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Versions of the Bible, Ancient

vur-zhuhz uhv thuh bi'-b'-l, eyn-shuhnt,
Bible, Septuagint, Vulgate, The
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Easton's Bible Dictionary

A translation of the holy Scriptures. This word is not found in the Bible, nevertheless, as frequent references are made in this work to various ancient as well as modern versions, it is fitting that some brief account should be given of the most important of these. These versions are important helps to the right interpretation of the Word. (See SAMARITAN PENTATEUCH .)

1. The Targums.

After the return from the Captivity, the Jews, no longer familiar with the old Hebrew, required that their Scriptures should be translated for them into the Chaldaic or Aramaic language and interpreted. These translations and paraphrases were at first oral, but they were afterwards reduced to writing, and thus targums, i.e., "versions" or "translations", have come down to us. The chief of these are,

The Onkelos Targum, i.e., the targum of Akelas=Aquila, a targum so called to give it greater popularity by comparing it with the Greek translation of Aquila mentioned below. This targum originated about the second century after Christ.

The targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel comes next to that of Onkelos in respect of age and value. It is more a paraphrase on the Prophets, however, than a translation. Both of these targums issued from the Jewish school which then flourished at Babylon.

2. The Greek Versions.

The oldest of these is the Septuagint, usually quoted as the LXX. The origin of this the most important of all the versions is involved in much obscurity. It derives its name from the popular notion that seventy-two translators were employed on it by the direction of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, and that it was accomplished in seventy-two days, for the use of the Jews residing in that country. There is no historical warrant for this notion. It is, however, an established fact that this version was made at Alexandria; that it was begun about 280 B.C., and finished about 200 or 150 B.C.; that it was the work of a number of translators who differed greatly both in their knowledge of Hebrew and of Greek; and that from the earliest times it has borne the name of "The Septuagint", i.e., The Seventy.

"This version, with all its defects, must be of the greatest interest,

(a) as preserving evidence for the text far more ancient than the oldest Hebrew manuscripts;

(b) as the means by which the Greek Language was wedded to Hebrew thought;

(c) as the source of the great majority of quotations from the Old Testament by writers of the New Testament.

The New Testament manuscripts fall into two divisions, Uncials, written in Greek capitals, with no distinction at all between the different words, and very little even between the different lines; and Cursives, in small Greek letters, and with divisions of words and lines. The change between the two kinds of Greek writing took place about the tenth century. Only five manuscripts of the New Testament approaching to completeness are more ancient than this dividing date.

The first, numbered A, is the Alexandrian manuscript. Though brought to this country by Cyril Lucar, patriarch of Constantinople, as a present to Charles I., it is believed that it was written, not in that capital, but in Alexandria; whence its title. It is now dated in the fifth century A.D.

The second, known as B, is the Vatican manuscript. (See VATICANUS)

The Third, C, or the Ephraem manuscript, was so called because it was written over the writings of Ephraem, a Syrian theological author, a practice very common in the days when writing materials were scarce and dear. It is believed that it belongs to the fifth century, and perhaps a slightly earlier period of it than the manuscript A.

The fourth, D, or the manuscript of Beza, was so called because it belonged to the reformer Beza, who found it in the monastery of St. Irenaeus at Lyons in 1562 A.D. It is imperfect, and is dated in the sixth century.

The fifth (called Aleph) is the Sinaitic manuscript. (See SINAITICUS)

3. The Syriac Versions. (See SYRIAC)

4. The Latin Versions.

A Latin version of the Scriptures, called the "Old Latin," which originated in North Africa, was in common use in the time of Tertullian (A.D. 150). Of this there appear to have been various copies or recensions made. That made in Italy, and called the Itala, was reckoned the most accurate. This translation of the Old Testament seems to have been made not from the original Hebrew but from the LXX.

This version became greatly corrupted by repeated transcription, and to remedy the evil Jerome (A.D. 329-420) was requested by Damasus, the bishop of Rome, to undertake a complete revision of it. It met with opposition at first, but was at length, in the seventh century, recognized as the "Vulgate" version. It appeared in a printed from about A.D. 1455, the first book that ever issued from the press. The Council of Trent (1546) declared it "authentic." It subsequently underwent various revisions, but that which was executed (1592) under the sanction of Pope Clement VIII. was adopted as the basis of all subsequent editions. It is regarded as the sacred original in the Roman Catholic Church. All modern European versions have been more or less influenced by the Vulgate. This version reads ipsa_ instead of _ipse in Genesis 3:15 , "She shall bruise thy head."

