Within the Torah-Observant community, it is not at all uncommon to hear someone say, "Well the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic, so that's why there looks like there is a contradiction…but the Aramaic clears it all up." While this is certainly not the only rationale behind the premise of Aramaic Primacy, it is one of the most common in our circles. In this article, we'll give a fair examination of the Aramaic Primacist position, and go a little deeper than many of it proponents seem to go.
Some of the other common phrases you're likely to hear by those that support the idea of an Aramaic original New Testament are:
And, my personal favorite, "Aramaic is a holy language, just like Hebrew. Aramaic is even in parts of the Tanakh (OT). Greek is the language of pagans, and is impure. Greek uses pagan titles like 'Theos' for 'Elohim' and 'Kurios' for the Tetragrammaton, YHWH."
Now, if you've never heard of Aramaic Primacy, it is simply this: the belief that the writings of the Apostles (New Testament) were originally written in Aramaic and NOT Greek. The first thing to point out though is that there are, even among Aramaic Primacists, differing views as to which dialect of Aramaic is the "original." This dispute can ususally be classified into two competing theories: Syriac and Galilean Aramaic. Galilean Aramaic is written with a script very similar to Classical Imperial Aramaic and Hebrew, and is a closely related language to what we call Biblical Aramaic. Syriac has its own script, and various forms of it.
A Matter of Dialects
If this sounds strange, I'll put it this way: do people from Mexico speak Spanish? Of course! Do people from Spain speak Spanish? Of course! Yet ask any Mexican if they speak the same "dialect" of Spanish as those from Spain (called Castilian) and you'll quickly come to learn they do not. That's how it is for Aramaic. There are many different dialects of Aramaic: Chaldean (Babylonian), Syriac (which itself is split into Eastern and Western), Galilean, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, and more. Aramaic even gave birth to other languages such as Nabataean and Arabic. While these are all very similar, they are nonetheless different languages.
Let me start off by saying that I, personally, do believe that Yeshua spoke Aramaic as a daily language. Without a doubt. He was a Jew travelling in and around Judea in the early First Century CE. However, that is not what we're looking at here. We are looking at what language the writings of the NT were written in, and this is an important distinction to make. Saying because Yeshua spoke Aramaic that it must have been written in Aramaic would be like saying because Abraham grew up in Ur of the Chaldeans, everything about him must have been written in Chaldean (Aramaic). But that is not the case. Moses wrote Genesis in Hebrew.
Now in the spirit of transparency and intellectual honesty, it is true that there are parts of Scripture in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that are preserved only in Aramaic, not Hebrew. For all we know, these sections were actually never written in Hebrew to begin with. The middle sections of Daniel (2:4b – 7:28) are written solely in Aramaic. Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26 are likewise written in Aramaic. For Daniel, the reason for this is debated. For Ezra, it's likely because these are recorded letters of correspondence between the Jews and the Persian empire. Nevertheless, these sections of Scripture are recorded in what is commonly called Biblical Aramaic. This is the basis for the statement that Aramaic is a "holy language." Many Aramaic Primacists also quote the Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 7.2, which says, “Let not the Aramaic be esteemed by you lightly my son; as the Holy One, blessed be He, has seen fit to give it voice in the Torah and the Prophets and the Writings.”
This is because there is an Aramaic word in the Torah, the sections of Ezra/Daniel (as mentioned) in the Writings, and a verse in Jeremiah in the Prophets.
(See Gen. 31:37; the name that Laban calls the place is in Aramaic, while Jacob gives it the same name in Hebrew. Jer. 10:11; the sentence denouncing idolatry is in Aramaic. The aforementioned sections of Daniel and Ezra.)
This seems to make a solid case. To be sure, no sections of the Tanakh are written (originally) in Greek, or any other language. However, there are a few things we need to consider to get all of the facts.
First of all, the most common Aramaic Primacist position is that of Peshitta Primacy. "Peshitta" (פשיטתא) is the Aramaic word that means "simple" or "common." It is similar to the Latin word "Vulgate" which also means "simple." This was meant to imply that it was simple enough for the common man to read. The other – though much less common – opinion is that Galilean Aramaic is the dialect that the NT was written in, or at the very least, the Gospels. The primary issue with the Galilean Primacy theory is that there is not one single piece of textual evidence in existence today. Not even one manuscript of evidence of the NT has ever been found in Galilean Aramaic. While there are many manuscripts of the Syriac Peshitta NT, there are none in Galilean, except for a few late lectionaries and other such writings, none of which can claim to be original.
However, Syriac was known to be a dialect that gained traction about 200 years after the last book of the NT was finished, and there is no evidence of the Syriac dialect existing in Judea during the time the NT was being written. The only available manuscript evidence comes well AFTER all the books of the NT were finished.
I will state right now that dialectal differences are extremely important, as we'll see in this article. Just because a dialect can claim to be "Aramaic" does not mean it is equal to all Aramaic dialects.
Now the debate between Greek Primacists and Aramaic Primacists has been waged for quite a few years. I will be presenting some of the main points used for Aramaic Primacy, in an attempt to assist the reader in seeing the bigger picture. At the end of this writing, I will give my own opinion as to the original language of the NT. In nearly any and every article I have found on the subject, there are slants and biases: Greek Primacists seek to uphold thousands of years of tradition and Church teaching, while Aramaic Primacists feel the need to prove that Aramaic is somehow holier than Greek. This is why I have chosen to write this article.
Please, make sure you note something right now: I do not want to argue endlessly about this. If you have points to make for your side (be it Greek or Aramaic), then please, by all means, leave a friendly comment. But I will not be arguing about this endlessly, and I will not tolerate disrespect - towards me or anyone else - on this site. I have spent months studying the issues with both Greek and Aramaic, using some of the best evidence currently available, and have found that the topic is ALWAYS a heated debate. I am not saying that studying it for months makes me some sort of Greek or Aramaic scholar, and I am absolutely positive that there are many individuals out there that know both languages much better than I do. However, I only desire to present the facts as I find them.
As a quick side-note, since the Syriac Aramaic font is not very web-friendly, I will be writing all Semitic words (Hebrew and Syriac) in the standard Hebrew Ashuri script. The two languages do, after all, share an alphabet.
It should also be noted that when quoting from the "Aramaic NT" it will taken as quotes from the Syriac Aramaic Peshitta, as it is the only dialect of Aramaic that contains the entire NT.
[If, during any point of your reading of this article, you would like to "fact check" my work with the Peshitta, please feel free to do so. If you do not have access to a Peshitta, you can view one online (along with 3 different English translations and a lexicon) at www.dukhrana.com/peshitta. I would also recommend my fellow Logos users check out this resource library bundle here on Logos for working with Syriac, as it also include many other resources.]
