The Bible of Edessa. A New English Annotated Translation of the Peshitta
The Bible of Edessa is the first reliable translation of the Peshitta, the original Syriac version of the Old Testament. It takes its name from the city of Edessa (Urhay) in upper Mesopotamia. It was this town’s Aramaic dialect, now called Syriac, that became the literary language of large groups of Middle Eastern Christians. In all probability it was also here that the Peshitta was made in the second century CE.
The Bible of Edessa is based on the oldest and best Syriac manuscripts, which have been made available through the Leiden Peshitta edition. Every biblical book has been assigned to two specialist scholars, who check each other’s work. The result is reviewed by an international Editorial Board before publication. The Bible of Edessa volumes also come with an introduction and extensive annotations.
The style of the Bible of Edessa is aimed at a general educated audience. The preferred characteristics of the translation are: idiomatic, flowing, smooth, and comprehensible English that is an adequate representation of the Syriac. We aim at the general style of the New Revised Standard Version, but we do not use it as a base translation.
It is theoretically possible for a translation to try to convey the impression that the Peshitta text created on the contemporaries of the translator of each book, or on hearers in the sixth, seventh, eighth century, and so on. But it would be difficult to decide which era one was aiming at, and still harder to try to replicate in English that precise impression. Therefore the Bible of Edessa focuses on what the translator must have thought that the text meant.
For more information on the characteristics of our translation and the choices we have made, see Konrad Jenner, Alison Salvesen, Bas ter Haar Romeny, and Wido van Peursen, ‘The New English Annotated Translation of the Syriac Bible (NEATSB): Retrospect and Prospect (Peshitta Institute Communication 23)’, Aramaic Studies 2 (2004), pp. 85–106 [openly accessible, courtesy of Brill].
The running text of the Bible of Edessa reflects a virtual critical text established on the basis of the main text and critical apparatus of the Leiden edition, which present all manuscript evidence up to the twelfth century, and our present knowledge of the Syriac Fathers. We give a very limited ‘critical apparatus in translation’. This apparatus gives the reading of the edition in cases where the translators of the Bible of Edessa have selected another; the reading of the Milan manuscript 7a1 if this was not selected for the text of the Leiden edition; and the specific readings of the later standard text of the Peshitta, also known as the textus receptus. The textual apparatus is presented separately from the other annotations.
All other English translations of the Peshitta are based on nineteenth-century printed editions. These all go back to an unreliable seventeenth-century manuscript. They also contain readings that did not originate within the Syriac tradition, but are based on modern retroversions from the Hebrew text or even the Vulgate.
For more information on the textual basis, see Bas ter Haar Romeny, ‘Choosing a Textual Basis for the New English Annotated Translation of the Syriac Bible’, Aramaic Studies 3 (2005), pp. 167–86 [openly accessible, courtesy of Brill].
The introductions to the biblical books discuss the following subjects:
- Background: the biblical book in question
- The Peshitta to this biblical book
a. Manuscripts and textual transmission
b. General characterization of the Syriac translation
- Reception history
- This translation
In addition to the limited critical apparatus in translation, there is an extensive section of annotations. These contain:
- Notes on the translation technique, and the relation between the Hebrew and Syriac texts;
- Meaningful divergences from and agreements with the Masoretic text or other textual witnesses (Septuagint, Targumim);
- Alternative translations, and notes on choices made in the English translation;
- Significant information about exegetical elements in the reception history of the Peshitta text which shed light on the text itself or on the interpretation of a particular Syriac reading, for instance, a commentary which explains an ambiguous reading.
In view of the target audience, which includes scholars, students, but also interested laymen, transliterations are used for Syriac, Hebrew, and Greek words in the annotations. We have opted for a simple transliteration with vowels, according to the more diversified East Syriac tradition.
Names are given in the standard English form (as in the NRSV), unless the Syriac tradition clearly differs (e.g. in the case of Reubel, for Reuben).
