I got into this when someone asked me about NT canon. The more I studied and the farther back I went into the history, I saw the reasons why the church canon was established. I also found out about a document, that comes to us in several languages, that has older accounts of text from the books of MaththiYahu, Mark, Luke and Yahuchanan. The Syriac name is the Evangelion da-Mechallete, the Good News of the Mixed. The Greek name is the Diatessaron, which is a musical term meaning, the harmony of the four. This harmony comes to us in a number of languages, Armenian, Arabic, Latin, Greek, Syriac, Middle Dutch, Georgian, Persian, Old High German, Italian, and Old French. Part of the reason for the difficulty of diatessaronic studies is due to the fact that so many languages are involved. Another witness, are all the early church father writings that have quotes from the Diatessaron.
To better understand who is who and what is going on, a little background information might help.
Marcion was born about 85 CE, at Sinope,
which was in
Marcion rejected all that was Hebrew. He rejected the Tanak, calling it the Old Testament, making the first distinction as “Old” and “New”. He rejected the books written by MaththtiYahu [Matthew], Mark and Yahuchanan [John], because of Jewish influences. He accepted the book of Luke, but edited it, removing any Jewish influences. Marcion claimed that Paul was the only true “apostle”. He gathered 10 of Paul’s letters, excluding 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus and Ibriym [Hebrews]. Of the 10 that he selected, Marcion edited them, removing what he called, “Jewish corruptions.” As to the other sheliychiym [sent ones, “apostles”], Marcion claimed that they corrupted the teachings of Yahusha` (he called him Iesus), by mixing in legalism. Marcion rejected Thorah [teaching, law] and replaced it with love and grace.
Marcion wrote his own “gospel” and presented it to the Church of Rome. He gave them 200,000 sesterces. After reading his gospel, the Church refused it and gave back the money. His gospel was corrupted and void of all Hebrew references. Due to the listing of “acceptable” books, by Marcion, the Church was forced to determine what books, circulating in the Church, would be authorized. This was the first attempt at an official canon of what came to be known as the New Testament. Most of it was finalized by 200 CE.
and before the established canon, a man named Tatian
comes on the scene. Tatian, a Syrian, was born around
120 CE in
Tatian is known for his compiling of the books of MaththiYahu, Mark, Luke and Yahuchanan, called the Evangelion da-Mechallete or in the Greek, the Diatessaron- the harmony of the four, around 172 CE. Some speculate that it was based on the book MaththiYahu and others on Yahuchanan. His work was received and widely used in the churches of the East and the West. Later, in 436 CE, Rabbula, the Bishop of Edessa, began to make reforms in the Church. Because he considered Tatian a heretic, since the Church had officially banned Tatian, Rabbula felt that the Diatessaron could not be used. He instructed his priests to only use the separated books of MaththiYahu, Mark, Luke and Yahuchanan. Rabbula wrote the Aramaic Peshitta between 411- 435 and this became the text that was used in the churches of the East, while the Greek and then the Latin, was used in the West.
Rabbula was born in 350 CE, at Qenneshrin,
which is near
At first Rabbula
supported the Antiochian school of theology, but
later he began to admire Cyril of Alexandria, who was the leading proponent of
anti-Nestorian teachings. Once he was made bishop of
Because Tatian, the student of Justin, was considered a heretic, Rabbula, 264 years later, rejected the use of the Diatesseron, and in 436 CE, instructed his priests to use, in all the churches, the 4 separate Gospels. He wrote a series of canons and in Canon 43 he states, "The priests and deacons should exercise due care that in all the churches a copy of the Evangelion da-Mepharreshe (Good News of the Separated Ones, in contradiction to the Evangelion da-Mechallete, the Good News of the Mixed.) will be present, and will be read."
Between 411-435 CE, Rabbula altered an already existing Aramaic (Syriac)
version of the separated Gospels, the Peshitta,
which included Shauls letters and Acts, to replace the Diatessaron,
written by Tatian, around 173 CE. The Peshitta was written in the Estrangela
script. It has the same books of what became the Greek Testament,
whose canon was determined by the Church . It contained 22
books, all of the current New Testament except, II Peter, II John, III John, Jude, Revelations of John, which were still being debated by the
Church. For the
So we see that for about 264 years, the assemblies were using the Evangelion da-Mechallete [Diatessaron] for their accounts of MaththiYahu, Mark, Luke and Yahuchanan, until two major church officials decide that it was not acceptable and they confiscated multitudes of copies and replaced them with Syriac versions, that became more in conformity to the Greek canon of the Church and church doctrines. An interesting point, is that a number of the NT verses that early church fathers quote, but we have no source for those quotes, do occur in the Evangelion da-Mechallete [Diatessaron].
