In a recent post on the Synod of Diamper (1599), I described how European Catholics tried to force Indian Christians into conformity with their ways. This Indian church, the Thomas Christians, had been founded in the second century (conceivably before), and throughout the Middle Ages its connections had been with the Church of the East, based in Iraq, so it had never had been subject to Catholic or Orthodox authority.
In light of this, it is fascinating to see what the Bible of this truly ancient church looked like in 1599, and how it diverged from the versions known to modern Catholics (or Protestants).
Catholic authorities took it upon themselves to “correct” local versions of the Scriptures and their deviant readings, many of which were authentically ancient. Ironically, a modern Bible scholar has much more sympathy for the heretical Indians than for the learned and orthodox Romans.
I quote from A Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts Preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge (1901), by William Wright and Stanley Arthur Cook:
“As regards Biblical MSS. the Synod noticed the omission of Esther, Tobit, Wisdom, 2 Peter, 2, 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse; also of John viii. 1 — 11. In Matt. vi. 13 6 it noticed the addition of the Doxology, in Luke x. the reading ‘ seventy’ instead of ‘ seventy-two,’ and the omission of the negative in Lk. vi. 35. It referred, moreover, to the reading ‘God’ for ‘ Christ ‘ in Acts xx. 28, and the reverse in 1 John iii. 16, to the Nestorian omissions in 1 John iv. 3 and v. 7, and to the reading praeter Deum in Heb. ii. 9.”
I note a few highlights here:
-Particularly striking is the list of books that the Indians omitted. Here they were following the Syriac Peshitta (“common” or “simple”) translation of the New Testament, which probably dates from the fourth or fifth century. This had likewise omitted 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. These were disputed books, antilegomena, and the Peshitta followed stern critical standards in excluding them. Martin Luther also had his reservations about several of the antilegomena, including Jude and Revelation.
-The Indians omitted the start of John 8, the pericope adulterae (the “woman taken in adultery”), which most modern scholars agree was not originally part of that gospel. It is not for instance included in great early Bibles like the Codex Alexandrinus.
-In 1 John 5: 7-8, the Indian Bible omitted the so-called Comma Johanneum, the verse that lists the Persons of the Trinity as the three that give witness in heaven. This text has a long history, and seems to have originated in Latin manuscripts in the fourth century. It is not included in modern English translations, including the NIV. In other words, the Catholics were insisting that the Indians revise their Bible to add a spurious verse, although Renaissance scholars had already cast serious doubt on it.
-The Books of Tobit and Wisdom belong to the Deuterocanon, books not found in the Jewish Biblical canon, but which Catholics and orthodox acknowledged as scriptural through the European Middle Ages: today they are included in Catholic Bibles, but not Protestant.
Catholics were thus demanding that the Indians abandon their strict standards of canonical definition, which had led them to exclude disputed books that seemed late in composition.
I quote Wright and Cook again:
“[Jesuit] Francis Roz, to whom was entrusted the task of perusing and correcting the MSS., was ordered to translate into Syriac the missing books (as well as the Athanasian Creed). The corrections were doubtless attended to.”
Whether what Fr. Roz did actually improved what the Indians already had is open to debate.