Arabic Versions

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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [1]

The following is a conspectus of those hitherto published (also the treatise, De versionibus Arabicis, in Walton's Polyglott, 1, 93 sq.; Pococke, Var. Lect. Arab. V. T., ib. 6): Biblia Arabica V. et N.T., in Walton's Polyglott; Bibl. Ar., ed. Risius (3 vols. fol., Romans 1671, said by Michaelis to l:e altered from the Latin); Arabic Bible, ed. Carlyle (Newcastle, 1811 and 1816, 4to); Bible (Lond. 1831, 8vo); Bible, a new version for the "Society for promoting Chr. Knowledge" (Lond. 1857 sq., 8vo); Bible, a new version for the "Am. Bible Soc.," ed. Dr. Vandyke (now [1865] stereotyping at N. Y. in various forms); V. T. Arab. interpr. Tuki (unfinished, Romans 1752 sq.); Pentateuch by Saadias Gaon (in Walton's Polyglott); N.T. Arabice, ed. Erpenius (Leyd. 1616, 4to; altered to suit the Greek, Lond. 1727, 4to); New Test. by Sabat (Calcutta, 1816, 8vo; London, 1825, 8vo; revised, Calcutta, 1826, 8vo; Lond. 1850, 8vo; in Syriac characters, Paris, 1822, 8vo); Quatuor Evangelia, ed. Raymund (Romans 1590, fol.). Early Versions. Inasmuch as Christianity never attained any extensive or permanent influence among the Arabs as a nation, no entire nor publicly sanctioned Arabic version of the Bible has been discovered. But, as political events at length made the Arabic language the common vehicle of instruction in the East, and that to Jews, Samaritans, and Christians, independent versions of single books were often undertaken, according to the zeal of private persons, or the interests of small communities. The following is a classified list of only the most important among them. (See the Einleitungen of Eichhorn, Bertholdt, and De Wette.)

I. Arabic versions formed immediately on the original texts.

a. Rabbi Saadyah Haggaon (usually called Saadias), a native of Fayum, and rector of the academy at Sora, who died A.D. 942, is the author of a version of some portions of the Old Testament. Erpenius and Pococke, indeed, affirm that he translated the whole (Walton's Prolegomena, ed. Wrangham, 2:546); but subsequent inquirers have not hitherto been able, with any certainty,: to assign to him more than a version of the Pentateuch, of Isaiah, of Job, and of a portion of Hosea.

(1) That of the Pentateuch first appeared, in Hebrew characters, in the folio Tetraglot Pentateuch of Constantinople, in the year 1546. The exact title of this exceedingly rare book is not given by Wolf, by Masch, nor by De Rossi (it. is said to be found in Adler's Biblisch-kritische Reise, p. 221); but, according to the title of it which Tychsen cites from Rabbi Shabtai (in Eichhorn's Repertorium, 10:96), Saadyah's name is expressly mentioned there as the author of that Arabic version. Nearly a century later an Arabic version of the Pentateuch was printed in the Polyglot of Paris, from a MS. belonging to F. Savary de Breves; and the text thus obtained was then reprinted in the London Polyglot, with a collection of the various readings of the Constantinopolitan text, and of another MS. in the appendix. For it was admitted that Saadyah was the author of the Constantinopolitan version; and the identity of that text with that of the Paris Polyglot was maintained by Pococke (who nevertheless acknowledged frequent interpolations in the latter), and had been confirmed even by the collation which Hottinger had instituted to establish their diversity. The identity of all these texts was thus considered a settled point, and long remained so, until Michaelis published (in his Orient. Bibl. 9, 155 sq.) a copy of a Latin note which Jos. Ascari had prefixed to the very MS. of De Breves, from which the Paris Polyglot had derived its Arabic version. That note ascribed the version to "Saidus Fajumensis, Monachus Coptites;" and thus Saadyah's claim to be considered the author of the version in the Polyglots was again liable to question. At length,, however, Schnurrer (in his Dissertat. de Pentat. Arab. Polygl, in his Dissert. Philologico-criticae) printed the Arabic preface of that MS., proved that there was no foundation for the "Monachus Coptites," and endeavored to show that Sa'id was the Arabic equivalent to the Hebrew Saadyah, and to re-establish the ancient opinion of the identity of the two texts. The results which he obtained appear (with the exception of a feeble attempt of Tychsen to ascribe the version to Abu Sa'id in the Repertorium) to have convinced most modern critics; and, indeed, they have received much confirmation by the appearance of the version of Isaiah. This version of the Pentateuch, which is an honorable monument of the rabbinical Biblical philology of the tenth century, possesses, in the independence of its tone and in some peculiarities of interpretation, the marks of having been formed on the original text. It leans, of course, to Jewish exegetical authorities generally, but often follows the Sept., and as often appears to express views peculiar to its author. Carpzov has given numerous examples of its mode of interpretation in his Crit. Sacr. p. 646 sq. It is also marked by a certain loose and paraphrastic style of rendering, which makes it more useful in an exegetical than in a critical point of view. It is difficult, however, to determine how much of this diffuseness is due to Saadyah himself. For, not only is the printed text of his version more faulty in this respect than a Florentine MS.; some of the readings of which Adler has given in Eichhorn's Einleit. ins A. T. 2:245, but it has suffered a systematic interpolation. A comparison of the Constantinopolitan text with that of the Polyglots shows that where the former retains those terms of the Hebrew in which action or passion is ascribed to God the so-called. Ἀνθρωποπάθειαι - the latter has the "Angel of God," or some other mode of evading direct expressions. These interpolations are ascribed by Eichhorn to a Samaritan source; for Morinus and Hottinger assert that the custom of omitting or evading the anthropomorphisms of the Hebrew text is a-characteristic of the Samaritan versions.

