From Academic Kids

The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible in the Syriac language.


The name 'Peshitta'

The name 'Peshitta' is derived from the Syriac mappaqt pt.t, literally meaning 'Simple Version'. However, it is also possible to translate pt.t 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. It is written in the Syriac alphabet, and is transliterated into the Roman alphabet in a number of ways: Peshitta, Peshitt, Pshitta, Pitt, Pshitto, Fshitto. All of these are acceptable, but 'Peshitta' is the most convenient spelling in English.

History of the Syriac versions

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

The various Syriac translations of the Bible are rooted in the Jewish translations of the Old Testament into Aramaic (Targums). They were brought by Jewish and Christian preachers into the Syriac heartland (Osrhoene and Adiabene) during the first two centuries of the Christian era. The Aramaic Targums clearly exerted an influence on later translation of both the Old and New Testaments.

The earliest New Testament translation into Syriac was Tatian's Diatessaron ('one through four'). The Diatessaron, written about 165 AD, was a continuous harmony of the four gospels into a single narrative. It, rather than the four separate gospels, became the official Syriac Gospel for a time, and received a beautiful prose commentary by Ephrem the Syrian. However, the Syriac-speaking church was urged to follow the practice of other churches and use the four separate gospels. Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus on the Euphrates in upper Syria in 423, sought out and found more than two hundred copies of the Diatessaron, which he 'collected and put away, and introduced instead of them the Gospels of the four evangelists'.

The early Syriac versions of both Old and New Testament with the four gospels, excluding the Diatessaron, is called the Old Syriac (Vetus Syra) version. The Old Syriac Old Testament was probably based extensively on the Aramaic Targums, but little evidence survives today. There are two manuscripts of the Old Syriac separate gospels (Syra Sinaiticus and Syra Curetonianus). These are clearly based on the Greek text, and the so-called 'Western' recension of it. The Syriac of these manuscripts shows some influence of West Aramaic, a related language. It is thought that the separate gospels circulated in a Christian Palestinian dialect of Aramaic during the period that the Diatessaron circulated in the Syriac community. These source gospels, if they existed at all, were translations from Greek. There is also evidence that translations of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles also existed in the Old Syriac version.

The Peshitta is a reworking of Old Syriac material to form a unified version of the scriptures for the Syriac-speaking churches. The name of Rabbula, bishop of Edessa (d. 435) is popularly connected with the production of the Peshitta. However, it is unclear how involved he was, if at all. By the early fifth century, the Peshitta was the standard Bible of the Syriac-speaking churches. Even with centuries of schism and division, the Peshitta remains a single, uniting tradition.

Content and style of the Peshitta

The Peshitta version of the Old Testament clearly draws on Aramaic Targums and 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 Apocrypha is translated from the Septuagint, except that Tobit did not exist in early versions of the Peshitta, and the translation of Sirach was based on a Hebrew text.

The Peshitta version of the New Testament shows 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 fifth century. One peculiar feature of the Peshitta is the absence of 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Modern Syriac Bibles add sixth or seventh century translations of these five books to a revised Peshitta text.

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The sixth beatitude (Matthew 5:8) from an East Syriac Peshitta.
Tuvayhon l'ayln dadkn blebhon: dhenon nehzon l'alh.
'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.'

Modern developments

The Peshitta, lightly revised and with missing books added, is the standard Syriac Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Maronite Church, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, the Mar Thoma Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The Syrian Christians in India have mostly replaced Syriac with Malayalam. The Arabic language is becoming more common, if not for liturgical readings, for sermons and personal study of the Bible among Syriac Christians in the Middle East.

Almost all Syriac scholars agree that the Peshitta gospels are translations of the Greek originals. A minority viewpoint is that the Peshitta represent the original New Testament and the Greek is a translation of it. For more information, see Aramaic primacy.

In 1901, P. E. Pusey and G. H. Gwilliam published a critical text of the Peshitta with a Latin translation. Then, in 1905, the British and Foreign Bible Society produced a clear, non-critical version of the Peshitta gospels. In 1920, this version was expanded to a complete New Testament. From 1961, the Peshitta Institute of Leiden has published the most comprehensive critical edition of the Peshitta as a series of fascicles.

A 1933 translation of the Peshitta into English, edited by George M. Lamsa, is known as the Lamsa Bible.

In 1996, the first edition of George Anton Kiraz's Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels: Aligning the Old Syriac Sinaiticus, Curetonianus, Peshitta and Harklean Versions (abbr. CESG; the Harklean text was prepared by Andreas Juckel) was published by Brill. The subsequent second (2002) and third (2004) editions were printed by Gorgias Press LLC.


Related topics


  • Lamsa, George M. (1933). The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts. ISBN 0060649232.
  • 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.
  • 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.].

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