The Syriac Sinaitic (syrs), known also as the Sinaitic Palimpsest, of Saint Catherine's Monastery is a late 4th-century manuscript of 358 pages, containing a translation of the four canonical gospels of the New Testament into Syriac, which have been overwritten by a vita (biography) of female saints and martyrs with a date corresponding to AD 778. 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 of the Bible.
Both the Syriac Sinaiticus (designated syrs) and the Curetonian Gospels (designated syrcur) contain similar renderings of the gospel text, exhibiting conformity with the Greek. 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.
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".
The palimpsest was identified in the library at Saint Catherine's Monastery in February 1892 by Agnes Smith Lewis and her sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson, who returned with a team of scholars that included J. Rendel Harris, to photograph and transcribe the work in its entirety.
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.
In Matthew 1:16, it contains "Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, begat Jesus, who is called the Christ"
In Matthew 4:10, it contains a singular reading reflecting the Greek ὕπαγε ὀπίσω σου (get you behind or get behind you).
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 ℓ 844 ℓ 2211 syrc, p copbo
In Matthew 16:12, it reflects της ζυμης (leaven) with D, Θ, f13, 565, a, b, ff2
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 Abiatar 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 Luke 4:17, it reflects ἀνοίξας (opened) with A, B, L, W, Ξ, 33, 579, 892, 1195, 1241, ℓ 547, syrh, pal, copsa, bo
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
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 75 א B C* L
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 66* 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 66* f1 565 itmss copbo
In John 9:35, it reflects υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (Son of Man) with 66 75 א B D W copmss
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 45 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 66 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 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 66* D f13 itb.c.d.e.r1
In John 18:5, the phrase the one betraying him is omitted, as in 66*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 66 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 Gospel harmony.
- Steven Ring: Ancient Syriac New Testament Versions.
- A. S. Lewis and her sister M. D. Gibson and the discovery of the Sinaitic Palimpsest.
- H. Schumacher, A Handbook of Scripture Study (B. Herder Book Co.: London 1923), p. 39.
- NA26, p. 46.
- UBS3, p. 164.
- UBS4, p. 311.
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- Agnes Smith Lewis, Catalogue of the Syriac mss. in the Convent of S. Catharine on Mount Sinai (1894)