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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

The Early Versions

The writings of the Apocrypha, like the writings of the Old and New Testaments and as part of the same process, were translated in the early centuries of the Christian Era into a number of languages, to meet the needs of the areas and countries that had recently been converted to Christianity (for the Syriac version as a partial exception, see below). These early versions were in almost all cases made from the Greek, and include the following: Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic. The versions vary considerably in character—for example, in the extent to which they are literal or free—and are of considerable interest in their own right; but, with the exception of 2 Esdras and 1 Enoch, they are of secondary importance in comparison with the Greek for the text of the writings of the Apocrypha. Some brief comments follow on the Syriac, Latin, and Ethiopic versions; for the Coptic, Armenian, and Arabic, see the articles by Mills (1992), Alexanian (1992), and Jellicoe (1968: 266–8) respectively.

Syriac Versions

The precise date and place of origin of the Peshitta version—the standard Syriac version (Syr)—of the Old Testament and of the Apocrypha are unknown. There is, however, good evidence to suggest that the books of the Old Testament were translated into Syriac from a Hebrew original, and it has recently been argued that the translation was made by Jews in Edessa who subsequently converted to Christianity and took their translation with them (Weitzman 1999: 206–62). The translation of the books of the Apocrypha, with the exception of Ecclesiasticus, was made from the Greek, most probably by Christians, and the Syriac translation of the Old Testament and Apocrypha as a whole was preserved and transmitted by Christians. The fact that the Old Syriac Gospels, which are dated to about 200, in some quotations of Old Testament passages follow the Syriac Old Testament suggests that the translation of most of the books of the Old Testament was completed by the end of the second century; the translation of the books of the Apocrypha is likely to have followed soon after.

The use of the term ‘Peshitta’ for the Syriac version is not attested before the ninth century; the word means ‘simple’, and was used of this version to distinguish it from the Syro-Hexapla of the Old Testament (see below) and the Harklean version of the New. For the text of the Syriac version, see the individual volumes of the Leiden edition; and for introductions, see Brock 1992; Weitzman 1999.

The Peshitta version of the Syriac is to be distinguished from the Syro-Hexapla (Syh). This provides a very literal translation into Syriac of the text of the fifth column of Origen's Hexapla, which was intended to bring the Septuagint translation into line with the Hebrew. The translation was undertaken by Paul of Tella in the early seventh century in a monastery near Alexandria, and was made at the request of the Syrian Orthodox patriarch, Athanasius. The Syro-Hexapla is a very important witness of the Hexaplaric text, and some manuscripts preserve the Hexaplaric signs.

Latin Versions

The translation of the Greek Bible into Latin derives from North Africa, and dates back to as early as the second century, although it is likely that the translation, like the Septuagint itself, was made book by book over a period of time. As use of the translation spread, it was subject to successive revision on the basis of Greek witnesses different from those used by the original translators, and manuscripts of this version, as well as quotations from it by the Latin Fathers, reveal many differences. The name Vetus Latina, or Old Latin (La), given to this version covers the variety of revised texts represented by the manuscripts and quotations.

It was in response to the variety of Latin texts in circulation that Jerome, who worked under the patronage of Pope Damasus, undertook his work of revision. He began with the gospels and the Psalter, but then in Bethlehem after 387 he revised a number of books of the Old Testament on the basis of Greek manuscripts with a Hexaplaric text (and in the process prepared the second of his three translations of the Psalter). Finally, in the last decade of the fourth century and the first decade of the fifth he prepared a Latin translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew text. This version was not immediately accepted as authoritative, and for a time merely added to the revisions of the Latin text in circulation. But over the following centuries Jerome's translation gained in authority, and it is essentially his translation that from the sixteenth century has been known as the Vulgate. However, Jerome was concerned only with the books that belonged in the Hebrew canon, and as far as the Apocrypha is concerned, he translated only Tobit, Judith, and the additions to Esther and Daniel; the translations of the other books of the Apocrypha that are to be found in manuscripts of the Vulgate remain essentially the Old Latin.

A major critical edition of the Old Latin is in the process of being published by the Vetus Latina Institute at Beuron (B. Fischer and colleagues), and one of the Vulgate has been issued by the Benedictines of San Girolamo in Rome (H. Quentin and colleagues, 1926–95). An excellent edition of the latter with an abridged apparatus was published by R. Weber in two volumes (1969; later editions have been issued in a single volume). For an introduction, see Bogaert 1992.

Ethiopic Version

The translation of the books of the Greek Bible into Geez—that is, classical Ethiopic (Aeth)—was made during the fifth and sixth century, and followed a century or so after the adoption of Christianity by the Aksumite ruler Ezana in the middle of the fourth century. However, it is important to recognize that although the translation dates back to the fifth or sixth century, almost all the extant manuscripts date from the fifteenth century or later, and that only a very small number date from the fourteenth century, much less from before then. The translation was made from the Greek, but in the case of the books of the Old Testament the text was revised in the fourteenth century on the basis of Arabic or Syro-Arabic texts, and in the latter part of the fifteenth century, or later, on the basis of the Hebrew. But for a book such as 1 Enoch, while earlier and later forms of the text can clearly be distinguished, it is not clear how far the revision was textually based. For an introduction, see Knibb (1999).

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