Name borrowed from classic Greek
music theory as title for an influential harmony
of the four canonical gospels composed before 173 CE by Tatian,
probably at Rome. Tatian's work may have simply been an expanded revision of
an earlier harmony of the three synoptic gospels made by his teacher, Justin
Despite the Diatesseron's
widespread influence, there is no surviving complete ms.
But much of it can be reconstructed from early commentaries & other
harmonies in many ancient languages (other than Greek). The Diatesseron
influenced early translations of the four gospels into Syriac, Latin,
Armenian, Georgian, & Old German. And its harmonized narrative structure
became a model for later gospel harmonies from Holland to Persia. But it was
eventually suppressed by Greek Orthodox & Roman Catholic church
authorities, because its author became the leader of a heretical sect.
The language in
which the Diatesseron was originally composed is debatable. A single Greek
fragment was found at Dura Europos in eastern Syria, which was
destroyed in 257 CE.
Stylistic analysis, however, shows the Diatesseron
preferred Syriac grammatical constructions in paraphrasing the Greek gospel
In spite of the Diatesseron's
tendency to harmonize passages from the four canonical gospels (and perhaps
the gospel of Thomas), its readings are taken seriously by modern textual
critics. For the copies
of the gospels that Tatian used to create his work were obviously written before
the mid- 2nd c. CE.
Thus, the Diatesseron is often a witness to the
very earliest wording of a particular text.
[For details see
W. L. Peterson's chapter on "Tatian's Diatesseron" in Helmut
Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History & Development
(London /Philadelphia: SCM Press/Trinity Press International, 1990), pp.