The following is quoted from, "Tatian's Diatessaron, Its Creation, Dissemination, Significance, and History in Scholarship," by William L. Petersen. This book is like an encyclopedia on Diatessaronic research. It covers all the scholars involved, their works, and all the manuscripts, in each language, as well as outside writings that have Diatessaronic quotes.
"Recent scholarship has apportioned citations from Judaic-Christian gospels found in the testimonia of the Fathers and in the scholia of New Testament manuscripts among three distinct sources: the Gospel according to the Nazaraeans, the Gospel according to the Ebionites, and the Gospel according to the Hebrews. All three are assigned dates from the first half of the second century. Earlier scholarship disagreed over the assignations of the fragments. While there are justifications for the tripartite division used by the contempary scholars, there are also problems. The most obvious is that two of the names (Gospel according to the Nazoraeans and the Gospel according to the Ebionites) are unknown from antiquity, and are the invention of modern scholars for discreet groupings of fragments and their textual character.
Epiphanius (haer. 30.13.1-14.5) offers a series of quotations from a gospel (euaggelion) that he calls [to] Ebraikon ('the Hebrew [gospel]'); he states that it was used by the Ebionites. Because of this, modern scholars have assigned Epiphanius' testimonia to a work they call the Gospel according to the Ebionites. It is obvious from Epiphanius' citations that whatever the precise name of the source he was quoting, it was a harmony of the synoptic gospels. Passages from John are absent, a circumstance which reminds one of Justin's harmony. The scope of this harmony is difficult to determine, but Epiphanius speaks of it as a 'falsified and distorted' version of Matthew, which suggests a document of more-or-less standard gospel length. Epiphanius states that the Ebionites 'have removed the genealogies of Matthew and begin' with Jesus' baptism (haer. 30.14.2). Epiphanius' quotations and descriptions attract our attention because, first, whatever the name of the Judaic-Christian gospel he is quoting, it has textual parallels with the Diatessaron (the 'light' at Jesus baptism is only one example); second, as we will discover in the next chapter when examining testimonia concerning the Diatessaron, Theodoret of Cyrrhus states that the genealogies had been excised from the Diatessaron.
Although the testimonia and scholia relating
to the other two Judaic-Christian gospels (the Gospel according to the Nazoraeans and the Gospel according to the Hebrews) are
generally too brief to reveal their textual character, scholarship presumes
they were not harmonies. It is striking, however, that the fragments modern
scholars assign to the Gospel according to the Nazoraeans
also have parallels with the Diatessaron: for
example, one of the fragments- a scholion in MS 566-
states that at Matt 4.5 'to Ioudaikon' read en Ierousalhm ('in
Jerusalem') rather than the canical 'into the holy
city.' A Diatessaronic witness, the Middle Dutch
Liege Harmony, makes the same substitution, reading at Matt 4.5 'into the city
Judaic-Chrisitan gospel, one which was also known to Tatian? These formal and textual similarities are not the only link between the Diatessaron and the Judaic-Christian gospels, for Epiphanius states that a gospel used by the Nazoraeans, which he calls [to euaggelion ] kata EbraiouV ([the gospel] according to the Hebrews') is also known as Tatian's Diatessaron."
The following are examples of the readings in the Diatessaron, compared with the Greek.
1. In Greek MaththiYahu 8:4, " Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift which Moses commanded, as proof to them."
Ephrems Syriac commentary on the Diatessaron.
"Go, show yourself to the priests, and execute the Law, that which you scorn."
Armenian translation of Syriac commentary on the Diatessaron.
"Go you, show yourself to the priests, and execute the Law which you scorn."
Isho`dad of Merv, commentary.
"...go to the priests and offer a gift as the Law commanded."
Romanos Melodos, Hymn on the Healing of the Leper.
"Go, fulfill the Law and hasten to show yourself to the priest, and present the gift which my child Moses prescribed Lepers cleansed in the nation to offer."
"Go to the fathers of the Law, and show yourself to them, and offer them such an offering as Moses commanded in the Law.
