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The Harklean

Old Syriac


In A.D. 616, Thomas of Harqel completed another revision based on the Philoxenian version. The motivation in this case was a philological one. Thomas aimed at providing a literal translation of the Greek even if that meant unintelligible Syriac. The Harklean is considered a masterpiece in mirror translation: every particle in the original Greek is somehow represented in Syriac. As is the case with all the previous versions, the Harklean is not a new translation, rather a revision. The Harklean is the only version which includes the entire text of the New Testament.

The German scholar A. Juckel notes: "This version is not simply a Syriac translation of its Greek Vorlage; [rather] it is a scholarly edition of the New Testament, furnished with a critical apparatus [i.e., notes] in the margin, the sort of work that is much appreciated by modern scholars." (Introduction in Kiraz's Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels, 1996).

The Harklean became popular in the Syrian Orthodox Church and was used in the liturgy for centuries. Eventually, however, the translation lost favor, because of its obscure Syriac, and is rarely used today.

Scholars have regarded the Harklean as the last of the Syriac revisions. However, in the Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels (1996), Andreas Juckel successfully demonstrates that the Harklean was by no means the last of the revisions. Juckel describes two post Harklean revisions: the first by the Syriac Orthodox scholar Mor Dionysius bar Salibi (d. 1171) and the other represented in J. White's edition of the Harklean, not earlier than the 12th century. These translations were aimed at bringing the text into closer line with their contemporary Greek texts.

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Author: George Kiraz, Ph.D.
Last Updated: Feb 25, 2001