by Yuri Kuchinsky

[First posted to Usenet on 19 Aug 2002, and later re-edited. The original title of this article was "a strange pair (Jn 4:47)".]

Greetings, all,

Let's suppose that two very obscure manuscripts, one from medieval England, and another one from ancient Syria, agree with each other on a passage. And no other known manuscript has this passage. Is this something to wonder about? Will that come as a surprise to people? Well, at least this is something to wonder about...

The first of our manuscripts is in the Middle English, dating to ca 1350. And the second is in ancient Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic -- the language very close to that spoken by the Historical Jesus. And the passage in question is John 4:47 (The Healing of the Centurion's Servant). So here's the standard version of this passage,

(John 4:47 RSV) "When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son ..."

That Jesus was in Galilee at that time (i.e. when the Centurion was seeking his help) is quite clear from the preceding verse 4:46. So there doesn't seem to be anything obscure or difficult about this passage, as we find it in virtually all known manuscripts of John, in any language. All but two.

Our Middle English text (MS Pepys 2498) reads here as follows,

(14:3) "... tho he herd that Jesus was comen in to Judee, he com to Jesu and bisou3th hym to wende in to Chapharnaym to hele his son."

"... when he heard that Jesus had come down to Judea, he came to Jesus and begged him to go to Capernaum to heal his son."

So, as you can see here, for some unknown reason, in this text Jesus has come "to Judea", rather than "from Judea to Galilee", as we find it in the rest of the New Testament textual tradition.

There's nothing difficult here about the translation; the verse is pretty clear, and the editor of the manuscript, Margery Goates, flagged this passage as an error. So maybe it is an error, I don't know. But now it looks like this exact same error is also supported by the ancient Aramaic Curetonian manuscript of John, dating to ca 400 AD!

So here's the Curetonian version of this verse, according to the 1904 Burkitt translation,

"When he heard that Jesus was come from Galilee to Judea he came unto him, and was beseeching him that he should go down and see his son..."

This variant in the Old Syriac also happens to be footnoted in the Aland's Synopsis of the Four Gospels, the standard NT reference volume, and Aland lists no other support for it. So I assume that, up to now, this rather odd reading has been standing all alone in the known NT tradition, puzzling a few scholars who have been diligent enough to read the textual apparatus. And now, the support for this variant has turned up in a place that is probably least expected...

So what's going on here with this very strange pair, a Middle English and an Aramaic texts of John? This really seems like a mystery...

I really don't know what this variant has to tell us, and what the significance of it may be. Could it be that perhaps it may have some sort of a relevance for the redactional history of John? But, as far as I'm concerned, the main meaning of this variant right now is that it exists in these two very odd places, and requires some sort of an explanation.

Nobody really knows much about the anonymous gospel of MS Pepys 2498, also known as the Magdalene Gospel. The scholars in the know seem to think that it depends on a Latin gospel of some sort, that is now lost.

Could it be that both manuscripts depend on some sort of a common source text? If so, it was obviously very ancient, probably going back to the 2nd century, at least. But what language would it have been in? We simply don't know. If it was a common Greek archetype, how come no other known Greek MS carries this reading? Or was it a common Aramaic archetype? In such a case, the Latin exemplar of the Magdalene Gospel would have probably been a translation from the Aramaic, rather than from Greek.

We can also observe, for instance, that both the Middle English and the Aramaic texts also feature yet another agreement against the Greek in this verse,

(Syriac) he _came_ unto him and
(MidEng) he _came_ to Jesus and

But in the Greek version, instead of "he came", we find "he went" (APHLQEN).

And, in this detail, the Syriac text also happens to be supported by some Old Latin MSS (as well as by some other assorted MSS). Thus, here we have a genuine Syro-Latin reading, the importance of which cannot be underestimated.

And so, in this second agreement in this verse with the Syriac text, the Magdalene Gospel aligns with the Syro-Latin tradition -- against the Latin Vulgate, and against Aland's Greek text.

But, of course, these two agreements between the Magdalene Gospel and the Old Syriac gospels are just the tip of the iceberg. Because there are certainly great many other agreements between the Magdalene Gospel and the Old Syriac gospels, and this has already been noted before (for example by Boismard).

Both the Magdalene Gospel and the Old Syriac gospels are very obscure texts. The last edition of these Old Syriac texts came out in 1910, and they haven't been reissued since then. Very few New Testament scholars indeed have been studying these gospels recently, which certainly seems sort of curious. In the present climate in NT studies, if it's not the Greek text, nobody is really interested... (But now there's a brand new edition by Wilson, that has just been published.)

Those wishing to learn more about the Magdalene Gospel can find more info on my webpage.

Both documents feature great many Jewish-Christian looking passages and themes. It's this sort of a textual comparison that recently got me booted from TC-List, where the scholars are obviously quite afraid of certain types of ideas -- where, it seems, the Jewish-Christian gospels are not really welcome.

So what do people think about any of this? Any ideas?

All the best,



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