"Go and show (yourself) to the overseers and make the offering which the Law commands."
I have always known that the verse from the Greek text referred to, Wayiqqra [Leviticus] 14. This verse in the Diatessaron is much more clear and precise than the Greek canonical verse. This is another of the indicators that the Thorah was not replaced with "grace". That Yahusha` not only observed Thorah Himself, but pointed others to do the same.
2. In MaththiYahu 19:16, you see the account of the rich young man, who asks Yahusha` what must he do to get eternal life. The Greek says, "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." It also mentions just one man. Yet Origen quotes that there are two and one man asks the question, with Yahusha` responding, "do the Law." This is also found in Ephrems Syriac commentary to the Diatessaron, as well as the Aphrahat's commentary, the Syriac Diatessaron, and the Georgian.
This verse is clearly in conformity with the Tanak and the foundation laid out in it. In the Peshitta of that verse, the word "do" is shemor [Hebrew-shemar], which is what is repeatedly used in the Tanak. I prefer to translate shemar as observe. The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, also has shemor, which George Howard translates as keep. Both the Peshitta's Hebrew and the Hebrew Matthew have mitswoth however, where the Diatessaron has namosa (Thorah) - Law. Where this difference may not be major to some, law verses commandments, I feel that it is indicative of a major Christian deviation. By not using Thorah, which is representative of the whole of the teaching and law, and instead using mitswoth [commands], it could very well be representative of the Christian acceptance of just the 10 Commandments.
3. Canonical Yahuchanan 15:1-2,5 reads, "I am the true vine,...every branch in me....I am the vine; you are the branches..." In Aphrahat, Ephrem and Cyrillona and the Arabic, they showed the Diatessaronic version was , "I am the vineyard of truth....Every vine planted in me.....I am the vineyard, you are the vines."
This is similar to YeshaYahu [Isaiah] 5, the Song of the Vineyard, where He states that the Vineyard of YHWH Tsebaoth is the Beyth Yisrael. YirmeYahu says that many shepherds have destroyed My (YHWH) vineyard. This is even paralleled in MaththiYahu 21:33-, where Yahusha` speaks of a land owner who planted a vineyard. The tenants killed the servants and the son, and likens the parable to the unbelieving leaders of Yisrael that were not producing fruit and would kill him, the son of the landowner who planted a vineyard.
4. This one was very interesting to me, since I have always had questions about what was going on in this passage. In Luke 4:29,30, you read of Yahusha` returning to Natsrath. After reading and speaking to them, in the synagogue, the people become furious and 29, "They got up, drove him out of town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way."
Baarda submits this reconstruction from about 20 Diatessaronic texts which include Aphrahat and Ephrem, "they stood up and they led Him out from the town and brought Him by the side of the hill, on which their town was built, in order to cast Him down. When they cast Him down from the height into the depth and He did not fall and was not harmed, through their midst He passed and He flew and He descended to Kafarnaum." Even the Toledoth Yeshu reports that Yahusha` flew.
This is not so bizarre as it might seem. When Yahusha` is standing on the highest pinnacle of the temple, HaSatan says that if he was the Ben HaElohiym, then he could throw himself down, for it was written, "He will give his malakiym charge over you, to keep you, and in their arms will they sustain you, otherwise you strike you foot against a stone." And Yahusha` replied and said to him, "It is said, You will not tempt YHWH your elohey." If He can walk on water, and ascend into the heavens, what is to preclude Him from descending in the air unhurt?
5. Greek Luke , when Yahusha` had died, "...at the site of this, all the crowds which had assembled together, seeing the happening, returned smiting their breasts."
'Woe, woe to us, ' they said. 'This was the Son of God....Behold the judgments
of the destruction of
" 'Woe to us. What has befallen us, who have left the Law and the ones from us who glory in iniquity?' "
" 'For behold, except they who crucified Him knew that He was the Son of God, they would not have proclaimed the desolation of their city, also they would not have brought down woes upon themselves.' "
breasts turning back saying, 'Woe to us who have today, on account
of our sins, hastened the desolation of
This makes sense in light of Josephus' account of the killing of Yaaqob, the brother of Yahusha`, who was thrown down from the temple and stoned him, because he had not died from the fall.
