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About the Peshitta V3

About the Peshitta V2.0
About the Peshitta V2.0

This article can be read in conjunction with our article on “Inspiration and Scripture”, which is contained in Nazarene Scripture Studies, Volume 2.

Sometimes we get asked if the Aramaic Peshitta is the inspired text. While we believe in a Semitic (i.e., Hebrew or Aramaic) inspiration, the short answer is no. We do not believe that either of them are inspired, because when one reads them, one encounters many “Hellenisms”, which are due (most likely) to an underlying Greek text, or at least serious Greek influences on the text. Either one of these conditions means that in spite of claims to the contrary, neither the Aramaic Peshitta nor the Peshitto are the originally inspired texts that were written by the apostles.

Details:

To clarify, as we state in Nazarene Israel, we believe in a Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) inspiration of the original texts, simply because Yeshua was a devout Jew, and all of His first disciples were Jews. We are also theologically open to the concept of Galilean Aramaic originals, since that is the dialect of Aramaic that Yeshua and His disciples would have spoken. However, the Peshitta is written in Syriac Aramaic, which is not a dialect that Yeshua or His disciples spoke. (Just to give an idea, imagine, for example, a document that was supposed to originate in England in the Middle Ages was written in an American English dialect that did not exist at the time it was supposed to have been written.)

Without taking time for an exhaustive discussion, a Hebraic inspiration makes sense because Hebrew is the primary set-apart language, and Yeshua spoke Hebrew. However, Aramaic would also make sense, as many of Yeshua’s disciples were from Galilee, and spoke Aramaic (which Yeshua probably also spoke).

Mattityahu (Matthew) 26:73
73 And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Kepha, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”

Marqaus (Mark) 14:70 But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Kepha again, “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it.”

Because parts of the Tanach (especially Daniel and Ezra) were written in Aramaic, either a Hebrew or an Aramaic inspiration fits a Hebraic context. However, it also makes sense that these Semitic originals would have been translated into Greek as soon as possible, because the apostles were very much aware that their mission was to go into all nations, and make disciples.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 28:18-20
18  And Yeshua came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them in my name*,
20  “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amein.

(Note: to understand why we immerse in Yeshua’s name, please see, “Immerse In Yeshua’s Name Only”, in Nazarene Scripture Studies Volume 3

In practical terms, this means the disciples understood that their mission was to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (also called Ephraim, or Joseph).

Mattityahu (Matthew) 10:6
“But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Mattityahu (Matthew) 15:24
But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Because Ephraim had been scattered into the nations, to reach the Ephraimites, they would have to speak Greek. That is also why we do not reject the ancient Greek manuscripts, is that they are the closest to the original copies of the original Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) originals.

About the Hebrew Matthew:

Many of the Church Fathers tell us that at least Mark was first written in Hebrew, and then was soon translated into Greek (for the Dispersion), and perhaps other languages as well.

Papias (150-170 CE) – Matthew composed the words in the Hebrew dialect, and each translated as he was able. [Quoted by Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 3:39]

Ireneus (170-180 CE) – Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.” [Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3:1:1]

Origen (210 CE) – The first [Gospel] is written according to Matthew, the same that was once a tax collector, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ who having published it for the Jewish believers, wrote it in Hebrew. [Quoted by Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 6:25]

Eusebius (315 CE) – Matthew also, having first proclaimed the Gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to the other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue, and thus supplied the want of his presence to them by his writings. [Eccl. Hist. 3:24]

Epiphanius (370 CE) – They [the Nazarenes] have the Gospel according to Matthew quite complete in Hebrew, for this Gospel is certainly still preserved among them as it was first written, in Hebrew letters. [Panarion 29:9:4]

We have several of the Hebrew Matthew manuscripts (Shem Tov, Du Tillet, Munster, and some others), and more are discovered all the time. To the best of my knowledge, all of the existing Hebrew manuscripts suffer significantly from what are called “Hellenisms”. This means that the text is significantly influenced by the Greek. This can happen when either the text in question is a translation of an underlying Greek text (which is the majority academic opinion about the Peshitta), or it can be a descendant of the originals that has been corrupted by rewriting with Greek influences. However, either way, it means it is NOT the original Semitic text.

