I have not posted here in a long time, but I have been thinking through the whole matter of dating sources with an eye on the Syriac (P)eshitta in particular. Debate has arisen regarding the date of this Version, some claiming the Version was completed circum 200 AD, while others claim the fourth century AD. Some scholars will only go as far as the evidence, as if the version was composed at or near the time it was cited by church fathers. How does one determine?
The external and internal evidence must be considered and evaluated, but the evaluation of both of these comes with challenges. Let’s consider the external evidence first. Citations contained in the church fathers are usually a great means for determining the date of a Bible Version. However, in the case of P, our earliest fathers, (Eph)ream and (Aph)rahat, flourished in the fourth century, which is considerably later than 200. There are, in my opinion, a few short citations of Qoheleth in Eph and one allusion to Eccl. 12:7 in Aph as far as I have been able to determine. Some may dispute this evidence, saying that these short citations do not prove that Eph used a written version, P, so they will require some explanation.
My method included comparing the patristic citations with P and the (Sy)ro-(h)exapla, a Syriac version of the LXX, which was translated in 616, and finally the LXX itself, which predates these other versions. We need to ask two questions, did Eph use P or an ad hoc translation of the LXX or possibly MT? And, if he did use P, does this evidence help determine a date earlier than 350?
Eph = P (Eccl. 1:2 et al) ܗܒܠ ܗ̈ܒܠܝܢ “vanity of vanities.” This phrase is followed by, “as it is written”. Syh has ܣܪܝܩܘܬܐ ܕܣܪ̈ܝܩܘܬܐ which is synonymous with P. The phrase “as it is written”, while it certainly indicates Eph considers the work to be canonical and authoritative, may indicate that Ephraem used a written source.
Eph = P (Eccl. 1:14) ܗܒܠܐ ܘܛܘܪܦܐ ܕܪܘܚܗ “vanity and striving of his spirit,” though P has “vanity and striving of spirit”. Syh has ܘܨܒܝܢܐ ܕܪܘܚܐ ܣܪܝܩܘܬܐ, which provides two contrasts with P. The first is a synonym for “vanity”, while second has a different meaning altogether. P’s lexeme ܛܘܪܦܐ means “striving”, “weariness”, “exhaustion”, and “vexation”, but Syh’s ܨܒܝܢܐ means “favor”, “regard”, “good will”, “will”, and “pleasure”. The latter is a good translation of the LXX’s προαίρεσις, “choosing”, since both terms belong to the semantic domain of the volition.
Eph = P (Eccl. 10:18): ܒܫܦܠܘܬ ܐ̈ܝܕܝܐ ܢܕܠܦ ܒܝܬܐ “In laziness of hands the house drips”. Syh has ܘܒܒܛܠܢܐ ܕܐܝ̈ܕܝܐ̣ ܢܕܠ̣ܦ ܒܝܬܐ, which means “By/in laziness of hands the house drips.” Syh uses a synonym for “laziness”, which contrasts with P.
Eph = P (Eccl. 2:14): ܚܟܝܡܐ ܥܝܢܗ (ܥܝܢ̈ܘܗܝ) ܒܪܝܫܗ “The wise, his eye is in his head.” P has the plural “eyes,” but it seems this quote is from Eccl. Syh has ܚܟܝܡܐ ܥܝ̈ܢܐ ܕܝܠܗ̣ ܒܪܝܫܐ ܕܝܠܗ, which differs from P only with respect to the genitive construction.
In all four citations, Eph agrees more closely with P than with Syh and LXX. In 1:14, Eph and P have a very different reading than LXX and Syh, which indicates that Eph is not using the LXX tradition in this instance. Did Eph have access to the MT? That he did should remain an open possibility, but this has not been seriously suggested. Although there is a paucity of evidence, it seems that Eph did indeed have access to P and he used this version instead of the LXX.
What does all of this mean for our study of the Peshitta of Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth? Eph had P by 350 AD, which means P may be dated to 300 AD at latest. There is still internal evidence to consider, which would push this date back further, but the external evidence provides a threshold for the dating of P to 300 AD.