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The Peshitta (Classical Syriac (ܦܹܫܝܼܛܵܐ) for "simple, common, straight, vulgate") sometimes called the Syriac Vulgate) is the standard version of the Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition.

The Old Testament of the Peshitta was translated from the Hebrew, probably in the 2nd century. The New Testament of the Peshitta, which originally excluded certain disputed books (2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Epistle of Jude, Revelation), had become the standard by the early 5th century.


The name 'Peshitta'

The name 'Peshitta' is derived from the Syriac mappaqtâ pšîṭtâ (ܡܦܩܬܐ ܦܫܝܛܬܐ), literally meaning 'simple version'. However, it is also possible to translate pšîṭtâ as 'common' (that is, for all people), or 'straight', as well as the usual translation as 'simple'. Syriac is a dialect, or group of dialects, of Eastern Aramaic, originating in and around Assuristan (Persian ruled Assyria). It is written in the Syriac alphabet, and is transliterated into the Latin script in a number of ways: Peshitta, Peshittâ, Pshitta, Pšittâ, Pshitto, Fshitto. All of these are acceptable, but 'Peshitta' is the most conventional spelling in English.

Its Arabic counterpart is البسيطة "Al-Basîṭah", also meaning "The simple [one]".

History of the Syriac versions

Peshitta text of Exodus 13:14-16 produced in Amida in the year 464.
Peshitta text of Exodus 13:14-16 produced in Amida in the year 464.

Analogy of Latin Vulgate

We have no full and clear knowledge of the circumstances under which the Peshitta was produced and came into circulation. Whereas the authorship of the Latin Vulgate has never been in dispute, almost every assertion regarding the authorship of the Peshitta, and the time and place of its origin, is subject to question. The chief ground of analogy between the Vulgate and the Peshitta is that both came into existence as the result of a revision. This, indeed, has been strenuously denied, but since Dr. Hort in his Introduction to Westcott and Hort's New Testament in the Original Greek, following Griesbach and Hug at the beginning of the 19th century, maintained this view, it has gained many adherents. So far as the Gospels and other New Testament books are concerned, there is evidence in favor of this view which has been added to by recent discoveries; and fresh investigation in the field of Syriac scholarship has raised it to a high degree of probability. The very designation, "Peshito," has given rise to dispute. It has been applied to the Syriac as the version in common use, and regarded as equivalent to the Greek koine and the Latin Vulgate.[]

The Designation "Peshito" ("Peshitta")

The word itself is a feminine form, meaning "simple," "easy to be understood." It seems to have been used to distinguish the version from others which are encumbered with marks and signs in the nature of a critical apparatus. However this may be, the term as a designation of the version has not been found in any Syriac author earlier than the 9th or 10th century.

As regards the Old Testament, the antiquity of the Version is admitted on all hands. The tradition, however, that part of it was translated from Hebrew into Syriac for the benefit of Hiram in the days of Solomon is a myth. That a translation was made by a priest named Assa, or Ezra, whom the king of Assyria sent to Samaria, to instruct the Assyrian colonists mentioned in 2 Kings 17, is equally legendary. That the translation of the Old Testament and New Testament was made in connection with the visit of Thaddaeus to Abgar at Edessa belongs also to unreliable tradition. Mark has even been credited in ancient Syriac tradition with translating his own Gospel (written in Latin, according to this account) and the other books of the New Testament into Syriac.[1]

Syriac Old Testament

But what Theodore of Mopsuestia says of the Old Testament is true of both: "These Scriptures were translated into the tongue of the Syriacs by someone indeed at some time, but who on earth this was has not been made known down to our day".[2] F. Crawford Burkitt concluded that the translation of the Old Testament was probably the work of Jews, of whom there was a colony in Edessa about the commencement of the Christian era.[3] The older view was that the translators were Christians, and that the work was done late in the 1st century or early in the 2nd. The Old Testament known to the early Syrian church was substantially that of the Palestinian Jews. It contained the same number of books but it arranged them in a different order. First there was the Pentateuch, then Job, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Canticles, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah followed by the Twelve Minor Prophets, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Ezekiel, and lastly Daniel. Most of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament are found in the Syriac, and the Wisdom of Sirach is held to have been translated from the Hebrew and not from the Septuagint.[1]

Syriac New Testament

Of the New Testament, attempts at translation must have been made very early, and among the ancient versions of New Testament Scripture the Syriac in all likelihood is the earliest. It was at Antioch, the capital of Syria, that the disciples of Christ were first called Christians, and it seemed natural that the first translation of the Christian Scriptures should have been made there. Some research, however, goes to show that Edessa, the literary capital, could have been the place.