As recorded by Eusebius and Hegesippus:
(Hegesippus was a Jewish believer)
"James was so admirable
a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the
Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of
This seems to be a quote from YeshaYahu 3:10,11 Septuagint translation, "Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us bind the just [HaTsadiq], for he is burdensome to us: therefore will they eat the fruits of their works. Woe to the transgressor ! Evils will happen to him according to the works of his hands." The Massoretic Text reads differently here, "Say to the righteous that it is good, for the fruit of their deeds they will eat. Woe to the wicked, evil; for the doing of his hand will be done to him."
The Septuagint, the Thorah portion, was written around 250 BCE. Later, other portions of the Tanak were translated into Greek. After the time of Yahusha`, when his followers and early Christians were quoting verses from the Septuagint to prove various points about Him and his life and fulfillment of prophecies, changes were made to the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, which is discussed in the next Diatessaron quote, and the Greek Septuagint.
the Jews, Heinrich Graetz, Vol
II, pgs. 385,386, "The pride of
Judaism was the proselyte Akylas (
Who was the first to make alterations, is a charge that both sides have made.
History of the Jewish People
in the Time of Christ, Emil Schurer, Second Division,
Vol. III, pg. 169, 170 "The Jews of
the Dispersion were renouncing their own culture and placing themselves under
the guardianship of the Rabbins. These translations
are at the same time a monument in the history of the struggle between Judaism
and Christianity. They were to place in the hands of the Jews a polemical
weapon in their contest with Christian theologians, who were making the most of
very uncertain Septuagint text in their own cause (comp. especially Justin,
Dial. c. Tryph.c. 68, s.fin., 71 and
tradition also places him (
Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, Jacob Neusner, pg. 568
"Somewhat ironically, it was the Church where the Septuagint had the most profound influence; Greek-speaking Christians adopted it as the holy scriptures at a very early date. In the Greek New Testament, most citations of the Jewish Scriptures are in the form found in the Septuagint, and though the same is true for the first-century Jewish Greek writers Philo Judaeus and Flavius Josephus, the Septuagint fell out of favor among Jews as its importance grew among Christians."
An interesting point in the
debate of who edited what and added what, is the fact that Dead Sea Scrolls have
shown that some places conform to the Septuagint, rather than the Massoretic text that became fixed after the destruction of
the Temple in Jerusalem. These scrolls also show some places where it confirms
what was written in the fixed Massoretic. It even shows
a confirming of verses, in some places, that are closer to the Samaritan
Pentateuch of the Thorah, than the Massoretic. What needs to be remembered,
is that text and canon were not fixed until after the destruction of the
6. This citation is really interesting to me, not so much in the wording, but the outside witnesses that verify it and what that reveals. Greek MaththiYahu 27:51,52, 53, " At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Yahusha`'s resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people."
Ephrems commentary reads, "when the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn, and the guards were disturbed, and the tombs were opened, and the dead raised."
Isho`dad of Merv
"And the rocks that cried out were rent....The door-veil which was a type which was rent...And the graves were opened, and five hundred dead were raised..."
The Venetian Harmony and the Pepsyian Harmony, both use dead.
"...and the graves were opened of dead men; through the power of the Mighty One in their bodies, they rose living up from the earth and were seen with eyes for me to marvel. That was a mighty sign that by this Christ's death should be recognized..." This poem also uses dead.
One of the charges that
Justin Martyr laid against the Jews, was that they had
cut parts of the Hebrew text out, to prevent Christians from using it in
respect to Messiah. One example is in Justin, Dialogue 72.4. "And from the
words of the same Jeremiah these words have been cut out [by the Jews]: 'The
Lord God remembered his dead from
Irenaeus knew the same passage that Justin cited, and cites it about six times, with minor variations.
"As Jeremiah states, 'The holy Lord remembered his dead Israel, who slept in the land of burial, and descended to them in order to make known to them his salvation that they might be saved.’ “
Earlier in the same passage that Justin cites, he mentions another passage that has been cut out, by the Jews, from Jeremiah. The passage cited is not known in the YirmeYahu of the current Massoretic Text. MaththiYahu 27:9-10, "Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, 'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him...and they gave them for the potters field, as the Lord directed me.' " This quote of MaththiYahu does not occur in the Massoretic text of YirmeYahu, either, but a similar one does occur in ZekarYahu 11.
