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The oldest Syriac translation of both the Old and New Testaments. The term "Peshiṭta" means "the simple one" in distinction from Origen's Hexapla. This term was first used by Moses bar Kepha (died 913), then by Gregory bar Hebræus (Preface to his "Auẓar Raze," and in his "Historia Dynastiarum," ed. Pocock, p. 100). But a Syriac version of the Bible was known to the Church Fathers much earlier; and even Melito of Sardis, who lived in the second century, speaks of a Syriac version of the Old Testament. The Peshiṭta is more frequently mentioned by the Church Fathers of the fourth century, as Augustine, Chrysostom, and others, and more particularly by Ephraem Syrus.

Traditional Ascription to Abgarus.

As to the epoch in which the translation of the Bible into Syriac was made, there are different traditions, more or less legendary, as well as different opinions of later scholars. Recent investigations have shown that the Syriac version, even of the Old Testament, has been made neither by one translator nor at one time, but that it was the product of several centuries. The time at which the Peshiṭta was begun, however, is the most important point. The tradition which connects the version with Abgar, King of Edessa, is the most probable one. Wichelhaus ("De Novi Testamenti Versione Syriaca Antiqua," pp. 97 et seq.) was the first to identify Abgarus with Izates, King of Adiabene; and he was followed in his argument by modern scholars. Wichelhaus' argument is based on the account of Abgarus given by Moses of Chorene, who states that Abgarus' father was called Monobaz, and his mother Helena. The tradition that Abgarus sent men to Palestine who translated the Bible into Syriac (Bar Hebræus, commentary to Ps. x.) agrees with the statement of Josephus ("Ant." xx. 3, § 4) that Izates sent his five sons to Jerusalem to study the language and learning of the Jews. Thus the Pentateuch that Izates read (Josephus, l.c. xx. 2, § 4; Gen. R. xlvi. 8) may have been the Syriac version otherwise known as the Peshiṭta (comp. Grätz, "Gesch." 3d ed., iii. 405). It may consequently be accepted that the Pentateuch was translated into Syriac in the first century, in the time of Izates.

Influence of the Septuagint.

The work of translation continued till the fourth century, in the time of Ephraem Syrus, when the whole Bible was rendered into Syriac. The Peshiṭta was translated directly from the Hebrew, in accordance with Jewish tradition current in Palestine. But as this translation is a collection of popular versions, it was inevitable that several parts of the Old Testament should be influenced by the Septuagint. In the Pentateuch the Book of Genesis is more strongly influenced by the Septuagint than the four other books; yet this does not prove that the whole Pentateuch was not translated by one man. While Ezekiel and Proverbs closely agree with the Jewish Aramaic version (Targum), the twelve Minor Prophets on the other hand follow the Septuagint. The translation of Chronicles is partly midrashic, and it seems to be of a much later epoch, as it differs greatly from that of the other books. It is apparent that the translation of the Pentateuch, which, most of all the books of the Old Testament, bears the Hebrewstamp, was known to the later translators of the other books.

Translated by Jews.

As to the most important question. "To which religion did the Peshiṭta translators belong?" Richard Simon ("Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament," p. 305, Paris, 1678) is the only Christian scholar to affirm that the translators belonged to the Jewish faith. The others, as Michaelis, Kirsch, Hirzel, and Nöldeke, ascribe the translation to born Christians; Dathe and others, to Judæo-Christians. It seems also that Samuel b. Ḥofni considered the Peshiṭta to have been made by Christians, for in his commentary on Gen. xlvii. 31 he says, "The Christian translators, reading 'ha-maṭṭeh' instead of 'ha-miṭṭah,' rendered this word by 'the rod.'" This rendering is found only in the Peshiṭta. The partizans of Christian translatorship base their theory on the assertion that the Peshiṭta is never quoted in the Talmud, and that the superscriptions of the Psalms and translations of certain verses in Isaiah clearly show a Christian spirit. Nöldeke, besides, contends that the language of the Peshiṭta of the Old Testament resembles that of the Peshiṭta of the New Testament, and he further dogmatically says that while this version has been accepted by all the sects of the Syrian Church, it has never been used in the synagogue ("Die Alttestamentliche Literatur," p. 263). Joseph Perles ("Meletemata Peschittoniana," Breslau, 1859), however, proves that the Syriac version of the Old Testament was the work of Jews; and it will be shown below that the Peshiṭta was used by the Jews in their synagogues. Moreover, the argument that it is not quoted in the Talmud is not conclusive; for the citations of the Targum which are met with in the Talmud (for instance, Shab. 10b; R. H. 33b; Meg. 10b; and elsewhere) may refer to the Peshiṭta as well, the two versions in the quoted passages being absolutely identical. As to the Christian superscriptions and interpretations which are found in the Old Testament, they were certainly added and changed later by Christian revisers.

Midrashic Interpretations.