If we could accept the somewhat obscure statement of Eusebius[4] that Hegesippus "made some quotations from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and from the Syriac Gospel," we should have a reference to a Syriac New Testament as early as 160-80 AD, the time of that Hebrew Christian writer. One thing is certain, that the earliest New Testament of the Syriac church lacked not only the Antilegomena – 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse – but the whole of the Catholic Epistles. These were at a later date translated and received into the Syriac Canon of the New Testament, but the quotations of the early Syrian Fathers take no notice of these New Testament books.

From the 5th century, however, the Peshitta containing both Old Testament and New Testament has been used in its present form only as the national version of the Syriac Scriptures. The translation of the New Testament is careful, faithful and literal, and the simplicity, directness and transparency of the style are admired by all Syriac scholars and have earned for it the title of "Queen of the versions." [1]

Old Syriac texts

It is in the Gospels, however, that the analogy between the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac Vulgate can be established by evidence. If the Peshitta is the result of a revision as the Vulgate was, then we may expect to find Old Syriac texts answering to the Old Latin. Such texts have actually been found. Three such texts have been recovered, all showing divergences from the Peshitta, and believed by competent scholars to be anterior to it. These are, to take them in the order of their recovery in modern times, (1) the Curetonian Syriac, (2) the Syriac of Tatian's Diatessaron, and (3) the Sinaitic Syriac.[1]

Details on Curetonian

The Curetonian consists of fragments of the Gospels brought in 1842 from the Nitrian Desert in Egypt and now in the British Museum. The fragments were examined by Canon Cureton of Westminster and edited by him in 1858. The manuscript from which the fragments have come appears to belong to the 5th century, but scholars believe the text itself to be as old as the 100's AD. In this recension the Gospel according to Matthew has the title Evangelion da-Mepharreshe, which will be explained in the next section.

Details on Tatian's Diatessaron

The Diatessaron of Tatian is the work which Eusebius ascribes to that heretic, calling it that "combination and collection of the Gospels, I know not how, to which he gave the title Diatessaron." It is the earliest harmony of the Four Gospels known to us. Its existence is amply attested in the churches of Mesopotamia and Syria, but it had disappeared for centuries, and not a single copy of the Syriac work survives.

A commentary upon it by Ephraem the Syrian, surviving in an Armenian translation, was issued by the Mechitarist Fathers at Venice in 1836, and afterward translated into Latin. Since 1876 an Arabic translation of the Diatessaron itself has been discovered; and it has been ascertained that the Cod. Fuldensis of the Vulgate represents the order and contents of the Diatessaron. A translation from the Arabic can now be read in English in Dr. J. Hamlyn Hill's The Earliest Life of Christ Ever Compiled from the Four Gospels.

Although no copy of the Diatessaron has survived, the general features of Tatian's Syriac work can be gathered from these materials. It is still a matter of dispute whether Tatian composed his Harmony out of a Syriac version already made, or composed it first in Greek and then translated it into Syriac. But the existence and widespread use of a Harmony, combining in one all four Gospels, from such an early period (172 AD), enables us to understand the title Evangelion da-Mepharreshe. It means "the Gospel of the Separated," and points to the existence of single Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, in a Syriac translation, in contradistinction to Tatian's Harmony. Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus in the 5th century, tells how he found more than 200 copies of the Diatessaron held in honor in his diocese and how he collected them, and put them out of the way, associated as they were with the name of a heretic, and substituted for them the Gospels of the four evangelists in their separate forms.

Sinaitic Syriac

In 1892 the discovery of the third text, known, from the place where it was found, as the Sinaitic Syriac, comprising the four Gospels nearly entire, heightened the interest in the subject and increased the available material. It is a palimpsest, and was found in the monastery of Catherine on Mt. Sinai by Mrs. Agnes S. Lewis and her sister Mrs. Margaret D. Gibson. The text has been carefully examined and many scholars regard it as representing the earliest translation into Syriac, and reaching back into the 2nd century. Like the Curetonian, it is an example of the Evangelion da-Mepharreshe as distinguished from the Harmony of Tatian.