(2) A version of Isaiah, which in the original MS. is ascribed to Saadyah, with several extrinsic evidences of truth, and without the opposition of a single critic, appeared under the title, R. Saadiae Phijumensis Versio Jesaiae Arabica E Ms. Bodley. Edidit Atque Glossar. Instruxit, H. E. G. Paulus (fasc. 2, Jena, 1791, 8vo). The text was copied from a MS. written in Hebrew characters, and the difficulty of always discovering the equivalent Arabic letters into which it was to be transposed has been one source of the inaccuracies observable in the work. Gesenius (in his Jesaias, 1:88 sq.) has given a summary view of the characteristics of this version, and has shown the great general agreement between them and those of the version of the Pentateuch in a manner altogether confirmatory of the belief in the identity of the authors of both.

(3) Saadyah's version of Job exists in MS. at Oxford, where Gesenius took a copy of it (Jesaias, p. 10).

(4) That of Hosea is only known from, the citation of ch.  Hosea 6:9, by Kimchi (Pococke's Theolog. Works, 2, 280).

b. The version of Joshua which is printed in the Paris and London Polyglots, the author and date of which are unknown.

c. The version of the whole passage from 1 Kings 12 to  2 Kings 12:16, inclusive, which is also found in the same Polyglots. Professor Rodiger has collected the critical evidences which prove that this whole interval is translated from the Hebrew; and ascribes the version to an unknown Damascene Jew of the eleventh century. Likewise, the passage in Nehemiah, from 1 to 9:27, inclusive, as it exists in both Polyglots, which he asserts to be the translation of a Jew (resembling that of Joshua in style), but. with subsequent interpolations by a Syrian Christian. (See his work De Origine Arabicae Libror. V. T. Historic. Interpretationis, Halle, 1829, 4to.)

d. The very close and almost slavish version of the Pentateuch, by some Mauritanian Jew of the thirteenth century, which Erpenius published at Leyden in 1622 the so-called Arabs Erpenii.

e. The Samaritan Arabic version of Abu Sa'id. According to the author's preface affixed to the Paris MS. of this version (No. 4), the original of which is given in Eichhorn's Bibl. Biblioth. 3, 6, Abu Sa'id was induced to undertake it, partly by seeing the corrupt state to which ignorant copyists had reduced the version then used by the Samaritans, and partly by discovering that the version which they used, under the belief that it was that of Abu'l Hasan of Tyre, was in reality none other than that of Saadyah Haggaon. His national prejudice being thus excited against an accursed Jew, and the "manifest impiety" of some of his interpretations, he applied himself to this translation, and accompanied it with notes, in order to justify his renderings, to explain difficulties, and to dispute with the Jews. His version is characterized by extreme fidelity to the Samaritan text (i.e. in other, words, to the Hebrew text with the differences which distinguish the Samaritan recension of it), retaining even the order of the words, and often sacrificing the proprieties of the Arabic idiom to the preservation of the very terms of the original. It is certainly not formed on the Samaritan version, although it sometimes agrees with it; and it has such a resemblance to the version of Saadyah as implies familiarity with it, or a designed use of its assistance; and it exceeds both these in the constant avoidance of all anthropomorphic expressions. Its date is unknown, but it must have been executed between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, because it was necessarily posterior to Saadyah's version, and because the Barberini copy of it was written A.D. 1227. It is to be regretted that this version, although it would be chiefly available in determining the readings of the Samaritan Pentateuch, is still unpublished. It exists in MS. at Oxford (one of the copies there being the one cited by Castell in the Appendix to the London Polyglot), at Paris, Leyden, and at Rome, in the celebrated Barberini Triglot (the best description of which is in De Rossi's Specimen Var. Lect. et Chald. Estheris Additamenta, Tibingen, 1783). Portions only have been printed: the earliest by Hottinger, in his Promtuarium, p. 98; and the longest two by De Sacy, with an interesting dissertation, in Eichhorn's Bibl. Biblioth. 10, and by Van Vloten, in his Specim. Philolog. continens descrip. cod. MS. Biblioth. Lugd. Bat. Partemque Vers. Sam. Arab. Pentat. (Leidae, 1803).