About the Septuagint

The Septuagint was an official translation of the Hebrew text into Greek some 200 to 300 years before Yeshua. Because this was the version that was known throughout the known world at that time, and because the disciples were to go into all nations and raise up disciples, they quoted the Septuagint more often than they did the Masoretic Text. It seems possible that they may have done this either because there was some known corruption in the Masoretic text, or because they knew that their epistles would be translated into Greek and other languages, and read out in all of the nations in the known world, and the text that was used in the dispersion in those days was the Septuagint. Therefore, it would have made sense to quote from the Septuagint, since the purpose was to reach the lost sheep of the house of Israel, out in the dispersion.

Hellenisms in the Peshitta

There are too many issues to catalogue them all here, but for one example, the Apostle Shaul is not Shaul, but Paulos (פולוס), even when he goes up to Jerusalem—yet in Hebraic circles he would have been Shaul.

Acts 21:18
18 On the following day Shaul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
 

  PEH Acts 21:18 וליומא אחרנא עלן עם פולוס לות יעקוב כד אית הוא לותה כלהון קשׁישׁא׃

Another issue is that the Peshitta uses the word Eucharistia (דאוכרסטיא) for bread in Acts. This is clearly a reference to the (Catholic) Eucharist (which is a Roman invention).

Acts 2:42
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of the Eucharist, and in prayers.
 

  PEH Acts 2:42 ואמינין הוו ביולפנא דשׁליחא ומשׁתותפין הוו בצלותא ובקציא דאוכרסטיא׃

This stands in marked contrast to the typical Aramaic word for bread, which is lechema (לחמא), which is a close relative of the Hebrew word lechem (לחם). In fact, the Aramaic Peshitta records that the bread Yeshua broke during the Last Supper was lechema (לחמא).

Luke 22:1919 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

 

  PEH Luke 22:19 ונסב לחמא ואודי וקצא ויהב להון ואמר הנו פגרי דעל אפיכון מתיהב הדא הויתון עבדין לדוכרני׃

The Eucharist is Esav’s invention, and the fact that the Peshitta incorporates the Eucharist would seem to indicate a backwards-translation into Aramaic from a Roman source. This would explain the many Hellenisms in the text.

Let us also consider Mark 15:34, where the Peshitta quotes Yeshua (who was speaking Aramaic), and makes a point of translating His Aramaic speech into Aramaic text (which makes no sense).

Mark 15:34
34 And at the ninth hour Yeshua cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lamna sabachthani?” which is translated, “Elohi, Elohi, lamna sabachthani?”
 

Mar 15:34  ובַתשַע שָעִין קעָא יֶשֻוע בּקָלָא רמָא וֶאמַר אִיל אִיל למָנָא שבַקתָּני דִּאיתֶיה אַלָהי אַלָהי למָנָא שבַקתָּני ׃

If Mark hypothetically wrote Yeshua’s Aramaic speech into an Aramaic scroll that would later be incorporated directly into the Peshitta, he would not have said the words, “which is translated”. Instead he would simply have recorded what Yeshua said (without the comment).

About the Masoretic Text

We do not have time to unpack it here, but there are many indications that the Masoretic (or “Traditionalist”) Hebrew text was altered at some point, to follow the rabbinic traditions (which is why it is called the “Traditionalist” text). To state it briefly, it is mainly reliable, but one should know about two lists of emendations by the sopherim. There is one of 18 emendations (alterations), and another of 134 emendations (alterations) that is little-known. In general and for the most part this text can be used, but be aware that there have been alterations (and in fact, there are issues with all the known texts).

Conclusion

Again, we are not experts on the Aramaic Peshitta, but while we also wish for a clean Hebraic or Galilean Aramaic inspiration, the Aramaic Peshitta does not appear to be it. However, it can be good to read this version for insights.

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