So, let's get down to the text itself. Since Greek Primacy is already the common theory, I'll start by presenting the common examples that Aramaic Primacists claim disprove Greek Primacy. This article will focus on some of the important differences, and show what goes on behind the scenes. Aramaic Primacy articles can be found all over the Internet, with many purported "proofs" found at the Peshitta.org forum. I highly recommend you visit there if you want to see very long discussions on the Peshitta. Most members there are, in fact, Peshitta Primacists, though not all. I am a member there, and I have been greatly edified by many of the posts. It also helps you to do the research yourself so that you know I am not simply makign thigns up, or else strawman-ing the argument. Some of the points here are found as "proofs" on the forum site, and as such I want to give the reader to opportunity to view all available information. Just remember that on the site, most people have noticeable bias leaning towards Peshitta Primacy.
The Gospel of Matthew contains the most of these examples, so we'll look at a few. First, the supposed "proof" of Aramaic Primacy. After examining these "proofs" we will look at the other possibilities, that Aramaic Primacists tend to leave out when explaining the manuscript evidence.
First, let's examine Matthew 1.
At First Glance
Matthew 1:15-17 – "15Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Yeshua was born, who is called the Messiah. 17So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations."
In Greek, this is all we have. But notice, we have two primary problems: 1) if Joseph's father was Jacob, then why does Luke 3 say that Heli was Joseph's father? Indeed, Luke actually gives an entirely separate genealogical account from Matthew. 2) if you count the generations between Abraham to David, you get fourteen. From David to deportation to Babylon, fourteen. But if you count the generations from deportation to Messiah, as listed above, you only get 13. How can that be possible? Aramaic Primacy has the answer: Joseph was not only the name of Mary's husband, but also the name of her father! How so? The explanation will be explored in a moment. For now, the next proof text.
Matthew 19:24 – "Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Elohim."
Aramaic Primacists state that this phrase regarding a camel passing through the eye of a needle makes absolutely no sense. They state that the word in Aramaic for "camel" is גמלא (gamala), which is spelled the same way in Aramaic as the word gamla, which means "thick rope." Thus, the translation should not be "camel" but rather "thick rope." This would imply that only after a careful process of "unraveling" all the threads that keep a rich man tied down can the strands fit through the eye of the needle. Therefore, they say, the idiom makes sense.
Next: Matthew 27:9 – "9Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 'AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET' by the sons of Israel."
If you look all through the Book of Jeremiah, you will never find the above quote. That is because it is from Zechariah. So why does the Greek NT say it was Jeremiah who wrote it? Because it is wrong. Or so the Aramaic Primacists will tell you. Most Peshitta manuscripts, however, omit the name completely; they simply read, "that which was spoken through the prophet was fulfilled…"
Thus, here we find evidence (?) that the Greek offers a contradiction, whereas the Aramaic has no problems. This becomes a crucial part of understanding.
Matthew 26:6 – "6Now when Yeshua was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper…"
According to Leviticus 13:46, a Leper must live alone, outside the camp. Surely this must be a contradiction? How could a leper live inside the city? Aramaic Primacists have an answer for this "contradiction" as well.
Next let's look at a number of phrases found in the Greek text, that are themselves Aramaic in origin. Then we'll go back and dive deeper into our examples from Matthew.
Talitha kum. Mark 5:41 And taking the hand of the child, He said to her, "Talitha kum", which translates as, "Little girl, I say to you, get up." [The image above is a photo of the Greek Codex Sinaiticus. The highlighted sections in red read, ΤΑΛΙΘΑΚΟΥΜ, or, "talitha koum."
Ephphatha. Mark 7:34 And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," which is 'be opened.'
Raca. Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council.
Boanerges. Mark 3:17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder");
These phrases are written even in the Greek text. Surely this proves that there is significant Aramaic influence in the Greek. The Greek equivalents of these words are completely different, so if the NT was originally Greek, we should expect some original Greek phrases, right?
To begin, let's go back over our example verses.
Matthew 1: Peshitta Primacists will tell you that Matthew 1:16 does not state that Joseph was the husband of Mary, but rather that Joseph was Mary's father. This would mean that Joseph was the name of her husband, as well as the name of her father. This, then, clears up the issue with needed 14 generations, as Joseph would be 12th, Mary 13th, and Yeshua 14th. So why does it read, "husband" then? Well in Greek, the word used is ανερ (aner) which literally just means "man; male." When used in the possessive form (that is, "my man" or "Mary's man") it means "husband." In Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and numerous other ancient languages, there is no separate word for "husband" and "wife" than from "man" and "woman." In Hebrew, the word איש (ish) means "man" but אישי (Ishi) means "my man." Thus it is taken to mean "husband." The same goes for Greek.
But in the Peshitta, it does not use the standard word for "husband" or "my man." Rather, it uses גברה (gowrah) which is usually defined as "man; male." This is sometimes used as "husband" and sometimes as "father" (as it appears in Matt. 7:9). So the Aramaic Primacist (AP) states that this, then, solves the problem. While Greek is very ambiguous and, indeed, contradictory, Aramaic clears it up. Joseph was the name of Mary's father, as well as her husband. This gives us 14 generations, and it means that Luke gives Joseph's genealogy, whereas Matthew gives Mary's. But there's a problem with that.
For starters, if it meant to say Joseph was Mary's father, why does it not say that Joseph was the אב (av) of Mary? Why not say that Joseph "begat" (Syr.: ילד) Mary, as it does in the rest of the chapter? Why interrupt the entire flow of the verse (and the preceding 15 verses) to completely change gears mid-sentence? If it were meant to be understood as "father" we would expect the sentence structure to remain the same, but it does not.
Secondly, other places where the word is taken to mean "father" such as Mat. 7:9 do not fit, as there it simply means "man." The Greek does not use πατηρ (pater) or "father" in Mat. 7:9, it uses ανθροπος (Anthropos) which also simply means "man." So it is not so "cut and dry" as the Peshitta Primacists would have you believe. This is also why every major scholarly translation of the Peshitta (Etheridge, Murdock, and Lamsa) translates the word as "husband" and not as "father." True classical Syriac scholars have never pushed this translation and interpretation. This does not go for other versions such as the Aramaic English New Testament [AENT] (by far the most popular among Hebrew Roots folks), which does push this theory. Further, it is - by my own personal estimation - the driving force behind this theory.
Of these translations, as mentioned, the AENT is by far the most common today. There is also the Hebrew Roots Version [HRV] by James Trimm, which uses a hodgepodge of source texts. It uses a Medieval Hebrew translation of Matthew, and for the rest of the Gospels it uses both the Peshitta and the "Old Scratch." The Old Scratch is the nickname for the Old Syriac, which was used before the language was standardized in the form present in the Peshitta. There are two primary Gospel manuscripts in Old Syriac: the Curetonian Gospels and the Syriac Sinaiticus, both of which are fragmentary. For the rest of it, the HRV uses the Peshitta. A similarly named Bible, the Hebraic Roots Bible, uses Murdock's English Peshitta translation as well. This was edited by Don Esposito.
