Diatessaron FAQ

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-- by Yuri Kuchinsky

Here is some basic info, and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), meant for a non-specialist.

This is meant for those students of the NT who may have seen the Diatessaron mentioned in various books or articles, and are interested to find out more.


The following are the 3 basic facts about the Diatessaron, that everyone (or almost everyone) would agree on. Beyond that, things get more speculative...

1. The Diatessaron is believed to be an ancient harmony of the 4 gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John combined into one), that existed already in the second century. It also seems to have been the main gospel of Aramaic-speaking Christians in Syria up to the 5th century.

2. Nobody knows much about the Diatessaron. And I mean the biblical professionals here, of course, not just the man in the street. There are about 10 scholars in the world who have investigated this area seriously, and they mostly disagree with each other even about the basics... It is truly an obscure area!

3. We don't actually have "the original Diatessaron", and not even a reconstruction of it. It should be stressed strongly that, at this stage, "the original Diatessaron" still remains a hypothetical document.

Instead, we have a whole bunch of medieval manuscripts of gospel harmonies, in a variety of languages, and they mostly disagree with each other in many particulars. Some of these have been edited and published; most have not been. The whole thing is really the biggest cross-word puzzle that you've ever seen!


  1. Where can I get a copy of the Diatessaron?
  2. Which of all the existing Diatessaronic manuscripts is the closest to "the original"?
  3. What was the original language of this gospel?
  4. Was Tatian really the author of the Diatessaron?
  5. Was there really such a thing as "the original Diatessaron"?
  6. Who used the Diatessaron in the past?
  7. Can the Diatessaron be considered as "a heretical gospel"?
  8. Which came first, the Aramaic four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), or the Aramaic Diatessaron?

Where can I get a copy of the Diatessaron?

The only version of the Diatessaron that's easily available at this time is the Arabic Diatessaron. It is freely available on the Internet in an English translation (long file).

http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-10/anf ... #TopOfPage

Two other complete harmonies, as translated from old manuscripts, are also available in English.

-- The Magdalene Gospel (or the English Diatessaron) is available from Amazon.com, as translated by yours truly from the unique medieval manuscript (also, 1/3 of the Magdalene Gospel is available freely on the Internet).


[if temporarily unavailable, try the following link]

http://www.google.ca/search?q=cache:W74 ... lene+pepys

-- The Dutch Diatessaron (also know as the Liege Diatessaron). It is out of print currently, but should be available from a good library system, or maybe from some antiquarian bookstore.

If you read Italian, the Persian Diatessaron should also be available from a good library system. (See all the publication details here.)


[if temporarily unavailable, try the following link]

http://www.google.ca/search?q=cache:Y6P ... bliography

Beyond that, you're on your own, as no other modern translations of the old Diatessarons exist. Out of the many other such manuscripts, three have been edited and published, but not yet translated into any modern language,

-- the Latin Diatessaron, -- the two medieval Italian Diatessarons (one in the medieval Venetian dialect, and the other one in the Tuscan dialect).

So if you are a specialist in medieval linguistics, or a fluent reader of Latin, you're welcome to try them.

Thus, by common consensus, these are the most important complete Diatessaronic manuscripts. There are also many fragments of all sorts, but we don't need to get into that here.

Which of all the existing Diatessaronic manuscripts is the closest to "the original Diatessaron"?

Nobody knows for sure. There are various theories, but no consensus as yet. As I say, it's a big Puzzle.

A couple of scholars believe that the Arabic DT is the closest to the original, but others disagree. Those who disagree think that none of the surviving copies are all that close to the "original". (Also, see under "The Paradoxes".)

What was the original language of the Diatessaron?

Nobody knows for sure. In the past, various scholars suggested that it was either Aramaic, or Greek, or Latin.

Was Tatian really the author of the Diatessaron?

See Also: Tatian was the author?

That's what everybody believes, but there's actually very little proof of this. See the article here for more info.

Tatian did not write the Diatessaron... http://www.globalserve.net/~yuku/bbl/tatian.htm

So why is this idea so widespread then? Attributing the Diatessaron to Tatian seems to have been a part of the apologetics on the part of the ancient Catholic Church. It's pretty clear that the Diatessaron was widely seen as a "heretical" gospel by many Church authorities, so it was a lot easier to dismiss and suppress it by attributing it to Tatian, a known heretic.

