This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages)(Learn how and when to remove this template message)
The New Testament in Aramaic languages exists in a number of versions:
- the Vetus Syra (Old Syriac), a translation from Greek into early Classical Syriac, containing most—but not all—of the text of the 4 Gospels, and represented in the Curetonian Gospels and the Sinaitic Palimpsest
- the Christian Palestinian Aramaic Lectionary fragments represented in such manuscripts as Codex Climaci Rescriptus, Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus, and later lectionary codices (Vatican sir. 19 [A]; St Catherine’s Monastery B, C, D)
- the Classical Syriac Peshitta, a rendering in Aramaic of the Hebrew (and some Aramaic, e.g. in Daniel and Ezra) Old Testament, plus the New Testament purportedly in its original Aramaic, and still the standard in most Syriac churches
- the Harklean, a strictly literal translation by Thomas of Harqel into Classical Syriac from Greek
- the Assyrian Modern Version, a new translation into Assyrian Neo-Aramaic from the Greek published in 1997 and mainly in use among Protestants
- and a number of other scattered versions in various dialects
The official Assyrian Church of the East (known by some as the Nestorian Church) does not recognise the new "Assyrian Modern" edition, and traditionally considers the New Testament of the Peshitta to be the original New Testament, and Aramaic to be its original language. This view was popularised in the West by the Assyrian Church of the East scholar George Lamsa, but is not supported by the majority of scholars, either of the Peshitta or the Greek New Testament.
Some have dissented from the popular view. Wrote James Holding in 1884, "But He [Christ], their True Shepherd, addressed them [His apostles] in their own common speech, and where His very words have come down to us, they need no translation in the Peshito. Let the reader just dismiss his Greek, until its claim to be the first apostolic Testament can be based on firmer ground than any which we can find put forward by its boldest supporters. One-sided learning they may exhibit, but, to us, it appears devoted to trying to prop up a shaky theory." In connection with the gospel of John, Holding remarks, "It may be noticed that we write Syriac readings, and not renderings; and this we do advisedly, for we wish to avoid words which would lead the reader to think that we admit that his Syriac is only a version from Greek. We see proof ever augmenting that the Peshito is no translation, but an original production of the first writers, slightly revised perhaps, and enriched by, here and there, a note from the pen of inspired revisers, but in its main bulk, the work of those holy men whom Jesus told the Jews, in His last public discourse, would yet appear and make a final appeal to the nation before its overthrow."
In 1855, James Murdock quoted Yale College President Ezra Stiles as saying in his Inaugural Oration, "Kindred with this, [the Hebrew,] or rather a bath-kol, and daughter-voice, is the Syriac, in which the greater part of the New Testament (I believe) was originally written, and not merely translated, in the Apostolic age. ... The Syriac Testament, therefore, is of high authority; nay, with me, of the same authority as the Greek." Murdock goes on to observe that, "Many have believed that Matthew's Gospel and the Epistle to the Hebrews, if not also some other books, were originally written in Hebrew or Jewish Aramaean," and adds, "J.A. Bolten (in his German Translation of the Epistles, with Notes, Altona, 1800, 2 vols. 8vo.) maintains that nearly all the Epistles must have been first composed by the Apostles in Aramaean, their native tongue, and then committed by them to some of their Grecizing companions, (e.g. Titus, Timothy, Tertius, Sosthenes, &c.,) by whom they were translated into Greek before their publication. And Bertholdt (Einleitung, § 46, vol. i. p. 148–154) accedes to, and defends, this opinion. And he thinks that, after due time for reflection, the learned world will generally come into it."
The traditional New Testament of the Peshitta has 22 books, lacking the Second Epistle of John, the Third Epistle of John, the Second Epistle of Peter, the Epistle of Jude and the Book of Revelation, which are books of the Antilegomena. Closure of the Church of the East's New Testament Canon occurred before the 'Western Five' books could be incorporated. Its Gospels text also lacks the verses known as Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) and Luke 22:17–18, but does have the 'long ending of Mark.' (Interestingly, the Arabic Diatessaron similarly lacks the account of the woman caught in adultery, but similarly contains—along with a Latin Diatessaron textual stream—the 'long ending of Mark.') These missing books are present in the Western Peshitto, and were reconstructed by the Syriacist John Gwynn in 1893 and 1897 from alternative manuscripts, and included them in the United Bible Societies edition of 1905. The 1997 modern Aramaic New Testament has all 27 books. The Peshitta lacks an erroneous mention of 'Jeremiah' in Matthew 27:9, and lacks Greek mss.'s embarrassment of having Jesus liable to Gehenna fire (compare Mt 5:22 and Mt 23:17 in the Greek). The Peshitta's Matthew rendition of 'the Lord's prayer' has extensive rhyming, the Peshitta's Lucan rendition has two fewer instances of rhyming, while there does not appear to be rhyming in Greek and Hebrew versions of the prayer. The Peshitta has 'MrYa' which almost always stands for 'Master YHWH,' while the Greek mss. have simply 'kurios' i.e. lord, and nothing representing 'YHWH.' At several locations, the Peshitta speaks of pagans/heathens, while the Greek mss. lack such politically-incorrect terminology; in Acts, the Peshitta refers to a city by an archaic name that would have been virtually unknown after A.D. 70, suggesting composition before or shortly-after A.D. 70.
Greek original New Testament hypothesis
Mainstream and modern scholars have generally had a strong agreement that the New Testament was written in Greek and that an Aramaic source text was used for portions of the New Testament, especially the gospels. They acknowledge that many individual sayings of Jesus as found in the Greek Gospels may be translations from an Aramaic source referred to as "Q", but hold that the Gospels' text in its current form was composed in Greek, and so were the other New Testament writings. Scholars of all stripes have acknowledged the presence of scattered Aramaic expressions, written phonetically and then translated, in the Greek New Testament. Although it was frequently suggested that Q was a written source, it could have been a collection of oral sayings, usually referred to as the "logia" (See Luke 1:2–3).