There are also other English translations of the Peshitta that are scholarly works, and many of them are much more original translations than those above. (Note: Esposito's HRB uses the Murdock translation with slight modifications to names and such. Trimm's HRV uses various modified translations including original translation by Trimm. Roth's AENT uses Paul Younan's Gospels and Acts, with the rest of the NT being Murdock's version. All of which have been modified by Roth, especially the book of Galatians).
Janet Magiera has produced not only an entire NT translation of the Peshitta, but has also created an interlinear format, that is keyed to her own dictionaries and concordances. There is also Rev. David Bauscher's translation, which is quite popular. These two, along with the three mentioned above (Etheridge, Murdock, and Lamsa) are all traditional Christian translations, so it is my theory that that is why they are not popular among Hebrew Roots groups. Most retain the name "Jesus" and the title "Christ" as well as "Lord" and "God" and other such terms. But, that's enough of a rabbit trail on that for now.
I will not be laying out an exposition of another possible explanation regarding the genealogy and how to reconcile it (hint: it involves the writings of Eusebius), but there are other ways of doing this. I will save one possibility for later on in this article when discussing Matthew's original language. Needless to say, what we can say for certain is that there is a reason virtually no Syriac scholar agrees with the supposition that gowra is meant to be understood as "father:" because it isn't how the word is used in the passage.
Matthew 19:24: In our next example, Matt. 19:24, we saw how it talks about a camel going through the eye of a needle. That sounds kind of dumb, right? What sort of idiom is that?
Well, as mentioned, in Syriac it could simply say "thick rope" rather than "camel" as the word גמלא could mean either, depending on the vowels. APs say that since the vowels were added later, many years after the texts were first penned, it originally read "thick rope" but then was later altered by scribal error. Then, when the Greek was translated from Syriac, it contained the same error.
Well it should be pointed out that yes, this is surely a possibility. The two words gamla and gamala are spelled the same way in Syriac. However, what is the issue with it being a camel? The Talmud contains the following statement, in an attempt to explain that dreams reveal the thoughts of a man's heart: "They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle."
This statement is found in the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot 55b). This, too, seems odd, yet the analogy should be very clear: a giant animal cannot fit through the eye of a needle. It is just that simple. Yeshua was not giving them some impossible parable; He was drawing on something they obviously understood culturally. What is more, is that if the statement was meant to be understood as a thick rope, then we have another issue in reconciling the next 2 verses. The disciples wonder, "who then can be saved?" and Yeshua says, "with men, this is impossible."
The understanding of this verse is not, "unravel each strand of rope, symbolizing that you can untangle yourself from the worries and riches of the world, and then you can do it." The understanding is, "YOU can't do it. At all. Period." That’s the point. Only God can do it. The reason a camel is used is because it was the largest domestic animal in Judea at that time. In the Babylonian Talmud, for the Jews that lived in Babylonia (Persia), the elephant was the largest domestic animal, and thus the elephant served as a better representation of a large creature.
However, if you're bent on sticking with the "thick rope" translation, it could also be said that this, too, originated in Greek. Cyril of Alexandria stated that καμελος (kamelos) or "camel" was a misprint for καμηλος (kamilos), which means "cable." So either way, we could just as easily say it started with the Greek, and then became corrupted in both languages. This is clearly no proof of anything. What is worse, however, is that taking the Peshitta Primacist's explanation would cause the text to in fact say the opposite of what Yeshua was saying. That enters a whole different realm of dangerous.
Matthew 27:9: Next we have Matthew 27:9. It is true, the prophet Jeremiah was not the one who made the referenced prophecy. It was Zechariah. The reading of "Jeremiah" is well-attested in Greek manuscripts, and no NT Greek scholar will deny that it is there, nor will they deny that we have no reason to believe it hasn't always been there. So most APs stop right there and issue a "gotcha!" However, it is not so simple. In times past, it was common to quote multiple Scriptures together, without naming the author, or even with naming only one author. For instance, Mark 1:2-3 does this. The Greek and Syriac both agree that the quote is from Isaiah, yet we know the verse immediately quoted thereafter is from Malachi. So does that mean the "Aramaic Original" of Mark 1 is faulty? Perhaps we should look at the evidence present.
Matthew 27:9-10 reads, "9 Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel; 10 AND THEY GAVE THEM FOR THE POTTER'S FIELD, AS YHWH DIRECTED ME."
Zechariah 11:11-12 reads, "12 I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!” So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. 13Then YHWH said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of YHWH."
These two passages are clearly linked, but not entirely identical. Not even in comparing the Septuagint (LXX) to the NT quote. I believe that Yeshua was linking two different sections, and re-using texts as necessary to make His point. Jeremiah 32 has a lot to say in a similar context (buying a field), only Jeremiah's context was actually that of the price of redemption, while Zechariah's context was about the flock (people) of the Shepherd being abandoned.
You may still say this is stretch. Okay, let's say that it is. How then do you reconcile Mark 1? It clearly says 'Isaiah' in Greek and Aramaic; so why then does he start quoting Malachi? Remember that one thing textual critics have found is that scribes always tried to harmonize the gospel accounts. That is why in so many manuscripts we have phrases from John that appear in Matthew, and phrases from Matthew that appear in Luke, and so on. Scribes felt the need, in many cases, to harmonize the gospels by adding and removing words and even whole sections. A great example of this IN SYRIAC was the Diatessaron by Tatian, which included the four gospels all harmonized together.
Scribes had a tendency to add more than they did to remove (see Bruce Metzger's book The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration.) This most often happened in an attempt at harmonization, but also in an attempt to give explanation. However, numerous times things have also been removed. Let's look at the quote again, and think about the author. Now, would Matthew have said "Jeremiah" here, if he knew that was wrong? So perhaps we may think that is a later addition. However, if that is the case, why would a scribe "correct" a text by adding something to it, only for that which was added to be false? In the case presented here, it is quite simple, as all they had to do as look up the verse in Zechariah. On the other hand, if a later scribe believed this reference to Jeremiah to be false, he may have very likely felt the need to "correct" it. So the fact that it was removed by later scribes adds to the point of its authenticity, as they attempted to reconcile the reading. Since they could not, they omitted it. This actually grants more evidence for a Greek original than it does a Syriac one, as it indicates the Syriac text contains the intentional omission.
