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Tjitze Baarda. Essays on the Diatessaron. Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology, no. 11. Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1994. ISBN: 90-390-0113-8. Pp. 314. HFl. 79.90; US $46.50.

1. For more than three decades, Prof. Baarda has immersed himself in what Arthur Vööbus called "one of the most difficult topics in all the field of New Testament textual criticism"--namely, Tatian's Diatessaron. A Dutchman by birth, Baarda took a doctorate in Semitic languages at the Free University of Amsterdam, where he studied under R. Schippers. After some years teaching there, he moved to Utrecht where he became the successor of W.C. van Unnik. More recently he returned to the Free University, where he is Dean of Theology and Professor of New Testament. Now nearing retirement, he has published more than thirty articles on the Diatessaron. A selection of these was collected and published on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary of teaching at the Free University. It appeared in 1983 and was titled Early Transmission of the Words of Jesus: Thomas, Tatian and the Text of the New Testament. The volume under review collects fifteen additional articles, fourteen of which were published between 1986 and 1993. A lecture delivered at the 1992 Codex Bezae conference held in Montpellier, France, appears here in print for the first time. One of the fourteen previously published pieces was formerly available only in the original Dutch; it now is offered in English. Before considering the details of three of the articles and remarking on some of the noteworthy aspects of Baarda's work, it will be helpful simply to list the titles of the fifteen articles:

  1. "The Diatessaron of Tatian and Its Influence on the Vernacular Versions: The Case of John 19:30"
  2. "Diafwni/a-Sumfwni/a: Factors in the Harmonization of the Gospels, Especially in the Diatessaron of Tatian"
  3. "70Anoi/caj-a)naptu/caj: The Text of Luke 4:17 in the Diatessaron"
  4. "The Flying Jesus: Luke 4:29-30 in the Syriac Diatessaron"
  5. "Jesus and Mary (John 20:16f.) in the Second Epistle on Virginity Ascribed to Clement"
  6. "To the Roots of the Syriac Diatessaron Tradition (TA 25:1-3)"
  7. "The Sabbath in the Parable of the Shepherd (Evang. Verit. 32:18-34)"
  8. "'If You Do Not Sabbatize the Sabbath ...': The Sabbath as God or World in Gnostic Understanding (Ev. Thom., Log. 27)"
  9. "'A Staff Only, Not a Stick': Disharmony of the Gospels and the Harmony of Tatian (Mt 10:9f parr.)"
  10. "'He Holds the Fan in His Hand ...' (Mt 3:12, Lk 3:17) and Philoxenus: Or, How to Reconstruct the Original Diatessaron Text of the Saying of John the Baptist?"
  11. "Philoxenus and the Parable of the Fisherman: Concerning the Diatessaron Text of Matthew 13:47-50"
  12. "'Chose' or 'Collected': Concerning an Aramaism in Logion 8 of the Gospel of Thomas and the Question of Independence"
  13. "The Parable of the Fisherman in the Heliand: The Old Saxon Version of Matthew 13:47-50"
  14. "Clement of Alexandria and the Parable of the Fisherman: Matthew 13:47f. or Independent Tradition?"
  15. "John 1:5 in the Oration and Diatessaron of Tatian: Concerning the Reading of katalamba&nei"

Clearly these are not articles written for the beginner; indeed, they presuppose a command of half a dozen languages--including Coptic, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, Persian, Aramaic, and Old Saxon--in addition to the usual Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, as well as the modern scholarly languages. There is no disputing it: a Continental education is not without its advantages.

2. Baarda is a particularist; that is, he searches out individual details, researches them exhaustively, marshals all of the relevant secondary literature, and then sketches the possibilities. And he is one scholar who, after having exhausted himself (and sometimes the reader) with notoriously thorough and even-handed analyses, is not afraid to say that, at the end of the day, he does not have an answer. There are no great overarching theories at work here: Baarda is far too well read, knows too many exceptions, to pawn off simple--though perhaps satisfying--answers. Rather, what one observes at work in these articles is the mind of one of the world's greatest textual scholars and philologists at work. No one can read these studies and not be humbled, enlightened, and awed. Indeed, any textual critic who thinks he or she "knows" what is going on should read these studies, for the sources at Baarda's command, both primary and secondary, make our best work pale in comparison. For some examples, let me summarize three of the articles.