A man named Resch may have found a piece of the puzzle for Justin, Irenaeus’ quotes and the Diatessaron verses, that agree in terminology of the dead and the reference to YirmeYahu. Jerome wrote that he had a Hebrew text, which was brought to him by a Hebrew, from a certain sect (I need to go to the library and check this volume out and see what the Latin has, for what sect this is.), of YirmeYahu. If this older version of YirmeYahu was what was being cited, then it would explain the Diatessaron difference and Justin and Irenaeus' quotes, as well as Justin's statements that the Jews had edited parts out that were being used to identify with the Messiah.
The editing of parts of the Tanak, so Believers in Yahusha` could not quote from them, is not unbelievable, when you look at the changing of the Hebrew canon at the Council of Yamnia, to exclude whole books that the early Believers and Christians were citing. Editing occurred in the Talmud as well. Morris Goldstein, in, "Jesus in the Jewish Tradition," states, "That being the case, consider how much more perplexity is added to the passages purportedly dealing with Jesus, for these have been severely censored during blighted centuries at the instigation of hostile authorities. Whole paragraphs have been deleted; words have been expunged or substituted; spellings have ben changed, thoughts mutilated and manuscripts seized and burned. Wherever in these rabbinic writings it was thought by the Church-appointed censor that a reference might possible allude to Jesus or Christianity it became a target of attack. Therefore, as Hermann Strack reports in his valuable guide to the study of the Talmud and Midrash: 'In consequence of the repeated confiscation and foolish destructions of Jewish manuscripts by fire only a very small number of ancient Talmud copies are extant.'
"As though this were
not enough difficulty, it was compounded by a self-imposed censorship on the
part of the Jewish communities as a practical means of confining within limits
the vicious persecution of their books and their lives. Thus, in 1631 the
Jewish Assembly of Elders in
"At first, deleted portions or words in printed Talmuds were indicated by small circles or blank spaces but, in time, these too were forbidden by the censors."
This type of censorship also affected the Tanak. Evidence in massoretic notes shows that over 134 times the Name YHWH was edited out and replaced with Adonay. Other words which were thought improper or uncouth, were changed. Names that had a prefix or suffix of Baal were changed. David Christian Ginsburg compiled numerous lists of changes in his 4 volumes of the Massorah. There is evidence of political rewriting. So with all these examples and many more, it is not absurd to think that the Yahudiym, that were not Believers of Yahusha` as the Mashiyach, would not edit the Scriptures, considering it too set apart to do such a thing, in order to put a stop to the quotes of passages that the believing Yahudiym and the following Christians were using as proof of the Mashiyach.
There is one Diatessaron scholar, that looked at things from a very Semitic perspective. I am getting his book to see what semiticisms he found in the Diatessaron. I believe that research into the Diatessaron provides a much better opportunity for a rendering of the books of Testimony, than that of the Greek and Latin texts or even the Peshitta, especially in matters of observance to Thorah. The Peshitta is good for some of the Semitic usages of words and phrases, but for the earlier renderings of whole verses and chapters and a harmony account, we need to go much farther back, than the mid-400's.
This also needs to be looked into from a Hebraic perspective, to see how things attest to what the foundation of Thorah has laid. It is interesting to me, that William Petersen, one of the authors on the Diatessaron I have read, states concerning the observance of Thorah, pg. 24 , "Yet we know that one of the great debates in the early church was upon this precise point: the validity of the Torah for Christians. If Jesus had unambiguously demanded obedience to 'the Law', then such a reading would have supported the Judaic-Christian position that the Law was still binding. Such a reading would have been anathema to followers of Paul, who became the guardians and transmitters of the Gospel text in the Greek. Is there evidence that would suggest that in the second century an edition of the gospels existed which was supportive of a Judaic-Christian point of view? The evidence of the Diatessaron suggests that the question be answered in the affirmative: 'Yes, the evidence exists, and it suggests that such an edition indeed existed.' "
Now, I know the terms that Petersen uses are those of Christianity, such as Judaic-Christian and his belief that Shaul [Paul] spoke against observing Thorah. But the fact that a man, probably a Christian himself or at least a Christian scholar, can see from the Diatessaron, the evidence that the early believers did observe and wrote to observe Thorah, and this was what was required, is a great testimony to looking into this text, as an earlier source of the Testimony of Yahusha`. Until someone digs up complete books, which may have already happened and it is just being suppressed, this is the only option that I see, for a more accurate Testimony of Yahusha`.