So, to summarize this point, just as easily as someone can say, "Jeremiah was added later in Greek" we could also say, "Jeremiah was removed later in Syriac." Remember, scribes tend to harmonize, and a reading of "Jeremiah" does not, on the surface, appear to be in harmony. Further, in David Stern's Jewish New Testament Commentary, he notes that at one time the scroll of the prophets began with Jeremiah. Thus when saying "Jeremiah," Yeshua may have actually been referencing the entire scroll, which included multiple of the writings of the prophets.
Matthew 26:6: Next we look at Matthew 26:6. The claim goes that since Lev. 13 says that a leper must live outside the camp, Matt. 26:6 (and corresponding verse in Mark) cannot say leper. Their solution? They say that in Aramaic, the word for leper is גרבא (garba). This is correct. They then state that the word garaba, which is spelled the same way though with different vowels, means "potter" or "jar-maker." Thus it does not say that Yeshua was in the house of Simon the leper, but Simon the potter. (Notice a trend with these "vowel swap" fixes?)
This is where it is crucial to be intellectually honest. In Greek, the word for leper is λεπρου (leprous) and is actually where we get the English word from. Potter is κεραμεως (kerameos) which is where we get words like "ceramic." Notice that the two do not at all sound or look alike. Yet this is where intellectual honesty comes in. Those that say it actually means "potter" in Aramaic are not being honest with you. For starters, all known Syriac texts that contain this section WITH vowels, read "leper" not "potter." Just as there is no Syriac text containing vowels that reads "thick rope" in the previous example we looked at, so here there is no text that agrees with their theory. But more importantly, the word for "potter" in Aramaic is פחרא (p'chara). The word garaba actually simply means "jar, bottle, pot, skin." It does not, in any way, imply a person who makes jars, bottles, pots, or skins. So if those who say it means "potter" are correct, it would only, at best, read, "…at the house of Simon the jar." It would not, as already mentioned, read, "Simon the jarMAKER."
Honesty is the best policy. How then do we reconcile this in either language? Through extensive study, to be sure. I would posit that only from the gospels themselves we cannot ascertain whether or not lepers were allowed to live in the city. True, they could not come into the Temple. However, Leviticus 13 is describing what to do while dwelling in the wilderness.
We see in Matthew 9 that Yeshua had come into "His own city" (vs. 1) and then (vs. 20) a woman with an issue of blood touched His tsitsiyot, and she was healed. Now this woman would not be allowed to come into the camp, according to Num. 5:1-4, as she had a "discharge." So why was she allowed into the city? Because these laws were for dwelling communally in the Wilderness. Once settled into the Land, they built cities, and the off-limits area would be confined to the area of the Temple proper. The whole reason for this is, as Adonai said repeatedly, "so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst." (Num. 5:3). Once the Temple was built, God did not dwell in the midst of ALL the people, but rather in the Temple. So that is why a leper was allowed to own land and live in the city. Note: even then, in our example with Simon, he did not live in Jerusalem, but rather in Bethany. APs are inventing an issue that isn't even a real issue, when telling you that a leper could not own land in Bethany.
This is simply a strawman argument. In our case, there is no issue with a leper living in the city of Bethany and owning a home and land. The strawman here is to invent an issue, for the sake of "proving" that the Greek text must be wrong, and therefore the Aramaic solves the problem. This is a logical fallacy.
One more point on this, and then we'll move on. In the case of the leper, I noted that the word as it is spelled in all known manuscripts that give the vowels, spells it as "leper" not "jar." Just as I noted that the word is not pointed for "thick rope" but rather for "camel." In both of these cases, Aramaic Primacists appeal to a sense of "gotcha" when, in fact, the evidence is stacked against them. Given that there are hundreds of Syriac Aramaic texts containing at least fragments of the NT, and that there are multiple witnesses to these texts, and not a single one reads "thick rope" or "jar," shouldn't there be at least one text out there somewhere that contains the "correct" reading?
So what about all those Aramaic words that are transliterated right into the Greek? Well, what about them? They do not prove the origin of anything. I am writing this article in English, yet I have used numerous words from numerous languages: Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic. I end every article I write with the word "Shalom." Does that mean I originally wrote it in Hebrew? Not at all.
While there are indeed numerous Aramaic word found in the Greek NT, there are also many Greek loan-words in Syriac. Indeed, while Greek uses the word νομος (nomos) for "law" (be it Torah law or any other law) the Syriac borrows this, and uses the word נמוסא (n'musa). This word is, itself, a transliterated form of the Greek word for "law." Aramaic has a word for law already, and it usually refers to the Torah. This word is אוריתא (ora'iyta). Why does the Peshitta not use that word? Actually, the consistency of the Peshitta is off, because it does in fact use the word oria'yta three times, in Mt. 11:13; 12:5; 22:40. So why use the Greek term in all other places, even where the context of the passage clearly shows it to be talking about the Torah? This must mean that the Syriac is a translation of Greek, right?
There are other Greek, and even Latin words, also used in the Peshitta. This does not, in and of itself, prove one is more original than the other. The Hebrew of the Tanakh actually uses some words that are neither Hebrew nor Aramaic, such as Akkadian and Egyptian (for example the word for "concubine" if one looks it up, will find that its origin is not Hebrew; the same for anokhi ("I") that Adonai Himself uses many times). But that doesn't mean the Torah was written in anything other than Hebrew. In fact, we have a great example in Mark 15:34 from the TLV:
34At the ninth hour Yeshua cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?”
Here it is from the Murdock translation of the Peshitta:
Mark 15:34 – "And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, and said: Il, Il, lemono shebakthone; that is: My God, my God; why hast thou forsaken me?" (Murdock Peshitta NT)
If this is originally Aramaic, why oh why does it need to "explain" what the phrase means? Why does it need to "translate" this Aramaic phrase into Aramaic, if it is originally Aramaic?
Now the APs have an answer for this, so to be fair I'll give it here. You will find that in most other cases, such as "Talitha kum" and "ephphathah" it does not say "which means" or "which is translated as" or anything. However, we still have to wonder why it DOES give an explanation in Mark 15. So the APs say that it was going from one dialect, the spoken, to another dialect, the written, and thus the need for explanation. Because Eloi (or Eli) is Hebrew for "My God" whereas in Syriac the word is אלהי (Alahi). Note, too, that the people standing by thought He was calling for Eliyahu [Elijah]. This would be because, whatever He was speaking, it sounded similar to "Eliyah." Well clearly, Eli sounds similar, though Alahi maybe not so much. So even if we accept the answer that Mark was explaining what it meant in a different dialect, we have further evidence that what was spoken in Judea was not Syriac.
Now, I want to say it again: I 100% agree that Yeshua spoke Aramaic on a daily basis. However, this does not mean I believe Yeshua's disciples wrote the NT in Aramaic.
