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diatessaron

diatessaron †(mus.) interval of a fourth XIV; medicine of four ingredients XV; harmony of the four Gospels XIX. — late L. diatessarōn, f. Gr. diàtessárōn ‘through, i.e. composed of, four’ (diá DIA-, tessárōn, g. of téssares FOUR).

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diatessaron

diatessaron an arrangement of the four Gospels as one narrative; the word comes via Old French and Latin from Greek dia tessarōn ‘composed of four’.

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Diatessaron

Diatessaron (Gk., ‘through four’). The gospel story compiled into one narrative from the four gospels by Tatian c.150–60 CE.

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Diatessaron

DIATESSARON

An early recension of the Gospel text. The Diatessaron (lit. "out of four [gospels]," as it was known to Greek-speaking Christians; Euangelion da-m ealleē, "the Gospel, the mixed ones," as it was known to the Syrians) is not a synopsis in the modern sense. It is rather a composite within which the threads of the narrative of the four Gospels were dexterously interwoven. It was composed by tatian, a Syrian, shortly after the middle of the 2d century (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.29.6). This most important monument is lost in the original. The loss has created historical and literary problems. Many have argued that its original language was Greek. Analysis of the few extant Greek fragments, however, supports the probability that Tatian wrote it in Syriac. The Diatessaron played an extraordinary role among the Syrian Christians. Of the factors to which its success was due, nationalist fervor must have been a primary one that promoted its immediate spread: it was a Syriac gospel, created by a Syrian. Moreover, it arrived on the scene in Mesopotamia at a time appropriate for its adoption as the Gospel of the Syriac-speaking communities.

It continued to be of central importance down into the 4th century, when St. ephrem the syrian (d. 373) used this text and wrote a commentary on it. In his diocese of Cyrrhus, in the second quarter of the 5th century, Theodoret found more than 200 copies still in use in the churches and had them destroyed (Haeret. fabul. comp., Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161 v. [Paris 185766] 83:372). The fact that no copy in Syriac has survived indicates that drastic measures were employed to achieve this end. Quotations in Syriac patristic literature do survive; in particular, a large part of St. Ephrem's commentary on the Diatessaron, formerly available only in Armenian translation, has recently come to light and has been edited from a unique Syriac manuscript; it includes many textual citations.

The success of the Diatessaron was not merely local; it followed the spread of Christianity throughout the world. The vestiges of its influence from Armenia to Abyssinia and from Persia to the British Isles present us with a grandiose concept of the circulation of this document. Its popularity prompted translation into many languages, and these versions constitute the material for a modern reconstruction of the lost original. From the East we have several Arabic manuscripts and a Persian one at our disposal; from the West, manuscripts in Latin, Italian dialects, medieval German dialects, Dutch, French, and English. That these are in many cases adaptations rather than straight translations makes their evaluation difficult. Yet the reconstruction of the lost Diatessaron is urgently desired by textual critics. Not only does it stand near the beginning of the Syrian textual tradition for the Gospels; it was a factor in the transmission of the Greek text itself.

Bibliography: h. vogels, Beiträge zur Geschichte des Diatessarons im Abendland (Münster 1919). c. peters, Das Diatessaron Tatians (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 123; Rome 1939). a. vÖÖbus, Studies in the History of the Gospel Text in Syriac (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 128; Louvain 1951) 1024; Early Versions of the New Testament (Stockholm 1954) 131. l. leloir, ed., Le Témoignage d'Éphrem sur le Diatessaron (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum orientalium 227; Louvain 1962); ed. and tr., Saint Éphrem, Commentaire de l'Évangile Concordant: Texte syriaque (MS Chester Beatty 709; Dublin 1963).

[a. vÖÖbus]

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