cultural manifesto (was:Aramaic Version Of the NT?!)

Randall Buth ButhFam at
Fri Aug 17 06:24:00 EDT 2001

shalom Dylan, 

You could benefit from a little more beyond the responses on the list so
(If you're interested in hard detail, come to my review of Casey, Aramaic 
Sources ... 1998, at the Historical Jesus section in Denver at SBL this

>Could anyone tell me if it would be worthwhile
>to study the NT Aramaic translations?  I know there are some weird things
>that do not jive with the greek, viz. 'pveuma' is neuter in koine, yet the
>Aramaic text renders the word for spirit in the feminine......should I
>disregard the hype surrounding the Aramaic?  And, do you think Jesus spoke
>Aramaic more than Greek or Hebrew? 

Some guidelines: 
1. You are right to be careful because there is a lot of hype and sometimes
poorly informed opinion in print by well-known scholars. Logically, by
this I even render this email suspect. Such is the state of the field. 

2. Language is an indexing network to a culture. One does not interpret a 
language or text without a cultural background, nor does one understand a 
culture without access to the culture's language(s) and their own 
writings/expressions in the original language. 

3. Forutnately, we have a large repository of Jewish writings that provide
framework for the NT. 
In time and cultural proximity to the gospels, the closest 
writings are the tannaitic rabbinic writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Full
to these requires fluency (not 'dabbling' or "27 credits") in Hebrew. To
this must 
be added the Jewish intertestamental writings, which means spaning a
bridge between Jewish culture and the Greek language and culture. To 
these, temporally secondary, may be added the Aramaic targums as 
additional sources recording ancient Jewish biblical exegesis. Syriac NT 
traditions are the most distant culturally. They are very valuable,
in showing how a ME Christian community read the Greek NT in the 2-5th 
centuries. Palestinian lectionaries (Syriac script, western Aramaic)
a geographically closer reading tradition from the 5-10th centuries.

4. Are the above valuable? .... Beyond any doubt. The amazing thing is how 
interpreters have often been content to manage with 'crippled' access to 
much of it. 

In general, while the gospels present interesting links to (+/-
 Essene and Sadducean practices, Jesus' teaching and records place him on 
the map within a popular Pharisaic/Hasidic world. The sophistication and 
cultural appropriateness of the teaching and situations in the  "simple"
stories is what is usually lost 'between the lines'. And all the Greek in
the world 
can't put that back in. 
As an example, look at commentaries to Luke 4.18-19 and see what 
they do with the scripture reading. Let me know when you find a reference 
to "gezera shava" ("comparable cut/form" a Hillel-ian scriptural principle)

in Jesus' use of the scripture. 

Until you are at home in the Pharisaic/Hasidic cultural world, you can use
following rule of thumb for language: Jesus and his followers used 
Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, these three... and the greatest of these ... 
is -- probably the wrong question. 

yisge shlamax
shalom uvraxot

Randall Buth, PhD
Lecturer, Biblical Hebrew
Rothberg International School
Hebrew University

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