If we are examining a text which contains words and phrases of Aramaic origin - when we know the speakers spoke Aramaic - that is no surprise. However, why would we find Greek words and phrases in the Aramaic texts? Simple loanwords? Or words carried over from Greek, of which they are a translation? I believe the "borrowed word" bit doesn't hold much water. Again, if we're only going to examine the number of Aramaic words in Greek, this may seem convincing. But the APs also know that there are many more Greek loanwords in Syriac, than there are Syriac words in Greek. Further, there are a number of Hebrew terms that are transliterated in the Greek writings as well. This does not mean the NT was originally Hebrew.
Now we'll look at some of the problems that never get discussed with Peshitta Primacy.
Manuscript Evidence and the Lack Thereof
First of all, we have manuscript evidence. Or perhaps I should say, we don't have manuscript evidence. The earliest known fragments of Syriac NT writings are Syriac Sinaiticus and the Curetonian Gospels, both Old Syriac manuscripts that represent an earlier textual tradition than the Peshitta. Both of these are dated to about the late 4th century CE, and both of them only contain fragments of the Gospels (though the majority is present). They also possess a great deal of variances between them and the Peshitta, and they tend to agree more with the earlier Greek Alexandrian Text-Type than they do they later Byzantine, which the Peshitta favors. But that's an article for another day.
Beyond these, most Syriac Peshitta manuscripts begin to pop up after the 5th century. Perhaps the most [in]famous Syriac Peshitta manuscript is the Khabouris Codex (also spelled Khaboris). This contains the entire NT except for the 5 books called the "Western Five" which even most Peshitta Primacists admit were assuredly translated from Greek into Syriac. These 5 books are 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. In fact, the official Syrian Church of the East did not accept these 5 books for many years.
[Note: at the time this article was originally written there was a link here to a website and statement published by A. G. Roth and B. Daniel. This site is no longer active and the last I heard, at least B. Daniel no longer upheld the same beliefs regarding the Peshitta. I have removed this portion of the article and the dead link]
Now, scholars and scientists alike have given the Codex a range of dates. Surely, some have dated it well after the 10th century CE, while others have given it the extremely conservative date of the 3rd century CE (about 250). However, you should be aware that the vast majority of scholars now believe it to be no earlier than the 6th century CE.
Many APs claim that the reason there is zero textual evidence from the first 3 centuries of Aramaic NT writings, is because a scribe would make a copy of a manuscript, and then burn the manuscript he copied from, out of respect. They claim this was common practice in ancient times, and that is why there are not only no early texts, but also why there are so few Syriac texts, compared to Greek and Latin. (Indeed, there are roughly 5,800 Greek NT manuscripts, more than 10,000 Latin, and only a few hundreds Syriac).
Can they prove this claim? This is also intellectually dishonest. In fact, we have good reason to believe this was not the case at all. The Cairo Genizah is a perfect example of this. In fact, any Genizah is a perfect example. In Cairo, at the Ben Ezra synagogue, a Genizah was discovered which housed hundreds upon hundreds of manuscript fragments in multiple languages. A Genizah is a sort of "retirement home" for manuscripts, when they become brittle and frail from use. Rather than destroying them, they were housed in these Genizahs. Genizah essentially means "treasury." [Note: the image below is a photograph of the Cairo Genizah]
So at this point, we have no physical, tangible proof of any original NT Syriac text from the first 3 centuries.
Next, let's look at some of the texts themselves, and see how they differ between Greek and Aramaic.
As already mentioned, the Syriac Peshitta borrows the word n'musa (law) from Greek the Greek nomos. In the Gospels, it calls Peter "Kepha." This is truly most accurate, as in some places the Greek also calls him Kephas (Cephas).
Note the verse here translated from Syriac:
18 Also I say to thee, that thou art Cephas: and upon this rock, I will build my church: and the gates of death shall not triumph over it. – Matt. 16:18 (Murdock Peshitta NT)
Here it is from a Greek base:
18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. – Matt. 16:18 (NASB95)
In Syriac, we see that Peter is named Cephas. This is spelled כאפא (kee-pha) in Syriac. Then, the word for rock, when Yeshua says, "upon this rock" in Syriac is spelled the exact same way, כאפא. However, in Greek, we see that Yeshua calls Peter "Πέτρος" (Pe-tross). Then when He says, "upon this rock" the word for rock is πέτρᾳ (pe-tra). This is a completely different word, and the meaning is very deep. Petros means "rock" or even "pebble," whereas petra means "great rock" or "cliff." In Greek, we can see that Yeshua is differentiating between the "small rock" of Peter, and the "Great rock" which He builds His assembly on: Himself. We are told over and over again in Scripture that Yeshua is the cornerstone. However, in Syriac we could easily see how the Catholics must be right, that the "church" was built upon Peter. After all, according to the Peshitta, "Kepha" was the "kepha" upon which the assembly would be built. Yet in Greek we can see a clear distinction.
Related to this point, let's look at Peter's name. Here, as is easily seen, it is Kepha in Aramaic, right? Yet in Acts 1:13 and 1 Peter 1:1, we see the Syriac does not record his name as Kepha. Rather, it records his name as פטרוס (Petros). This is a transliteration of Greek into Syriac. Now this also happens at 2 Peter 1:1, but since even most APs state that 2 Pet. was written in Greek and then translated into Syriac, I will not use it as "proof."
Why would Kepha be written as "Petros" in Syriac, if the Aramaic was the original language? There is absolutely no reason for that to be the case. However, we do also see the name Cephas (in Greek, Κηφας) appear 9 times in the Greek NT. Yet again, we can easily say that Aramaic words and names are bound to show up in Greek writings, if those people were speaking Aramaic. Yet if the writers were not speaking Greek, and were not writing in Greek, then why do we see Greek transliterations in the Aramaic? This is not even including the loanwords, just the transliterated terms themselves such as names.
A similar occurrence here is the word "Christian." Now I know that numerous Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Bibles out there try to hide it, but the fact is you can't: the NT uses the word "Christian." In Greek, this is Χριστιανος (Chris-tee-AHN-oss). Some newer versions, such as the ISR Scriptures, translate this as "Messianite" or "Messianic" yet it simply does not say that. However, since the word Χριστος (Christos) is Greek, we should expect an Aramaic word in the Peshitta, correct? No.
Acts 11:26, the first place in the NT to use the word, uses the Syriac word כרסטינא (Krystiani). The same word is used in Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16, the same places it appears in Greek. So why would it use the Greek term Krystiani, if they neither spoke Greek, nor wrote in it? We would expect to find a word related to the Aramaic term משיחא (meshicha), yet that is not the case.