3. One of the most accessible (and entertaining) of the articles is "The Flying Jesus." Baarda, whose dissertation was a two-volume study of the text of the Gospel of John in Aphrahat, noticed that Aphrahat (Dem. II.17; Aphrahat died about 350), when discussing the confrontation at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), states that "He showed the power of his majesty when He was cast down from the height into the depth and was not hurt" (p. 59, italics mine). According to the canonical account, however, despite the fact that the crowd has taken him to a precipice, intending to "cast him down," Jesus is not thrown from the hill, but mysteriously escapes by "passing through the midst" of the crowd (Luke 4:29-30).

4. The causal reader is inclined to dismiss Aphrahat's account as his own overly dramatic invention. But Baarda knows both the ancient and modern sources too well to fall into this trap. In 1881 Theodor Zahn had already noted the reading, when he set about reconstructing the text of the Diatessaron. Basing himself on the Armenian version of Ephrem's Commentary on the Diatessaron, Zahn determined that a similar reading probably stood in Tatian's second century harmony. Baarda then turns to Ephrem's Commentary and presents evidence from both the Armenian version and the Syriac text (discovered only in 1957 and published in 1963). In no fewer than nine instances in the Commentary Ephrem either directly states or obliges one to infer that Jesus was, indeed, cast from the precipice by the mob and "flew," unhurt, down to Capernaum. Turning then to Ephrem's Syriac hymns and metrical sermons, Baarda unearths another seven instances of the same. One theme in much of Baarda's work is his preference for reconstructing each family of the Diatessaron (Eastern and Western) separately. He does so here, offering a reconstruction of the Syriac Diatessaron's text as:

they stood up and they led Him out [from] the town and brought Him by the side of the hill, [on which their town was built,] in order to cast Him down. [When?] they cast Him down from the height into the depth [and?] He did not fall and was not hurt/harmed.... through their midst He passed [and?] He flew [in the air?] and He descended [from above] to Kapharnaum [pp. 79-80, italics omitted].
Suddenly, the odd and abrupt kathlqen of Luke 4:31 takes on a whole new meaning.

5. But this is not all, for there is also a Western Diatessaronic tradition. Here Baarda continues to unearth new evidence for the reading: among other sources, it occurs in the "Rijmbijbel" of Jakob van Maerlant (in Middle Dutch, composed in 1271), which is dependent upon Peter Comestor's "Historia Scholastica," which also has the reading and is a Diatesaronic witness. Most remarkably, Augustine preserves part of the tradition in his Contra Faustum 26.2: He quotes the Manichaean Faustus in order to refute him and in so doing reproduces the "throwing" of Jesus from the hill. Augustine does not comment on the varia lectio. Baarda notes,

The agreement between Faustus and the Syriac texts suggests that the Manichaean was acquainted with the Diatessaron or at least with traditions that took their origin in this harmony. Remarkably enough, Augustin [sic] in his refutation does not mention the fact that Faustus used an argument for which [there] was no support in the canonical gospels. We cannot, therefore, exclude the possibility that Augustin knew this very tradition from his Manichaean past [p. 78].
(Your reviewer notes that other parallels between Augustine and the Diatessaron are known; they were first detected by Louis Leloir, and others have been adduced by Gilles Quispel [most recently in VC 47 (1993), 374-378], and now by Baarda.)

6. The Diatessaron was composed c. 172, on the basis of the form in which the gospels then circulated. It evidences unique parallels with the text found in Justin Martyr's gospel citations and with variant readings in other of the very earliest gospel citations. Indeed, if Baarda has successfully reconstructed the Diatessaron's text in this passage (and any unbiased reader who examines his evidence will assent), then he has stipulated the oldest recoverable version of this passage. No other documents prior to 172 preserve it.