Relation to Peshitta

The discovery of these texts has raised many questions which it may require further discovery and further investigation to answer satisfactorily. It is natural to ask what is the relation of these three texts to the Peshitta. There are still scholars, foremost of whom is G. H. Gwilliam, the learned editor of the Oxford Peshito,[5] who maintain the priority of the Peshitta and insist upon its claim to be the earliest monument of Syrian Christianity. But the progress of investigation into Syriac Christian literature points distinctly the other way. From an exhaustive study of the quotations in the earliest Syriac Fathers, and, in particular, of the works of Ephraem Syrus, Professor Burkitt concludes that the Peshitta did not exist in the 4th century. He finds that Ephraem used the Diatessaron in the main as the source of his quotation, although "his voluminous writings contain some clear indications that he was aware of the existence of the separate Gospels, and he seems occasionally to have quoted from them.[6] Such quotations as are found in other extant remains of Syriac literature before the 5th century bear a greater resemblance to the readings of the Curetonian and the Sinaitic than to the readings of the Peshitta. Internal and external evidence alike point to the later and revised character of the Peshitta.

Brief History of the Peshitta

The Peshitta had from the 5th century onward a wide circulation in the East, and was accepted and honored by all the numerous sects of the greatly divided Syriac Christianity. It had a great missionary influence, and the Armenian and Georgian versions, as well as the Arabic and the Persian, owe not a little to the Syriac. The famous Nestorian tablet of Sing-an-fu witnesses to the presence of the Syriac Scriptures in the heart of China in the 7th century. It was first brought to the West by Moses of Mindin, a noted Syrian ecclesiastic, who sought a patron for the work of printing it in vain in Rome and Venice, but found one in the Imperial Chancellor at Vienna in 1555—Albert Widmanstadt. He undertook the printing of the New Testament, and the emperor bore the cost of the special types which had to be cast for its issue in Syriac. Immanuel Tremellius, the converted Jew whose scholarship was so valuable to the English reformers and divines, made use of it, and in 1569 issued a Syriac New Testament in Hebrew letters. In 1645 the editio princeps of the Old Testament was prepared by Gabriel Sionita for the Paris Polyglot, and in 1657 the whole Peshitta found a place in Walton's London Polyglot. For long the best edition of the Peshitta was that of John Leusden and Karl Schaaf, and it is still quoted under the symbol Syrschaaf, or SyrSch. The critical edition of the Gospels recently issued by Mr. G. H. Gwilliam at the Clarendon Press is based upon some 50 manuscripts. Considering the revival of Syriac scholarship, and the large company of workers engaged in this field, we may expect further contributions of a similar character to a new and complete critical edition of the Peshitta.[1]

Old Testament Peshitta

The inter-relationship between various significant ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament (some identified by their siglum). LXX here denotes the original septuagint.
The inter-relationship between various significant ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament (some identified by their siglum). LXX here denotes the original septuagint.

The Peshitta version of the Old Testament is an independent translation based largely on a Hebrew text similar to the Proto-Masoretic Text. It shows a number of linguistic and exegetical similarities to the Aramaic Targums but is now no longer thought to derive from them. In some passages the translators have may have used the Greek Septuagint. The influence of the Septuagint is particularly strong in Isaiah and the Psalms, probably due to their use in the liturgy. Most of the Deuterocanonicals are translated from the Septuagint, and the translation of Sirach was based on a Hebrew text.

The choice of books included in the Old Testament Peshitta changes from one manuscript to another. Usually most of the Deuterocanonicals are present. Other Biblical apocryphas, as 1 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151 can be found in some manuscripts. The manuscript of Biblioteca Ambrosiana, discovered in 1866, includes also 2 Baruch (Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch).

Main manuscripts

More than 250 manuscripts of the Old Testament Peshitta are known, and the main and older ones are:

Early print editions

New Testament Peshitta

The Peshitta version of the New Testament is thought to show a continuation of the tradition of the Diatessaron and Old Syriac versions, displaying some lively 'Western' renderings (particularly clear in the Acts of the Apostles). It combines with this some of the more complex 'Byzantine' readings of the 5th century. One unusual feature of the Peshitta is the absence of 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Modern Syriac Bibles add 6th or 7th century translations of these five books to a revised Peshitta text.

