Arabic translations of the Bible must have been made at a very early date, for Christianity and Judaism had penetrated far into Arabia by the 6th century of our era, but the oldest of which a copy has come down to our time is that of Sasdish the Gaon (942 AD). This version was made directly from the Massoretic Text and is said to have covered the whole of the Old Testament, but much of it is no longer extant. It is characterized by an avoidance of anthropomorphisms (e.g. Genesis 6:2, "sons of nobles" and "daughters of common people") and by giving modern equivalents, e.g. Turks, Franks, Chinese, for the Hebrew names. Saadiah's Pentateuch was first printed at Constantinople in 1546 and was incorporated into the Paris (1629-45) and London (1657) Polyglots.
When, after the rise of Islam, Arabic became the common language of Syria, Egypt and North Africa, translations were made from the Septuagint, from the Peshitta and from Coptic. In the Polyglots the translation of Joshua is, like the Pentateuch, made from the Massoretic Text, as also portions of Kings and Nehemiah, with interpolations from the Peshitta. Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings (in parts), 1 and 2 Chronicles (?), Nehemiah (in parts) and Job have been translated into Arabic from Syriac. The remaining books (Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) are from the Septuagint, and that according to Codex Alexandrinus. In the New Testament the Gospels have been translated from the Vulgate, and the remaining books, although from the Greek, are late. A revised edition of the versions in Walton's Polyglot was published by J. D. Carlyle, professor of Arabic in Cambridge, and printed at Newcastle by Sarah Hodgson in 1811. A very fine translation of the entire Bible in classical Arabic has been issued by the Jesuit Fathers in Beirut, and a simpler version in Arabic which can be understood by the common people, educated and uneducated alike, was made by the late Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck of the Syrian Protestant College and published by the American Press in Beirut. Dr. Van Dyck had the benefit of the help and advice of the Sheikh Nacif al-Yaziji.
A large number of manuscripts of the Bible in Arabic, in whole or in part, are to be found in the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale and the great libraries of the Continent, but none of them are of sufficient age to make them of value for the criticism of the text.
Thomas Hunter Weir
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