In an 1887 book, John Hancock Pettingell reports doing an investigation wherein he discovered that, "The common impression that the entire New Testament was first written in Greek, and that all the copies we now have, in whatever tongue, are copies, or translations of the original manuscripts, when seriously examined, is found to have no certain foundation. And yet this has been taken almost universally for granted. It is probable, that this is true with respect to some, possibly a majority of these books. But it is more than probable, if not quite certain, that some portions of the New Testament, such as the Gospel of Matthew, the Epistles to the Hebrews, and others, which will hereafter be mentioned, were first written in the vernacular Syriac of the Jews, and were afterward translated into Greek; and that other portions, perhaps most of the books, were duplicated, at the time they were written, by their authors, or under their direction,—one copy being furnished to those who were familiar with the Greek, and another to those who knew only the Syriac."
An example of how mainstream scholars have dealt with Aramaic influences within an overall view of the Gospels' original Greek-language development may be found in Martin Hengel's recent synthesis of studies of the linguistic situation in Palestine during the time of Jesus and the Gospels:
Since non-literary, simple Greek knowledge or competency in multiple languages was relatively widespread in Jewish Palestine including Galilee, and a Greek-speaking community had already developed in Jerusalem shortly after Easter, one can assume that this linguistic transformation [from "the Aramaic native language of Jesus" to "the Greek Gospels"] began very early. ... [M]issionaries, above all 'Hellenists' driven out of Jerusalem, soon preached their message in the Greek language. We find them in Damascus as early as AD 32 or 33. A certain percentage of Jesus' earliest followers were presumably bilingual and could therefore report, at least in simple Greek, what had been heard and seen. This probably applies to Cephas/Peter, Andrew, Philip or John. Mark, too, who was better educated in Jerusalem than the Galilean fishermen, belonged to this milieu. The great number of phonetically correct Aramaisms and his knowledge of the conditions in Jewish Palestine compel us to assume a Palestinian Jewish-Christian author. Also, the author's Aramaic native language is still discernible in the Marcan style.
Aramaic original New Testament hypothesis
The marginal hypothesis that the New Testament text that was read by the Apostles would have preserved the life and sayings of Yeshua (as he spoke them in Aramaic – the language of Jesus) in their own native tongue of Aramaic before it was translated for those not among them who spoke Greek is not held by the majority of scholars.
The position of the Assyrian Church of the East is that the Syriac Peshitta (a Bible version which is written in a vernacular form of Aramaic), used in that church, is the original of the New Testament. For instance, the patriarch Shimun XXI Eshai declared in 1957:
With reference to... the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision." (April 5, 1957)
This view is to be distinguished from the view held by most historical critics, that the Greek New Testament (particularly the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Mark) may have had Aramaic source texts which are no longer extant.[a]
Syrian churches say that their history includes compilation of their canon (which lacked the 'Western Five') extremely early. Comments John Hancock Pettingell, "There is no question, but that scattered manuscripts of the several books of the New Testament, in Greek, were in existence very early, for the Fathers quote from them,—but there is no evidence that any attempt was made to collect them into one code, or canon, till after the Second or Third Century. But it is certain, on the other hand, that the Syrian Churches had their canon long before this collection was made; tradition says, between the years 55 and 60, and that this was done by the Apostle Jude. This canon is known to have contained all the books now included in our New Testament, excepting the Apocalypse, and the brief Epistles of 2d Peter, 2d and 3d John, and Jude. This tradition is strongly corroborated by the fact that these closing portions of our present canon were not then written; and this is a good and sufficient reason why they were not included in the first collection. The abrupt closing of the Book of Acts—for it was evidently written at about that time—that it might be ready for inclusion in this collection, goes to confirm the tradition as to the date of this collection. The Apocalypse and the four short Epistles which were not in readiness to be included at that early date, were afterward received into the Syriac Canon, but not till the sixth century."
The most noteworthy advocate of the "Peshitta-original" hypothesis in the West was George Lamsa of the Aramaic Bible Center. A tiny minority of more recent scholars are backers of the Peshitta-original theory today, whereas the overwhelming majority of scholars consider the Peshitta New Testament to be a translation from a Greek original. For instance Sebastian Brock wrote:
The only complete English translation of the Peshitta is by G. Lamsa. This is unfortunately not always very accurate, and his claims that the Peshitta Gospels represent the Aramaic original underlying the Greek Gospels are entirely without foundation; such views, which are not infrequently found in more popular literature, are rejected by all serious scholars.
(Lamsa and Bauscher did not translate the Old Testament Peshitta's deuterocanonical books, but did translate the remainder of the Peshitta Old Testament, plus the New Testament. Gorgias Press has published translations of many Peshitta Old Testament books, and of the entire Peshitta New Testament.)
E. Jan Wilson writes, "I believe firmly that both Matthew and Luke were derived from Aramaic originals." – xli of his The Old Syriac Gospels: Studies and Comparative Translations (vol. 1, Matthew and Mark) (2003), 381pp.
Some advocates of the "Peshitta-original" theory also use the term "Aramaic primacy", though this is not used in academic sources, and appears to be a recent neologism, as is the phrase "Greek primacy", used to characterize the consensus view. The expression "Aramaic primacy" was used by L. I. Levine, but only as a general expression used to denote the primacy of Aramaic over Hebrew and Greek in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period (i.e. roughly 200 BC – 70 AD). The earliest appearance of the phrase in print appears to be in David Bauscher.
