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It has therefore been concluded by some eminent and intelligent students that the Peshitto translation of the Syriac New Testament was made either by or with the sanction of the Apostles themselves, or their immediate successors; and the Peshitto Syriac has been held to be the earliest translation of the New Testament writings ever made. And with this conclusion
certain traditions among the Syrian churches of to-day. More recent investigations, however, leave the point somewhat uncertain. The traditions referred to do not appear to be of great antiquity, and further, another Syriac manuscript has been discovered containing a portion of the New Testament in a version which seems still more ancient than the Peshitto, and which probably dates from the second century. This manuscript is known as the Curetonian, it having been discovered in 1842 in the convent of Deipara in the Nitrian desert, and translated and published in 1858 by Rev. William Cureton. The superior antiquity of this version however is questioned by some critics, though the manuscript itself is ancient, being probably written about A. D. 450.
But if the superior antiquity of other manuscripts were fully established, it might lead to the conclusion that the Peshitto was the ripe fruit of the labors of successive translators, and that as Wycliffe, Tyndale, Cranmer, Rogers, Calvin, and their associates and successors, with others, prepared the way for, and contributed to the production of the Authorized Version of the Scriptures in English, which no one man could have produced, so it is possible that the labors of other unknown translators prepared the way
for this most excellent version of the New Testament books; as a translation so exquisite and beautiful could hardly be entirely the work of a single unpracticed hand, but must have been produced by some scribe wellinstructed, who, utilizing the careful and painstaking labors of preceding translators, improved and completed the work which they had begun, bringing forth out of the treasure-house things new and old, and leaving to the church this translation, to be loved and read and cherished, iong after the names of those who performed the loving labor were lost from human knowledge and recollection, never to be known until He shall come whose reward is with him, “ to give to every man according as his work shall be.”
Perhaps we may safely adopt the conclusion of Dr. B. F. Westcott, in his Survey of the Canon, p. 238. “I think that the various facts of the case are adequately explained by supposing that versions of separate books of the New Testament were first made and used in Palestine perhaps within the Apostolic age, and that shortly afterwards they were collected, revised, and completed at Edessa."
It is this venerable and valuable version of the New Testament, so widely diffused, so long preserved, and so highly prized, which, through the patient efforts and accurate scholarship of the learned translator, is here laid before the reader, in an English dress. As an independent witness to the substantial integrity of the New Testament records, it is of priceless value. As an aid to determining the exact reading of the ancient Greek text, it is not to be despised. As an answer to the question, where would the Bible have been, if it had not been preserved and handed down by some particular church, sect, or denomination, it is ample; and as a memorial of the faith of the eastern and primitive churches, it deserves to be held in everlasting remembrance.*
On the lintel of a disused and built-up door of the Great Mosque at Damascus, the curious traveler who will scramble over the roofs of the buildings which crowd against it, may read a Greek inscription chiseled there when that edifice was erected for Christian worship : *Thy KINGDOM O CHRIST IS AN EVERLASTING KINGDOM, AND THY DOMINION ENDURETH THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS." And though a corrupted religion has long been scourged by oppressors, and though from minaret and pulpit may sound the praise of Islam's prophet; yet the inscription is true to-day; and the living Word still witnesses the truth; and of those who have “ tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come," and who secretly read those sentences which have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, there are we may hope, in those lands more than seven thousand whose hearts still turn to the living God, the Lord of heaven and earth, and who wait for the blessing which can only come from that Word which is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.
*For the Materials for this sketch the writer would acknowledge his indebtedness to many sources, among which may be mentioned Perkins' Eight Years Residence in Persia ; Curzon's Visits to Monasteries in the Levant; Southgate's Visit to the Syrian Church of Mesopotamia ; Smith and Dwight's Researches in Armenia ; Geo. P. Badger's Nestorians and their Rituals ; Claudius Buchanan's Christian Researches in Asia ; J. W. Etheridge's Syrian Churches and Four Gospels; Dr. W. Wright's Catalogue of Syriac MSS. in the British Museum; an article by Prof. John Gwynn, D. D., of Trinity College, Dublin, in the Church, Quarterly Review for July, 1388; articles by Canon W. J. Elmonds, in the Bible Society Reporter, for Sept., 1892 and onward; with various volumes of travel, Encyclopedias, etc.; also to Professors Thayer and Toy of Harvard College, and Rev. Benj. Labaree of Urúmiah; and especially for the kindly suggestions and constant aid of Prof. Isaac H. Hall, formerly of the College in Beyrout, late Curator of the Metropolitan Art Museum, Central Park, New York.
cle 499 THE SINAITIC SYRIAC GOSPELS. *u 1858 Dr. Wm. Cureton published an edition of the Syriac Gospels, with an English translation, from certain manuscripts brought from the Monastery of St. Mary Deipara, in the valley of the Natron Lakes near Egypt, in 1842. This Syriac version differed from the Peshitto, and was regarded as more ancient, though less accurate and complete. No other manuscript of this version was known to exist.