5. There are several other ancient versions which are of importance for Biblical critics,

but which we need not mention particularly, such as the Ethiopic, in the fourth century, from the LXX.; two Egyptian versions, about the fourth century, the Memphitic, circulated in Lower Egypt, and the Thebaic, designed for Upper Egypt, both from the Greek; the Gothic, written in the German language, but with the Greek alphabet, by Ulphilas (died A.D. 388), of which only fragments of the Old Testament remain; the Armenian, about A.D. 400; and the Slavonic, in the ninth century, for ancient Moravia. Other ancient versions, as the Arabic, the Persian, and the Anglo-Saxon, may be mentioned.

6. The history of the English versions begins properly with Wyckliffe.

Portions, however, of the Scriptures were rendered into Saxon (as the Gospel according to John, by Bede, A.D. 735), and also into English (by Orme, called the "Ormulum," a portion of the Gospels and of the Acts in the form of a metrical paraphrase, toward the close of the seventh century), long before Wyckliffe; but it is to him that the honour belongs of having first rendered the whole Bible into English (A.D. 1380). This version was made from the Vulgate, and renders Genesis 3:15 after that Version, "She shall trede thy head."

This was followed by Tyndale's translation (1525-1531); Miles Coverdale's (1535-1553); Thomas Matthew's (1537), really, however, the work of John Rogers, the first martyr under the reign of Queen Mary. This was properly the first Authorized Version, Henry VIII. having ordered a copy of it to be got for every church. This took place in less than a year after Tyndale was martyred for the crime of translating the Scriptures. In 1539 Richard Taverner published a revised edition of Matthew's Bible. The Great Bible, so called from its great size, called also Cranmer's Bible, was published in 1539 and 1568. In the strict sense, the "Great Bible" is "the only authorized version; for the Bishops' Bible and the present Bible [the A.V.] never had the formal sanction of royal authority." Next in order was the Geneva version (1557-1560); the Bishops' Bible (1568); the Rheims and Douai versions, under Roman Catholic auspices (1582,1609); the Authorized Version (1611); and the Revised Version of the New Testament in 1880 and of the Old Testament in 1884.


Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names

(no entry)


Smith's Bible Dictionary

In treating of the ancient versions that have come down to us, in whole or in part, they will be described in the alphabetical order of the languages.


Christianity was introduced into AEthiopia [sic] in fourth century through the labors of Frumentius and AEdesius of Tyre, who had been made slaves and sent to the king. The AEthiopic version which we possess is in the ancient dialect of Axum; hence some have ascribed it to the age of the earliest missionaries, but it is probably of a later date. In 1548-9 the AEthiopic New Testament was also printed at Rome, edited by three Abyssinians.


Arabic versions of the Old Testament were made from the Hebrew (tenth century), from the Syriac and from the LXX

Arabic versions of the New Testament . There are four versions. The first, the Roman, of the Gospels only, was printed in 1590-1.


In the year 431, Joseph and Eznak returned from the Council of Ephesus bringing with them a Greek copy of the Scriptures. From this a version in Armenian was made by Isaac, the Armenian patriarch, and Miesrob. The first printed edition of the Old and New Testaments in Armenian appeared at Amsterdam in 1666, under the care of a person commonly termed Oscan or Uscan, and described as being an Armenian bishop.


Targum , a Chaldee word of uncertain origin, is the general term for the Chaldee, or more accurately Aramaic, versions of the Old Testament. The Targums were originally oral, and the earliest Targum, which is that of Onkelos on the Pentateuch, began to be committed to writing about the second century of the Christian era; though if did not assume its present shape till the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century. So far, however, from superseding the oral Targum at once, it was, on the contrary, strictly forbidden to read it in public. Its language is Chaldee, closely approaching in purity of idiom to that of Ezra and Daniel. It follows a sober and clear though not a slavish exegesis, and keeps as closely and minutely: to the text as is at all consistent with its purpose, viz. to be chiefly and above all a version for the people . Its explanations of difficult and obscure passages bear ample witness to the competence of those who gave it its final shape. It avoids, as far as circumstances would allow, the legendary character with which all the later Targums entwine the biblical word.

Targum on the prophets , --viz. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Kings, the twelve minor prophets, --called TARGUM OF JONATHAN BEN-UZZIEL. We shall probably not be far wrong in placing this Targum some time, although not long, after Onkelos, or about the middle of the fourth century. 3 and 4.

Targum of Jonathan ben-Uzziel and Jerushalmi-Targum on the Pentateuch . --Onkelos and Jonathan on the Pentateuch and prophets, whatever be their exact date, place, authorship and editorship, are the oldest of existing Targums, and belong in their present shape, to Babylon and the Babylonian academies flourishing between the third and fourth centuries A.D.


