« PreviousContinue »
47 Syriac manuscripts, which are now in the British Museum. In 1806, Dr. Buchanan visited the Syrian Christians in India, and found among them several manuscripts of great antiquity. These he brought with him to England. He ascertained that the Syrian Christians in India amounted to nearly one hundred thousand persons, and that though they had suffered severely from the Inquisition at Goa, they still possessed a regular hierarchy, and numbered between fifty and sixty churches. The last few years of the life of Dr. Buchanan were devoted to the preparation of an edition of the New Testament from those manuscripts, and he died, it may almost literally be said, with the sheets of the Syriac Testament in his hands. The work was résunied, and ultimately completed, under the editorship of the late Dr. Samuel Lee of Cambridge. Shortly before the death of Dr. Buchanan, he was walking with à friend in the churchyard at Clapham, and entered into a minute account of the plan he had adopted in preparing the text. Suddenly he stopped and burst into tears; as soon as he recovered his self-possession, he said to his friend, “ Bè not alarmed; I am not ill; but I was completely overcome with the recollection of the delight with which I had engaged in the exercise. At first I was disposed to shrink from the task as irksome, and apprehended that I should find even the Scripture weary by the frequency of this critical examination; but 80 far from it, every fresh perusal seemed to
THE SYRIAN CHURCHES.
throw new light upon the word of God, and to convey additional joy and consolation to my mind.” And so translators have ever found it. Many have expressed similar testimony, and acknowledged that the more they attempted to fathom the depths of Scripture, the more profound it has seemed, and the richer the treasures it has yielded to their search.
The language of this ancient Syriac version derives additional importance from the fact, that the language spoken by the Nestorians is nearly identical with it, though having a considerable mixture of modern Turkish and Persian. The visit paid that people by Dr. Wolfe, and still later by Dr. Grant, has excited a deep interest on their behalf.
Two results have followed the recent discovery of copies of this ancient version.
They have confirmed in a remarkable way the accuracy of our present text. The present text of both Testaments is found to agree in its readings with that of manuscripts which have been brought from the distant east, where they have been buried for centuries. At the very time when the nations of Europe were throwing off old bonds, and were peculiarly exposed to the danger of abusing their liberty, Providence was providing fresh evidence of the truth of Scripture from the very ends of the earth. They have supplied, moreover, a strong testimony against the assumptions of the Romish church. For fourteen centuries a large body of nominally Christian people have existed in India, and for a
THE COPTIC VERSION.
yet longer time in Syria. They knew nothing of the adoration of the Virgin, of the doctrine of transubstantiation, or of the pretended supremacy of Rome. They held none of her peculiar dogmas, and they witness in the east, like the churches of Piedmont in the west, to the
pure gospel of Christ. If the history and name of the Vulgate are a standing protest against the sin of keeping the truth of God sealed up in an unknown tongue, the history of the Syriac version is a protest no less decisive against other novelties and corruptions of the papacy.
Thus have we seen that most parts of the ancient world had each their own Bible. The Syriac version meets the wants of the southern Asiatic; the Greek, of the native of Greece and of Asia Minor; and the Latin, of western Europe. On the borders of the districts occupied by those different forms of speech, however, there were other tongues into which it was necessary, if the people were to read the Bible, that it should be translated ; and this necessity seems also to have been met in very early times.
In Egypt, for example, dialects of the ancient Egyptian prevailed for centuries before the commencement of the Christian era ; and though that tongue yielded among the educated classes to Greek in the days of Ptolemy, and to Arabic after the Mohammedan conquest, yet there had always been a considerable population who used either the Coptic or the Thebaic, the two common forms of the ancient speech. Both
THE COPTIC CHURCH. dialects åte peculiarly interesting to the scholar. They form a connecting link between the Shemitish and African families of languages; and the versions in them which still remain are instructive, also, as evidence of the genuineness of the present Greek text. The present Coptic version was probably made in the second or third century; the Old Testament portion being founded upon the translation of the Seventy, and the New translated immediately from the original Greek. It is mentioned in church history that one of the ascetics of Egypt, Antoninus, read the Egyptian Scriptures before the close of the third century, though it is not certain whether the copy he possessed was in the Coptic or the Thebaic dialect.
One effect of this ancient version has been to keep alive a form, if not the spirit of Christianity in Egypt, during a long series of centuries, among å persecuted people, surrounded by Mohammedan oppressors. They are still called Copts; their numbers, however, being but small. The population of Egypt, long the “basest of kingdoms," as was foretold, has dwindled from seven millions (its number in the days of Diodorus Siculus) to less than two millions, and of these about one hundred and fifty thousand only are Copts—that is, native Egyptian Christians. Their peculiarity, religiously, is that they confound the Divine with the human nature of our Lord, and are therefore called Monophysitesadvocates of one nature. Their heresy was condemned at the council of Chalcedon, A. D.
51 451. An error not less fatal, certainly, is rather spiritual than theological. "Our head," said an intelligent Copt to a missionary in Cairo, (Mr. Kruse)“is sick, and the whole body is spiritually dead. What we want” he added, " is a man like your Luther, bold enough to stand fast by the faith, and to reforin our church."
About the same time that is, in the second century, and not later than the third-a version of the Scripture into Sahidic, or Thebaic, was completed. This is the language formerly spoken in Upper Egypt, and about one-third of the New Testament has been printed in this tongue. It is really a dialect of the Coptic, and, except for critical purposes, the version is not now of practical value.
Long before the days of our Lord, a colony of Arabians crossed the Red Sea, and settled in the districts south of upper Egypt, in what is now the modern Abyssinia. From this country came the Ethiopian eunuch to Jertisalem, and to this country he was probably the first to carry the gospel. The general extension of it throughout Ethiopia, however, seems to belong to a somewhat later period ; and as the Abyssinian church has been dependent for many centuries on the Coptic church in Egypt-the latter having the appointment of the chief bishop of Abyssiniait is not unlikely that Ethiopia received the gospel from Egypt. However this be, we find an Ethiopian Bishop, Frumentius, in the fourth century, and to him the translation of the Scriptures into Ethiopic is generally ascribed.