Charles Cutler Torrey, while teaching at Yale, wrote a series of books that presented detailed manuscripturial evidence supporting the Aramaic New Testament, starting with The Translations Made from the Original Aramaic Gospels, and including the widely known Our Translated Gospels.
James Trimm presented evidence for an Aramaic New Testament in the preface to his The Hebrew Roots Version of the New Testament.
Yoseph Viel presented evidence for a Hebrew origin to the books of Matthew and Hebrews, theorizing that they were translated from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek in his book, The Hebrew Pages of the New Testament.
George Lamsa's translation of the Peshitta New Testament from Syriac into English brought the claims for primacy of the Aramaic New Testament to the West. However, his translation is poorly regarded by most scholars in the field. The Old Syriac Texts, the Sinai palimpsest and the Curetonian Gospels, have also influenced scholars concerning original Aramaic passages. Diatessaronic texts such as the Liege Dutch Harmony, the Pepysian Gospel Harmony, Codex Fuldensis, The Persian Harmony, The Arabic Diatessaron, and the Commentary on the Diatessaron by Ephrem the Syrian have provided recent insights into Aramaic origins. The Coptic Gospel of Thomas and the various versions of the medieval Hebrew Gospel of Matthew also have provided clues to Aramaic foundations in the New Testament especially the gospels. Many 19th Century scholars (H. Holtzmann, Wendt, Jülicher, Wernle, Soden, Wellhausen, Harnack, B. Weiss, Nicolardot, W. Allen, Montefiore, Plummer, and Stanton)[failed verification] theorized that portions of the gospels, especially Matthew, were derived from an Aramaic source normally referred to as Q.[dubious ]
Argument using the Arabic Diatessaron for the old age of the Peshitta
Tatian died in A.D. 175. Reasoning and textual evidence suggest that Tatian started with the 4 Gospels in the Aramaic Peshitta, and interwove Gospel passages into one consolidated harmonized narrative to get his Diatesseron, in the process quoting three-fourths of the 4 Gospels. We presently lack Tatian's Diatessaron in its original Aramaic, but do have it in translation in Arabic, a language related to Aramaic. A large number of parallels exist between the Peshitta's 4 Gospels and what is in the 'Arabic Diatessaron.' Paul Younan says, "It makes perfect sense that a harmony of the Gospels would necessarily require that the distinct 4 Gospels actually existed prior to the harmony. This is common sense. It makes ever more sense that an Aramaic harmony of the Gospels, which Tatian's Diatesseron was, was woven together from the 4 distinct Aramaic Gospels. .... Since the Arabic translation by Ibn al-Tayyib is the only one we know for sure was made directly from the Aramaic, and since it reads like the Peshitta..., and since we know that a harmony necessitates a base of 4 distinct Gospels from which it must be drawn – I submit that Tatian's Aramaic Diatesseron was a harmony of the distinct Gospels in Aramaic we currently find today in the canon of scripture we know as the Peshitta. Occam's Razor is a logical principle which states that one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the best. The simplest explanation is that Tatian created a harmony of the Peshitta gospels. This harmony existed in Persia until at least the 11th century, when it was translated into Arabic. ....if we are to believe the textual evidence in the Arabic translation... the Peshitta Gospels were the base of the Diatesseron which history attributes to Tatian. And this places the Peshitta Gospels at or before 175 A.D."
The Arabic Diatessaron has been translated into English, Latin, French, and German.
Argument from geographical details for the old age of the Peshitta
Advocates of the Aramaic being written first, and then translated into Greek, have pointed out the geographical details present in the Peshitta, but lacking in Greek mss.; those advocates ask what's the best explanation for the presence of those geographical details in the Peshitta, but lacking in Greek mss.
Johann David Michaelis states:
In the Curæ, in Act. Apost. § vi. p. 73, 74. I have taken notice of certain traces in the Syriac version, which lead to the supposition of its having been made by a native Jew. To the reasons alleged in that treatise, which I submit to the determination of my readers, I will add, that the Syriac translator appears to have been so well acquainted with Palestine, that he must at least have visited that country, for he has frequently restored geographical names in the Greek Testament to their true Oriental orthography. Capernaum is written in the Syriac Testament ... , that is, the village of Nahum; Bethania, is written ... ; Bethphage is written ... , which perfectly corresponds to its situation, for ... , in Arabic, signifies 'a valley between two opposite mountains,' an etymology which alone removes a contradiction which was supposed to exist between the New Testament and the Talmud ; and Bethesda, John v. 2. is written ... , which is probably conformable to the derivation, whether we translate it 'place of favour,' or 'place of the conflux of waters.' The Syriac version therefore is the surest, and indeed the only guide, in discovering the etymology of geographical names, for the Arabic versions are too modern, and in other translations it was impossible to preserve the orthography of the East.
William Norton states:
— In the names of places, the Peshito shows the same independence of the Greek. ....in Acts xxi. 7, the Gk. has, Ptolemais; the Syriac has, Acu.
