Monday, December 16, 2013

James Murdock's The Syriac New Testament

This classic New Testament translation is translated from the Aramaic (Syriac) Western Peshitto text. It is an Aramaic text written in the a dialect of Aramaic closely related to the language of Jesus (Western Aramaic). The New Testament was most likely mostly written originally in the Koine (Common) Greek language, which was the lingua franca of the Roman empire at the time of Christ and His apostles. The Syriac Peshitto and it's older counterpart the Eastern Peshitta (virtually the same, but doesn't have II Peter, II & III John, Jude, and Revelation, or "the Western Five").

This is one of the first translations from the Aramaic New Testament to English, done around the same as John Wesley Etheridge's more literal translation of the Peshitto (A Literal Translation of the New Testament From the Peschito Syriac) and way before Dr. George Mamishishu Lamsa commenced his famous (but flawed) translation of the Peshitta: The Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text. James Murdock was very faithful to the Peshitto text he used, as was Etheridge, making the translations very useful for study. I would say that this is one of the most reliable translations of the Syriac New Testament into the English language.

One advantage Murdock's New Testament has over the Etheridge and some of the other English translations of the Aramaic (Peshitta or Peshitto) is that it employs use of more familiar terminology. Instead of Murdock transliterating "Mar Eshoa Meshikha" and "Shimon Keefa" into English, he translated them into the more familiar "Lord Jesus Messiah" (the Greek based word "Christ" appears nowhere in Murdock's translation) and "Simon Cephas" (using the hellenized version of Keefa, which appears in the Greek New Testament, rather than using "Peter" from the Greek "Petros" ).

If you read the King James Version, you won't notice much difference and it will feel very familiar, because the Murdock New Testament uses the same, more archaic language as the KJV. On the other hand, this could make the translation harder to read. Another fun-fact about this is that this was one of the base texts used by Andrew Gabriel Roth for his Aramaic-English New Testament (with the Younan Interlinear for Matthew 1-Acts 15 and Murdock's New Testament from Acts 15-Revelation 22).

Unlike most translations of the Peshitto/Peshitta, Murdock stands with Etheridge and David Bauscher (The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English, The Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament), he translates the cry of dereliction (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34), "Elohi, Elohi, lemana shabakthani?" more correctly by translating "shabakthani" (which can be translated several different ways) as "forsaken" rather than "spared" (like Lamsa, Andrew Gabriel Roth, and Paul Younan did). Another difference between this and the more famous Lamsa Bible is that Murdock stands with most New Testament translations in translating Matthew 19:24 with "camel" instead of "rope" (the Aramaic words for "camel" and "rope" are spelled the same). He also translates the Aramiac word for "apostle" as "legate", which is a word I've honestly never encountered before.

The only real flaw with the Murdock translation that I see (that also appears in the Lamsa and Etheridge translations) is that it fails to make an important distinction between two key Aramic terms applied to our Lord Jesus: Mar (Lord, human or divine) and MarYah (Lord Yah or Lord YHWH, only applied to Alaha, or God), by translating both as Lord (making it unclear whether or not the deity of Christ is being referred when He is called "Lord") . To sum it all up, the Murdock Peshitto translation is very accurate and trustworthy. I personally prefer reading Etheridge's translation (for it's literalness and use of Semitic terminology) over this, but I still use both quite a bit. I have access to several translations of the Peshitto and Peshitta and I have found these to be some of the most reliable translations of the Peshitto. I highly recommend purchasing The Syriac New Testament for your Bible collection!
 Here are some sample verses:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, should not perish, but should have life eternal.- John 3:16

In many ways, and many forms, God anciently conversed with our fathers, by the prophets: but in these latter days, he hath conversed with us, by his Son; whom he hath constituted heir of all things, and by whom he made the worlds;who is the splendor of his glory, and the image of himself, and upholdeth all by the energy of his word; and by himself he made a purgation of sins, and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.- Hebrews 1:1-3

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all our sins. And if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all our iniquity.If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not with us.- I John 1:7-10