John 6:15

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Dear friends,

This article examines five versions of Jn 6:15, as found in the canonical Greek text, the ancient Old Syriac Sinaiticus manuscript (SyrS), and three Diatessaronic witnesses. And, later on, an interesting reading in the Codex Bezae is also brought into the consideration.

The purpose of these comparisons is to demonstrate that the Diatessaronic versions seem to be preserving an earlier text of GJohn in this verse.

The following analysis is mostly based on Boismard's 1992 book LE DIATESSARON: DE TATIEN A JUSTIN, as well as on some more analysis supplied by Plooij, in his magisterial commentary on the Liege Diatessaron. Also, this will permit a brief critique of WL Petersen's response to Boismard's analysis, as found in Petersen's TATIAN'S DIATESSARON, Brill, 1994: 348-356. Petersen critiqued Boismard rather harshly, but it seems like his criticism was not so well based, especially in regard to this particular passage.

Below, you can see five versions of Jn 6:15a, starting with the canonical Greek. What we find is that the Arabic DT follows the canonical version pretty closely (although there are a couple of small differences there, that I will examine below). But the other three versions -- SyrS, the Magdalene Gospel, and the Liege Diatessaron -- seem to stay much closer together, and to contain some rather primitive elements. (Also, according to Boismard, the COMMENTARY by Ephrem the Syrian for this verse follows SyrS pretty closely, so this can be counted as some additional ancient Syriac attestation for this verse.)

I have now counted five agreements between the Magdalene Gospel and SyrS for Jn 6:15a, which goes contrary to what Petersen asserted in his review of Boismard. According to Petersen, in this reading, SyrS was supposed to agree with the Arabic, "or more so than with any other witness" (1994:353). But, in actual fact, we find that SyrS and the Arabic don't agree here at all.

To these five agreements, I will also add two more as found in the second part of this verse, that were not commented upon by Boismard. All seven can be classified as the Syro-Latin agreements against the canonical Greek.

The Latin versions below are supplied by Boismard on pp. 110-111 of his book.

_John 6:15a_

Canonical Greek: Jesus, therefore, knowing (gnous) that they were about to come and to take him by force (harpazein), that they may make him king ...

Arabic DT: et Jesus scivit quia venturi erant ut tollerent eum et facerent eum regem

[and Jesus knew they were about to come and take him, and make him a king]

SyrS: et cogitabant ut raperent eum ut facerent eum regem; ipse autem Iesus scivit

[and they reasoned among themselves that they would take him with strength, and make him a king, but Jesus knew]

MG 49:21: they were talking among themselves that they would all make him their king by force. And, meanwhile, Jesus ...

[MG original text: thai speken amonges hem that hij wolden alle maken hym her kyng with strenkthe]

Liege DT: Then they agreed that they would seize him by force, and make him king over them. And when Jesus knew that ...

So here are the five agreements between SyrS and MG, which almost all go against the Arabic text. Since MG seems to depend on an ancient Old Latin Diatessaron, all these can be counted as Syro-Latin agreements. We find that the Liege DT also almost always goes along with these Syro-Latin readings.

1. A simpler grammatical construction is found in SyrS, MG, and the Liege. ("They reasoned... Jesus knew...")

(At the same time, we can see that the Arabic also uses the simple past tense for "Jesus scivit", while the canonical version has "Jesus sciens". In this small detail, the Arabic text seems to go back to the old Diatessaronic tradition, rather than depending on the canonical text.)

2. In the same group of three texts, Jesus' actions follow after "the people reasoned". But both in the canonical and the Arabic versions, this sequence is reversed.

3. All the versions here, including even the canonical, use the Latin word "raperent = Greek harpazein" (meaning "to take with strength"), but the Arabic is using "tollerent", which does not have such a meaning. Thus, the Arabic text doesn't really indicate that Jesus will be compelled to do anything he wouldn't want to do. So, for this particular reading, the Arabic doesn't really agree with _any_ of the above versions, let alone the Syriac.

4. In SyrS, MG, and the Liege, the word "to come" is absent. So this is yet another broad agreement against the Arabic, which in this case closely follows the canonical text.

