Today we are accustomed to thinking of the Bible as a single entity, i.e. as ‘the Bible’, a well-defined corpus containing a set number of books. In late antiquity and in the Middle Ages, however, the situation was much more fluid. This fluidity showed itself not only in the fact that parts of the Bible would often circulate independently, but also in that Bible texts were often known in vernacular languages both in direct translations, but also in interlinear glosses and poetic paraphrases. It is in this context that the Unified Gospel is to be seen. Unifications of the gospel texts are often called Diatessaron (through the four), and, although this name has not been used for the Persian text presented in this book, it can still be seen as belonging to the Diatessaron tradition.
The Unified Gospel presented here was compiled in Persian by a certain Armenian who calls himself Yahyā Ibn Ayvaz-e Tabrīzī-ye Armanī. The actual time of the compilation cannot be determined from the existing manuscripts. The main manuscript for this edition is kept in the National Library and Archives of Iran. It was finalized on 9 Rajab 1111 A.H. (corresponding to 31 Dec. 1699) by a scribe named Khusraw, son of Bahrām. Other manuscripts, which are introduced in detail in the Persian introduction, have also been taken into account in this edition. In addition to the actual Gospel texts, there are numerous exegetical comments by the compiler, which are of great value for a deeper understanding of how the text was interpreted in former times. The language also shows certain archaic features, both in the vocabulary and the syntax, which indicate that the original work most likely dates to pre-Safavid times.
It is not entirely clear for whom this Unified Gospel in Persian was produced. The compiler finds that the people of his time had turned away from God and instead sought worldly affairs, spending their time reading stories and poems full of deceit and darkness instead of reading the Gospel. The Gospel was not available to them in Persian, a language of which they had better knowledge than the languages into which the Gospels had already been translated. This was the reason why the compiler/translator undertook the work which resulted in the present manuscript, which is particularly valuable due to the large number of comments to the Bible text added by the compiler.
Hassanabadi, Mahmoud, Carina Jahani & Robert Crellin (eds.). 2018. A Unified Gospel in Persian: An old variant of the Gospels along with exegetical comments by Yahyā Ibn Ayvaz-e Tabrīzī-ye Armanī (Studia Iranica Upsaliensia 33). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.