The Syriac Gospel. A bird’s view of its origins and the Evangelion da-Mepharreshe

By Fr. Alberto Meouchi Maronite priest

Around 420 A.D., the gospel in the Syriac language was available and widespread in three documents known to date:

A – the current version of the ܦܫܺܝܛܬ ܳܐ (Peshiṭto) from the 4th-5th centuries;

B – the Diatessaron (διὰ τεσσάρων), from the year ca. 170 A.D.;

C – the version of the four separate Gospels, the ܐܶܘܰܢܓܶܠܺܝܽܘܢ ܕܰܡ̈ܦܰܪܫܶܐ (Evangelion da-Mepharreshe), ca. 200. A.D.

The three versions of the Scripture were probably produced in the region of Edessa, current day Urfa in Turkey.

The Evangelion da-Mepharreshe ܐܶܘܰܢܓܶܠܺܝܽܘܢ ܕܰܡ̈ܦܰܪܫܶܐ  (the Separated Gospels) received its notoriety in confrontion with the Syriac Diatessaron (διὰ τεσσάρων). The Diatessaron harmonized in one single narrative the essentials of the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The presentation in the Evangelion da-Mepharreshe of the four canonical Gospels separately and without narrative alteration, was an initiative mainly of bishops Rabbula of Edessa (fl. ca. 411-ca. 435) and Theodoretus of Cyrus (ca. 223-ca. 458 [or 466]) to outlaw the Diatessaron, which was eventually replaced by the  ܦܫܺܝܛܬ ܳܐ (peshiṭto).

Syriac writers never used the name ܦܫܺܝܛܬܳܐ (Peshiṭto) to distinguish the common Syriac version, nor that of the ܐܶܘܰܢܓܶܠܺܝܽܘܢ ܕܰܡ̈ܦܰܪܫܶܐ (Evangelion da-Mepharreshe), nor that of the Diatessaron, but the term Peshiṭto, as such, is distinctive of the Syriac version. In fact, the Peshiṭto is considered the revised version of the Evangelion da-Mepharreshe whose revision sought to be a version more in line with the Greek version, and, thus, completely separate from the divulged Diatessaron.

Sinai Syriac manuscript: Epistle to the Romans 7

The Evangelion da-Mepharreshe date, as indicated above, dates from around the year 200. And they were the first translations into the Syriac language of the Four Gospels separately. Their translator seems to have been very familiar with the Diatessaron as he often adopted its phraseology.

There is a high probability that the ܐܶܘܰܢܓܶܠܺܝܽܘܢ ܕܰܡ̈ܦܰܪܫܶܐ (Evangelion da-Mepharreshe) was sponsored by the bishop of Antioch Serapion († 211) since he was quoted by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History (V, 19) to suppress the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, and there is also, according to Burkett (1904), some reason to identify the translator with Palut, the third bishop of Edessa (ca. 220).

Insofar as the Evangelion da-Mepharreshe are a direct translation from Greek, they reproduce for us the commonly used Greek text from Antioch at the end of the second century, a text of great critical value that is often scarcely represented in the extensive Greek manuscripts known to date. And this, in spite of the fact that the translator was very familiar with the Diatessaron (διὰ τεσσάρων), of which he introduced some readings that actually belonged to the texts in common use in the West (Burkitt, 1904).

Fr. Alberto Meouchi a Maronite priest. You can follow Fr. Alberto Meouchi on his website maronitas.org


BURKITT, Francis Crawford, Evagelion Da-Mepharreshe: the Curetonian Version of the four gospels, with the readings of the Sinai palimpsest and the early Syriac patristic evidence, volumen II, London: Cambrige University Press Warehouse, 1904,160-165 (recuperado de: https://archive.org/details/cu31924092359698/page/n6 en 2018);

EUSEBIO DE CESAREA, Historia Eclesiástica, Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ ἱστορία. Textus: Eusebii opera in Patrologia Graeca 19 – 24, Paris: J. P. Migne, 1857 (https://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/graeca/Chronologia/S_post04/Eusebios/eus_hi00.html).