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 A Brief Comment On "The Original Aramaic New Testament" Claims Of Andrew Roth

Elon Moreh
Moriel Israel
May 2012

On his internet site aramaicnttruth.org, Andrew Roth states:

"This two part series on textual comparison shows how Aramaic had to be the original language of the New Testament upon which the earliest Greek New Testament Bibles had been translated from. Discover from Matthew to 1 John how each book of the Greek New Testament had been translated from the original Aramaic New Testament. Andrew Gabriel Roth takes you through verses in your own Bible and shows how original definitions and ideas evolved from Aramaic and Hebrew into Greek. "

And:

"Aramaic English New Testament........ by Andrew Gabriel Roth Provides a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning about the original Hebrew and Aramaic language and culture of Y'shua (Jesus) within the original New Testament."

Roth's site raises an number of concerns in regard to his claims.

Firstly he claims that Aramaic is the original language of the New Testament scriptures, but then claims Hebrew as well. He needs to make up his own mind. Aramaic and Hebrew are similar in some aspects, but certainly NOT identical languages, not only so, but similar sounding roots in Hebrew and Aramaic can have different shades of meaning. We also know that Hebrew speakers could not understand Aramaic clearly (2 Kgs 18:26), and when the exiles returned from Babylon, that these (now Aramaic speaking) Jews needed help understanding the Hebrew Scriptures (see Neh. 8:8). Thus there is not one original language of the NT as Roth's web page declares. Roth is claiming it was written in Aramaic, but then also claims Hebrew as well, he cannot have it both ways. These are distinct languages.

Secondly, Israel was, as it is today, a polyglot environment. Linguistic primacy in an situation like this is difficult to map or even prove, particularly when a gap of 2000 years is intervening, and because of this evidence is necessarily inconclusive. What we do know is that many people were at least bilingual and trilingual, as was almost certainly Jesus (Heb, Grk and Aram). For example, there are a number of places where he was most likely speaking Greek or even possibly Latin (such as during his interview with Pilate, the presence of an interpreter is not mentioned). In Matthew 16 ("thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my church") Jesus appears to be making a play on the Greek words "petros" (little stone) and petra (great rock), this is a very common semitic device. The bible is full of such things. However.this particular wordplay does not work in Hebrew because the word for stone ("even") and rock ("sela") are totally different. In the Aramaic Peshitta NT on my bookshelf, the word for Peter (petros) and the word for rock (petra) are represented by the same Aramaic word "kefa", so the pun does not work in Aramaic either, this suggests strongly that the utterance was originally in Greek. In Jesus utterance from the Cross "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani", we hear him quoting from Psalm 22 in Aramaic not Hebrew. If we factor in the idea, that It is inconceivable that Jesus would have not learned the Hebrew scriptures as a boy, and also take into account the presence of Hebrew inscriptional evidence from the 2nd Temple period on the Temple Mount, we can deduce a trilingual situation, and conclude that the issue is actually a complex one and the solution more nuanced than Roth suggests. The original utterances underlying our written Greek text can be in any one of the 3 languages above, and where context does not suggesti or verbatim quotation indicate, we cannot with certainty say whether Jesus was speaking Hebrew or Aramaic at any given time.

Thirdly, the language of the NT was massively influenced by the Greek LXX, and some portions of it rely on the Septuagint to make the writers pointii. This is particularly noticeable in the book of Hebrews.

Fourthly, in many places the quality of the Greek argues against a Hebrew/Aramaic original. This is particularly so in the Epistles, which display more of the qualities of original composition than translation.

Fifthly, most scholars believe that the Peshitta is actually a translation of the Greek and not the other way around, there are a number of reasons given for this:

Because the original Peshitta (earliest estimated date being late 2nd Cent.) had several books missing (The Apocalypse, Jude, James, 2nd Peter, and the Epistles of John) and these books were not referred to in the Early Syriac Fathers. Only from the 5th century AD have we evidence of a complete Peshitta NT.

This is in contrast to the Greek speaking Apostolic Fathersiii (circa AD 90-160) who long before this quoted extensively from every book of the NT with the exception of Philemon. This necessarily means that the Aramaic text that Roth is using is a compilation of earlier Syriac portions of the NT with added later portions.

The fact is that overwhelmingly there is no solid manuscript evidence to support the idea that the 4th Century Peshitta is an original text. On the other hand we have Greek material (e.g. the Rylands Papyrus) from as early as 130 AD, plus thousands of other manuscripts.

The Peshitta bears a similarity more akin to Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine text family, considered by many to be a later text.

The Syriac of the Peshitta is not the same as Aramaic that of First Century Israel. It displays evidence of being a younger dialect.

