2004-08-04 / Features

Khaburis Codex Gives

New Insights Into Bible
Khaburis Codex Gives New Insights Into Bible


The Khaburis Codex is among the most highly regarded of the artifacts at the Queensborough Community College Art Gallery. It will be on view when the Gallery reopens in October.The Khaburis Codex is among the most highly regarded of the artifacts at the Queensborough Community College Art Gallery. It will be on view when the Gallery reopens in October.

Among the treasures on view by the public when the renovated QCC Art Gallery reopens in October will be the Khaburis Codex. The Khaburis Manuscript, according to Reverend Deaconess Nancy Witt, PT, MSW, MSJ and Abbott Gerrit Crawford, PhD, MSJ of the Western-Rite Syrian Orthodox Church in America, 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. It was scribed on lamb parchment and hand bound between olive wood covers adorned with gold clasps, hinges and corner-brackets. The scribe would have been in ancient Nineveh (present-day Mosul, Iraq), according to the Colophon signed by a bishop of the Church at Nineveh. In the Colophon, the bishop certified (with his inverted signature and seal) that the Khaburis was a faithful copy of the second century original. Of particular interest, is the fact that the Khaburis is written entirely in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.

The original second century manuscript, as well as the Khaburis, were scribed in the ancient Estrangelo script, which was developed at the School of Edessa (100 AD) in order to record Jesus’ teachings. The word, Estrangelo, actually means "to write the Revealed Message." Prior to this script, as in the older Syriac and Hebrew writings, ancient Aramaic used only consonants as a form of shorthand. This became a challenge for the early Christians. To preserve accuracy in comprehension of the message, the writings needed to clearly represent the pronunciation of the vowels in each word. In Estrangelo, vowel points were added to clarify the pronunciations, and meanings. It appears that Estrangelo was the first such Semitic writing to include these vowel points. Translations of the New Testament into Greek, then Latin, then Middle English, and then Modern English progressively lost more and more of the nuances of the Aramaic. Until this past century, those Western languages/cultures could not express certain concepts fundamental to the Aramaic understandings of the mind. With the translation of this manuscript using these rediscovered understandings, entire concepts that at times seemed baffling, become clear.

Within Eastern Christianity, the spiritual tradition of the "Targums" (similar to the Jewish tradition of Midrash) meant that people would come together to study the Scriptures and learn from discussion. Owning a copy of the New Testament was dependent on a family being able to hire a scribe to make a copy. In Western culture, for many centuries, access to the Bible was limited to clergy, and until the advent of the printing press, common Westerners did not have the same first-hand access as the Eastern peoples did to Jesus’ teachings. Bibles were passed from generation to generation. The Khaburis is one such New Testament. The Manuscript was written as a whole New Testament of the 22 books of the Oriental Canon, which excludes Revelations and four short Epistles (II Peter, II and III John, and Jude).

The Khaburis Codex was purchased from the library of an ancient Kurdish monastery atop one of the mountains of Kurdistan, near the River Habbor, or in Aramaic, Khabur, hence the name "Khaburis". Ancient Aramaic was the language of this monastery, visited by Dr. Norman Yonan and Dr. Dan MacDougald, Jr. in 1966 for enlightenment into some of the ancient Aramaic word-meanings that had been exceptionally difficult to render. Yonan was given a multi-day audience with the abbot, who was well over 100 years old and so feeble that he was carried everywhere on a pallet. Yonan recalled, "He looked like a lump of dried clay, from whence the smile and eyes of an angel blazed forth."

Not only was Yonan given critical insights into the meaning of the problematic words by the venerable abbot, he was shown the Khaburis Codex. After much discussion and prayer, the monks consented to sell the Codex for $25,000 (equal to $250,000 in today’s money), so as "to bring the Truth to the West". Tragically, the remaining contents of this library were seized soon afterwards by Turkish authorities and were hoarded in Ankara. The Istanbul Gazette verified this on June 11, 1966, complete with pictures of the monastery and some of the documents, then in hand. The whereabouts and health of the monks, as well as, the condition of the library contents, are unknown.

Yonan and MacDougald brought the manuscript back to America, where, for some years, a team of Aramaic-speaking scholars from the Yonan Codex Foundation labored to decipher and translate from the ancient script. MacDougald, an attorney in Georgia, developed a course of study, Emotional Maturity Instruction, based on the elemental teachings of Jesus found in Aramaic. Over a period of years, this course was seen as making significant improvements in the mental health of those who took it, including many in the penal and mental health systems. An updated version of this course, now called Laws of Living, was co-authored by MacDougald and Dr. Michael Ryce. This course continues to be taught, annually, by Ryce at Heartland, his teaching center in the Ozark Mountains of Southern Missouri.

The work of the original Yonan Codex Foundation ended prior to the completion of translation. Before Dan MacDougald passed away, he left the Khaburis in the stewardship of the Western-Rite Syrian Orthodox Church, in order that the validation, documentation, conservation, translation, publication and exhibition could be completed. Work continues on these processes, as well as development of several related books.


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