It is known that Jacob of Edessa spent several years in correcting and revising the Syriac version; and it seems also from the citations made by Ephraem Syrus that in his time the text was in many places different from that which now exists. The emendations were particularly made in agreement with the Septuagint. On the other hand, the proofs which show the Peshiṭta to have been a Jewish work are numerous. The Judæo-Aramaisms with which this version abounds could not have been understood by non-Jews. Besides, it seems to have been originally written in Hebrew characters; for the remark of Al-Takriti (Hottinger, "Bibl. Orient." pp. 87 et seq.), that the Bible was read in the churches in Hebrew till Ephraem prohibited it, means that this version was written in Hebrew characters. It is true that these arguments may be refuted by the assumption that the work was made by Judæo-Christians, or, as Nöldeke says, by Christians assisted by Jews. But there are other incontestable proofs that the Peshiṭta was the work of Jews; namely, its halakic and haggadic interpretations and the indications that it was used in the synagogues for the weekly lessons. There are many instances where the verses are interpreted according to the Talmud and Midrashim; some of them may be given here. "Ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field" (Ex. xxii. 30) is rendered in the Peshiṭta, "Ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn off from a living beast" (comp. Targumim and Ḥul. 102b). "And he set them before the Lord" (Lev. xvi. 7); Peshiṭta, "And he set them while they are still alive before the Lord" (Ḥul. 11a). "And thou shalt not give any of thy seed to make them pass to Molech" (Lev. xviii. 21, Hebr.); Peshiṭta, "And thou shalt not marry any of thy sons to a strange wife" (Meg. 25a). "Every Sabbath he shall set it in order" (Lev. xxiv. 8); Peshiṭta, "Every Friday he shall set it in order" (Men. 97a).

Jewish Superscriptions.

Even the Psalms, which most of all have undergone emendation, offer many evidences that the translation was made by Jews. Like the Hebrew Psalter, the Syriac version is divided into five books; and in several places (e.g., Ps. lxviii. 15, 18; lxxxix. 24) the word "pasuḳa" (= "disjunction") is inserted, to indicate a pause in agreement with the rabbinical law. Even among the superscriptions of the chapters, many of which show a Christian hand, there are several that have been made in the rabbinical spirit; for instance, that to ch. xliv., "This chapter was sung by the people with Moses near Mount Horeb," is after Deut. R. iii. The superscription to ch. liii., referring it to Ahithophel, by whom Absalom is advised to slay his father, is in agreement with Midr. Teh. ad loc. As to the word , which is rendered in the Septuagint διάψαλμα, there is great confusion in the Peshiṭta. This word is sometimes omitted entirely, sometimes it is rendered as in the Septuagint, and in seven instances it is translated "for ever" as in the Targum (comp. 'Er. 54a).

Used in the Synagogues.

That the Peshiṭta of the Pentateuch was in use in the synagogues is seen from the fact that it is divided into the weekly lessons for the Palestinian or triennial cycle. Even those parts which are read in the synagogue on various holy days are indicated; for instance, before Lev. xvi. 1, the indication is given that the following part is to be read on the Day of Atonement (comp. Meg. 30b). Other superscriptions show the rabbinical spirit of the translator, as Ex. xxi.: "'esra pitgamin" (= "'aseret ha-dibrot" = "decalogue"; Ber. 11b); Lev. xvii. 1: "namusa de-ḳurbane" (= "parashat ha-ḳorbanot" = "the chapter of sacrifices"; Meg. 30b). Later in the second century, when Biblical exegesis reached a higher plane in the flourishing schools of Tiberias and Sepphoris, the Peshiṭta, which is a somewhat literal translation, began to fall into disuse. It was finally superseded in Palestine in the second century by the translation of Aquila, which was made on the basis of Akiba's teaching, and in the third century in Babylonia by the Targum of Onḳelos, which was based on the Peshiṭta itself.

It has been already stated that the Peshiṭta, fromits earliest appearance, was accepted in the Church. This rendered necessary the institution of the office of interpreter ("meturgeman") as in the synagogues; for, besides the fact that the Peshiṭta, was written in Hebrew characters, the language itself and the mode of interpretation were not familiar to Christians. It is evident, however, that the Peshiṭta did not assume canonical authority till many centuries later, as Bar Hebræus gave the preference to the Septuagint (see above). It is worth while mentioning that Naḥmanides quotes, in the introduction to his commentary on the Pentateuch, the Syriac translation of the Wisdom of Solomon ("Ḥukmeta Rabbeta di-Shelomoh"), and in his commentary (on Deut. xxi. 14), the Book of Judith ("Megillat Shushan").


The Peshiṭta was first printed in the Paris Polyglot of Le Jay (1645), in which edition the Apocrypha was omitted. In 1657 it was reprinted in Walton's Polyglot with the addition of the apocryphal books. From Walton's Polyglot, Kirsch, in 1787, published a separate edition of the Pentateuch. The Psalter alone was edited several times; it first appeared in 1610. Later the British and Foreign Bible Society issued the Syriac Old Testament in a separate volume (London, 1823). The text was revised by Lee from several Syriac manuscripts; and in 1826 the Syriac version of the New Testament was published by the same society. Recently Eisenstein made an attempt toward publishing the Peshiṭta in Hebrew characters; but only the first two chapters of Genesis, the first chapter vocalized, appeared, in "Ner ha-Ma'arabi," 1895, i., No. 1. The Peshiṭta (particularly parts of the Old Testament) was also the subject of several dissertations, e.g., H. Weiss, "Die Peschitta zum Deuterojesaja," Halle, 1893; L. Warszawski, "Die Peschitta zu Jesaja" (ch. i.-xxxix.), Berlin, 1897; P. F. Frankl, "Jeremiah," in "Monatsschrift," xxi. 444, 497, 545.

  • R. Duval, in R. E. J. xiv. 49;
  • Nöldeke, Die Alttestamentliche Literatur, French transl. by H. Derenbourg and J. Soury under the title of Histoire Littéraire de l'Ancien Testament, pp. 379 et seq., Paris, 1873;
  • Perles, Meletemata Peschittoniana, Breslau, 1859, a résumé of which is given in Ben Chananja, ii. 371 et seq.;
  • Prager. De Veteris Testamenti Versione Peschitto, Göttingen, 1875;
  • J. Reifmann, in Bet Talmud, i. 383 et seq.;
  • N. Wiseman, Horæ Syriacæ, pp. 79 et seq., Rome, 1828.
E. G. H. M. Sel.
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