Thursday, February 05, 2009

This Bible is a Little Too Old

I was amused by the headline "Nine arrested over 2,000 year-old Assyrian Bible." (link to article) That would put it at A.D. 9, or a minimum of about 30 years before the earliest autographs of the New Testament books!

It is a truly beautiful Bible, written in gold letters. However, as one finds upon reading further into the article, the manuscript is not likely to be any earlier than the fourth century, and is probably several centuries younger (later) than that. In short, a more accurate headline probably would have read, "Nine arrested over 1,500 year-old Assyrian Bible."

I think it is highly unlikely that the Bible dates to the 4th century. The oldest known (at least to me) Syriac manuscript is 5th century. I would guess 6th century is a more likely earliest date for this particular Bible given the limited evidence available. In a related article (link), there is an interesting discussion of a 1,000 year-old Syriac Bible that is alleged to be a faithful copy of a now-lost 2nd century Aramaic manuscript. There a number of reasons to be dubious of these claims (especially because they are normally accompanied by assertions of Aramaic priority, i.e. untenable claims that the Greek was actually a translation of Aramaic originals), but still the basic concept demonstrates the concern people should have over automatically dismissing a document because it is not itself one of the earliest manuscripts available. But this is a tangent.

Generally speaking, gilt Bibles were for royalty, and consequently if this particular codex is intact, it may be possible to more exactly date this Bible from a dedication or similar preface. I am sure that Dan Wallace would love to be able to image this document, and hopefully it will not disappear before he or other manuscript preservers have a chance to make some high quality images of its text.


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