Mr. Jer. Jones, in his work on the Canon, 1798, contends that the use of the name Acu, for Ptolemais, is a decisive proof that the Peshito must have been made not far in time from A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed. (vol. i. p. 103.) He says that the most ancient name of this place among the Israelites was Aco, or Acco, Judges i. 31; that this name was afterwards changed to Ptolemais; that some say it had its new name from Ptolemy Philadelphus, about 250 B.C. He says it is certain that the old name Aco, was antiquated and out of use in the time of the Romans, and that the use of the old name Acu, in the Peshito, can be accounted for in no other way, but by supposing that the persons for whom the version was made were more acquainted with it, than with the new name Ptolemais; that upon any other supposition it would have been absurd for him to have used Acu. He says, that until the destruction of Jerusalem, one may suppose that the Jews may have retained the old name Aco still, out of fondness for its antiquity; but, he says,
"how they, or any other part of Syria, could, after the Roman conquest, call it by a name different from the Romans, seems to me impossible to conceive. . . To suppose, therefore, that this translation, in which we meet with this old name, instead of the new one, was made at any great distance of time after the destruction of Jerusalem, is to suppose the translator to have substituted an antiquated name known to but few, for a name well known to all" (pp. 104, 105.)Mr. Jones says that a similar proof that the Peshito cannot have been made much after A.D. 70, is found in the fact that the Peshito often calls the Gentiles, as the Jews were accustomed to do, profane persons, where the Greek calls them the nations, that is, the Gentiles. The Peshito calls them profane, in Matt. vi. 7; x. 5; xviii. 17; Mark vii. 26; John vii. 35; Acts xviii. 4, 17; 1 Cor. v. 1; x. 20, 27; xii. 2; 1 Pet. iv. 3. The expression is used, therefore, throughout the Peshito. Mr. Jones says, that it shows that the writer was a Jew, for no other person would have called all the world profane; and that after the destruction of the temple, all Hebrew Christians must have seen that other nations were not to be reckoned unclean and profane in the Jewish sense, and that therefore this version must have been made either before, or soon after, A.D. 70. (On Canon, Vol. i., pp. 106–110.)
Argument from bad Greek grammar in Revelation to it not being originally Greek
Torrey opines that Revelation was originally in Aramaic, and points to grammatical monstrosities therein as evidence that it was not originally written in Greek:
For the Apocalyptist the language of the New Dispensation of the Christian Church was Aramaic only. It is most significant that the numerous hymns and doxologies sung or recited by the saints and angels in heaven, in chapter after chapter of the book, are composed in Aramaic (wherever it is possible to decide), not in Hebrew; though the writer could have used either language. ....
There is excellent reason, however, for one conclusion he [R.H. Charles] reaches—expressed in similar words by many before him—namely, that "the linguistic character of the Apocalypse is absolutely unique." The grammatical monstrosities of the book, in their number and variety and especially in their startling character, stand alone in the history of literature. It is only in the Greek that they are apparent, for it is the form, not the sense, that is affected. A few of the more striking solecisms are exhibited here in English translation, so that any reader may see their nature.
1:4. “Grace to you, and peace, from he who is and who was and who is to come” (all nom. case). 1:15. “His legs were like burnished brass (neut. gend., dative case) as in a furnace purified (fem. gend., sing. no., gen. case)” 11:3. “My witnesses (nom.) shall prophesy for many days clothed (accus.) in sackcloth.” 14:14. “I saw on the cloud one seated like unto a son-of-man (accus.), having (nom.) upon his head a golden crown.” 14:19. “He harvested the vintage of the earth, and cast it into the winepress (fem.), the great [winepress] (masc.) of the wrath of God.” 17:4. “A golden cup filled with abominations (gen.) and with unclean things (accus.).” 19:20. “The lake of blazing fire (“fire,” neut.; “blazing,” fem.). 20:2. “And he seized the dragon (accus.), the old serpent (nom.), who is the Devil and Satan and bound him.” 21:9. “Seven angels, holding the seven bowls (accus.) filled (gen.) with the seven last plagues.” 22:5. “They have no need of lamplight (gen.) nor of sunlight (accus.).”
This apparent linguistic anarchy has no explanation on the Greek side. It is hardly surprising that to some readers it should have seemed open defiance of grammar, to others a symptom of mental aberration. Nevertheless there is method to it all. The more grotesque these barbarisms, the more certain it is that they are not due to lack of acquaintance with Greek.
An argument that at least one of the Greek books of the New Testament have been translated out of the Aramaic comes from a textual analysis of those attributed to the Apostle John. Their variation in writing style is so considerable, that it would preclude them having been written in Greek by the same author. St Dionysius of Alexandria lent support to this argument, when pointing out how John's style of writing differs so markedly between his Gospel and Revelation. He concluded that the sophisticated writer of the former could not have written the clumsy Greek of the latter. Thus, the only way for John to have been the author of Revelation is for it to have been penned by a translator. However, Dionysius himself left open the possibility that it was written in Greek "by a holy and inspired writer" other than John.
Some have argued that the Aramaic gospels are older than the Greek gospels, and that the Aramaic NT wasn't derived from the Greek NT. William Norton commented in 1889:
"Faust Nairon, a Maronite, is often referred to by J. S. Asseman as a writer of eminence. He was one of the two editors of the edition of the Peshito Syriac Version, printed by the side of an Arabic Version of the N. T., in 1703, by command of the Roman Congregation De propaganda fide, for the use of the Maronites. He also wrote the preface. In this he said, (p. 2.) 'The Syriac text excels in antiquity all other texts. By it very many places which in these are obscure, may be made plain.' He proceeds to endeavour to prove that the Syriac text is more ancient than the Greek text of the Gospels. He mentions the common opinion that the Syriac Gospels were translated from the Greek, and says that there are better reasons for concluding that the Greek Gospels were translated from the Syriac. [....] F. Nairon says in proof that THE PESHITO, AS A WHOLE, IS NOT A MERE TRANSLATION OF THE GREEK COPIES, that the number of books in it is different from that of the Greek text, which has 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. That the order of books is also different from their order in most Greek copies; for James, 1 Peter, and 1 John, follow the Acts; and that the Greek text has passages which the Peshito has not."
Norton later adds (on p. xlvii):
Persons familiar with the Peshito admit the truth of Faust Nairon's remark, that the Peshito does really sometimes "make clear, things difficult or doubtful in the Greek." (Introduction, p. 9.)
