A brand new edition of the Syriac text of the New Testament (Pshitto) was published this year (2007) by the teaching staff of the Syriac Orthodox Monastery Mor Gabriel near Midyat in the South East of Turkey. It is called Pshitto of Mardin (Pshitto dMardin in Syriac) because it prints the text of a manuscript which is kept in Mardin, in the Church of the fourty martyrs (ms. 35/2, from the 13th century, which had never been printed before).
Mor Gabriel is the oldest Syriac Monastery in the world (founded in AD 397) and has a long scholarly tradition. Philoxenos (ca. 440-523), later bishop of Mabbug and originator of a revision of the Syriac New Testament (i.e. the Philoxenian version) was among its most famous students. Today Mor Gabriel accommodates a school of Syriac language and theology which preserves and passes on the venerable tradition of Syriac Christianity.
The Mor Gabriel edition of the Pshitto is good news for anyone interested in the Syriac Bible. Compared with the widely used UBS-EPF edition of the NT and Psalms, which is admittedly more handy because of its smaller size, the Pshitto of Mardin (ca. 1250 g.!) is a pleasure for the eye. It has a very clear script (vocalized Serto) and an agreeable layout.
The edition prints the text of a single manuscript, but it reports all important differences with the versions.
A few other features make it even more attractive: headings, cross references, parallel passages. Quite remarkable is the age of Jesus which is indicated at the beginning of each chapter in the Gospels, which tells a lot about the view of the publishers on the historicity of the Gospel reports.
Except for an English translation of the introduction the entire book is in Syriac. In the back some important comments by Church Fathers have been included (p. 660-724, unvocalized Serto). Moreover a one page bibliography, a glossary (p. 726-731), 5 maps and 4 photo's of other Pshitto manuscripts are provided.
The Syriac community in Turkey has a history of suffering and persecution. In 1915, at the end of the Ottoman empire, Kurds and Turks massacred a million Syrians, among them the entire community in Mor Gabriel. At present the Syriac Church is surviving or at best slowly recovering in an environment where Christians are often treated as second class citizens. With this situation in mind one paragraph in the introduction is moving:
"All this work we have undertaken is for us, the staff (İsa Gülten, Kuryakos Ergün, Yusuf Beğtas and İsa Doğdu) nothing but an expression of the sincere love we have for the Syriac language and of our love for our brothers and sisters, beloved ones, friends and relatives, who have a discerning understanding, so that they may read easily and meditate readily the life-giving message of our Lord in this dark age when souls are thirsty and lacking in spirituality. We believe that the Syriac people of the 21st century, if they are to become strong and have respect for these matters of life, they must pursue diligently the true understanding of the teaching of Christ, which is hidden in this Holy Book. They must not dive shallowly but deeply into the varied expressions of its life-giving meaning and go back to the essence and the source of their golden era, before the splendid glory of the Syriac civilisation was over."
Apparently biblical scholarship in Syriac Christianity can still go hand in hand with Christian engagement in Church and ministry.
İsa Gülten, chief editor of the Pshitto dMardin, is arch deacon of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
The New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ: Text according to the Pshitto of Mardin
Istanbul: Monastery of Mor Gabriel in Cooperation with United Bible Societies, 2007
XV + 731 p. + 5 maps and 4 photographs
Hardcover with dust jacket