Lot 8
  • 8

Bible, Paul's Epistle to the Romans, in Syriac, decorated manuscript on vellum [Near East, late fifth or early sixth century]

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Vellum
6 leaves (remains of one gathering, the last leaf a stub), 280mm. by 210mm., double column, 24 lines in a fine and early Estrangelo script, titles and later liturgical instructions in red, edges strengthened in places with small pieces from other early Syriac manuscripts, parchment somewhat cockled and crisp, some tears and curling to edges, early sewing structures in place, in cloth-covered fitted case


This is a long-lost section of an important early biblical codex from St. Catherine's, Mount Sinai, containing one of the earliest witnesses to the Pauline Epistles in Syriac


(1) The monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai (founded by the emperor Justinian I between 527 and 565), where the section of the codex containing Romans 11:6 to Hebrews remains as MS Sinai Syr.3. The single leaf which once lay between the present fragment and the Sinai leaves is now Milan, Ambrosiana, Frag.syr.30.  The parent manuscript almost certainly predates that ancient and venerable monastery, and, like other volumes which survived there, it was perhaps brought in the seventh century by Christian refugees fleeing the Arab advances in the Near East. It may have reached St. Catherine's from the same source as the celebrated Sinaitic Palimpsest, discovered by Agnes Lewis in 1892 (R. Harris et al., The Four Gospels in Syriac: transcribed from the Sinaitic Palimpsest, 1894). The leaves here were presumably lost from the monastery in the nineteenth century, and may have entered the antiquity markets in Cairo.

(2) The Society for Biblical Research, Boston, MA., MS 17 of their endowment collection (established 1920); sold to Bruce Ferrini in May 1998; Schøyen MS 2530.

Catalogue Note


The present leaves comprise Romans 6:12-10:7 in the Peshitta translation into Syriac, a vernacular language very close to that spoken by Jesus himself. The text is still in use in the Syrian church today, the longest surviving translation in the history of the New Testament.

The letters of Paul were originally written in Greek (see lot 3) but there appear to have been Syriac translations by the late second century. Eusebius notes that Hegesippus (d.180) "made some quotations from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and from the Syriac Gospel". Both Aphrahat (d. c.345) and Ephraim the Syrian (d.373) refer to a Syriac text of the letters of Paul. However, the text has remained a phantom. The Old Syriac Bible survives in only two fragmentary manuscripts of c.500 (the famous Curetonian codex, now in the British Library, and the Sinai palimpsest), neither of which contains the Pauline Epistles. In the fifth century the Old Syriac text was replaced by the better-known Peshitta as an alternative and simpler translation.

The present manuscript and its sister leaves hold an important place in this stemma. It is one of only twelve other manuscripts of the fifth or sixth century, of which only five include the text here. They are: Sinai, syr.5, and British Library Add. MSS 14470, 14476, 14480 and 14479). The present leaves, however, preserve the closest witness to the lost Old Syriac Pauline Epistles. A number of early Peshitta manuscripts contain deviations from the accepted canon, believed to be Old Syriac readings carried over into the Peshitta during the transitional phase. These have been studied by Juckel who notes that the leaves here contain a surprisingly high number of variants, far more than any other Syriac manuscript of the text (some three times that of all other early witnesses, with the sole exception of British Library Add.14479). Thus, the present leaves preserve the most substantial surviving traces of this important lost biblical version.


J.T. Clemons, A Checklist of Syriac Manuscripts in the United States, (1966), no.7; J. Oliver, Sacred and Secular, from the collections of the Endowment for Biblical Research and Boston University (1985), p.8; In Remembrance of Creation; Evolution of Art and Scholarship in the Medieval and Renaissance Bible, exhibition by Brandeis University (1968), no.34, pp.22-23 and illustration p.34; A. Juckel, 'MS. Schøyen 2530/Sinai Syr.3 and the New Testament Peshitta', Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, 6 (2009), pp.311-36