The Bible of Edessa is published by Brill, where our project has met with great enthusiasm. It will appear in electronic editions as well as in printed fascicles covering one larger book of the Peshitta or several shorter ones. The following publication formats are foreseen:
- Online in open access read-only PDFs, accessible to all for free
- In the form of e-books
- In print, in affordable paperbacks
- After completion of the whole project, in a set of hardbacks
We are very happy that Brill are not only bringing their 329 years of experience to this project , but also a genuine commitment to modern forms of open access and electronic publishing.
The project is clearly a complex one, as evidenced by the fact that initial preparations had already been made in the late 1990s. However, the first volume is now complete and due to appear shortly: this is 1-2 Chronicles by David Phillips, with the assistance of Adriana Drint. It is hoped that the last volume of the series will be published within seven years from now.
The Bible of Edessa Project (BEP) is part of the Peshitta Project authorized by the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament and carried out by the Leiden Peshitta Institute. The BEP Editorial Board consists of:
- Bas ter Haar Romeny, Leiden (chair)
- Alison Salvesen, Oxford (secretary)
- Jan Joosten, Strasbourg
- Wido van Peursen, Leiden
|Volume||Book||1st translator||2nd translator|
|1||Gen||Bas ter Haar Romeny||Kristian Heal|
|2||Exod||Kristian Heal||Bas ter Haar Romeny|
|3||Lev||Moshe Zipor||Ed Mathews Jr.|
|4||Num||Robert Owens||Stephen D. Ryan|
|5||Deut||Jan Joosten||Shraga Assif|
|7||Josh||Ed Mathews Jr.||Michael van der Meer|
|Judg||Wido van Peursen||tba|
|8||1-2 Sam||Craig Morrison||Alison Salvesen|
|9||Pss||David Taylor||Alison Salvesen|
|10||1-2 Kgs||Don Walter||Percy van Keulen|
|11||Prov||Johann Cook||Jan Joosten|
|12||Wisd||Emiliano Fiori||Maya Goldberg|
|Qoh||Maya Goldberg||Emiliano Fiori|
|13||Isa||Arie van der Kooij||Konrad Jenner|
|15||EpBar||Johannes Magliano-Tromp||Ignacio Carbajosa|
|Bar||Johannes Magliano-Tromp||Ignacio Carbajosa|
|ApBar||Johannes Magliano-Tromp||Ignacio Carbajosa|
|16||Ezek||Jerome Lund/Herrie van Rooy||Shraga Assif|
|17||12-Proph||Pierre Najem||Petra Verwijs|
|Dan||Richard Taylor||Janet Dyk|
|BelDr||Richard Taylor||Janet Dyk|
|18||Ruth||Johannes de Moor||Kelli Bryant|
|Sus||Richard Taylor||Janet Dyk|
|Esth||Erin Galgay Walsh||Lucas Van Rompay|
|Jdt||Erin Galgay Walsh||Lucas Van Rompay|
|19||Sirach||Wido van Peursen||John Elwolde|
|20||1-2 Chr||David Phillips||Adriana Drint|
|21||4 Ezra||Adriana Drint||Cees den Hertog|
|Ezra-Neh||Konrad Jenner||Adriana Drint|
|22||1-2 Mac||Konrad Jenner||tba|
|23||3-4 Mac||tba||Konrad Jenner|
|PssSal||Johannes Magliano-Tromp||Wido van Peursen|
Contributors to the Bible of Edessa Project are offered the following tools and guidelines:
- On the history of the project and main decisions, including a sample translation: Jenner et al., ‘The New English Annotated Translation’
- On the textual basis: Bas ter Haar Romeny, ‘Choosing a Textual Basis’
- Style Sheet
- Guide to Transliterations
- A practical guide to the use of the Syriac commentary traditions is given by Lucas Van Rompay, ‘Between the School and the Monk’s Cell: The Syriac Old Testament Commentary Tradition’, in Bas ter Haar Romeny (ed.), The Peshitta: Its Use in Literature and Liturgy. Papers Read at the Third Peshitta Symposium (Monographs of the Peshitta Institute Leiden 15; Leiden: Brill, 2006), pp. 27–51 The other articles in this volume will also be useful.
- The Peshitta List, a discussion list for all Peshitta projects. Register here.