7. Briefly, to the other two articles. First, in "Diafwni/a-Sumfwni/a: Factors in the Harmonization of the Gospels, Especially in the Diatessaron of Tatian," Baarda brings his knowledge of antiquity and ancient Christianity to bear on the question of the stimuli which led to harmonization, especially in the second century. He notes three factors, two of which are general, and one of which is specific to Tatian. The first of the general factors was the criticism of Christianity by pagan critics, such as Celsus (fl. 180), who mocked the new religion by pointing out the inconsistencies among the gospels. One possible response was to claim only one gospel was authoritative, as Marcion had done. Another response, adopted by Tatian and others, was to reconcile the divergent accounts by conflating them into a single account.

8. The second general stimulus was the "scholarly historical method" of the period (N.B.: quotation marks in the rest of this paragraph are for conceptual clarity and are those of the reviewer; they do not mark extracts from Baarda's text), which proceeded much as we do today: when confronted with inconsistent or contradictory information, that which is judged most reliable is adopted as the "framework," and the other details, where plausible, are "fitted in" around this "Leithistorie." The creators of harmonies saw themselves as doing just what secular historians did: the early gospels were "dispatches from the field" which might well be garbled or confused. The harmonist's task, like that of a general, was to collate the reports, skillfully eliminating the erroneous, restoring the correct sense of garbled reports, and recognizing (and giving greatest weight to) the most reliable reports. Baarda cites examples of secular historians in antiquity who pursued the same goals with identical methods (e.g., Josephus).

9. The third motive, unique to Tatian, was his philosophical understanding of "truth" as unitary. He proclaimed himself to be "the herald of truth" and mocked the Greeks (in his Oratio ad graecos) for their contradictory teachings and schools; this he contrasted with the "unity" of Christian "truth"--of course, this unity was a fiction, for late second-century Christianity was already a fractured, squabbling mess of Marcionites, gnostics of all stripes (Valentinians, etc.), Jacobite Christians (= Judaic Christians), Pauline Christians, Montanists, etc.; nevertheless, it was a good rhetorical ploy on Tatian's part. Baarda therefore concludes that Tatian was driven by a combination of these motives (he gives greatest weight to the last) to create the greatest gospel harmony of all time, the Diatessaron.

10. The last article we will consider is "'A Staff Only, Not a Stick': Disharmony of the Gospels and the Harmony of Tatian (Mt 10:9f parr.)." This article analyzes Tatian's technique of harmonization and highlights one of the most striking contradictions uttered by Jesus. In Matthew 10:10 and Luke 9:3, Jesus instructs his disciples not to take a rabdoj as they sally forth to preach. But in Mark 6:8, he instructs exactly the opposite: they are to take a rabdoj--indeed, nothing but a rabdoj. Commentators have puzzled over these parallel passages and made all sorts of suggestions to resolve the direct contradiction which, to the best knowledge of your reviewer, is not resolved in any Greek manuscript. Tatian's solution (first noted by Theodor Zahn in 1881) was to use two synonyms in Syriac. According to the Syriac Diatessaron (as found in Ephrem's "Commentary," the Arabic Harmony, Syrus Sinaiticus, and the Adysh MS [Georgian]), Jesus told his disciples to take a )r+wx ("staff"), but not a )+b$ ("stick"). What is striking is that this solution could have been introduced into the contradictory Greek text as well (rabdoj::bakthria), but no Greek manuscript does so. Baarda supplements the meager evidence of Zahn (who should not be criticized: most of the Diatessaronic witnesses were unknown a century ago) and uses the example to explore Tatian's sophisticated techniques of harmonization.

11. As the present review has made clear, this volume is not bedtime reading, for it places great demands upon the reader. It should surprise no one that many decades ago, upon his induction, Baarda was one of the youngest men ever to take a seat in the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. Similarly, it should surprise no one that his work stands as a model of classical Dutch scholarship: philologically oriented (as it has been since the time of Heinsius, Scaliger, Cassander, and Grotius), encyclopedic in its learning, attentive to minute details (recall that "Le Dieu est dans les detailes"), modest in its conclusions, and limpid in its logic. This is scholarship at the very highest level, and anyone who comes in contact with it will learn from it. Advanced scholars should use it as a model, while the aspirant can strive toward the lofty mark set by the man Sebastian Brock once called "the light from the East" (Holland is, after all, east of Oxford).

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1996.

William L. Petersen
Department of Religious Studies,  Pennsylvania State University