Bishop Walton quotes with approval the remark of De Dieu, that "the true meaning of phrases which often occur in the N. T., can scarcely be sought from any other source than the Syriac." (Polyg. Prol. xiii. 19.)
J. D. Michaelis says, "the Syriac Version leads us sometimes to just and beautiful explanations, where other help is insufficient." (Marsh's Michaelis, vol. ii. p. 44.)'
Norton mentions (on lix–lx) additional scholars who had high regard for the Aramaic, and gives a fuller exposition of Michaelis:
Jacob Martini was Professor of Theology in the University of Wittenberg, and wrote a preface to the N. T. Peshito-Syriac, in which he said, "It is a version, but of all, it is the first and most ancient. . . It is a version, but made either by one of the Evangelists, or at least, of those who . . . had the Apostles themselves present, whom they could consult and hear, respecting many of the more obscure places. To this only, therefore, when some obscurity or difficulty occurs in Greek copies, can we safely go. This only, when doubt arises respecting the meaning or translation of any passage, can be consulted with safety and freedom from error. By this only, the Greek Text is truly illustrated, and rightly understood." (See Gutbier's Preface to his Syriac N. T., 1663, p. 26.) J. D. Michaelis, in his Introduction to the N. T., 1787, chap, vii., sec. 4., says, "The Syriac Testament has been my constant study." In sec. 8., he says, "The Peshito is the very best translation of the Greek Testament that I have ever read. Of all the Syriac authors with which I am acquainted, not excepting Ephraem and Bar Hebraeus, its language is the most elegant and pure. . . . It has no marks of the stiffness of a translation, but is written with the ease and fluency of an original." "What is not to be regarded as a blemish, it differs frequently from the modern modes of explanation; but I know of no version that is so free from error, and none that I consult with so much confidence in cases of difficulty and doubt. I have never met with a single instance where the Greek is so interpreted, as to betray a weakness and ignorance in the translator; and though in many other translations the original is rendered in so extraordinary a manner as almost to excite a smile, the Syriac version must be ever read with profound veneration." "The affinity of the Syriac to the dialect of Palestine is so great, as to justify, in some respects, the assertion that the Syriac translator has recorded the actions and speeches of Christ in the very language in which he spoke." "The Syriac New Testament is written in the same language [as that of Christ], but in a different dialect, ... in the purest Mesopotamian.".... Professor Wichelhaus, 1850, dwells much on the worth of the Peshito. He calls it, "The most ancient witness, a version most accurate, untouched and untarnisned, ever transcribed and preserved by the Syrians with the greatest care." (p. 236.) He did not see why, with some few exceptions, it should not be "most like to the autographs of the Apostles." (p. 264.)
Response to Papias
Papias provides a very early source for the idea that the canonical Gospels were either based on some non-Greek written sources, or (in the case of Matthew) possibly "composed" in a non-Greek language. The relevant fragments of Papias' lost work An Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord (Logiōn kuriakōn exēgēsis, c. 110–140) are preserved in quotations by Eusebius. In one fragment, Papias cites an older source who says, "When Mark was the interpreter [hermēneutēs, possibly "translator"] of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord's words and deeds." Papias' surviving comment about Matthew is more tantalizing, but equally cryptic: "And so Matthew composed [or collected] the sayings [or record] in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interpreted [hērmēneusen, possibly "translated"] them to the best of his ability." A similar claim comes out more clearly in a text by Irenaeus, but this testimony is later than (and may be based on) Papias.
Even if they do imply non-Greek originals, these accounts have been doubted,[by whom?] in part with an argument that the literary quality of the Greek of these books indicates that the Greek would be the original. (However, even if a text has high-quality Greek, that doesn't necessarily mean that it was originally composed in Greek: Josephus wrote in Aramaic, and had native Greek speakers polish his material that had been translated into Greek. Also, Torrey has observed that the Greek for the 4 gospels and the first half of Acts isn't that great. The Greek for Revelation is atrocious in its quality.) This argument extends to the other books where the Church Fathers accepted Greek as the original without debate. The Greek New Testament's general agreement with the Septuagint is also counted as evidence by majority view scholars. Aramaic primacists point to quotations from the Hebrew (Masoretic) Old Testament in the Alexandrian text type that indicate at one point a non-Greek speaking audience was addressed (See Matthew 2:15, 2:18, 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27; John 19:37; Acts 13:18; Romans 9:33, 11:35; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Peter 2:8). Aramaic primacists question why the New Testament would quote from the Hebrew Old Testament and not from the Septuagint if it was written in Greek originally. Quotes from the Hebrew Old Testament are present in Alexandrian texts that are thought to predate Jerome's use of the Hebrew Old Testament for the Vulgate.
Response to specific verses
There are also alternative explanations for the cases where Aramaic primacists claim that the Aramaic seems to read better. One example is in the case of the "camel through the eye of a needle." In Jewish and Christian literature we see the following:
- "...who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle."
- —Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezi'a, 38b
- "They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle."
- —Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth, 55b
- "13 There was a rich man named Onesiphorus who said: If I believe, shall I be able to do wonders? Andrew said: Yes, if you forsake your wife and all your possessions. He was angry and put his garment about Andrew's neck and began to beat him, saying: You are a wizard, why should I do so? 14 Peter saw it and told him to leave off. He said: I see you are wiser than he. What do you say? Peter said: I tell you this: it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
- —Apocryphal Acts of Peter and Andrew.
Aramaic primacists, most notably Lamsa, generally respond that these sources are late compared to the account in Q, as the Mishnah, the base document of the Babylonian Talmud was compiled in 200, where the Acts of Peter and Andrew is a 3rd-century work and therefore the original mistranslation of גמלא (gamlâ) predates and is potentially the source of these subsequent paraphrases. The Aramaic word for camel can also mean "rope" thus saying "it easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle".