I would say that Roth over simplifies the matter and therefore blurs together the issues of Semitic mindset/world-view of Jesus and the Apostles with linguistic primacy in 2nd Temple period and source language of NT autographs. These are separate issues. The writers of the NT with the possible exception of Luke, were certainly Hebrews and thought as First Century Israeli Jews, but that is not the same as saying that the entire NT is written in Aramaic (or Hebrew for that matter) and therefore the Greek must be a bad translation of an Aramaic original.

Israel in NT times did not exist in cultural isolation. Before the 1st Century AD, even then Greek philosophical ideas and issues had affected Judaismiv or at least created an awareness of Hellenistic thought and there was some cultural crossover and interchange of ideas. People like Paul were comfortable in both worlds it seems, and he displays an awareness for example of Greek poetry (see the incident on Mars Hill in Acts 17). Also in the prologue for John's gospel "In the beginning was the Word", it is possible that John was making a point in both world views. He was almost certainly expressing the "metatron" idea of the Word being the divine mediator, but it is more than possible that he was also making a point in Greek terms too particularly, when he uses the phrase "and the Logos became flesh" an idea which would particularly strikes against the Greek philosophical notion of physical matter being bad, the idea of the divine Logos clothing itself in physical matter was repugnant to certain Greek ideas.

My concern with Roth's declarations is that he is extrapolating beyond the evidence. On his site they make a leap from the idea that Jesus and the Disciples spoke and thought in Hebrew or Aramaic (which most would agree with for the most part) to:

"Welcome and thank you for visiting. Y'shua (Jesus) and all the Apostles spoke Hebrew and Aramaic and also wrote in their native language. "

Apart from Jesus writing in the sand in John chapter 8 we don't see him writing anything else that I can remember. And we certainly have no evidence whatsoever that supports the idea that the entire NT was written in Aramaic, which is essentially what Roth is also asking us to swallow. While it could be argued that some small portions of the Gospels may display evidence of possibly being translated, (whether from Hebrew or Aramaic), were they translated from a document in front of the writer, -or is it simply evidence of a Semitic mind putting down its thoughts in Greek as it wrote? It is impossible to tell.

I fell that a "bait and switch" manouvre is going on here. The bait is "Jesus and His disciples thought and spoke in Hebrew/Aramaic" (two languages not one) the switch is "wrote (the entire NT) in their native language (singular)". While the first premise is for the most part correct, it does not automatically follow that the second is.

This is no different than the overstretching of the evidence employed by the JSSR (Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research), who jump to the opposite conclusion and conclude that the original language of the NT books was Hebrew not Greek, -based on the same paucity of evidence.

Where Is It Heading?

This is the interesting question.

"The Aramaic English New Testament reveals the New Covenant (Brit Chadasha) within the culture and language Y'shua (Jesus) and Paul lived and taught. Each member of our team aspires to return to and live according to the Kingdom of Elohim (God) as originally revealed, this is the impetus behind publishing the Aramaic English New Testament."

Aside from the issue of textual preservation/transmission, somewhere along the line with matters like this, there id always some manner of redefinition or significant doctrinal deviation. If it is anything like other Messianic movements of this kind that claim to recover the "original faith" then usually they gravitate towards compulsory Torah observance etc. I have not had time to investigate the Netzari movement to which Roth belongs fully, but an initial brief look at his web site and some of the free to download teachings confirms that this is indeed the case. It looks like this "original Aramaic" translation may just be another "plastic bible" or "pseudologon" to inject false teachings into the Body, and therefore should be avoided.

Notes

iFor example. Jesus was reading the prophet Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue so Hebrew would be suggested by the context, but were his remarks to the congregation afterward in Hebrew or Aramaic?

iiA notable example is Heb.10:5, "a body has thou prepared for me" in place of the Hebrew "mine ear thou hast digged" in Psa. 40:6

iiiPeople fall into 2 opposite errors when considering the Church Fathers. Because of some problems we see emerging even then, they either reject everything they have to say but then fail to learn from what they did right, (as well as what they did wrong). Or they slavishly submit to their authority as if it were equal to the Scriptures themselves. Handled properly the Early Fathers provide a valuable testimony to both the spectrum of doctrinal issues that concerned the Early Church and the text of the New Testament. For example, neither the Augustinian theistic fatalism of Calvin (and its possibly Manichean origins), nor Pretribulationism, formed any part of the doctrinal world of the Apostolic or Early Fathers. The fact that these things do not even appear on the doctrinal radar of the Post Apostolic Church, gives the lie to all attempts to present Darbyism or Calvinism's T.U.L.I.P as "recovered truths", a phenomenon to which it would serve us well to take heed of.

ivSee Boyarin "The Gospel Of The Memra: Jewish Binitarianism And The Gospel Of John" Harvard Theological Review 2001 (footnote to page 246)

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