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Aramaic New Testament

The New Testament in Aramaic languages exists in a number of versions:

  1. the Vetus Syra (Old Syriac), the oldest translation from the original Greek into early Classical Syriac, represented in the Curetonian Gospels and the Sinaitic Palimpsest
  2. the Christian Palestinian Aramaic Lectionary fragments represented in such manuscripts as Codex Climaci Rescriptus and later lectionary codices
  3. the Classical Syriac Peshitta, a translation[citation needed] of the entire Bible from Hebrew and Greek and still the standard in most Syriac churches
  4. the Harklean, a strictly literal translation by Thomas of Harqel into Classical Syriac
  5. the Assyrian Modern Version, a new translation into Assyrian Neo-Aramaic from the Greek published in 1997 and mainly in use among Protestants
  6. 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.

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. The text of Gospels also lacks the verses known as Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) and Luke 22:17–18.[1] These missing books 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.

Greek Original - New Testament HypothesisEdit

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).[citation needed]

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.[2]

Aramaic Original - New Testament HypothesisEdit

Although physical evidence has yet to be found, J.S. Assemane[3] in his Bibliotheca stated that a Syriac Gospel dated 78 A.D. was found in Mesopotamia.[4][5][6]

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)[citation needed]

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.[7]

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 the noted Assyriologist 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.[8]

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,[9] 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.[10]

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,[11] and including the widely known Our Translated Gospels.[12]

Brief historyEdit

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.[13][14] 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.[citation needed] Many 19th Century scholars (H. Holtzmann, Wendt, Jülicher, Wernle, Soden, Wellhausen, Harnack, B. Weiss, Nicolardot, W. Allen, Montefiore, Plummer, and Stanton)[15][failed verification] theorized that portions of the gospels, especially Matthew, were derived from an Aramaic source normally referred to as Q.[dubious ][citation needed]

Historical criticismEdit

An argument that at least one of the Greek books of the New Testament to 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.[16]

Response to PapiasEdit

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 [hēprormēneusen, possibly "translated"] them to the best of his ability."[17] 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. 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).[18] 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 versesEdit

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".

Modern Aramaic to English translationsEdit

Translations from Syriac to English include:

This list does not include adaptations of such as the Hebraic Roots Version by James Trimm (2001) which are adaptations from the JPS New Testament (translated directly from Greek into Hebrew), not the Peshitta.


  1. ^ 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)."
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Assemane, Giuseppe Simone (J.S.). "Bibliotheca Orientalis (2nd Vol.) De Scriptoribus Syris Monophysitis". p. 486. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  4. ^ 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.].
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ e.g. the Hebrew Gospel hypothesis of Lessing and others.
  8. ^ 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"): "Claims that the Syriac Gospels are the form in which Jesus spoke hsi teaching - claims often made by people who have every reason to know better - are without foundation."
  9. ^ (‘’Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence’’, 1998, p.82)
  10. ^ The Original Aramaic Gospels in Plain English (2007), p.59.
  11. ^ Torrey, Charles Cutler (1912). The Translations made from the Original Aramaic Gospels. New York: Macmillan Co. ISBN 9781293971314.
  12. ^ Torrey, Charles Cutler (1933). The Four Gospels: a new translation. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.
  13. ^ 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.]
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Jacquier, Jacque Eugène. "Gospel of St. Matthew." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
  16. ^ Eusebius, The History of the Church. VII, 24:1-27
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Clontz, pp. 2,3,15,52,109,189,222,268,271,280,381
  19. ^ The Church Quarterly Review - Volume 40 - Page 105 Arthur Cayley Headlam - 1895 - At Mark vi. 47 there is no need to leave out 1 The collation of ancient Peshitto manuscripts on an adequate scale was commenced by the late Philip Edward Pusey, the son of Dr. Pusey, and has been continued by the Rev. G. H. Gwilliam, who has written on the text of the Peshitto in each volume of the Oxford Studia Biblica. ' Antient Recension, Preface, p. xciv. 3 The Syrian Churches, with a literal Translation of the Four Gospels from the Peschito, J. W. Etheridge, 1846. 1 We allow that, ...
  20. ^ Aramaic Peshitta New Testament Translation - Page 8 =0967961351 Janet M. Magiera - 2006 - "One was by James Murdock and the other by J. W. Etheridge. Murdock based his work on the western text and Etheridge on the eastern text. Both of them are still very useful in studying the Peshitta. In the 1930's, Dr. George Lamsa, a native speaker of Aramaic, completed a translation of the eastern manuscripts of the Peshitta and began to travel extensively in the United States, teaching about the value of studying Aramaic. From that time until the present, there has been a renewed ..."


  • Ben-Hayyim, Z. (1957–77), 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

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