Advocates of Aramaic primacy note that the best evidence of Aramaic being the original would be mistranslations in the Greek translation. Some grant that 'camel through the eye of a needle' is a more-striking metaphor than 'rope through the eye of a needle,' but go on to claim that accurate translations of the original Aramaic remove several mistranslations present in Greek manuscripts:
- mistranslation at Mt 1:16
Greek manuscripts of Matthew's genealogy list 14, 14, and 13 generations. In Aramaic mss. of Matthew's genealogy, with Mt 1:16's "gbra" correctly translated as father/guardian, Matthew's genealogy lists 14, 14, and 14 generations. Mary had a father/guardian named Joseph (plus a husband also called Joseph). Native Aramaic speaker Paul Younan detected this mistranslation.
- mistranslation at Mt 26:6 and Mk 14:3
Greek mss. have Jesus and his disciples visiting the house of a leper. The Greek translation from Aramaic has leper at Mt 26:6 and Mk 14:3, while the Aramaic allows for potter. Lepers were unclean and weren't allowed to have guests over. It's actually Simon the potter. To continue to call someone a leper even after he'd been healed of leprosy would have constituted slander.
- mistranslations at Mt 7:6
For Mt 7:6, it's actually 'hang earrings on dogs,' not 'give a holy thing to dogs.' Native Aramaic speaker Paul Younan noticed the two mistranslations in this verse.
- mistranslation at Mark 9:49
Mark 9:49 (HCSB) "For everyone will be salted with fire. [a: Other mss add and every sacrifice will be salted with salt]" The complete text was present as of A.D. 175. Arabic Diatessaron 25:23: "Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt."
The original Aramaic has the complete text; when translated well Mk 9:49 (based on Younan) reads: "For with fire everything will be *vaporized*, and with salt every sacrifice will be *seasoned*." Vaporized and seasoned, the root MLKh can mean 'to salt, season' or 'to destroy, vaporize, scatter.' The intended meaning shifted between the first and second lines—the Messiah plays on the dual meaning of MLKh. See Mk 9 PDF of Paul Younan at http://dukhrana.com
- mistranslation at Lk 14:26
The Greek manuscripts have a mistranslation for Lk 14:26, which when translated well reads: "He who comes to me [Jesus] and does not *sena* [put aside; contextually improper here: hate, have an aversion to] his father and his mother and his brothers and his sisters and his wife and his children and even himself, is not able to be a talmida [student] to me."
- mistranslation at John 13:13
Jesus spoke in Aramaic what became John 13:13a. Greek mss. have Jesus say, "ὑμεῖς φωνεῖτέ με Ὁ διδάσκαλος καί Ὁ κύριος" (W&H, NA28 variants). "φωνεῖτέ" ('to call out') was an incorrect word choice for the Greek rendition of his remark: "Ὑμεῖς φωνεῖτέ με Ὁ διδάσκαλος καί Ὁ κύριος [you call me, Teacher and Lord] is bad Greek, just about as astonishing as if one should say in English: "you cry me teacher and lord." The right word, which John knew quite well, would have been καλεῖτε. Why did he ever write φωνεῖν?"
- mistranslation for Acts 2:24
When translated well it reads: "But Allaha [God] loosed the cords of Sheol [the Grave/Death] and raised him [Yeshua/Jesus] because it was not possible that he be held in it, in Sheol." The Greek versions mistranslated the word "cords" as 'pain.' (cf. Jn 2:15 & 2 Samuel 22:6) —Paul Younan
- mistranslation for Acts 5:13
The Greek manuscripts have a mistranslation for Acts 5:13: "And there was a great fear in all the eidta [congregation], and in all those who heard. And many mighty deeds and signs occurred by the hands of the Shelikha [Apostles] among the people. And they were all assembled together in the Porch of Shlemon [Soloman]. 13. And of other men, not one dared to *touch* them, rather the people magnified them. The word translated by "touch" can mean "join/commune" but also "touch," the latter undoubtedly being the correct reading. The Greek versions mistranslated this word as "join".—PY
- mistranslation for Acts 8:23
The Greek manuscripts have a mistranslation for Acts 8:23: "But repent of this your evil and beseech Allaha [God]. Perhaps you [Simon the sorcerer] will be forgiven the guile of your heart. 23. For I [Shimon Keepa/ Simon Peter] see that you are in bitter *anger* and in the bonds of iniquity." The Aramaic word kabda can mean gall/liver/anger. The Greek versions mistranslate "bitter kabda" as "gall of bitterness" instead of the more contextually proper "bitter anger".—PY
- mistranslation for Acts 8:27
The Greek manuscripts have a mistranslation for Acts 8:27, which when translated well reads: "And he [Pileepos/ Philip] arose (and) went and met a certain *mahaymina* [believer] who had come from Cush, an official of Qandeq, the malkta [queen] of the Cushites, and he was an authority over all her treasures. And he had come to worship in Urishlim." Re: MHYMNA, it can mean either 'believer' or 'eunuch'—or many similar things. The Greek versions mistranslate this as 'eunuch' instead of the more contextually correct 'believer'.—PY. The Ethiopian believer was intending to worship in Jerusalem, presumably in the temple there—which eunuchs were prohibited from doing by Deut 23:2. Cf. Mt 19:12.
- mistranslation at Rev 1:13
The mistranslation says Jesus has female breasts: Rev 1:13, Common English Bible: "In the middle of the lampstands I saw someone who looked like the Human One. He wore a robe that stretched down to his feet, and he had a gold sash around his chest.[aj]" The Greek word used here is mastos and is used exclusively for a woman's breasts.
- mistranslation at Rev 2:22
The Greek mistranslation rendered a word as "bed," thereby having an adulterous woman being thrown into a bed. (It should have used "bier."). The KJV translators translated Rev 2:21–22: "And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds."
