- In the two surviving manuscripts of the Old Syriac Gospels the Holy Spirit is invariably treated as feminine. This version, which may go back to the early third century, was in due course revised and brought into closer line with the Greek text of the Gospels; the outcome of this revision (which was probably a long drawn out process) was the Peshitta, which remains the offical biblical version of the Syriac Churches.
In the Peshitta, which must have been first circulated in the early decades of the fifth century, we find a number of places where the grammatical gender of ruha has been altered from the feminine to masculine, where it refers to the Hole Spirit; curiously however, this revison is far from consistent, and in many passages the feminine was left unchanged. It is, in fact, only in later revisions, by Polycarp, undertaken at the behest of Philoxenos, Syrian Orthodox metropolitan of Mabbug at the beginning of the sixth century, and Thomas of Harkel, working in a monastery just outside Alexandria just over a century later, that we find the feminine consistently altered to masculine.
Polycarp's revison of the Syriac New Testament (better known as the Philoxenian) probably only survives in a few books (2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude and Revelation), apart from quotations, whereas Thomas's work, known as the Harklean version, is well known and was widely used in Syrian Orthodox tradition.
We can observe the same tendency at work in the manscript tradition of the Syriac Old Testament as well. No psalm receives more frequent liturgical use than Psalm 51, ' Have mercy on me, O God, according to your grace'. In the course of the psalm the phrase 'take not your Holy Spirit from me' occurs, and in several of the oldest manuscripts of the Syriac Psalms we find what must be the original reading, ruhak qaddishta, with the adjective 'Holy' grammatically feminine; in the famous sixth or seventh-century manuscript of the complete Syriac Old Testament preserved in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, however, we already encounter the alteration to ruhak qaddisha, with the feminine adjective changed to masculine.
In the vast majority of later manuscripts and printed editions it is the masculine that is found here - even though in the very next verse the feminine is preserved in ruha mshabbahta, 'your glorious Spirit'!