Another Greek word, διαθηκη (diatheke), is used throughout the NT, and it means "covenant." It stands in for the Hebrew word ברית (b'rit). In various dialects of Aramaic, we find the word קים (qyam) is often used for "covenant." In some dialects, such as Samaritan Palestinian Aramaic, the word is still ברית (b'rit). However, the Peshitta uses the word דיתיקא (dia-tee-qe) which is a transliteration of the Greek Diatheke. Again, why the Greek terms for such important Hebraic terms as "law" and "covenant," especially given that Aramaic has its own words for these terms?
There are many other Greek loanwords in the Syriac, which again we should not expect to see if Syriac Aramaic were a "holy language" that was used to communicate the NT. Remember, too, that Arabic is a descendant of Aramaic. Yet I don't see anyone claiming Arabic is a "holy language." (Except for Muslims, of course). Syriac comes from Old Aramaic, just as Arabic comes from Nabataean (a child of Aramaic). If that somehow makes it any holier than Greek, then does the same apply for any and all Semitic languages? What about Mandaic? Or Ethiopic?
Below is a short list of some of these important Greek words, found contained in the Peshitta. These words are transliterated into Aramaic from their Greek origin.
There are numerous other examples, these are just a few of the more important ones.
In textual criticism (the field of studying ancient manuscripts and identifying their age, author, place of origin, authenticity, etc), it has been recognized that the reading which best explains other, later readings is more likely to be the original. We're going to look at one of those here.
That Which Gives Rise
The word we're going to look at is Eucharist. This is usually viewed as meaning the bread and wine that Catholics take at the "Lord's Supper" but actually, Eucharist is a Greek word. It means "to give thanks." Later, however, it was taken as the term that referred not simply to the giving of thanks, but to the bread and wine of the "Lord's Supper." Also commonly called communion. This primarily comes from 1 Cor. 11.
1 Cor. 11:24 reads, "24 When He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "Take, eat. This is My body, which is broken for you. Do this in memory of Me."
The word in Greek for "given thanks" is εὐχαριστήσας (eucharistesas), meaning simply "having given thanks." In the Syriac Peshitta, we find:
1 Cor. 11:24: And blessed, and brake [it], and said: "Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for your sakes: thus do ye, in remembrance of me." (Murdock Peshitta NT)
The difference here is the Greek says He "gave thanks" while the Syriac says He "blessed" (though it does not say what, or who He blessed). In Syriac, this word for "blessed" is ברך (b'arek) and is the same as the Hebrew "barukh." This makes sense, as we should expect Aramaic terminology in an Aramaic document.
Now let's look at Acts 2:42:
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NASB95)
In Greek, the words here, "to the breaking of bread" is τη κλάσει του αρτου, which literally means "the breaking of the bread." Simple enough. Let's look at it in the Aramaic:
Acts 2:42 - And they persevered in the doctrine of the legates; and were associated together in prayer, and in breaking the eucharist. (Murdock Peshitta NT)
Now here is why Murdock (and any good translator) would render this word as "eucharist."
Here is "breaking the eucharist" in the Peshitta: ובקציא דאוכרסטיא. The first word is w'bqatsaya, and means "and in breaking" but the word is only used in reference to breaking bread. The second word is eukarristiya, and is a transliteration of the Greek "Eucharist." Why would the author of Acts use a Greek word for "giving thanks" here, given the context of "breaking bread"? Was he saying that they were devoting themselves to the teachings of the apostles, and breaking thanksgiving? Not at all. As I mentioned, the word Eucharist later became synonymous with "communion" and thus was substituted later on, when the Syriac was being translated from Greek. There really is no other explanation, as the Greek never uses the term "eucharist" in reference to communion or breaking bread, only in "giving thanks."
However, if the Syriac came first, why does the Greek translation not maintain the usage of Eucharist here? And why would it even use the term at all?
Other Points to Consider
Earlier, I mentioned how Syriac was not found in Judea until after the time the NT was written. Some may say, "A Syriac inscription is found on the tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene, who was buried in Jerusalem." This is true. Though remember it is written in Old Syriac, a slightly more primative style, distinct from the Syriac of the Peshitta. What is more, however, is that under the Old Syriac inscription is a translation of that inscription into Galilean Aramaic, which was scratched into the side of the tomb at a later date. While there could surely be numerous reasons for this, the most likely scenario is that the common man couldn't read the inscription. So a Galilean Aramaic inscription was placed below it, as Galilean Aramaic was the dialect of many Jews in the 1st Century.
In John 20:16: "16 Yeshua said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher)." (NASB95)
Now the above says it is "Hebrew" though scholars debate if that means Hebrew or Aramaic. Indeed, the word in question, רבני (Rabboni) can be traced to either Hebrew or Aramaic. However, every known Peshitta manuscript reads the following:
"16 Jesus said to her: 'Mary!' And she turned, and said to him in Hebrew: 'Rabbuni;' which is interpreted Teacher. (Murdock Peshitta NT)
However, here we have a problem. The word written in Syriac is not Rabbuni, as Murdock and Etheridge have translated it. Lamsa's version gets it right, where he writes, "Rabbuli" instead. In the Peshitta it is written as רבולי (rabuli). That is, it contains a lamed (ל) instead of a nun (נ). The problem with this word, however, is that the word "Rabbuli" is not attested in any Jewish Aramaic dialect, nor is it found in Hebrew. And it certainly does not mean "Teacher" as the verse explains. So it may be inferred that this is a typo. Yet why, then, do all Peshitta texts contain this error?
In regards to the Syriac dialect of Aramaic, Edward Lipinksi, a leading scholar and linguist in nearly all known Semitic languages, writes in his book, Semitic Languages, Outline of a Comparative Grammar:
"The earliest Syriac inscriptions come from the region of Edessa, modern Urfa, go back to the 1st-3rd centuries A.D. and are all of pagan origin. Their script resembles that of the contemporary cursive Palmyrene inscriptions, but their language occupies an intermediate position between West and East Aramaic."
So between the 1st and 3rd centuries, the only existence of Syriac was found in Edessa (not Judea), and are all (his words, not mine) "of pagan origin." Syriac doesn't sound like such a lashon qodesh (holy tongue) to me. But then, neither does Greek.
Now we need to consider something else: for whom was the NT written? By whom was it written? Clearly the majority of Paul's writings were to Greek congregations, though he undoubtedly also included Jews at times. Does that mean he wrote in Aramaic? Let's put it this way. What was the purpose of the letters? For people to read, or just for looks? Obviously, they should be read. Now, if I speak English, Spanish and German fluently, and I am writing to a group of people, which language will I write in? Well, that depends. If everyone in the group speaks English, I will surely write in English. But what would happen if only, say, 15% of people in the group spoke English, compared to 70% who spoke German? Obviously, then, German would be the best choice. My point is not to write in the language I am more comfortable with, because if I am more comfortable with Swahili, and yet not a single person speaks it, there is no point. I am trying to communicate; Paul's letters were correspondence between him and the congregations he was writing to.