The NASB added "of sickness" in italics, thereby indicating to the reader that they had added it beyond what the Greek has: "I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds."
It would make more sense if she'd been said to have been thrown onto a mortuary couch i.e. a bier—and doing such is possible translating from the Aramaic Revelation.
- mistranslation at Rev 10:1
The mistranslation says "feet" were like 'columns/pillars of fire,' while the Aramaic better allows for the correct rendition, "legs like columns/pillars of fire."
Revelation 10:1 (KJV) And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet [Greek: podes/πόδες/feet] as pillars of fire:
- mistranslations at Mt 5:13 and Lk 14:34 (but not at Mk 9:50)
Matthew 5:13 and Luke 14:34 in Greek mss. have an erroneous translation of the original Aramaic th-p-k-h by rendering it as μωρανθῇ/ foolish. In contrast, Mark 9:50 in Greek mss. correctly render Jesus' remarks about salt that becomes ἄναλον/ unsalty.
- e.g. the Hebrew Gospel hypothesis of Lessing and others.
- "'Life' in the Syriac Gospels". The Rainbow, a magazine of Christian literature. Vol. 21. 1884. p. 209.
- Murdock's Translation of the Syrian New Testament from the Peschito Version. 1855. pp. 499–500.
- The text of the New Testament: an introduction to the critical ... Page 194 Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland – 1995 "It contains twenty-two New Testament books, lacking the shorter Catholic letters (2–3 John, 2 Peter, Jude) and Revelation (as well as the Pericope Adulterae [John 7:53–8:11[ and Luke 22:17–18)."
- Norton, William (1889). A Translation, in English Daily Used, of the Peshito-Syriac Text, and of the Received Greek Text, of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John, With an Introduction on the Peshito-Syriac Text, and the Revised Greek Text of 1881. London: W. K. Bloom.Introduction, pages l–li: "In the names of places, the Peshito shows the same independence of the Greek. . . . . in Acts xxi. 7, the Gk. has, Ptolemais; the Syriac has, Acu. Mr. Jer. Jones, in his work on the Canon, 1798, contends that the use of the name Acu, for Ptolemais, is a decisive proof that the Peshito must have been made not far in time from A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed. (vol. i. p. 103. ) He says that the most ancient name of this place among the Israelites was Aco, or Acco, Judges i. 31; that this name was afterwards changed to Ptolemais; that some say it had its new name from Ptolemy Philadelphus, about 250 B.C. He says it is certain that the old name Aco, was antiquated and out of use in the time of the Romans, and that the use of the old name Acu, in the Peshito, can be accounted for in no other way, but by supposing that the persons for whom the version was made were more acquainted with it, than with the new name Ptolemais; that upon any other supposition it would have been absurd for him to have used Acu. He says, that until the destruction of Jerusalem, one may suppose that the Jews may have retained the old name Aco still, out of fondness for its antiquity; but, he says, "how they, or any other part of Syria, could, after the Roman conquest, call it by a name different from the Romans, seems to me impossible to conceive. . . To suppose, therefore, that this translation, in which we meet with this old name, instead of the new one, was made at any great distance of time after the destruction of Jerusalem, is to suppose the translator to have substituted an antiquated name known to but few, for a name well known to all" (pp. 104, 105.) Mr. Jones says that a similar proof that the Peshito cannot have been made much after A.D. 70, is found in the fact that the Peshito often calls the Gentiles, as the Jews were accustomed to do, profane persons, where the Greek calls them the nations, that is, the Gentiles. The Peshito calls them profane, in Matt. vi. 7; x. 5; xviii.17; Mark vii. 26; John vii. 35; Acts xviii.4, 17; 1 Cor. v. 1; x. 20, 27; xii. 2; 1 Pet. iv.3. The expression is used, therefore, throughout the Peshito. Mr. Jones says, that it shows that the writer was a Jew, for no other person would have called all the world profane; and that after the destruction of the temple, all Hebrew Christians must have seen that other nations were not to be reckoned unclean and profane in the Jewish sense, and that therefore this version must have been made either before, or soon after, A.D. 70." (On Canon, Vol. i., pp. 106–110.)
- Pettingell, John Hancock (1887). "The Gospel of Life in the Syriac New Testament". Views and Reviews in Eschatology: A Collection of Letters, Essays, and Other Papers Concerning the Life and Death to Come. p. 48.
- Martin Hengel. 2005. "Eye-witness Memory and the Writing of the Gospels: Form Criticism, Community Tradition and the Authority of the Authors." In The Written Gospel, ed. by Markus Bockmuehl and Donald A. Hagner. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 89f.
- Assemane, Giuseppe Simone (J.S.). "Bibliotheca Orientalis (2nd Vol.) De Scriptoribus Syris Monophysitis". digitale-sammlungen.ulb.uni-bonn.de. p. 486. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
- Michaelis, Johann David (1793). Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes (and a Dissertation on the origin and composition of the three first gospels) by H. Marsh. 4 vols. [in 6 pt.].
- Norton, William (1889). A Translation, in English Daily Used, of the Peshito-Syriac Text, and of the Received Greek Text, of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John: With an Introduction on the Peshito-Syriac Text, and the Revised Greek Text of 1881. W.K. Bloom.
This sacred book was finished on Wed., the 18th day of the month Conun, in the year 389.
- Taylor, Robert; Smith, John Pye (1828). Syntagma of the evidences of the Christian religion. Being a vindication of the Manifesto of the Christian evidence society, against the assaults of the Christian instruction society through their deputy J.P.S. [in An answer to a printed paper entitled Manifesto &c.]. Repr. p. 32.
