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Discovery of a Lost Page of the Old Syriac

Discovery of a Lost Page of the Old Syriac

In 1985 Dr. Daniel McConaughy discovered a previously missing page of the Curetonian manuscript of the Old Syriac Aramaic text of the Gospels.  Below is a copy of his report which was written and circulated at the time  

At the time Daniel McConaughy was the Coordinator of the Biblical Research Department at the Way College of Emporia.  He is no longer a member of The Way International.

The reproduction of this item that once circulated in The Way International should in no way be taken as a endorsement of any of the unique doctrines of The Way International.

The material is presented here to show the important contribution that a small intense group can make to Aramaic NT Studies.

McConaughy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he specialized in Syriac, Greek, and early Church history.  

McConaughy’s discovery was documented and published in the academic journal “Biblica” (“A Recently Discovered Folio of the Old Syriac (Sy(c)) Text of Luke ...).  

He has been published in at least two academic journals (The Biblia cite above and “An Old Syriac Reading of Acts 1:4 and More Light on Jesus’ Last Meal before His Ascension”; Oriens Christianus; Band 72 1988; pp. 63-67).

In the May-June 1985 issue of The Way Magazine, McConaughy published an article titled The Aramaic Origin of the New Testament.

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Report on Syriac Manuscripts Research Trip
(October 31,  1985--February 14, 1986)
Dan McConaughy  

The purpose of this trip was to locate unknown Syriac MSS and photograph all the New Testament MSS found (and any others of importance) and to establish contacts for future trips. Itinerary: Cairo/Wadi el-Natrun and vicinity, Jerusalem, Damaskus, Dehli and numerous places in the Southwest Indian state of Kerala, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. I traveled over 30,000 miles.

In September 1984, I spoke to Dr. Wierwille at the Way College of Emporia about going to the East. He was enthusiastic and quite supportive. With his blessing, I began to solicit spiritual partners, because I felt that the mutual believing of a group would make the trip more successful. I was able to raise more than my goal of $6,000.

The idea of going to Egypt had intrigued me, even though it seemed that Syriologists prefer expending their efforts further east in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. The current opinion is that nothing new is to be found in Egypt. Virtually all of the oldest known manuscripts in Syriac MSS is Deir el-Suryia, the Monastery of the Syrians, located in Wadi el-Natrun, midway between Cairo and Alexandria. Almost all the oldest known Syriac MSS have come from there. I didn't believe what I had been told, that all the Syriac MSS were sold to the British Museum in the 1840s. For example, what if MSS were "checked out" at the time, MSS were lost, or MSS came in later from other places?

First, I went to St. Amba Bishoy Monastery, one of the four existing ancient monasteries established in the third and fourth centuries in the Wadi el-Natrun, to get oriented. Then I walked over to Deir el-Suryan, protected the occupants from Bedoiun raids. There was a small opening in the front, and I pulled on the rope hanging down from the bell. About five minutes later, I was greeted by a monk with a long beard, dressed entirely in black. After coffee and a tour of the monastary, I asked about the library. I was told, "Come back tomorrow." Didn't they realize how hard I had worked to come here and how much money I had spend? But the next day I arrived at 10:00 a.m. and was taken to the library. I then found out that the librarian is a hermit and comes in only twice a week! After coffee and conversation, I asked about Syriac MSS. The librarian said he had one and brought out a twelfth-century book of Psalms on parchment -- not all that interesting. I asked if he had more, and he said, "Some papers." Then he brought out a torn, dirty, folded piece of brown paper that held a stack of parchment sheets from 18 various MSS--some very old. All of these he kindly let me photograph. I became very good friends with the librarian and another monk. The library was now open to me anytime I desired! It was not until two month later that I found that one of the MSS, a folio containing Luke 16:13-17:1, is from the oldest known Syriac gospel MS (fifth century or earlier).

Next, I visited the Syrian Orthodox monastery of the St. Mark in Jerusalem ( the place of the Last Supper, according to the Syrian Orthodox Church). Unfortunately, the bishop with the key to the library had left for Amman, Jordan, that very morning, so I was unable to see the Syriac MSS there. Later, I met Bishop Behnam in Damascus, where I went next to use the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Library. There I met a number of the Middle Eastern archbishops because Patriarch Zakka was holding a meeting at the time. I was later able to eat with His Holiness, Patriarch Zakka, and the archbishops on two occasions, and twice I personally met with the patriarch. The library was in disorder, and I had to ask what I wanted. This was very difficult to do, since there was no catalog. I was told that all the Bibles are in Turkey; but thanks to some notes from Dr. Vööbus, I was able to see some rare, ancient commentaries by Moshe bar Kepha, which contain Biblical quotations of a very archaic nature. Some of these I photographed. Also, I got along well with His Holiness, and we even talked about the possibility of my coming out to teach Greek and Hebrew for a year at his seminary in Damascus. This would allow me to gain many connections and do much research.

I then went to India, not because of the really old MSS there, but because I thought it would be an easier place to work. My assumption was half right. The ecclesiastics were very helpful and friendly, but getting around was difficult, even with a native Indian believer traveling with me. I flew to Dehli and met my assistant, Sevi. Then we took a 52-hour train ride to Trichur in the southwest Indian state of Kerala, the home of the indigenous and Syriac-speaking church. We traveled extensively in Kerala, visiting churches, bishops' houses, seminaries, schools, and scholars. I discovered over 40 unknown Syriac MSS of importance, adding 10 percent to the total of known MSS in India. We photographed 25 MSS, all or in part.

After a month, I went to London to use the resources of the British Museum. There I learned that the Old Gospel text I found was from their MS Add. 14,451, one of the two copies of the Old Syriac Gospels. Nothing this old has been found since 1892. I also visited libraries in Manchester and Dublin.

A few days before I was to return home, I got a telex from Walter Cummins telling me to return to Egypt to see if I could find more of the Old Syriac MS, since a lot of it is still missing, and to see what else I could find. Upon my return, I didn't find any more of the Old Syriac Gospels, but a sixth-century text of I.Samuel did turn up at Deir el-Suryan. In addition, I found 10 unknown Syriac MSS at the Coptic Museum in Cairo, and I will publish a catalog for them. The oldest of these is from the fifth or sixth century. Two of these MSS are missing portions of the British Museum MSS. With help of my connections in Cairo, I should be the first to learn of any MSS that might turn up there in the future. I also found over 30 Syriac MSS at the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mary in Cairo. The scorecard for the second Egyptian trip was excellent: over 40 unknown MSS discovered!

The whole trip was a grand success. Dr. Brock, at Oxford, was amazed I found anything at all in Egypt on either trip, especially the second. He had tried twice and found nothing. During the trip I also located other places to look in Egypt, and I have solid evidence that there are more very ancient texts at Dei el-Suryan. The librarian just needs to find them.

* * *

Special thanks to NazareneSpace volunteer Mikha’Ela for typing in the original article.

(I do not believe the report was copyrighted, however, if it was, I believe the presentation here falls within the Fair Use provision.)

The Missing Page (front) Above: Luke 16:12-22a

The Missing Page (back) Above Luke 16:22b-17:1


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