Also, as pointed out by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman in his book, Misquoting Jesus, it is estimated that less than 15% of all territories under Roman rule in that day could read and write. Less than 15%.
We need to remember that the apostles did not write the NT letters in an attempt to "preserve" some holy tongue. Nowhere do any of their letters claim this intent. Rather, they were written in the common man's language so the common man could understand the teaching. That is why we find that early translations were also called "common" or "simple." In fact, that is even what Peshitta means, if you recall from earlier: "simple" or "common." Because it was simple enough for the commoner to understand. It is identical to the Latin word vulgata (Vulgate) in meaning. (In my view, this alone should help inform us that it is a translation made into the language of "commoners.")
Now, I know this article is shaping up to look like me doing nothing but bashing the Peshitta. Let me say right now, that is not the case. If you're familiar with some of my studies and publications, you can tell I regard the Peshitta very highly. I believe it is a very useful tool in text-critical matters, and I consult it frequently. (Though I prefer the Old Syriac fragments in the gospels to the Peshitta, when they differ). I do not, however, believe it to be the original language of the entire NT.
I do not need to prove one language better than the other. I do not need to explain all issues away using Aramaic, or Greek for that matter. This article was written to explain that Aramaic Primacists are not always honest in their approach, and often make claims they cannot prove. The Syriac Peshitta has just as many "flaws" as the Greek NT, if not more.
Writings of the Church Fathers and the Original Language
I mentioned earlier that many people claim the early church fathers stated that Matthew was written in Aramaic. Let's examine that claim now. Below are quotes used by APs.
"Matthew collected the oracles in the Aramaic language." – Papias (150 CE – 170 CE)
"Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language." – Ireneus (170 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 it published for the Jewish believers, wrote it in Aramaic." – Origen (c. 220 CE)
"Matthew also, having first proclaimed the Gospel in Aramaic, 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." – Eusebius (c. 315 CE)
"Pantaenus…penetrated as far as India, where it is reported that he found the Gospel according to Matthew, which had been delivered before his arrival to some who had the knowledge of Christ, to whom Bartholomew, one of the apostles, as it is said, had proclaimed, and left them the writing of Matthew in Aramaic letters." – Eusebius (c. 315 CE)
"They [the Nazarenes] have the Gospel according to Matthew quite complete in Aramaic, for this Gospel is certainly still preserved among them as it was first written, in Aramaic letters." – Epiphanius (370 CE)
"Matthew, who is also Levi, and from a tax collector came to be an apostle first of all evangelists composed a Gospel of Christ in Judea in the Aramaic language and letters, for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed; who translated it into Greek is not sufficiently ascertained. Furthermore, the Aramaic itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea, which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected. I also was allowed by the Nazarenes who use this volume in the Syrian city of Berea to copy it. In which is to be remarked that, wherever the evangelist... makes use of the testimonies of the Old Testament, he does not follow the authority of the seventy translators [the Greek Septuagint], but that of the Aramaic." – Jerome (382 CE)
Similarly, Clement of Alexandria states that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, and Luke then translated it into Greek. Clement lived around 150 – 212 CE. Along these same lines, Eusebius also stated that Paul wrote Hebrews, and either Luke or Clement (of Rome) translated it.
The first thing to establish here is to determine which language we are looking at. It appears that all of these quotes are making reference to Aramaic, right? After all, that is how it is most often translated. But let's look at the Greek behind the above quotes.
Most scholars today say that the Greek word used in the NT in places such as Acts 22:2 could refer to either Aramaic or Hebrew. In Greek, this word is Εβραΐς (he-bra-is). Literally, they say, it refers simply to "the language of the Hebrews" or "the language of the Jews" and could really refer to whichever language the Jews spoke. This is the word used in the above quotes, as well as in the NT. If we find that, historically, Jews in the first century CE were predominantly speaking Aramaic, it would make sense then for the "language of the Jews" to be Aramaic. Hence why scholars generally render the word as Aramaic, since the evidence for Aramaic use in Judea at the time far exceeds the evidence for daily Hebrew use.
So it is my view that when the "church fathers" are saying Matthew wrote in Hebrais, they are saying he wrote in Aramaic. Note, however, that there is a rising view now which has gained some support and scholarly backing, which states that Matthew's original gospel was in Hebrew. For me, I lean the direction that Matthew composed a brief Semitic Gospel, then a second one that was more expansive, in Greek. This Greek version is the one that has survived today.
Regardless of all that, there is no evidence to suggest that Matthew wrote in Syriac. Even the Hebraic Primacists that insist on the authenticity of medieval Matthews like DuTillet or Munster or Shem Tov will assert that it was originally Hebrew, not Aramaic, and certainly not Syriac. So whether we take "Jewish language" to mean Aramaic, or to mean Hebrew, in neither case would it lend to the idea of Syriac.
Now then, earlier I made a statement about Matthew's original language, and dealing with the genealogy issue at the opening of his Gospel. If one concludes that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, we would need to look for a Hebrew word used. However, we can safely assume that whichever Hebrew word Matthew chose, its Greek equivalent is most likely aner, and its Syriac equivalent is most likely gowra. The Hebrew word that best fits this is בעל (ba'al), as it is used in places such as Ex. 21:3, or Deut. 24:4. This word is usually translated as "owner, lord, master, husband" and a few other ways. The best way to describe it is "one in position over another." It is used in some cases to describe the owner of cattle, and in other places to describe a woman's husband. However, in places such as Judges 9:20, we find it used as "the men of Shechem..." In fact, in Franz Delitzsch's Hebrew translation of the NT, he chose this word for this instance in Matthew 1:16.
I would posit that it is still possible for the word to imply that the Joseph being spoken of was Mary's father, though perhaps not in the traditional way. Possibly her step-father or adoptive father, since he is not called her pater (father) in Greek, or av (father) in Hebrew/Aramaic. Yet again, in the case of Greek or Syriac, strictly translated, we cannot say definitively that it means "father." It simply says, "Joseph, the man of Mary" and in general this means "husband."
There is another way to reconcile this, however, and that is by referencing Eusebius. I won't rehash all the details, but essentially Eusebius states that Luke recorded the genealogy of Joseph (Yeshua's step-father) biologically, and that Matthew recorded the genealogy legally. That is, that Joseph himself was adopted, and thus both accounts are for him without discrepency.
Quotes from the Tanakh
Another good example of why I believe Syriac Primacy does not hold up to scrutiny is the number of quotes found in the Greek vs. the Syriac.