5. The Syriac and MG both go against the Arabic in describing the actions of the people. Because, in the Syriac and MG, the crowds of people only _discuss_ making Jesus king against his will; they haven't actually decided to do anything as yet.

We can see that, in this case, the Liege follows the canonical and the Arabic versions. (And yet, as Plooij documents in his commentary on the Liege DT, there's yet another medieval Dutch text, Hned, that seems to have a version almost identical to MG, indicating the conversation between the people: "worden si te rade")

This fifth agreement between SyrS and MG is quite interesting, because it implies the greater powers of Jesus to see other people's inner thoughts. But also, it may indicate a greater respect for Jesus on the part of the people of Israel.

As I said, there are also two more agreements in Jn 6:15b that can be classified as Syro-Latin agreements. I will come back to them further below but, first, some more comments about Petersen's critique of Boismard.

In the same passage as cited above, Petersen also critiqued a couple of other textual comparisons that he found in Boismard, all part of "the Multiplication of the Loaves" pericope. (These are the various versions of Lk 9:15a, and Jn 6:11; Petersen numbers them as #5 and #9). Just like with the preceding example, Petersen's critiques of these are likewise very problematic. (I can supply more details if someone is interested.) Overall, it seems like there are no big problems with Boismard's analysis of these passages.

Basically, Boismard's purpose in his analysis of "the Multiplication of the Loaves" pericope was to demonstrate that SyrS has textual affinities with Justin's Harmony, rather than with the later versions of the Diatessaron, such as the Arabic DT. He certainly seems to be correct about this in regard to Jn 6:15a, as well as more generally in this whole section of his book. These textual affinities are there, just like Boismard says they are. But in so far as interpreting these affinities, and determining how they originated, of necessity, this will be a lot more conjectural. Myself, I don't necessarily agree with Boismard as far as his larger interpretation of these affinities goes.

Now, the following two Syro-Latin agreements have not been noted either by Boismard or by Petersen. They have been noted by Plooij, however, in his apparatus for the Liege DT, although his analysis remained somewhat incomplete.

At the end of Jn 6:15, according to the canonical version, Jesus withdraws "to the mountain by himself". Here is how we find this text in our 4 extra-canonical witnesses,

Arabic: he ... went up into the mountain alone for prayer. Syriac: ascended to the hill alone. MG: Jesus was up on the mountain in order to pray. Liege: went up into a mountain to say his prayer.

So here are the other two Syro-Latin agreements that can be noted in these texts.

6. Both MG and the Liege add a very interesting detail that Jesus goes up to the mountain in order to pray. This detail is lacking in the canonical Alexandrian text, and yet it's actually present in the Western text of the Codex Bezae, in both its Greek and Latin versions,

Jn 6:15 in the Greek Bezae: kakei proseukheto Latin Bezae: et ibi orabat

Plooij does note this agreement with Bezae, but he only does this for the Liege DT. The only other version he cites is the Sahidic. And yet he neglected the Magdalene version, as well as the agreement with the Arabic DT that, as we can see above, is also present there. This parallel with the Arabic should make this a Syro-Latin agreement, because the Arabic text is believed to depend on the Syriac version. Interestingly enough, the Old Syriac text, itself, seems to have lost this detail, while it was retained by the Arabic DT.

7. And, finally, another Syro-Latin agreement that can be noted is the detail that Jesus goes _up_ to the mountain, i.e. the idea of ascent. This is present in all four of our extra-canonical witnesses.

(MG has a somewhat different version here, but the idea of ascent is still present there. In MG, as different from all other texts, there's no sense that Jesus is escaping from the people. It remains open how can this variant reading be interpreted.)

Now, if it's accepted that these textual agreements between SyrS and the Western Diatessarons indeed fall into the category of the Syro-Latin agreements, then they should precede the canonical Greek text. After all, great many eminent textual critics expressed the opinion that the Syro-Latin agreements tend to indicate the more primitive textual layer in NT gospels. Among these scholars are B.F. Westcott (1896), F.C. Burkitt (1899), E. Nestle (1901), A. Souter (1909), C.H. Turner (1928), and A. Voobus (1951).

Best wishes,


Yuri Kuchinsky -=O=-

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform -=O=- Mark Twain