This sacred book was finished on Wed., the 18th day of the month Conun, in the year 389.
- Pettingell, John Hancock (1887). "The Gospel of Life in the Syriac New Testament". Views and Reviews in Eschatology: A Collection of Letters, Essays, and Other Papers Concerning the Life and Death to Come. pp. 53–54.
- Brock, Sebastian P (2006), The Bible in the Syriac tradition, p. 58. See also Raymond Brown et al., eds., "The Jerome Biblical Commentary" (London, 1970), 69:88 (article "Texts and Versions"), pg. 575: "Claims that the Syr[iac] Gospels are the form in which Jesus spoke his teaching—claims often made by people who have every reason to know better—are without foundation."
- Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence, 1998, p. 82
- The Original Aramaic Gospels in Plain English (2007), p.59.
- Torrey, Charles Cutler (1912). The Translations made from the Original Aramaic Gospels. New York: Macmillan Co. ISBN 9781293971314.
- Torrey, Charles Cutler (1933). The Four Gospels: a new translation. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.
- Herbert G May (October 1958). "Review of The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts, Containing the Old and New Testaments Translated from the Peshitta, The Authorized Bible of the Church of the East". Journal of Bible and Religion. 26 (4): 326–327. JSTOR 1460599.]
- P.A.H. de Boer (April 1958). "Review of The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts by G. M. Lamsa". Vetus Testamentum. 8 (2): 223. doi:10.2307/1516092. JSTOR 1516092.
- Jacquier, Jacque Eugène. "Gospel of St. Matthew." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
- Latin: Tatiani Evangeliorum Harmoniae Arabice nunc primum ex duplici codice edidit et translatione latina; A. Ciasca (1888). French: Diatessaron De Tatien by Tatian; A. S. Marmardji (1935). German: Tatians Diatessaron aus dem Arabischen (1926). English: Aramaic to Arabic to Latin to English: The earliest life of Christ ever compiled from the four Gospels : being the Diatessaron of Tatian; J. Hamlyn Hill (1894). English: Aramaic to Arabic to English: The Ante-Nicene Fathers : translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, volume 9 The Diatessaron of Tatian, Hope W. Hogg (1897)
- Michaelis, Johann David (1802). Introduction to the New Testament, tr., and augmented with notes (and a Dissertation on the origin and composition of the three first gospels) by H. Marsh. 4 vols. [in 6 pt.]. 4 vols. [in 5 pt.]. 2, part 1 (2nd ed.). pp. 43–44.
- Torrey, Charles C. (1958). "The Apocalypse of John: Introduction, Excerpts, and a New Translation". The Preterist Archive of Realized Eschatology. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
- Eusebius, The History of the Church. VII, 24:1–27
- Norton, William (1889). A translation, in English daily used, of the Peshito-Syriac text, and of the received Greek text, of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John : with an introduction on the Peshito-Syriac text, and the revised Greek text of 1881. Boston University School of Theology. London : W.K. Bloom. pp. xli–xlii, xliv.
- Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 3.39.15–16, as translated by Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. II, Loeb Classical Library, 2003, p. 103. For the word translated "composed," Ehrman prints sunetaxato in his facing-page Greek text, rather than the variant reading found in some manuscripts, sunegrapsato. But, whereas sunegrapsato definitely means "composed," other scholars have taken the reading sunetaxato to mean "collected." The Catholic Encyclopedia offers a fuller discussion in the section of its article on the Gospel of St. Matthew entitled "Authenticity of the First Gospel," and in the article on Papias.
- The Comprehensive New Testament. Clontz, T. E., Clontz, J. (Jerry). Clewiston, FL: Cornerstone Publications. 2008. pp. 2, 3, 15, 52, 109, 189, 222, 268, 271, 280, 381. ISBN 978-0-9778737-1-5. OCLC 496721278.CS1 maint: others (link)
- de Zwaan, J. (1938). "John Wrote in Aramaic". Journal of Biblical Literature. 57 (2): 155–171. doi:10.2307/3259746. ISSN 0021-9231. JSTOR 3259746.
- Jeremias, Joachim (1971). New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus. Scribner. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-684-15157-1.
- Ben-Hayyim, Z. (1957–1977), The Literary and Oral Tradition of Hebrew and Aramaic amongst the Samaritans, Jerusalem Academy of the Hebrew Language
- Black, M. (1967), An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts. 3rd Ed., Hendrickson Publishers
- Burney, C. F. (1922), The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel, Oxford at the Clarendon Press
- Casey, M. (1998), The Aramaic Sources of Marks' Gospel, Cambridge University Press
- Casey, M. (2002), An Aramaic Approach to Q, Cambridge University Press
- Fitzmyer, J. (1997), The Semitic Background of the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing
- Lamsa, G. (1976), New Testament Origin, Aramaic Bible Center
- Torrey, C. (1941), Documents of the Primitive Church, Harper & Brothers
- Zimmermann, F. (1979), The Aramaic Origin of the Four Gospels, Ktav Publishing House
- Dukhrana.com — site contains the transcription of the Khaboris Codex plus Etheridge, Murdock, Lamsa, Younan's interlinear translation of Matthew – Acts 16, translations into Dutch and Afrikaans, and an interlinear study tool.
- Lamsa – OT and Lamsa – NT — Lamsa's translation of the Peshitta's Old Testament and New Testament
- aramaicdb.lightofword.org — site contains Magiera and Murdock, and an interlinear study tool
- Was the New Testament Really Written in Greek? — a book arguing for Aramaic primacy
- The Composition and Date of Acts (1916) by Charles Cutler Torrey
- Our Translated Gospels: Some of the Evidence (1936) by Charles Cutler Torrey
- The Origin of the Gospel According to St. John (1923) by James A. Montgomery