Almost all Syriac scholars agree that the Peshitta gospels are translations of the Greek originals. A minority viewpoint (see Aramaic primacy) is that the Peshitta represent the original New Testament and the Greek is a translation of it. The type of text represented by Peshitta is the Byzantine. In a detailed examination of Matthew 1-14, Gwilliam found that the Peshitta agrees with the Textus Receptus only 108 times and with Codex Vaticanus 65 times, while in 137 instances it differs from both, usually with the support of the Old Syriac and the Old Latin, in 31 instances is stands alone.[10]

In reference to the originality of the Peshitta, the words of Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII are summarized as follows:

"With reference to....the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision."[11]

For more information, see Aramaic New Testament.

Critical edition of the New Testament

The standard United Bible Societies 1905 edition of the New Testament of the Peshitta was based on editions prepared by Syriacists Philip E. Pusey (d.1880), George Gwilliam (d.1914) and John Gwyn.[12] These editions comprised Gwilliam & Pusey's 1901 critical edition of the Gospels, Gwilliam's critical edition of Acts, Gwilliam & Pinkerton's critical edition of Paul's Epistles and John Gwynn's critical edition of the General Epistles and later Revelation. This critical Peshitta text is based on a collation of more than seventy Peshitta and a few other Aramaic manuscripts. All twenty seven books of the common western canon of the New Testament are included in this British & Foreign Bible Society's 1905 Peshitta edition, as is the adultery pericope (John 7:53-8:11). The 1979 Syriac Bible, United Bible Society, uses the same text for its New Testament. The Online Bible reproduces the 1905 Syriac Peshitta NT in Hebrew characters.

Translations of the Peshitta

Both John Wesley Etheridge (18461849) and James Murdock (1852)[13] produced translations of the New Testament Peshitta in the 19th century. More recently various versions of the New Testament only have appeared arguing this view in the notes. These include:

  • George M. Lamsa- The Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text (1933)- The only complete English work of both the Old and New Testaments according to the Peshitta text. Lamsa was a native Syriac speaker. This work is better known as the Lamsa Bible. He also wrote several other books on the Peshitta and Aramaic Primacy such as Gospel Light, New Testament Origin, and Idioms of the Bible, along with a New Testament commentary. Several well-known evangelists used or endorsed the Lamsa Bible, such as Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, and William M. Branham. Is not accepted as a translation by formal academics and translators, because Lamsa mixed their very personal nationalist and esoteric Assyrian concepts enclosed on bible text, therefore, is not a serious bible translation but a personal mixed narrative of bible verses, esoteric concepts and wrong doctrine with extra-biblical elements.
  • Andrew Gabriel Roth- Aramaic English New Testament (AENT), which includes a literal translation of the Peshitta on the left side pages with the Aramaic text in Hebrew letters on the right side with Roth's commentary. The AENT is basically a revision of the Younan Interlinear New Testament (from Matthew 1 to Acts 15) and the James Murdock's (Acts 15 and onward). [14]
  • Janet Magiera- Aramaic Peshitta New Testament Translation, Aramaic Peshitta New Testament Translation- Messianic Version, and Aramaic Peshitta Vertical Interlinear (in three volumes). Magiera was an associate of George Lamsa.
  • Reverend Glenn David Bauscher- The Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament (1st edition 2006), Psalms, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (4th edition 2011) [15] the basis for The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English (2007, 6th edition 2011). Another literal translation that comes as an interlinear New Testament (with Hebrew characters), and a smoother English version. Bauscher translated from the Western Peshitto text.[16]
  • Victor Alexander- Aramaic New Testament and Disciples New Testament. Alexander is a native speaker of Syriac.
  • The Way International- The Aramaic Interlinear Bible
  • Paul Younan, a native Syriac speaker, is currently working on an interlinear translation of the Peshitta into English.
  • Arch-corepiscopos Curien Kaniamparambil- Vishudhagrandham Peshitta translation (including Old and New Testaments) in Malayalam, the language of Kerala.

