copmss

In John 11:25, the phrase and the life is omitted, as in 𝔓45 itl Diatessaronsyr Cyprian

In John 11:39, the phrase the sister of the deceased is omitted, as in Θ itaur.b.c.e.ff2.l ac2

In John 11:51, the phrase of that year is omitted, as in 𝔓45 ite

John 12:8 is omitted, as in D itd

In John 13:32, the phrase If God has been glorified in him is omitted, as in 𝔓66 א* B C* D L W X 579 it vgmss syrh ac2 mf cobomss

In John 14:1, the phrase And he said to his disciples starts the passage, as in D ita.aur.c

John 14:14 is omitted, as in X Λ* 0141 f1 565 itb vgms arm

John 16:3 is omitted.

In John 16:28, the phrase I came forth from the Father is omitted, as in D W itb.d.ff2 ac2 coppbo

In John 17:14, the phrase just as I am not of the world is omitted, as in 𝔓66* D f13 itb.c.d.e.r1

In John 18:5, the phrase the one betraying him is omitted, as in 𝔓66*vid

In John 18:13–24, the verse order is 13, 24, 14–15, 19–23, 16–18

In John 20:1, the text reads from the opening of the tomb with א W f1 22 565 579 itd.f.r1 vgms copbo coppbo

John 20:13 contains an interpolation (in bold): Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you seeking? This reading is supported by A* D 579 1424

John 20:26 contains a singular reading (in bold): And after eight days, on the first day of the Sabbath (week?)

In John 21:4, the passage concludes with yet, they knew not as with 𝔓66 א L Ψ 33 844 lat

In John 21:13, it reflects ευχαριστησας εδωκεν αὐτοῖς ('upon giving thanks, he gave it to them') as with D itf.r1 vgmss

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bruce M. Metzger (1977), III. The Old Syriac Version, in Bruce M. Metzger (ed.), The Early Versions of the New Testament (Clarendon Press; Oxford), pp. 36–48.
  2. ^ Agnes S. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women from the Syro-Antiochene or Sinai Palimpsest as Written Above the Old Syriac Gospels by John the Stylite, or Beth Mari-Qanu in ADD 778 (Studia Sinaitica IX–X; C. J. Clay; London, 1900).
  3. ^ Bruce M. Metzger (1977), IV. The Peshitta Syriac Version, in Bruce M. Metzger (ed.), The Early Versions of the New Testament (Clarendon Press; Oxford), pp. 48–63.
  4. ^ Synoptic edition George A. Kiraz (1996), Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels Aligning the Sinaiticus, Curetonians, Peshitta and Harklean Version, I–IV (Brill: Leiden).
  5. ^ Bruce M. Metzger (1977), III. The Old Syriac Version, in Bruce M. Metzger (ed.), The Early Versions of the New Testament (Clarendon Press; Oxford), pp. 36–48.
  6. ^ Sebastian P. Brock (2016), Two Hitherto Unattested Passages of the Old Syriac Gospels in Palimpsests from St Catherie’s Monastery, Sinai, Δελτίο Βιβλικῶν Μελετῶν 31A, pp. 7–18.
  7. ^ Sinai Palimpsest Project.
  8. ^ See Gospel harmony.
  9. ^ Smith Lewis, Agnes (1894). A Translation of the Four Gospels from the Syriac of the Sinaitic Palimpset. New York: Macmillan and Co. pp. xvii. ISBN 9783337283360.
  10. ^ Ring, Steven. "Syriac New Testament, catalog of versions". Archived from the original on 2017-11-09. Retrieved 2018-02-26.
  11. ^ Margaret Dunlop Gibson (1893), How the Codex was Found (Cambridge: Macmillan & Bowes), pp. 60–67.
  12. ^ H. Schumacher, A Handbook of Scripture Study (B. Herder Book Co.: London 1923), p. 39.
  13. ^ Lewis, Agnes Smith (1894). A translation of the four Gospels, from the Syriac of the Sinaitic palimpsest. University of California Libraries. London : Macmillan.
  14. ^ NA26, p. 46.
  15. ^ UBS3, p. 164.
  16. ^ UBS4, p. 311.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]