Of these there are three, --the Memphitic, of lower Egypt, the Coptic, of upper Egypt, and the Thebaic , with some fragments of another. The Thebaic was the earliest, and belongs to the third century.


In the year 318 the Gothic bishop and translator of Scripture Ulphilas, was born. He succeeded Theophilus as bishop of the Goths in 548; through him it is said that the Goths in general adopted Arianism. The great work of Ulphilas was his version of the Scriptures. As an ancient monument of the Gothic language the version of Ulphilas possesses great interest; as a version the use of which was once extended widely through Europe, it is a monument of the Christianization of the Goths; and as a version known to have been made in the fourth century, and transmitted to us in ancient MSS., It has its value in textual criticism.


Septuagint . --[See SEPTUAGINT]

Aquila . --It is a remarkable fact that in the second century there were three versions executed of the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek. The first of these was made by Aquila, a native of Sinope in Pontus, who had become a proselyte to Judaism. It was made during the reign of Hadrian, A.D. 117-138.

Theodotion . --The second version of which we have information as executed in the second century is that of Theodotion. He is stated to have been an Ephesian, and he seems to be most generally described as an Ebionite.

Symmachus is stated by Eusebius and Jerome to have been an Ebionite; Epiphanius and others, however, style him a Samaritan. It may be that as a Samaritan he made this version for some of that people who employed Greek, and who had learned to receive more than the Pentateuch.






In A.D. 862 there was a desire expressed or an inquiry made for Christian teachers in Moravia, and in the following year the labors of missionaries began among the Moravians. These missionaries were Cyrillus and Methodius, two brothers from Thessalonica. To Cyrillus is ascribed the invention of the Slavonian alphabet and the commencement of the translation of the Scriptures. He appears to have died at Rome in 868, while Methodius continued for many years to be the bishop of the Slavonians. He is stated to have continued his brothers translation.


Of the Old Testament.

(a) From the Hebrew. In the early times of Syrian Christianity there was executed a version of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, the use of which must have been as widely extended as was the Christian profession among that people. It is highly improbable that any part of the Syriac version is older than the advent of our Lord. The Old Syriac has the peculiar value of being the first version from the Hebrew original made for Christian use. The first printed edition of this version was that which appeared in the Paris Polyglot of Le Jay in 1645.

(b) The Syriac version from the Hexaplar Greek text. The only Syriac version of the Old Testament up to the sixth century was apparently the Peshito. The version by Paul of Tela, a Monophysite, was made in the beginning of the seventh century; for its basis he used the Hexaplar

Greek text --

that is, the LXX., with the corrections of Origen, the asterisks, obeli, etc., and with the references to the other Greek versions. In fact, it is from this Syriac version that we obtain our moat accurate acquaintance with the results of the critical labors of Origen. It is from a MS. in the Ambrosian Library at Milan that we possess accurate means of knowing this Syriac version.

The Syriac New Testament Versions.

(a) The Peshito Syriac New Testament. It may stand as an admitted fact that a version of the New Testament in Syriac existed in the second century.

(b) The Curetonian Syriac Gospels. Among the MSS. brought from the Nitrian monasteries in 1842, Dr. Cureton noticed a copy of the Gospels, differing greatly from the common text; and this is the form of text to which the name of Curetonian Syriac has been rightly applied. Every criterion which proves the common Peshito not to exhibit a text of extreme antiquity equally proves the early origin of this.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


1. The Georgian Version:

Georgia is the name given to the territory extending to the East of the Black Sea, a country that has had an independent national existence of 2,000 years but is now (under the name Grusinia) a part of the trans-Caucasian domain of Russia. The language has no affinities with any of the recognized groups, but is becoming obsolete under Russian pressure. Christianity was introduced into Georgia m the 4th century, and a national conversion followed. A well-supported tradition makes the first translation of the Bible almost contemporaneous with this conversion and refers it to Mesrop (died 441; see ARMENIAN VERSIONS), but the fact is not quite certain and the beginnings of a native version may really be as much as two centuries later. The oldest manuscript extant is a Psalter of the 7th-8th centuries, and the earliest copy of the Gospels is perhaps a century later; in all, Gregory (Textkritik, 573-75) enumerates 17 Georgian manuscripts of the New Testament, but his list is not exhaustive.