The Convent of St. Catharine, at the base of Mount Sinai, where Tischendorf discovered the well known Sinaitic Greek Manuscript, holds valuable literary treasures, but the monks, since their experience with Tischendorf having come to know the value of their manuscripts, are jealous lest they should be despoiled of their treasures.
It was in February, 1892, that two ladies from England—twin sisters—Mrs. Agnes Smith Lewis, widow of Rev. Savage Lewis, late Fellow and Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and Mrs. Margaret Dunlop Gibson, visited the convent of St.
1. Catharine, and being suitably introduced, and able to converse in modern Greek, the mother tongue of the Monks, they met with a cordial reception, and were allowed exceptional privileges.
In their explorations of decaying manuscripts they came upon an old Syriac manuscript of 358 pages dating back to A. D. 778, containing lives of certain ancient female saints, which had been written over some earlier writing, which was faded and partly erased. With their photographic apparatus these ladies photographed nearly all of this old palimpsest, bringing the films to England for development, and there Mr. F. C. Burkitt, and Robt. L. Bensly deciphered some of the older writing, and Mr. Bensly identified it as a manuscript of the long sought Cureton Syriac, or some closely allied version of the Gospels.
Early in 1893, the same ladies, accompanied by Messrs. Burkitt, Bensly, and Prof. J. Rendel Harris, revisited the convent of St. Catharine, and in February and March transcribed this ancient codex, using chemicals to restore the faded letters, which were too faint to be distinctly photographed.
The Syriac manuscript thus recovered contained nearly the whole of the four Gospels about eight pages being defective. These Syriac Gospels have been issued from the Cambridge Press, and an English translation by Mrs. Lewis has also appeared.
These Gospels are valued for their antiquity, though for practical purposes this more crude version can never compete with the more accurate Peshitto. They may, however, serve to shed some light on perplexing critical problems. In the Gospel of Mark the last twelve verses are wanting. In Luke ii. 14 the reading is, “good will towards men.”
In these long discarded Syriac Gospels may also be found one of the rare instances of intentional interpolations in the text which this version shares pretty closely with a small family of old Latin manuscripts. Thus the fact of the miraculous birth of the Saviour is distinctly discredited for this Syriac codex says, Matt. i. 16, “ Joseph, to whom Mary the virgin was betrothed, begat Jesus, who is called Christ," and in verse 21 it reads, “she shall bear thee a son,” and in verse 25, it omits the words, “And knew her not till,” but says, “And he married his betrothed wife, and she bare him a son, and he called his name Jesus.”
But that these changes were made to favor certain Ebionite nations appears clear from the fact that the corrector did not complete his work or make it uniform.
Thus Matt. i. 18 reads, “The birth of Jesus took place as follows: As Mary his mother, to whom Joseph was betrothed, before he married her, discovered that she was with child by the Holy Ghost.” Verse 16 also calls her “Mary the Virgin.” And in Luke iii. 23 it reads, “But Jesus, being about thirty years old, called, as he was, a son of Joseph.”
Hence it appears that there were good reasons for discarding this version, or at least some copies of it, as intentionally though incompletely altered, and using instead thereof the version universally accepted and preserved, the Peshitto.
James Murdock, the translator of The Syriac New Testament, was born at Westbrook, Conn., Feb. 16th, 1776. He was the son of Abraham Murdock and Hannah Lay; Abraham, who died in Westbrook in 1777 at the age of 26, being the sixth of the seven sons, and the eleventh of the thirteen children, borne by Frances Conklin, to John Murdock, who was born in East Hampton, Long Island, in 1706, removed early to Westbrook, was major of the provincial troops, deacon in the Congregational Church, and judge in the Court of Common Pleas. John was the only child of Peter Murdock, who was born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1679, came to America about 1700, and married Mary Fithin of East Hampton, Long Island, where he spent most of his life. He was the son of John Murdock, a wool-comber in Limerick, during the reigns of Charles II. and James II. ; who married Mary Munson, had one son and three daughters, lost all his property in the siege of Limerick in 1690, and died about 1695.