The main problem with this mainstream theory that Tatian was the author of the Diatessaron is as follows. It presupposes that, before Tatian the heretic came to mess up Syriac Christianity in 170 CE, no Christian gospel at all was available in Aramaic. But this seems highly unlikely, of course. (And if the Aramaic Christians in Syria already did have a gospel of their own previous to 170 CE, why would have they given it up in favour of "Tatian's Diatessaron"?)

(Also, see under "The Paradoxes".)

Was there really such a thing as "the original Diatessaron"?

This isn't really at all certain. "The original Diatessaron" may have been a work-in-progress for a very long time. There are also indications that more than one version of the Diatessaron was produced by different individuals or groups in ancient times. So this would explain the huge variability in our existing Diatessaronic manuscripts.

Who used the Diatessaron in the past?

As already mentioned, the Diatessaron was probably the main gospel of the mainstream Aramaic speaking Christian communities in Syria and elsewhere until the 5th century, when efforts were made to suppress it (at least in western Syria). As most scholars believe, it was typically cited as Scripture by the early Syriac Fathers, such as Ephrem and Aphrahat.

The Diatessaron was also often cited by some early Latin Fathers, such as Tertullian, and Novatian, and sometimes even by St. Augustine. Also, it was used by the ancient Manichaeans.

In the Greek textual tradition, a very early gospel harmony was also used by Justin Martyr, who was based in Rome. But later on, almost all traces of the Diatessaron had disappeared in the Greek textual tradition.

During the early Middle Ages, the Diatessaron's popularity in western Europe seems to have increased. Both its Latin versions were used, and the translations, as well. Quite a few translations into various medieval languages and dialects were made. Also, some famous medieval scholars, such as Zacharias Chrysopolitanus, and Peter Comestor, composed Latin commentaries on the Diatessaron, citing the text of the Diatessaron in Latin.

Can the Diatessaron be considered as "a heretical gospel"?

Yes, some versions of the Diatessaron clearly show numerous deviations from the standard Catholic theology. One such theme that appears prominently in some Diatessarons is the tendency towards the more Jewish-oriented forms of Christianity. For example, when compared with the standard Catholic gospels, these Diatessaronic versions would tend to portray Jesus as more Jewish, and more at home in his own Jewish milieu.

So this was probably the main reason why the Catholic authorities in various parts of the world made efforts to suppress those deviating versions of the Diatessaron.

Not all versions of the Diatessaron are theologically suspect, of course. Quite a few of them, such as the Arabic Diatessaron, seem fully Catholic in their theology. It also stands to reason that these more "ideologically correct" versions of the Diatessaron were the products of later revisions.

On the other hand, it is reasonable to assume that those ancient Christian documents that stand closer to Judaism are more likely to preserve the early teachings of Jesus and his disciples. As it happens, the Magdalene Gospel (the English Diatessaron) seems like the most "Judaizing" Diatessaronic version of them all.

Which came first, the Aramaic four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), or the Aramaic Diatessaron?

This may come as a complete surprise to the amateurs in this area, but the Scholars are still debating about it!

Of course, we all know about that famous puzzle in Biology 101, "Which came first, the Chicken or the Egg"? Well, we're not about to solve that one here... a bit too difficult. What we can solve, on the other hand, is the much easier question, that also happens to be much more relevant in our present context, Which came first, the Omelette or the Egg?

Everyone knows that it's easy enough to take a couple of eggs, and to make an omelette with them. But try making an egg out of the omelette... Not easy at all! And the same logic should apply to the question of the Diatessaron and the single gospels.

So let's take the conventional dating of the Gospel of Matthew, ca. 80 CE. And it's generally believed to have been written in Syria... So, let's see... it never occurred to anyone to translate it into Aramaic, the native language of the country, before Tatian the heretic came to Syria in 170 CE? Is this so?

Yeah, right... The idea is absurd!

So the natural solution to this "problem", of course, is that the separate Aramaic gospels came first. And then, later on, there was produced an Aramaic gospel harmony based on these!

So then why is such a strange debate even happening among the Scholars? See #3 under "The Paradoxes".

That's all for now. The last part will come later.



source: http://www.peshitta.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=191&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a