Friday, December 6, 2013

The Misuse of Aramaic Primacy

I hold the Aramaic Peshitta New Testament to be one of two things:

1. The original New Testament.

2. The closest we have to the original New Testament.

If the Peshitta is one of these two things, then we should study it and revere it. Since the Greek and Latin are all translations of the Peshitta, then translational errors are to be expected. Mistranslations are not always small mistranslations of verbs and plural/singular confusion, sometimes they can heavily effect theology. Does Aramaic primacy have any major effect on Christian theology?

Many people turn to Aramaic primacy when they see that many of the apparent contradictions in most Bibles that have troubled them for years simply disappear (like the differences between the genealogies in Matthew and Luke). Others, like myself, turned to Aramaic primacy for purely academic reasons. Some people (mostly Assyrian Christians), however, were raised believing that the Peshitta is the original New Testament.

Based on what I have seen, the Aramaic Peshitta appears to be free of error of any kind. There is no false theology, difficult verses that cannot be explained, or historical errors. Because of the Peshitta's purity and beauty, it has been referred to as "the Queen of the Versions". Many people have used this purity in order to support their own theology when it cannot be found in the Greek New Testament.

Out of the many translations of the Aramaic Peshitta, few are without obvious theological bias from their translators. Here are some examples:

Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text- George M. Lamsa's translation of the Aramaic text is notable for it's departure from the clear meaning of the text in places. In several places, George Lamsa sometimes translates the Aramaic words daywah and shada (both mean "demons" in English) as "insane" or "lunatics". The accounts in the Gospels and Acts of demonic possession all support the idea that this "insanity" was not caused by natural circumstances, but by evil spirits.

Aramaic English New Testament- Andrew Gabriel Roth's translation (which is also a revision of Paul Younan's Interlinear of the Gospels and the Book of Acts from Acts 1-15 and James Murdock's New Testament translation from Acts 16-Revelation 22) is probably my favorite modern translation of the Peshitta, but it also is not without its issues. Andrew Roth's Netzari theology sometimes comes through in places where it shouldn't. In Colossians 2:16 in the AENT reads, "Let no (pagan) therefore judge you about food and drink, or about the distinctions of festivals and new moons and Shabbats." The word "pagan" is in parenthesis, meaning that it is not in the Aramaic text. The Aramaic (using Murdock's translation) reads, "Let no one therefore disquiet you about food and drink, or about the distinctions of festivals, and new moons, and Sabbaths..." This is one of very few places where this theological bias shows up (II Corinthians 13:5 and Hebrews 7:12 being a few).

The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English- In Matthew 13:42, David Bauscher translates the Aramaic as, "They will cast them into the essence of fire; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Etheridge translates as, "...and cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!" This fits the context more soundly. The word for "essence/furnace" can be translated both ways, so Bauscher translated in a way that suited his Universalist theology more. This is the only time his theological bias shows us. Bauscher also translates the Aramaic phrase ena 'na (I am) as "I AM THE LIVING GOD" when used by God and Jesus. Jesus is God and ena 'na is almost always a divine utterance (referring to the eternal existence self-existence of God), it should simply be translated as "I AM". Ena 'na is used by God 97% of the time in the Peshitta Tanakh. I only know of one time in which ena 'na was used by a mere man in the Peshitta New Testament (John 9:9). Another place is Matthew 5:3, which Bauscher translates as, "Blessed by The Spirit are the poor, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." His Interlinear more accurately renders it as "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The Aramaic word b'rukh can be translated as "in spirit", "by spirit", or "by the Spirit", but no other translator (including the three native speakers that have translated from the Aramaic: George Lamsa, Vic Alexander, Paul Younan) has translated it as Bauscher has.

Aramaic New Testament- Victor Alexander translates the Aramaic word qnomah as if it was qnomeh in several places, and he translates it as "Trinity" (see John 5:26 for an example). The Aramaic word qnomah has no equivalent in any other language. The closest you can come is by defining it as "an individual nature". This term is used to describe the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ by Assyrian Christians. Victor Alexander and other Assyrian Christians have a different view of the Trinity doctrine than Western Christians, but the word is singular here in the Aramaic, not plural (even though it is spelled the same).

As you can see, many people read into the Peshitta what they want it to say. The Aramaic is simple, direct, and pure (which is what "Peshitta" means in Aramaic). The Peshitta does not have anything that will shock a true Christian theologically to change their beliefs. The Peshitta bears witness to the deity of Christ by referring to Him as MarYa (Lord Yahweh) and Alaha (Romans 9:5). The Peshitta supports the existence of angels and demons, as well as the reality of the afterlife and the resurrection at the Last Day (I Corinthians 15.  The Peshitta also supports the fact that the Law of Moses has been exchanged for the Law of Christ (II Corinthians 5:8; Galatians 4:21-5:1). The study of the Aramaic Peshitta will strengthen your faith and increase your love for the Word of God.