aramaic New Testament

Jack Kilmon jkilmon at
Wed Jan 6 13:08:48 EST 1999

jtownsle at wrote:
> Here's another quick follow-up question.  Does anybody know if Lamsa's
> Aramaic Hypothesis is related at all to Funk's Jesus Seminar?  For
> example, did Funk get his impetus from Lamsa?  Just asking.
> BTW--I presented several arguments supporting that Greek was the original
> language of the written NT, and this clergyman got all snippy, talking
> about not casting peals before swine, I should stop being so
> ignroant, blah, blah, blah.  He accused me
> of following the agenda of a few small-minded academics rather than
> looking at the truth of the Aramaic record.  Of course he has yet to
> provide any evidence for an early Aramaic text or counter any of the
> standard Greek arguments.  Instead of discussing it rationally, he
> simply shut the conversation down.  That in itself gives me a big clue to
> the validity of the hypothesis, if he is representative of Lamsa's
> followers.

Since this subject is tangential to Greek studies, I'll address it
to attempt to put the Aramaic/Hebrew vs. Greek into some type of
perspective (from my own studied viewpoint).

    ALL of the NT gospels.epistles were written in Greek.  There is
    no syntactic evidence, that I am aware, that any are 100%
    translational Greek from a Semitic original.  There is evidence
    that some inclusions came from a semitic source and retains
    some Semitic structure, "Aramaisms" and the gospeler either
    translated it to Greek when including it in his work or used
    a Greek source work that at some point was Semitic.

    A fundamental difference between Greek and Aramaic is that
    Greek may have a number of words for one meaning while
    Aramaic has a number of meanings for one word.  In some
    cases variants in the Greek papyri can distill to one word
    when retroverted to Aramaic.  This seems to work on occasion
    with some difficult "sayings" material.


    In Greek MISEI is "hate" where the Aramaic word SAneh means
    "hate" and ALSO "set aside."  The "set aside" reading makes
    more sense of this difficult pericope and COULD point to a
    case where Greek did not transmit the Aramaic idiom that
    originally left the mouth of Jesus.  The same situation
    also applies to the Aramaic idiom for "sins" from <Aram>xwbyn
    "hayabeen" translated as "debts" OFEILHMATA in the Lord's
    Prayer and subsequently explained as AMARTIAS by Luke against

    Aramaic, therefore, can be a tool in understanding a Greek
    rendering of a "sayings" passage that may have had its origin
    in the mouth of the historical Jesus...but NOT definitive.

    Some Aramaicists, like many Graecists, tend to be overly
    chauvinistic concerning the importance of their language
    in NT exegesis.  The Graecists believing Jesus spoke Greek
    (highly unlikely) and the Aramaicists insisting (as I do)
    that he spoke Aramaic.  As far as I am aware Lamsa
    has translated the NT (I have a copy) from the Peshitta
    and Syriac texts which I think is going to far around
    the barn since the Peshitta, Sinaitic and Curetonian Syriac
    texts are translations from Greek.  Where Lamsa is
    valuable is his treatment of Aramaic idiom that was not
    transmitted in Greek (ONLY in "sayings" material).

    In my opinion, Aramaic retroversion is only valuable when
    examining a single word rather than an entire pericope.
    It is obvious that there are many rewordings, editings,
    paraphrases and interpolations in between the Gospels,
    Gospel of Thomas, and the Greek manuscript witnesses
    and therefore impossible to claim that this particular
    pericope is in the same form as delivered by Jesus....
    if indeed it was original to him.

    Having said this, I will say that there are many cases
    when Aramaic retroversion "lights up" a saying of Jesus.

    I don't believe recourse to the Aramaic was a major tool
    of the JS but it was used in the discussions of specific

    Your clergyman interlocutor is not an example of Lamsa
    students (myself included) and no Aramaicist who has
    also a background in Greek will claim that the NT
    was autographed in Aramaic.  My only "bone to pick"
    with NT Graecists is their loathing to examine an
    Aramaic source when discussing a difficult word or
    phrase when the Aramaic word may light up what the
    Greek-writing gospeler or author intended.  This
    tendenz has much to do with the debate over the
    language Jesus spoke.

    If an Aramaic substratum to a Greek phrase or word
    in the NT sheds some light on the exegesis, I usually
    take it as appropriate to b-greek and will chime in.

    Since in-depth discussion of Aramaic (outside relevence
    to a Greek context) is not appropriate forum material,
    we have established a b-aramaic discussion list.


taybutheh d'maran yeshua masheecha am kulkon

Jack Kilmon
jkilmon at

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