In Spanish exists Biblia Peshitta en Español (Spanish Peshitta Bible) by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, TN. U. S. A., published 2007.

Manuscripts of the New Testament

The following manuscripts are in the British Archives.

About 1963, Mr. Lamsa finally found a publisher for his (Translation), World Bible Publishers, New York. The (relationship) was short-lived, however..and again, Mr. Lamsa went looking for a Publisher. In 1966, Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association agreed to use their printing presses to resume (the task). At that time, Vernon Hale was Editor and his wife still possesses the First (signed-dedicated copy), along with a few other gifts from Mr. Lamsa. Formal academics and translators of Peshitta text have revealed that Lamsa's work is not a serious translation, but a personal narrative mixed with esoteric and nationalist Assyrian concepts.


  • 1. Syriac Versions of the Bible by Thomas Nicol
  • 2. Eberhard Nestle in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, IV, 645b.
  • 3. Francis Crawford Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity, 71 ff. 1904.
  • 4. Historia Ecclesiastica, IV, xxii
  • 5. Tetraevangelium sanctum, Clarendon Press, 1901
  • 6. Evangelion da-Mepharreshe, 186.
  • 7. For the order of the books see S. Brock, The Bible in the Syriac Tradition ISBN 1-59333-300-5 p. 116
  • 8. A. S. van der Woude In Quest of the Past ISBN 90-04-09192-0 (1988), p. 70
  • 9. Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Damascus, born 1829
  • 10. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission and Limitations (Oxford University Press 1977), p. 50.
  • 11. His Holiness Mar Eshai Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East. April 5, 1957
  • 12. Corpus scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium: Subsidia Catholic University of America, 1987 "37 ff. The project was founded by Philip E. Pusey who started the collation work in 1872. However, he could not see it to completion since he died in 1880. Gwilliam,
  • 13. The New Testament of the Book of the Holy Gospel of our Lord and our God Jesus the Messiah a Literal Translation from the Syriac Peshito Version.
  • 14. Andrew Gabriel Roth, Aramaic English New Testament, Netzari Press, Third Edition (2010), ISBN 1-934916-26-9 - included all twenty-seven books of the Aramaic New Testament, as a literal translation of the very oldest known Aramaic New Testament texts. This is a study Bible with over 1700 footnotes and 350 pages of appendixes to help the reader understand the poetry, idioms, terms and definitions in the language of Y'shua (Jesus) and his followers. The Aramaic is featured with Hebrew letters and vowel pointing.
  • 15. The Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament 4th edition 2011
  • 16. The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English, 6th edition 2011 has also Psalms & Proverbs in plain English from his Peshitta interlinear of those Peshitta Old Testament books, according to Codex Ambrosianus (6th century?) and Lee's 1816 edition of the Peshitta Old Testament. Bauscher has also published an Aramaic-English & English Aramaic Dictionary & nine other books related to the Peshitta Bible. The interlinear displays the Aramaic in Ashuri (square Hebrew) letters.


  • Brock, Sebastian P. (2006) The Bible in the Syriac Tradition: English Version Gorgias Press LLC, ISBN 1-59333-300-5
  • Dirksen, P. B. (1993). La Peshitta dell'Antico Testamento, Brescia, ISBN 88-394-0494-5
  • Flesher, P. V. M. (ed.) (1998). Targum Studies Volume Two: Targum and Peshitta. Atlanta.
  • Kiraz, George Anton (1996). Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels: Aligning the Old Syriac Sinaiticus, Curetonianus, Peshitta and Harklean Versions. Brill: Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2002 [2nd ed.], 2004 [3rd ed.].
  • Lamsa, George M. (1933). The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts. ISBN 0-06-064923-2.
  • Pinkerton, J. and R. Kilgour (1920). The New Testament in Syriac. London: British and Foreign Bible Society, Oxford University Press.
  • Pusey, Philip E. and G. H. Gwilliam (1901). Tetraevangelium Sanctum iuxta simplicem Syrorum versionem. Oxford University Press.
  • Weitzman, M. P. (1999). The Syriac Version of the Old Testament: An Introduction. ISBN 0-521-63288-9.
  • Nicol, Thomas. "Syriac Versions" in (1915) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

See also

External links

Downloadable cleartext of English translations (

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