An Introduction to (History of) the Khabouris Manuscript
Reverend Deaconess Nancy Witt, PT, MSW, MSJ
With Abbott Gerrit Crawford, PhD, MSJ Western-Rite Syrian Orthodox Church in America
Enlightenment From The Aramaic – currently published work from the Khabouris
Click to read the UPDATED INTRODUCTION TO ENLIGHTENMENT
The Khabouris (also spelled Khaburis) Codex is a copy of the oldest known Eastern Canon of the New Testament in its native, and the original language of the Scriptures, Aramaic. The physical manuscript has been carbon-dated at approximately 1000 AD plus or minus 50 years. The colophon bears the seal and signature of the Bishop at the Church at Nineveh, then capital of the Assyrian Empire located today in the present-day Iraqi city of Mosul. According to colophon it is a copy of a text from approximately 164 AD (internally documented as 100 years after the great persecution of the Christians by Nero, in 65AD). 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. Of particular interest, is the fact that the Khabouris is written entirely in Aramaic, the tongue of Y’Shua, otherwise popularly known as Jesus, the Nazarite.
The original second century manuscript, as well as the Khabouris, were scribed in the ancient Estrangelo script. The script which was developed at the School of Edessa (100AD) in order to record the Teachings of Y’Shua. 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, as the Word spread out from its origin in time and place. To preserve accuracy in comprehension of the message, the writings needed to clearly represent the pronunciation of the vowels in each word. So, 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 core to the Aramaic understandings of the mind. With the translation of this manuscript using these re-discovered understandings, entire concepts that seemed, at times, baffling, become crystal clear. The message in Y’Shua’s Teachings becomes even more logical, and ever more centered around the concepts of Love and Forgiveness.
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 Y’Shua’s Teachings. Bibles were passed from generation to generation. The Khabouris is one such New Testament. “The Manuscript was written as a whole New Testament of the twenty-two books of the Oriental Canon, which excludes Revelations and four short Epistles (II Peter, II and III John, and Jude).”1 Its actual history is uncertain.
In the early 1960’s two Americans, Drs. Norman Malik Yonan and Dan MacDougald, Jr., set out to locate an intact Aramaic New Testament. Their hope was to uncover the meaning behind Y’Shua’s Aramaic words, by which he was able to “drive out demons” and cure mental illness. Because the Yonan (Family) Codex (c. 400-700 CE) was amended and incomplete, they were interested to see if finding a more intact version of the New Testament could be enlightening. Their journey led them into Mesopotamia, and eventually to a monastery on the River Khabur, a tributary of the River Euphrates, in the mountainous region of northern Syria, and southern Turkey, a region, populated to this day, with Aramaic-speaking Christians. It was here, at this monastery on the River Khabur, that the Khabouris Codex had been treasured for centuries. At the monastery, they spent time with a centenarian monk, who was able to help them to understand some of the meanings.
As it turned out, they ended up actually purchasing the manuscript and bringing it 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. This work eventually led to some amazing discoveries, due to the newly revealed concepts from the original Aramaic. The Teachings of Y’Shua came fully alive, with new meaning and importance. As His Teachings became clearer, Dr. Dan MacDougald, Jr., an attorney in Georgia, developed a course of study, Emotional Maturity Instruction, based on the elemental Teachings of Y’Shua found in Aramaic. Over a period of years, this course proved to make 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 Dr. MacDougald and dr. michael ryce. This course continues to be taught, annually, by dr. 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 Khabouris 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.
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. 3) Enlightenment, Khabouris Manuscript, The Yonan Codex Foundation, Inc. Atlanta, GA 1993