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Aramaic Thoughts

The Peshitta - Part 7

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The Peshitta and Textual Criticism, Part III

Genesis 12:3 reads in the MT, "I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse." But the Peshitta, the Vulgate, the Septuagint, the Targum, and even a few Hebrew manuscripts read, "those who curse you, I will curse." The latter can be seen as the copyist/translator making an obvious "correction" to the text in order for the two parts of the sentence to be precisely parallel. But the MT reading can also be explained by the dropping of one small letter (the yod), creating a singular from what was originally plural. The argument can go either way, but my preference here would be to go with the majority witness. In either case, the meaning of the text is not changed.

Genesis 14:10b reads in the MT, "and the king of Sodom and Gomorrah fled." There are a few problems with what seems to be easy in English. First, the verb is plural, which presumes a plural or compound subject. But the phrase "king of Sodom and Gomorrah" implies one person, not two. In addition, verse 2 specifies different persons as the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah. Once again the Peshitta, as well as the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch prove to have a solution to the problem. That is, these versions read "the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah fled." That makes the grammar right, and clears up a possible discrepancy with verse 2. Again, or course, it could be argued that the versions are simply clearing up an "obvious" problem, but my preference once again is for the majority witness.

Genesis 14:22 in the MT reads, "I have lifted my hand to Yahweh, God Most High." The Peshitta and the Septuagint lack "Yahweh," having only, "I have lifted my hand to God Most High." Interestingly here, the minority report of the Septuagint and the Peshitta has received support from the Dead Sea Scrolls finds. The Genesis Apocryphon is a work in Aramaic that is essentially an adapted retelling of stories from Genesis. It often resembles the Book of Jubilees in its content. Here, on the basis of text-critical principles, the MT reading should probably be retained.

In Genesis 20:9, the MT reads, "Then Abimelech called to Abraham and said to him, ‘What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you?’" The Peshitta reads, "Then Abimelech called to Abraham and said to him, ‘What have I done to you? And how have I sinned against you?’" Both make sense in the passage, where Abimelech is angry at Abraham because his misrepresentation of the status of Sarah has brought trouble to his house. However, the synonymous duplication of the question (how have I … to you) as we find it in the Peshitta is much more characteristic of Old Testament Hebrew style than is the antithetical repetition found in the MT. Significantly here the Peshitta is not supported by any other of the ancient versions. I still think the Peshitta reading "feels" right, but the objective evidence appears to be against the Peshitta.

Next week will be that last on the Peshitta and Textual Criticism. We will then move on to other aspects of the Peshitta.


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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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