The first printed Bible was produced in the ancient alphabet in Moscow in 1743 and has never been reprinted, but other edd, perhaps only of the New Testament, were issued at least in 1816 and 1818, using the nonecclesiastical alphabet. According to Conybeare (ZNTW, XI, 161-66, 232-39 (1910)) the Georgian version was first made from the Old Syriac and then later (11th century) revised from the Greek In 1910 a new edition, based on two manuscripts dated respectively 913 and 995, was begun (Quattuor Ev. versio Georgia vetus, Petersburg). The Georgian version was used by S. C. Malan, The Gospel according to John, translated from the 11 Oldest VSS, London, 1862.

2. The Gothic Version:

Ulfilas, the Arian bishop of the West Goths and the chief agent in their conversion to Christianity, was also the first translator of the Bible into Gothic, a work for which he had even to invent an alphabet. According to tradition, his translation included the entire Bible with the exception of Kings (which he thought unadapted to the already too warlike character of his converts), but there is doubt whether his work actually included more than the New Testament. Too little of the Old Testament has survived to enable a settling of this question, nor is it possible to tell how much revision the New Testament translation has undergone since Ulfilas' work.

A list of the six Gothic manuscripts is given in HDB, IV, 862, to which is to be added a bilingual Latin-Gothic manuscript containing portions of Luke 24, known as the Arsinoe Fragment (published in ZNTW, XI, 1-38 (1910) and separately (Giessen, 1910)). In all there have been preserved in the Old Testament Genesis 5 (in part); Psalms 52:2; Nehemiah 5-7 (in part), and in the New Testament the Gospels and Pauline Epistles (all incomplete), with quotations from Hebrews. The best complete edition is that of Stamm-Heyne(9) (Paderborn, 1896), but as the version is of basic importance for the history of the Germanic languages there are many editions of various portions prepared for philological purposes.

The Old Testament fragments are a translation of a text very closely allied to the Lucianic Greek (see SEPTUAGINT) and are certainly not from the Hebrew New Testament undoubtedly was made from a text of the type used in Antioch (Constantinople) in the 4th century, with very slight variations, none of which are "neutral" (von Soden classes them as of the I-type). Either in making the translation or (more probably) in a subsequent revision an Old-Latin text was used, of the type of Codex Brixianus (f), and certain Old-Latin readings are well marked. For brief lists of these peculiarities see Burkitt in Journal Theological Studies, I, 129-34 (1900), or von Soden, Schriften des New Testament, I, 1469 f (1906).

3. The Slavonic Version:

It is definitely known that the first Slavonic translation of the Bible was commenced in 864 or earlier by the two brothers Cyril (died 869) and Methodius (died 885), and that the latter worked on it after the former's death. Their work was undertaken for the benefit of the Balkan Slavs, and at first only the liturgical portions (Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Psalms) were translated, but, after the completion of this, Methodius carried the translation farther to include larger portions of the Old Testament. How much of this he accomplished is obscure, but he seems not to have finished the Old Testament entirely, while almost certainly he did not translate Revelation. Uncertain also is the exact dialect used for this work; although this dialect was the basis of the present liturgical language of the Russian church, it has undergone much transformation before arriving at its final stage. At different times the translation of the Bible was revised to conform to the changes of the language, in addition to other revisional changes, and, as a result, the manuscripts (some of which go back to the 10th century) exhibit very varying types of text that have not been satisfactorily classified.

An attempt to bring the discrepant material into order was made about 1495 by Archbishop Gennadius, but he was unable to find Slavonic manuscripts that included the entire Bible and was forced to supply the deficiencies (Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and most of Jeremiah and the Apocrypha) by a new translation made from the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) This Bible of Gennadius was the basis of the first printed edition, made at Ostrog in 1581, although the liturgical portions had been printed earlier (Ac and Epistles first of all in 1564). The Ostrog edition followed Gennadius fairly closely, but Esther, Canticles, and Wisdom were new translations made from the Septuagint. The next revision was undertaken by order of Peter the Great and was performed by using the Greek (Old Testament and New Testament), although the resulting text was not printed until 1751. A slightly emended edition of 1756 is still the official Bible of the Russian church.

This Slavonic version is to be distinguished from the version in the true Russian language, begun first in 1517, revised or remade at various times, with an excellent modern translation first published complete in 1876. See, on the whole subject, especially Bebb in Church Quart. Rev., XLI, 203-25, 1895.


On all three versions see HDB, IV, 861-64, 1902, and the article "Bibelubersetzung" in PRE3, III (1897), with the important supplement in XXIII (1913).




aethiopic bible, ancient versions of the bible, arabic bible, armenian bible, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, chaldee bible, egyptian bible, georgian bible, gothic bible, greek versions of the bible, slavonic bible, syriac bible



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