Some facts about the Khabouris Codex

READER QUESTION:

How do we prove that the Aramaic Khabouris Codex is the oldest? I've tried researching it a bit and found it's dated around 12th century?? How do they know it's a copy of an older text?


OUR RESPONSE:

According to a March 25, 1955 New York Times article by Bess Furman entitled, "US Library Gets an Ancient Bible" the Khabouris Codex was first revealed to America in April 1954. Initially presented at the White House to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, it was escorted via police motorcade and armed guards, along with much pomp and circumstance to the Library of Congress for display.

The Chaplain to the United States Senate, Frederick Brown Harris referred to it as the "N.T. (New Testament) Time Bomb." His words were recorded in a newspaper article as follows:

"...Here are the very syllables as they fell from His lips when the matchless Teacher was here among men. It is a record to make the heart leap with excitement. Somehow, it is like hearing the One whose birth broke the ages in two, talking to our modern age without a language barrier between. Here is not a translation of the words, but the words themselves of that One...who declared: 'My words shall not pass away. They are spirit and they are life.' Gazing across the years to be, He warned that those who defy His precepts, which are the laws of life, will be ground to powder. What treasures will be found as the very language of Jesus is studied can only be imagined."


The Khabouris Codex was originally found in the library of a small church in Kurdistan whose remaing contents were later seized by Turkish authorities in 1966 and brought to Ankara, Turkey. The Khabouris Codex was later given as a gift to the Yonan Codex Foundation; and, in 1970, the Yonan Codex Foundation published a book entitled, "Enlightenment" which discussed the Codex and brought much of the contents to light.

On June 7, 1965 the Archdeacon and Pastor Sadook De Mar Shimun, B.A.B.D., verified and described the Khabouris codex as follows:

"The Manuscript is written on animal skin, and consists of 254 leaves (folios). They measure about 10" plus x 7". The writing is in black ink, now somewhat brownish, and is in one column of 29 lines to the page. Titles and subscriptions of books are in red ink, as well as the names of the places where they were written. The handwriting is uniform and very skilful, evidently the work of one scribe…The manuscript was written as a whole New Testament of the twenty-two books of the Oriental Canon, which excludes Revelation and four short Epistles (2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude)...

"The significance of the Codex should be based on the following factors, each of which is of supreme importance. It's colophon which ascribes it to the first decade of the 3rd century, makes it the oldest Syriac-Aramaic known to exist. It's complete text offers the scholars a source of information hereto-fore lacking in the Aramaic field…it should be remembered that the Syria-Aramaic Canon and text of the New Testament were already long established before the Christological disputes, which were then smoldering, and finally erupted in the fifth century, first divided the so-called Nestorians and then the Monophysites…Because this Manuscript is our first such whole New Testament, with so early a colophon, it becomes invaluable beyond comparison as a primary source in text criticism. It should be born in mind the authority which its early date commands. "For it was His language as well as that of His disciples and the people to whom He proclaimed His teachings. Aramaic studies thus play a key role in the New Testament problems, many of which are hotly contested problems of understanding, interpretation, translation, transmission, etc. Whatever we can glean from such studies increases the value of the New Testament to us. The significance of the prime source which the Khabouris Codex offers scarcely needs to be pointed out."


In recent years high quality digital photos of the text were made and distributed online for all interested parties. One would have thought that the Khabouris Codex would have brought much excitement to the Christian community, but quite the opposite has happened, and at time of printing most pastors have never heard of the Khabouris Codex, much less could hold an intelligent conversation about it. Perhaps as you study the Aramaic for yourself it will become obvious as to why such an ancient authority has remained unpopular....

All we like sheep have gone astray. The burden of change is not upon ancient and reliable texts to modify and conform to contemporary religious ideals; the burden of change is upon mankind to return to "the faith which was once delivered."

More information can be found at the New York Times, March 25, 1955, published March 26: "US Library Gets an Ancient Bible" by Bess Furman. Also, see these Khabouris Photos.


Authenticity: The following article from the New York Times, March 1955, says: "Scholars had examined the manuscript for the Library of Congress and pronounced it authentic"....

Age: The AENT website says "The Khabouris Manuscript is a copy of a Second Century New Testament, which was written in approximately 165 AD (internally documented as 100 years after the great persecution of the Christians by Nero, in 65 AD). Carbon dating has found this copy of the New Testament to be approximately 1,000 years old. Given its origins, this would make it a copy of the oldest known New Testament manuscript." Resources: 1) Unpublished writings of Abbott Gerrit Crawford, PhD, MSJ, Western-Rite Syrian Orthodox Church in America 2) Fr. Michael Ryce, N.D., D.C.P."

That makes the Khabouris itself from the 9th Century, but it is a copy of the original - meaning the scribe who made the copy, also copied the date information from the original, 2nd Century document.

According to Aramaic scholar and historian Andrew Gabriel Roth, scribes would put a "bookmark" of sorts in the document which identified them (i.e. the scribe) and the date of the work. So what this means, it is important to understand, the Khabouris is a "copy" - not done by an original, trained scribe, so the scribe who was doing the copy, simply copied the original scribe's marks into the Khabouris.

That being said, the Khabouris itself contains the words which were written in the 2nd Century (approximately 164 CE). This makes it contain the oldest known text of the New Testament. Of the oldest Greek manuscripts, the oldest dates from 3rd Century, making the date of the text in the Khabouris, approximately 50-60 years older.

From Andrew Gabriel Roth:

All Aramaic manuscripts have a bookmark that dates them and includes the name of the scribe, where it was done, and the year it was done. Khabouris bookmark says: "Dated to the great persecution" which refers to the first widespread persecution under Nero, in 164 CE. This is not only my opinion; it's the opinion of the experts who are the custodians of the manuscript.

I have spent 15 years showing people proof that the Greek NT is full of readings that are mistranslations from Aramaic originals - i.e., Leper vs. jar maker, the missing generation in Matthew 1 in all Greek copies that is restored by translating correctly one Aramaic word, and so on....