Many scholars today state that the NT quotes from the Septuagint (LXX) more than it does the Hebrew Masoretic text. While it can easily be seen that many of the quotes are, indeed, from the Septuagint, I am not convinced that they are not actually quoting an older Vorlage. For instance, we know that the Dead Sea Scrolls, most of which pre-date the NT, contain many readings that agree with the LXX against the Masoretic. Many of the times the NT writers quote from the Tanakh - the times that scholars believe they are quoting the LXX - it could actually be the Hebrew text that the Dead Sea Scrolls were copied from, and from which the LXX was translated. But this, too, is merely a pet theory.
However, as I mentioned, there are still numerous quotes that we find from the LXX exclusively. This may be explained by various means. I do not believe it means they exclusively used the LXX, but perhaps consulted multiple texts, just as we do today. There is not a single Bible translation out there that was translated from only one single manuscript. Even the KJV was translated from multiple (albeit, inferior) texts.
Now then, shouldn't we expect the Syriac Aramaic NT to quote from a Hebrew or Aramaic OT source? Why then does it appear to quote from the Greek LXX? In the following examples, you'll see that the Peshitta New Testament does not even quote from the Peshitta Tanakh. Rather, it follows the readings that the Greek NT takes. Why is that? If the Peshitta is original, we would expect it to quote its own language, or even Hebrew. But it instead quotes the Greek, even when the Greek diverges from the Hebrew and Aramaic. Does this not lend itself to the idea that Greek, then, came before? Let's look.
(Note: The translations from the Peshitta Tanakh featured below -aside from the Psalms - are my own, and were translated out of necessity. At the time of this writing I did not have access to an English translation of the Peshitta Tanakh, and thus I went with my own. However, all can be verified either by checking it against an existing translation [if you have one] such as Lamsa, or by reading it straight from the Syriac itself.)
Hebrews 10:5 is our first example. Now take a normal Bible (other than the ISR, HRV, or HRB) and look up Psalm 40:6. Now go to Hebrews 10:5. Notice the difference? Here they are from the NASB:
Psa. 40:6 (NASB95) - Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Heb. 10:5 (NASB95) - Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…"
Well that's quite a difference, isn't it? But here's the verse from the LXX:
Psa. 40:6 (LXX in American English) - Sacrifice and offering you would not; but a body have you prepared me: whole burnt offering and sacrifice for sin you did not require.
So we can see that the NT book of Hebrews was not quoting the Hebrew Masoretic text, but what happened? Given that the author of Hebrews quoted the reading as it is found in the LXX, most likely the original Hebrew text read, "a body you have prepared for me" instead of "my ears you have opened."
Now here's the verse in the Peshitta OT:
Psa. 40:6 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) - With sacrifices and with offerings you have not been pleased, but you have pierced the ears for me; burnt peace offerings for sin you have not requested.
And here it is from Hebrews.
Heb. 10:5 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) - Because of this, when he entered the universe, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you did not want, but you have clothed me with a body…"
So why does the Syriac Aramaic Peshitta NT quote the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and not the Peshitta Old Testament? Or even the Hebrew OT? You might say, "Well it is simply quoting the Hebrew original." And you may be right, but let's put that to the test by going further.
Acts 7:43 (NASB95) - You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rephan, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.
This is a quote from Amos 5:26.
Amos 5:26 (NASB95) - You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.
Notice how different they are? The confusion here was caused by Moloch (in Hebrew, מלך mem-lamed-khaf), and the word for king (in Hebrew, מלך mem-lamed-kha), which is pronounced "Melekh." The word Sikkuth is from sukkah, the root of Sukkot, meaning "booth" or "tent" or in some cases, "tabernacle." Lastly, Kiyyun (or Chiun in the KJV) was regarded as a god comparable to Saturn. Here's the verse from the LXX:
Amos 5:26 (LXX in American English) - Yes, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Raephan, the images of them which you made for yourselves.
When they translated "melekh" into Greek, it eventually came to be viewed as Moloch. Raephan is a Coptic (Egyptian) designation for the god Saturn, and thus it made sense to identify the god Saturn with an equivalent name.
So how does the Peshitta OT translate this?
Amos 5:26 (translation mine) - But you carried along the tent of Milkom, and Kewan, your images, the star of your gods which you made.
Here, the Peshitta translates 'melekh' as Milkom (another name for Moloch), transliterates the Hebrew Kiyyun as Kewan, and has nothing at all to do with the name Raephan as the LXX does. So what about the Peshitta NT?
Acts 7:43 - 'But you carry the tabernacle of Malcom and the star of the god Rephan, images which you have made to worship. I shall remove you farther than Babel.'
See what it looks like here? Please note no Dead Sea Scroll has been discovered that contains these verses in Amos (parts of each chapter have been found, but none containing the verse in question), so verification there is not currently possible. Otherwise, with the evidence given, it again appears that the Peshitta NT is quoting the Greek. Let's look at another.
Matthew 15:8-9 (NASB5) - This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.
This is a quote from Isaiah.
Isaiah 29:13 (NASB) - Because this people draw near with their words, And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote."
Here it is from the LXX:
Isa. 29:13 (LXX in AE) - This people draw near to me with their mouth, and they honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.
Here it is from the Peshitta Tanakh:
Isa. 29:13 (translation mine) - This people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is distant from Me; their fear of Me is a teaching taught by men.
And here it is from the Peshitta NT:
Mat. 15:8-9 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) - This people is honouring me with their lips but their heart is very far from me. And they revere me in vain while they teach the doctrines of the commandments of man.
Please note, aside from minor spelling differences (addressed in a different article), the Dead Sea Scrolls read the same as the Masoretic text. The Peshitta OT likewise reads this way. Why, then, does the Peshitta NT quote the Greek LXX? That is, of course, IF it is the original. However, if the Peshitta NT was translated from the Greek NT, it only makes sense why this would carry over. That, or the "original" Aramaic NT was quoting from the LXX instead of the Hebrew or Aramaic text. But if that's the case, then what's the issue with having a Greek NT anyways?
As I mentioned earlier in this article, this is a very heated issue. However, there are far too many "problems" within the realm of the Syriac language for me to accept it as the "original" language of the entire NT. In fact, I do not believe a single book of the NT was written in Syriac.
Again, the purpose of this article was to point out that the issue is not so "cut and dry" as the Aramaic Primacy theory suggests. Rather, it is actually a very convoluted process, and there are textual issues we encounter in both Greek and Aramaic. My primary concern with the current Aramaic Primacy supporters, is that they are not being intellectually honest, in only giving you half of the story. I do appreciate the Peshitta as I already said, and I do believe that this current revival of Syriac scholarship is great.
I hope and pray that this study has blessed you.
Be Berean. Shalom.