From this unconquered and unconquerable God-fearing, Bible-loving Scottish stock, which, whether in Scotland, Ireland, America or the ends of the earth, has been so prolific in noble women, and wise, thoughtful, prudent and heroic men, sprang James Murdock, who was left an orphan at the age of fourteen months, and passed his childhood in Westbrook till he was 15 years old. He had an insatiable desire for knowledge, and with much effort procured a Latin Grammar and Lexicon, which he studied secretly in the intervals of severe manual labor, until at the age of fifteen he commenced to prepare for college with his uncle, Rev. Jonathan Murdock of Bozrah, Conn. In Oct. 1793, though poorly fitted, he entered Yale College, joined the College Church in Oct., 1794, and was graduated in 1797, bearing away the Berkeleian premium, given to the best scholar in the class, and to the one who passed the best examination in Latin and Greek; and, taking the second appointment in a class of thirty-seven—the first class which came fairly under the formative influence of President Dwight,-all of them being natives of New England; among whom were such men as Lyman Beecher, Henry Baldwin, Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, Samuel A. Foot, Governor of Connecticut and United States Senator, George Griffin, Thomas Day, and Seth P. Staples, eminent in the legal profession, Horatio Seymour, United States Senator from Vermont, and other influential men, twenty-four of whom were living, and twelve of whom were present at the time of the first meeting of their class, fifty years after their graduation.
After his graduation Mr. Murdock was preceptor of the Hopkins' Grammar School in New Haven till March 1799, when he commenced the study of theology under President Dwight. In the autumn of 1799, he, with his classmate Rev. John Niles, took charge of Hamilton Oneida Academy, now Hamilton College, at Clinton, N. Y. In September, 1800, he resumed the study of theology under Rev. A. S. Norton, D. D., of Clinton, was licensed to preach in January, 1801, supplied in New Hartford till April, and then returned to New Haven. Through the summer of 1801 he preached some time at Oxford, Conn., and in 1802 he settled in Princeton, Worcester Co., Mass., and his ministry in 1810 was attended by a revival in which about fifty persons were added to the church.
While at Princeton he was a close student of sacred literature. In 1815 he was appointed Professor of learned languages in the University of Vermont, and removed to Burlington, teaching also Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. In 1818 he was elected Professor of Languages in Dartmouth Coilege, an honor
which he declined. In the spring of 1819 he was appointed Professor in the Theological Seminary of Andover, Mass., and in the autumn of that year Harvard University honored him with the degree of S. T. D.
Dr. Murdock's term of service in Andover might perhaps illustrate the remark of the Scotch minister, “It is a sair thing to the flesh, for a man to have a little mair light than his brethren.” Urged in the strongest manner to accept a professorship, declining a professorship at Dartmouth at the same time, making considerable pecuniary sacrifice in leaving his previous position in the University of Vermont, and receiving on his departure “the thanks of the Corporation of the University to Professor Murdock for his able and faithful discharge of the duties of his office,” in July, 1819, he became “B:own Professor of Sacred Rhetoric and Ecclesiastical History,” a position which promised to be exceedingly congenial with his tastes, habits and feelings. The young men of the Seminary saw in Professor Murdock a thoroughly vigorous and critical scholar, a wise and accomplished teacher, a dignified, open-hearted, straightforward gentleman who won their love and reverence; and though in their playful moods they used to sometimes mimic others among their teachers, they could never imitate Professor Murdock, for an entire absence of anything like mannerism left them nothing to ape. Di ferences, however, arose, which led Professor Murdock to tender the resignation of his professorship in the fall of 1820. It was not, however, accepted, and was finally withdrawn, but his professorship of Ecclesiastical History was interfered with in opposition to his desires, and he was mainly confined to the department of Sacred Rhetoric, in which he felt little interest. In January, 1827, a memorial of the students, passed by an almost unanimous vote, showed how strong a hold he had upon the young men; but at the next annual meeting it was voted that Dr. Murdock's connection with the Seminary be dissolved. But, though cast down, Dr. Murdock was not destroyed. He wasted little time over the matter, but returned to New Haven in 1829, where he devoted himself to private studies, Ecclesiastical History, and a wide range of literary pursuits. He lived to see the day when his chiefest opposers, who had done most to cloud his prospects, volunteered a pretty full confession of their error, and it was mutually agreed that the past should be forgiven. Doubtless through the providence of God his usefulness, reputation, and worldly comfort were in the end greatly promoted by these untoward circumstances which had so disturbed him; and his last visit to Andover in 1852–3 was one of unalloyed pleasure to him.
Dr. Murdock was a thorough Biblical scholar. The slight knowledge of Hebrew which he had gained under President Stiles was cultivated in later years, till the Hebrew Bible was so familiar that for a while he read directly from the Hebrew into English in his family devotions. While professor at Burlington, he learned German-journeying to Philadelphia for the sake of hearing the language spoken. He was surpassed by individuals in various branches of learningArabic, Sanscrit, Hebrew, Greek literature, Mathematics, Mineralogy, Geology and Physical Science,—and yet several of these departments were favorite studies with him, and in any of them he was capable of filling a college professorship with distinction; while in Philology, in the number of Ancient and Modern Languages at his command, in Ancient and Modern Philosophy, in Ecclesiastical and Civil History, in acquaintance with Society and the progress of civilization in all ages, he had few if any equals.
With a well-balanced mind, resisting all tendencies to extremes, a wise sagacity to detect eternal principles as distinguished from temporary forms of expression,