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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Harmonies

One especially fascinating aspect of modern study has been the gradual recovery of the material referring to a lost document from early Christianity, indeed the slow realization that this document had once existed. Harmonies of the canonical gospels into a single continuous narrative were popular down to the early modern period. Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century research has revealed that the medieval versions were to a greater or lesser extent descended, with many variations and developments, from two second-century harmonies, which had had an immense influence in their time, both on the minds of those who knew them and on the text of the separate gospels. The first of these to be fully appreciated was Tatian's Diatessaron. Tatian, a native of Syria who at one time taught in Rome, produced his Diatessaron in either Greek or Syriac (there are supporters of each theory). This remarkable achievement, a working together not merely of stories but of phrases and words, predominated as the gospel book of Syrian Christianity down to the fifth century and beyond. From it are derived important versions in Arabic, Persian, Latin, several dialects of Middle Italian, Dutch, and early English (a manuscript owned by Samuel Pepys). One other vital witness is a commentary on the Diatessaron by the Syriac writer Ephraem. Until recently, this was known only in an Armenian translation. But portions of a copy in Syriac have been found. Not a scrap of Tatian's Diatessaron survives, and it is only possible to reconstruct his text and sequence of material by painstaking analysis of the various witnesses. A tiny fragment of parchment, found in the early 1930s in the course of excavations at Dura Europos on the Euphrates, was initially thought to contain the Diatessaron. Certainly, it was a harmony (the end of the crucifixion story, with the beginning of the pericope about Joseph of Arimathea). It is in Greek, and this suggested that Tatian might have written in that language. On the other hand, some possible Syriacisms were found in the text, suggesting that it might be a translation. Thus, the fragment cast only uncertain light on the basic issue of the language in which Tatian wrote. Subsequent study, however, has demonstrated that the text is unlikely to be the Diatessaron, and is an otherwise unknown harmony.

It is rarely possible to be sure of Tatian's exact wording. However, it has become increasingly clear that he had a considerable influence on the text of the separate gospels, especially in Syriac and Latin. But it also became clear that not all harmonies could have stemmed directly from Tatian, and there must have been an even older lost Harmony. There was an earlier Harmony produced by Justin Martyr, which is completely lost. It is striking that Justin never cites from the canonical gospels in a form found also in later manuscripts of the gospels, and that he refers to these texts not as gospels but as the Memoirs of Jesus.

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