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Review of Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe (Vols. 1 & 2)

2014. Crawford Burkitt. Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe. Volume 1: Text. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xx + 556. ISBN 9781107432772. (pb). £29.99 (US$ 49.99).


2014. Crawford Burkitt. Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe. Volume 2: Introduction and Notes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. vi + 322. ISBN 9781107432819. (pb). £24.99 (US$ 39.99).

“Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe” is Syriac for “Gospel of the separated ones.” This title bespeaks the wide influence of Tatian’s gospel known as the Diatessaron. Written c. 170 C.E., Tatian’s gospel enjoyed a wide circulation. In fact, the intense popularity of this unified gospel is the reason that the fourfold Syriac gospel witness was known as the “Gospel of the separated ones.” This early Syriac Gospel witness is now more widely known as the Old Syriac Gospels and is of vital importance to many fields of study including textual criticism and early Christian studies.

Originally published in 1904, these volumes remain two of the most important texts regarding the two Old Syriac witnesses to the New Testament Gospels known as Codex Nitriensis Curetonianus and Codex Palimpsestus Sinaiticus. Despite its age, Burkitt’s work has remained remarkably relevant to contemporary study and is still a standard collection for anyone interested in the Old Syriac Gospel witnesses. Volume one is the critical text of the Old Syriac Gospels with an English translation on facing pages of both the text and the apparatus. Volume two contains an introduction and important notes on the manuscript witnesses used in volume one. Each of these volumes will be taken here in turn.

Of the two witnesses to the Old Syriac Gospels, it is generally believed that Sinaiticus is the better. However, due to many complex reasons, including its superior preservation, Curetonianus was chosen as the base text. Where this text is incomplete, Burkitt inserts material from other Syriac sources as best he can in order to construct a complete fourfold Gospel. In this regard, Burkitt’s text of the Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe is an eclectic text, and not a true representation of the Curetonianus manuscript. Despite this fact, volume one is the standard edition of Curetonianus; it is this text which forms the basis for the textual variants abbreviated SyC in the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.

In addition to the running text contained in the main body of volume one, Burkitt includes a critical apparatus with variants from Aphraate’s homilies; the Arabic translations of Ephrem’s homilies; Syriac Codex Sinaiticus; the Peshitta; Greek witnesses Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Bezae, Regius, and the Textus Receptus; Latin witnesses Colbertinus, Palatinus, Bobiensis, and the Vulgate; and Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Bohairic witnesses. Accordingly, this volume represents a monumental scholarly achievement.

Similarly, volume two, represents one of the most important collections of essays on the Old Syriac Gospels. However, unlike volume one, this text is starting to show its age. Due to the vast increase in witnesses to the Diatessaron, including a Syriac copy of Ephrem’s homilies wherein he preaches from the Diatessaron, Burkitt is out of date in many of his conclusions. However, with regard to Curetonianus and Sinaiticus, Burkitt’s work is of supreme importance. Burkitt was professor in Palaeography at Cambridge when both of these texts were discovered and was instrumentally involved in the analysis and early publication of these manuscripts. Therefore, he has first-hand knowledge of the history of these texts and includes many of the relevant facts in chapter one of volume two. Additionally, this volume is important for Burkitt’s in-depth descriptions of Curetonianus and Sinaiticus, including the construction and scribal habits present in these codices. Burkitt also provides a detailed account of each codex’s quires and the gospel content on each page. This information is invaluable for those unable to obtain images of these texts.

After the preliminary physical description of the codices, Burkitt continues in chapter two with a discussion of the unique grammatical and syntactical elements of Curetonianus and Sinaiticus. Particularly, Burkitt discuss spelling, pronouns, nouns, numbers, particles, verbs, syntax, and vocabulary. His observations are no less relevant today and represent the foundational work for studies of translation technique and gospel transmission. With regard to syntax, Burkitt’s key observation is that the Old Syriac, as opposed to the Peshitta, witnesses a freedom to diverge from the syntax of the Greek gospels in favour of a more natural Syriac syntax. With regard to vocabulary, Burkitt conducts a side-by-side comparison (Curetonianus/Sinaiticus/Peshitta) of several frequent Greek words in order to study the translation techniques of the Syriac scribes.

Chapters three through five of volume two are where Burkitt’s work shows the greatest evidence of being out-of-date. These chapters discuss the Diatessaron, the Peshitta, and textual relationship between the Greek gospels and Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe. Finally, an important appendix to this volume contains Burkitt’s “Notes on Select Readings,” in which he discusses important variants, including an eight and a half page discussion of Matt 1:16–25.

By way of a final evaluation, these two volumes remain vitally important to many fields of study. As a critical witness to Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe and Codex Curetonianus, volume one is unlikely to be eclipsed any time soon. Likewise, in as much as it provides a history of the codices as well as a description of the manuscripts and scribal habits of the Old Syriac Gospel witnesses, volume two will continue to remain an important asset. However, with regard to Burkitt’s conclusions based on his observations, volume two should be read alongside more recent works. This is based solely on the influx of manuscript evidence since Burkitt.

These volumes are important and Cambridge University Press has made them affordable. They are of great value and will interest any academic who studies textual criticism, Syriac translation techniques, early gospel transmission, Tatian’s Diatessaron, or the early church. The expiration of the copyright on these volumes has resulted in multiple format options for contemporary students of the Syriac Gospels. If one is interested in a free, digital copy of these texts, they are available at If, on the other hand, one is determined to acquire a recent hardcopy, Gorgias Press has made these volumes available in that format (ISBN: 1593332610. US$ 203.75). However, if one requires an affordable, physical copy of these important works then one need look no further than these Cambridge paperback volumes.

– Stephen D. Campbell, Durham University

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