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Aramaic Thoughts

The Peshitta - Part 6

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The Peshitta and Textual Criticism, Part II

Genesis 4:8 is a curious text from a text-critical perspective. The Masoretic Text (MT) reads, "And Cain said to Abel his brother, and it happened when they were in the field, that Cain arose against Abel his brother and killed him." Some English versions, such as the ESV, try to make the text seem less difficult by translating the first part of the verse as, "Cain spoke to Abel his brother." The first difficulty with that is that the verb that occurs in the MT (‘amar) usually leads the reader to expect that the content of the speech will follow. The second problem is the word normally translated "spoke" (that is, indicating the act of speaking, rather than the content of speech) does not occur in Genesis 4:8. On this basis, it appears that something has dropped out of the text.

In addition to those considerations, many manuscripts of the MT, and many published editions of the MT, have a gap in the text between the clause "And Cain said to Abel his brother" and the clause "and it happened when they were in the field." Those facts also lead to the conclusion that something has dropped out of the text. The question is, what dropped out?

According to the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Vulgate, and the Peshitta, the phrase that dropped out was the statement, "Let us go into the field." Some recent translations, such as the NIV and the HCSB have put that into the text, with a note that it is a phrase not found in the MT. That is probably a sound decision. The combination of the gap in many copies of the Hebrew text, combined with the unified witness of four ancient versions, as well as the Targum Jonathan makes it pretty certain that "let us go into the field" was part of the original text.

Another passage that is interesting from a text-critical perspective is Genesis 7:1. According to the MT, the verse begins, "And Yahweh said to Noah." However, the Peshitta and the Samaritan Pentateuch both read, "And God said to Noah." The Septuagint also has "God" (theos) rather than Lord (kurios). However, in this sort of instance, the testimony of the Septuagint is not really helpful in deciding one way or the other. The fact of the matter is that the Septuagint is very irregular in its rendering of the divine names, sometimes using kurios (Lord) for the Hebrew elohim (God) and sometimes using theos (God) when Hebrew uses YHWH. It is also the case that the Peshitta has to some extent been affected by the Septuagint.

Thus, the decision here of most English versions to go with Lord, representing the Hebrew Yahweh is probably correct, though there is some niggling doubt that perhaps the original read elohim.


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Meet the Author
Dr. Shaw was born and raised in New Mexico. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1977, the M. Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1980, and the Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981, with an emphasis in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament and Targumic Aramaic, as well as Ugaritic).

He did two year of doctoral-level course work in Semitic languages (Akkadian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Middle Egyptian, and Syriac) at Duke University. He received the Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation at Bob Jones University in 2005.

Since 1991, he has taught Hebrew and Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a school which serves primarily the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he holds the rank of Associate Professor.

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