Aramaic Version Of the NT?!?!?

Trevor & Julie Peterson 06peterson at
Thu Aug 16 22:04:53 EDT 2001

While I agree in general with the information Ken gave, I think a little bit
more could be said for the antiquity of the Aramaic NT.  There is testimony
to the Diatessaron from Ephrem (4th c.), and manuscripts of the Old Syriac
version have been dated to the 5th c. or earlier.  Generally, the antiquity
of the Peshitta is supported by appeal to the fact that it is used by both
major divisions of the Syriac church, which split over Nestorianism in the
5th c.  That's not to say that we can by any means prove that the Aramaic
version is primary, but it does seem to leave at least a crack in the door
for the suggestion that it is old enough to provide some competition with
the Greek.

As for the value of studying Aramaic versions (I'm thinking here primarily
of Syriac), while I wouldn't necessarily go too far in the hunt for "lost
originals," I wouldn't say it's a waste of time either.  It's all well and
good to speak of a Semitic thought process behind the Greek writings of the
NT, but if you don't have any idea how that process works, you're not going
to find it very easily.  Even if the Syriac versions are nothing more than
translations from Greek originals, they still attest a fairly early
tradition that sought to render the NT material for a Semitic-speaking
community.  Supplemented, perhaps, by oral traditions, they could very well
stand to teach us quite a bit about how the Semitic-speaking communities
that generated the ideas in the NT to begin with were operating.  It also
has value in the same way that studying Latin would with regard to the
Western Church.  We (Westerners) have a tendency to think of the early and
medieval Church as divided only between Greek and Latin.  From the
perspective of Oriental Christianity, however, Greek-speakers are still
Western.  Just as the Greek Bible was central in the life of the Greek
Orthodox and the Latin in the life of Western Catholics, Syriac was integral
to the Oriental (Near Eastern) churches.

Finally, a brief word on rucho vs. pneuma.  I think this is one of those
areas where comparing versions of the NT can be instructive.  In English, we
tend to assume that the appropriate pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit is
"he."  (At least, that was the way we tended to do things until recently.)
Then we find that in Greek the neuter pronoun is often used.  Yes, in
Syriac, rucho is feminine.  Interestingly, in Christian writings, the
pronouns seem to have shifted over time.  As the concept of the Spirit's
personality solidified, there seems to ahve been a trend in the direction of
using masculine pronouns.  This isn't a Syriac discussion list, so I'll
leave it at that.  My point is simply that, if we're going to take seriously
the notion of Semitic influence on the thinking behind the Greek NT, we have
to remember things like this.  Studying Syriac is one way to keep them in

I'll crawl back in my hole now.  See my other post on "Hebrew New Testament"
for info. on a group that argues for the priority of the Aramaic.

Trevor Peterson

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ken Smith [mailto:kens at]
> Sent: Thursday, August 16, 2001 4:59 PM
> To: Biblical Greek
> Subject: [b-greek] Re: Aramaic Version Of the NT?!?!?
> I fully agree with Mark's assessment, but you might be interested in a
> bit more detail.
> > ----
> > Could anyone tell me if it would be worthwhile
> > >to study the NT Aramaic translations?
> > ----
> >
> > No. Don't give it a second thought.
> >
> > Mark Wilson
> There are a few folks out there who think that parts of (or in some of
> the weirder versions, nearly all of) the NT were written in Aramaic.
> It's certainly clear that many of the characters in the NT spoke Aramaic
> as a first language, probably including Jesus.  The Gospels and even
> epistles record various Aramaic words ("talitha koum", "maranatha",
> "abba").  Depending on who you ask, some of Jesus' sayings, if you
> back-translate them, may reveal Aramaic word-plays.  And several books
> of the NT seem to have sentence structures that are more like those
> found in semitic writings than in literary Greek texts (Mark and
> Revelation, for instance).  Oddly enough, Matthew, which is usually the
> Gospel most referenced in this respect (due to a quote from Papias about
> Matthew having written in "the Hebrew dialect"), doesn't seem to be
> nearly as strongly influenced in this way: he's not as polished as, say,
> Luke, but his Greek is far more idiomatic than, say, Revelation is.
> But that's about as far as the evidence goes.  There are no Aramaic
> versions of any NT books which are known to be from before the middle
> ages.  (There are a couple different Aramaic versions of Matthew
> floating around, but they each differ from each other, and were probably
> back-translated to Aramaic from Greek centuries if not millennia later.)
> What evidence there is can be best explained by acknowledging that (a)
> Greek was not the first language of many of the writers, and (b) that
> some of the materials they used -- written and oral -- were perhaps
> originally spoken or composed in a semitic language.  But there's no
> convincing evidence that ANY of the NT books were originally written
> down by their authors in Aramaic.
> Ken Smith
> ---
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