Diatessaron Mysteries

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Dear friends,

I've been researching the history of the Diatessaron for quite some time now, and for a long time I've been mystified with some of the serious problems and the unknowns in this area. But now, I think I'm finding some new leads that may call for a re-evaluation of some of the basic assumptions.

It's a very controversial area, for sure, but at the same time very important for understanding the early transmission of the gospels. Here's a more or less standard view of the history of DT.


_THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS: Are they Reliable?_, by F. F. Bruce (1959)


About AD 170 an Assyrian Christian names Tatian turned the fourfold Gospel into a continuous narrative or 'Harmony of the Gospels', which for long was the favourite if not the official form of the fourfold Gospel in the Assyrian Church. It was distinct from the four Gospels in the Old Syriac version. It is not certain whether Tatian originally composed his Harmony, usually known as the Diatessaron, in Greek or in Syriac; but, as it seems to have been compiled at Rome, its original language was probably Greek, and a fragment of Tatian's Diatessaron in Greek was discovered in the year 1933 at Dura-Europos on the Euphrates. At any rate, it was given to the Assyrian Christians in a Syriac form when Tatian returned home from Rome, and this Syriac Diatessaron remained the 'Authorised Version' of the Gospels for them until it was replaced by the Peshitta or 'simple' version in the fifth century.


Especially this last bit is important: "..this Syriac Diatessaron remained the 'Authorised Version' of the Gospels for them until it was replaced by the Peshitta or 'simple' version in the fifth century."

But if this is so, if Tatian, indeed, introduced the harmonised gospel to Syria single-handedly, and at such a late date, will this mean that there was no other gospel in Syria before 175? Can such an assumption be really valid? Probably not, I'd say.

So two possibilities arise here.

1. No gospel was used in Syria before 175.

2. Some gospel X was used in Syria, but in 175 it was rejected in favour of Tatian's gospel.

  1. 1 does not seem to be a likely possibility. After all, Syria is next door

to Israel, and was a big centre of Christian missionary activity from the earliest times.

  1. 2 is more likely, but if so, what was that gospel X that would have been

used in Syria before 175, and why would it have been rejected in favour of the Diatessaron? These are big questions indeed, and the answers are not easy to find.

It is generally assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the four canonicals had been completed by 100 CE, possibly in Syria, itself. (Especially Mt is thought to have originated there.) So then the big mystery emerges, why was it that the Diatessaron became the dominant gospel in Syria, rather than any of the canonicals?

Since the Diatessaron was so popular in Syria for so long, can one suppose that this may have been the first gospel to have been accepted in Syria from the earliest times, and not just from the time of Tatian? Is it possible that Tatian wasn't really the author of DT, and that perhaps some previous (i.e. pre-Tatianic) form of a harmonised gospel was current in Syria from the earliest times? (Of course there's much recent research indicating that Tatian indeed based "his DT" on a previous harmony, such as Justin's Harmony.)

So, please, can someone help me to answer some of these questions? I think we do have some basic problems in this area that call for a solution. So what do people think?

As the situation stands now, something seems to be quite wrong with the generally accepted picture of these events. Something doesn't make sense here. So here are some possible ways to resolve these difficulties.

a) The four canonicals had not really been completed by 100 CE, but later.

b) DT is not really what everyone thinks it is. In a sense, DT in fact may represent a very early gospel indeed, and maybe even the earliest? (It has been remarked by scholars that harmonistic gospels seem to go back to the earliest times.)

c) Some earlier form of DT was the dominant gospel of Syria. Much later, it may have been reedited, and credited to Tatian, perhaps wrongly.

So what am I missing here? Certainly, I don't think it's very realistic to say that Tatian just arrived to Syria at the end of the second century with some brand new gospel, and everyone said, "Hey, let's adopt it as the dominant gospel in the whole of Syria, regardless of what we had before in the way of a gospel, or gospels".

Any comments will be appreciated.

Best wishes,


Yuri Kuchinsky | Toronto | http://www.globalserve.net/~yuku/bbl/bbl.htm

Source: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblical-studies/message/1030