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Versions Ancient of the Old and New Testaments

Versions, Ancient, of the Old and New Testaments. In treating of the ancient versions that have come down to us, in whole or in part, they will be described in the alphabetical order of the languages.

Æthiopic Version.—Christianity was introduced into Æthiopia in the fourth century, through the labors of Frumentius and Ædesius of Tyre, who had been made slaves and sent to the king. The Æthiopic version which we possess is in the ancient dialect of Axum; hence some have ascribed it to the age of the earliest missionaries, but it is probably of a later date. In 1548–9 the Æthiopic New Testament was also printed at Rome, edited by three Abyssinians.

Arabic Versions.—

1. Arabic versions of the Old Testament were made from the Hebrew (tenth century), from the Syriac and from the LXX. 2. Arabic versions of the New Testament. There are four versions. The first, the Roman, of the Gospels only, was printed in 1590–1.

Armenian Version.—In the year 431, Joseph and Eznak returned from the Council of Ephesus, bringing with them a Greek copy of the Scriptures. From this a version of Armenian was made by Isaac, the Armenian patriarch, and Miesrob. The first printed edition of the Old and New Testaments in Armenian appeared at Amsterdam in 1666, under the care of a person commonly termed Oscan or Uscan, and described as being an Armenian bishop.

Chaldee Versions.—Targum, a Chaldee word of uncertain origin, is the general term for the Chaldee, or more accurately Aramaic, versions of the Old Testament.

1. The Targums were originally oral, and the earliest Targum, which is that of Onkelos on the Pentateuch, began to be committed to writing about the second century of the Christian era; though it did not assume its present shape till the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century. So far, however, from supersecind the oral Targum at once, it was, on the contrary, strictly forbidden to read it in public. Its language is Chaldee, closely approaching in purity of idiom to that of Ezra and Daniel. It follows a sober and clear though not a slavish exegesis, and keeps as closely and minutely to the text as is at all consistent with its purpose, viz., to be chiefly and above all a version for the people. Its explanation of difficult and obscure passages bear ample witness to the competence of those who gave it its final shape. It avoids, as far as circumstances would allow, the legendary character with which all the later Targums entwine the biblical word. 2. Targum on the prophets—viz., Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets—called Targum of Jonathan ben-Uzziel. We shall probably not be far wrong in placing this Targum some time, although not long, after Onkelos, or about the middle of the fourth century. 3 and 4. Targum of Jonathan ben-Uzziel and Jerushalmi-Targum on the Pentateuch.—Onkelos and Jonathan on the Pentateuch and prophets, whatever be their exact date, place, authorship, and editorship, are the oldest of existing Targums, and belong, in their present shape, to Babylon and the Babylonian academies flourishing between the third and fourth centuries a.d.

Egyptian Versions.—Of these there are three: the Memphitic, of lower Egypt, the Coptic, of upper Egypt, and the Thebaic, with some gragments of another. The Thebaic was the earliest, and belongs to the third century.

Gothic Version.—In the year 318 the Gothic bishop and translator of Scripture, Ulphilas, was born. He succeeded Theophilus as bishop of the Goths in 348; through him it is said that the Goths in general adopted Arianism. The great work of Ulphilas was his version of the Scriptures. As an ancient monument of the Gothic language the version of Ulphilas possesses great interest; as a version the use of which was once extended widely through Europe, it is a monument of the Christianization of the Goths; and as a version known to have been made in the fourth century, and transmitted to us in ancient MSS, it has its value in textual criticism.

Greek Versions of the Old Testament.—

1. Septuagint.—[See Septuagint.] 2. Aquila.—It is a remarkable fact that in the second century there were three versions executed of the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek. The first of these was made by Aquila, a native of Sinope in Pontus, who had become a proselyte to Judaism. It was made during the reign of Hadrian, a.d. 117–138. 3. Theodotion.—The second version of which we have information as executed in the second century is that of Theodotion. He is stated to have been an Ephesian, and he seems to be most generally described as an Ebionite. 4. Symmachus is stated by Eusebius and Jerome to have been an Ebionite; Epiphanius and others, however, style him a Samaritan. It may be that as a Samaritan he made this version for some of that people who employed Greek, and who had learned to receive more than the Pentateuch.

Latin Versions.—[Vulgate.]

Samaritan Versions.—[Samaritan Pentateuch.]

Slavonic Version.—In a.d. 862 there was a desire expressed or an inquiry made for Christian teachers in Moravia, and in the following year the labors of missionaries began among the Moravians. These missionaries were Cyrillus and Methodius, two brothers from Thessalonica. To Cyrillus is ascribed the invention of the slavonian alphabet and the commencement of the translation of the Scriptures. He appears to have died at Rome in 868, while Methodius continued for many years to be the bishop of the Slavonians. He is stated to have continued his brother’s translation.

Syriac Versions.—

1. Of the Old Testament. (a) From the Hebrew. In the early times of Syrian Christianity there was executed a version of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, the use of which must have been as widely extended as was the Christian profession among that people. It is highly improbable that any part of the Syriac version is older than the advent of our Lord. The Old Syriac has the peculiar value of being the first version from the Hebrew original made for Christian use. The first printed edition of this version was that which appeared in the Paris Polyglot of Le Jay in 1645. (b) The Syriac version from the Hexaplar Greek text. The only Syriac version of the Old Testament up to the sixth century was apparently the Peshito. The version by Paul of Tela, a Monophysite, was made in the beginning of the seventh century; for its basis he used the Hexaplar Greek text—that is, the LXX, with the corrections of Origen, the asterisks, obeli, etc., and with the references to the other Greek versions. In fact, it is from this Syriac version that we obtain our most accurate acquaintance with the results of the critical labors of Origen. It is from a MS in the Ambrosian Library at Milan that we possess accurate means of knowing this Syriac version. 2. The Syriac New Testament Versions. (a) The Peshito Syriac New Testament. It may stand as an admitted fact that a version of the New Testament in Syriac existed in the second century. (b) The Curetonian Syriac Gospels. Among the MSS brought from the Nitrian monasteries in 1842, Dr. Cureton noticed a copy of the Gospels, differing greatly from the common text; and this is the form of text to which the name of Curetonian Syriac has been rightly applied. Every criterion which proves the common Peshito not to exhibit a text of extreme antiquity equally proves the early origin of this.