Psalms; in the third are the Four Gospels; in the fourth, fragments of St. Paul's
Epistles. 5. The Codex Bezae
الْبِيزاَيُ), preserved at the University of Cambridge, was written
about the beginning of the sixth century. 6. The Codex Ephraemi
الإفرْايُمي), which was written
early in the fifth century, is now in the National Library, Paris.
Besides these larger MSS., we also possess in our libraries smaller MSS. which contain
separate portions of the New Testament in Greek. Of these the oldest is a single sheet of
papyrus recently discovered with others in the ruins of Oxyrhynchus, near the present
village of Bahnasah in Egypt, about 120 miles south of Cairo, and hence called one of the
(بهنسيّة) Papyri. It was written between 200 and 300 A.D., that is to say, between
370 and 270 years before Muhammad's birth. It contains the first and the twentieth
chapters of St. John's Gospel. Such recently discovered MSS. are of especial value from
our present point of view, because, as they had been buried in the desert sands in what
afterwards became a Muslim land, hundreds of years before the Hijrah, and remained in that
state until dug up recently, not even the most bigoted of men can say that they were
forged after the "descent" of the Qur'an, or that they have been
(محرّقة) by Christians since, or in Muhammad's time.
We already possess 3,899 MSS. either of the whole or of separate parts of the Greek New
Testament. All of these have been carefully examined and entered in catalogues, so that
students may know where they are kept. There are also probably between 2,000 and 3,000
others not yet catalogued.
So far we have been speaking of MSS. of the New Testament in the original Greek. But we
may here mention that some of the existing MSS. of Versions into other languages are also
more ancient than Muhammad's time. For instance, of the Peshitta
(بِشطّا) Syriac Version we have at least ten MSS. which were copied in the fifth
century from still more ancient ones, and thirty which belong to the sixth century.
In speaking of the Old Testament we mentioned a considerable number of the Versions of
it made into languages so ancient that no one now living speaks any of them as his mother
tongue. Still more numerous versions of the New Testament into such very ancient languages
exist, in whole or in part. Of these we proceed to mention some of the most important. All
those here spoken of, except one mentioned below, were made long before Muhammad's time,
and it was made during his life, but before the Hijrah.
I. We have several versions into Syriac, especially the Peshitta
(بِشطّا), made in the
second or third century; the Philoxenian Syriac, made about 508 A.D., and its revision by
Thomas of Heraclea
(حرقل) in 616 A.D. But besides these there were other Syriac Versions,
two of which are preserved for us in the MSS. called the Curetonian and the Sinai-Syriac.
The early existence of a translation of the New Testament into Syriac is proved by the
fact that Tatian, who was born probably in 110 A.D., composed a Harmony of the Four
Gospels. We possess this work in a slightly varied form in Latin and Armenian. An Arabic
version of this "Diatessaron", as it is called, was made from the Syriac by
الطّبيب), who died in 1043 A.D. Of very great interest are the fragments
recently found of a version of the New Testament made from the Greek into the dialect of
Syriac spoken in Palestine, for that was the mother tongue of the Lord Jesus Christ. This
version was probably made in the fourth century, if not earlier. The MS. which contains
what remains of it is called the "Codex Climaci Rescriptus"
كليماكوس). It was
written in the sixth century, and contains portions of the four Gospels, the Acts of the
Apostles, and the Epistles of St. Paul.