Researcher: Hikmat Kachouh
Research Title/Topic:

Arabic Gospels

(A Classification, Description, and Textual Examination of the Arabic Gospel MSS of a Continuous Text)

Research Level PhD.

University of Birmingham









Final Stages


As Christianity expanded across the world, its (Greek) texts were soon translated into an increasing number of languages; Latin, Coptic (a group of Egyptian dialects), Syriac, Armenian, Georgian etc. This practice is perhaps indicative of the importance to which the Church attached for producing copies of its writings which were understandable and accessible to its congregations. Studying these different translations can help us to understand the way in which the Biblical texts developed. It can tell us from which parent text (language and version) a copied text was translated. The style of the translation (which particular words are selected) can also indicate how the texts were received and understood.

 Hikmat Kachouh is researching a group of texts, which have so far received surprisingly little attention – the Arabic Gospels. His aim is to classify over 210 Arabic manuscripts which contain continuous Gospel texts (excluding Lectionaries, Gospel texts with commentaries etc.). The dates of these documents range from the 8th to the 19th Centuries, incorporating 20 library collections from nine different countries. The classification will include a codicologic (physical) description, together with a transcription, with critical apparatus, of a test-passage from each manuscript. Special attention, with an in-depth linguistic and textual study, is being focussed on the earliest of the Arabic manuscripts (8th/9th Centuries).   

 Unlike printed documents, all hand-copied manuscripts are different. However, as with people, similarities in characteristics can begin to emerge which suggest a type of family relationship. Texts can therefore be classified according to families. A textual analysis of the Arabic Gospels has enabled Hikmat to group the manuscripts into 15 provisional families. This will then allow him to identify each manuscript’s possible source document (Vorlage) and to study the relationships between the various text families.     

 An exciting aspect of Hikmat’s research is that we are beginning to get a clearer understanding of the type of texts circulating in this region at this time. Hikmat has detected that some of the manuscripts translated from Greek show an agreement (or reflect the textual characteristics) with the Western and Alexandrian text-types. A text-type is a group of families. The Western text-type is generally associated with Italy, Gaul and North Africa, while the Alexandrian a text-type often highly regarded for its careful and scholarly transmission, so called because at one time it was thought to have derived from Alexandria. Moreover, those translated from Syriac, follow closely the Peshitta version. The Peshitta was the authorised text of the Syrian Church which dated from around the late 4th to early 5th Centuries. It omitted 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation, which were judged by the Syrian Church as not being canonical. One or two manuscripts, however, show occasional agreement with the Old Syriac versions (Sinaiticus and Curetonian).    

 What is also exciting about Hikmat’s work is the way the texts are related to their historical context. They can begin to show us how the Christians responded to the spread of Islam at this time. Furthermore, Hikmat suggests that by looking at the words/phrases selected by the Arabic scribes in order to translate ‘theologically loaded’ terminology might also benefit 21st Century Arabic translations, which, in turn, could enhance the contemporary Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Meet the Researcher

Before coming to Birmingham , Hikmat was a faculty member, teaching New Testament, at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut Lebanon. 

Hikmat has expressed to us that he would be delighted to talk about any aspect of his research and answer your questions on it. We can pass your contact details on to him through this site.