f. A version of the Gospels, which was first printed at Rome in 1590, then in the Arabic New Testament of Erpenius in 1616, and afterward in the Paris Polyglot (the text of which last is the one copied in that of London). The first two of these editions are derived from MSS., and the variations which distinguish the text of Paris from that of Rome are also supposed to have been obtained from a MS. The agreement and the diversity of all these texts are equally remarkable. The agreement is so great as to prove that they all represent only one and the same version, and That one based immediately on the Greek. The diversities (exclusive of errors of copyists) consist in the irregular changes which have been made in every one of these MSS., separately, to adapt it indiscriminately to the Peshito or Coptic versions. This surprising amalgamation is thus accounted for by Hug:

When the prevalence of the Arabic language had rendered the Syriac and Coptic obsolete, the Syrians and Copts were obliged to use an Arabic version. They therefore took some translation in that language, but first adapted it to the Peshito and Memphitic versions respectively. As the Peshito and Coptic versions still continued to be read first in their churches, and the Arabic translation immediately afterward, as a kind of Targum, it became usual to write their national versions and this amended Arabic version in parallel columns. This mere juxtaposition led to a further adulteration in each case. Afterward, two of these MSS., which had thus suffered different adaptations, were brought together by some means, and mutually corrupted each other by which a third text, the hybrid one of our Arabic version, was produced. The age of the original Arabic text is uncertain; but the circumstance of its adoption by the Syrians and Copts places it near the seventh century (Bertholdt's E'nleit. 1, 692 sq.).

g. The version of the Acts, of the Epistles of Paul, of the Catholic Epistles, and of the Apocalypse, which is found in both the Polyglots. The author is unknown, but he is supposed to have been a native of Cyrene, and the date to be the eighth or ninth century (Bertholdt, Ibid.).

2. Arabic versions founded on the Sept.

a. The Polyglot version of the Prophets, which is expressly said in the inscription in the Paris MS. to have been made from the Greek by an Alexandrian priest. Its date is probably later than the tenth century.

b. That of the Psalms (according to the Syrian recension) which is printed in Justiniani's Psalt. Octa. Plum. (Genoa, 1516), and in Liber. Psalmor. A Gabr. Sionita Et Vict. Scialac. (Rome, 1614).

c. That version of the Psalms which is in use by the Malkites, or Orthodox Oriental Christians, made by Abdallah ben al-Fadhl, before the twelfth century. It has been printed at Aleppo in 1706, in London in 1725, and elsewhere.

d. The version of the Psalms (according to the Egyptian recension) found in both the Polyglots.

III. Arabic versions formed on the Peshito.

a. The Polyglot version of Job, of Chronicles, and (according to Rodiger, who ascribes them to Christian translators in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) that of Judges, Ruth, Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, and  2 Kings 12:17-21.

b. The version of the Psalms printed at Kashaya, near Mount Lebanon, in 1610.

For further information and criticism respecting the character and value of these and other Arabic versions, see Rosenm Ü ller's Handb. d. arab. Literatur, 3, 38 sq., 132 sq.; Dr. Davidson, in the new ed. of Horne's Introd. 2, 68 sq.; Davidson's Treatise on Bibeical Criticism (Lond. 1843), 1:255-260; 2:222-229. (See Versions); (See Criticism).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [2]

ar´a - bik vûr´shuns  : Arabic translations of the Bible must have been made at a very early date, for Christianity and Judaism had penetrated far into Arabia by the 6th century of our era, but the oldest of which a copy has come down to our time is that of Sasdish the Gaon (942 ad). This version was made directly from the Massoretic Text and is said to have covered the whole of the Old Testament, but much of it is no longer extant. It is characterized by an avoidance of anthropomorphisms (e.g.  Genesis 6:2 , "sons of nobles" and "daughters of common people") and by giving modern equivalents, e.g. Turks, Franks, Chinese, for the Hebrew names. Saadiah's Pentateuch was first printed at Constantinople in 1546 and was incorporated into the Paris (1629-45) and London (1657) Polyglots. When, after the rise of Islam, Arabic became the common language of Syria, Egypt and North Africa, translations were made from the Septuagint, from the Peshitta and from Coptic. In the Polyglots the translation of Joshua is, like the Pentateuch, made from the Massoretic Text, as also portions of Kings and Nehemiah, with interpolations from the Peshitta. Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings (in parts), 1 and 2 Chronicles (?), Nehemiah (in parts) and Job have been translated into Arabic from Syriac. The remaining books (Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) are from the Septuagint, and that according to Codex Alexandrinus. In the New Testament the Gospels have been translated from the Vulgate, and the remaining books, although from the Greek, are late. A revised edition of the versions in Walton's Polyglot was published by J. D. Carlyle, professor of Arabic in Cambridge, and printed at Newcastle by Sarah Hodgson in 1811. A very fine translation of the entire Bible in classical Arabic has been issued by the Jesuit Fathers in Beirût, and a simpler version in Arabic which can be understood by the common people, educated and uneducated alike, was made by the late Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck of the Syrian Protestant College and published by the American Press in Beirût. Dr. Van Dyck had the benefit of the help and advice of the Sheikh Nāṣı̄f al - Yāziji .

A large number of manuscripts of the Bible in Arabic, in whole or in part, are to be found in the British Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the great libraries of the Continent, but none of them are of sufficient age to make them of value for the criticism of the text.