corner graphic

Aramaic Thoughts

The Peshitta - Part 11

Multi-Part Article

Choose a part from the list below:

[0] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]
Resource Toolbox

Much as the Vulgate was the standard version of the Bible for the Catholic Church, the Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for the various Eastern churches that retain the Syriac language. Over the course of the history of Western Europe, Latin ceased to be the common language at a fairly early stage. However, it remained the language of scholarship until at least the late seventeenth century, and it remained the language of the Roman Catholic liturgy until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. As a result the Vulgate remained the standard Bible for Roman Catholicism. The Douay-Rheims translation (the first major Catholic translation of the Bible into English, 1582-1609) became the Roman Catholic equivalent of the King James Bible. It and the major revision of it done in 1750 by Challoner were based on the Vulgate.

In a similar fashion, the Peshitta has remained the standard version of the Syrian Eastern churches, even though Syriac is no longer the common language of most of the people who make up the membership of those churches. Syrian Christians in India mostly use the Dravidian language outside of the liturgical use of Syriac. Likewise, Syrian Christians in the Muslim-dominated areas of the Near East mostly use Arabic, except again for liturgical purposes.

For these reasons, it is a good thing that the Peshitta Institute has committed itself first to producing a sound text-critical edition of the Peshitta, as well as now producing an English translation of it. A brief summary of some of these developments can be found at http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/Vol2No2/HV2N2CRJenner.html and related sites. What is not helpful, however, is the insistence, against historical evidence, on the primacy of the Syriac version of the Bible. This is particularly true regarding the view expressed on many web sites that the Aramaic New Testament preceded the Greek New Testament.

The Old Testament in Syriac and Its Usefulness

As previously noted Syriac, like Hebrew, is a Semitic language. Thus, examining the Syriac translation of the Old Testament can often be helpful in difficult Old Testament passages. On the other hand, this can be a little like noting that both Spanish and French are Romance languages. Even though French and Spanish are related, they differ in regard to grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. At the following Wikipedia site, the sentence, “She always closes the window before dining” is presented in a number of Romance languages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_languages . Note that in Spanish, the “always” precedes the verb “to close,” while in French “always” follows the verb. Notice also that the verb “to close” differs between the two languages: French is ferme, while Spanish is cierra. The two words are not etymologically related. Those illustrate some of the differences in syntax and vocabulary that can exist between two closely related languages.

Much as the Vulgate was the standard version of the Bible for the Catholic Church, the Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible for the various Eastern churches that retain the Syriac language. Over the course of the history of Western Europe, Latin ceased to be the common language at a fairly early stage. However, it remained the language of scholarship until at least the late seventeenth century, and it remained the language of the Roman Catholic liturgy until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. As a result the Vulgate remained the standard Bible for Roman Catholicism. The Douay-Rheims translation (the first major Catholic translation of the Bible into English, 1582-1609) became the Roman Catholic equivalent of the King James Bible. It and the major revision of it done in 1750 by Challoner were based on the Vulgate.

In a similar fashion, the Peshitta has remained the standard version of the Syrian Eastern churches, even though Syriac is no longer the common language of most of the people who make up the membership of those churches. Syrian Christians in India mostly use the Dravidian language outside of the liturgical use of Syriac. Likewise, Syrian Christians in the Muslim-dominated areas of the Near East mostly use Arabic, except again for liturgical purposes.

For these reasons, it is a good thing that the Peshitta Institute has committed itself first to producing a sound text-critical edition of the Peshitta, as well as now producing an English translation of it. A brief summary of some of these developments can be found at http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/Vol2No2/HV2N2CRJenner.html and related sites. What is not helpful, however, is the insistence, against historical evidence, on the primacy of the Syriac version of the Bible. This is particularly true regarding the view expressed on many web sites that the Aramaic New Testament preceded the Greek New Testament.

The Old Testament in Syriac and Its Usefulness

As previously noted Syriac, like Hebrew, is a Semitic language. Thus, examining the Syriac translation of the Old Testament can often be helpful in difficult Old Testament passages. On the other hand, this can be a little like noting that both Spanish and French are Romance languages. Even though French and Spanish are related, they differ in regard to grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. At the following Wikipedia site, the sentence, “She always closes the window before dining” is presented in a number of Romance languages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_languages . Note that in Spanish, the “always” precedes the verb “to close,” while in French “always” follows the verb. Notice also that the verb “to close” differs between the two languages: French is ferme, while Spanish is cierra. The two words are not etymologically related. Those illustrate some of the differences in syntax and vocabulary that can exist between two closely related languages.


Copyright Statement
'Aramaic Thoughts' Copyright 2017© Benjamin Shaw. 'Aramaic Thoughts' articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to www.studylight.org/ls/at/  2) 'Aramaic Thoughts' content may not be arranged or "mirrored" as a competitive online service.

Subscribe …
Receive the newest article each week in your inbox by joining the "Aramaic Thoughts" subscription list. Enter your email address below, click "Go!" and we will send you a confirmation email. Follow the instructions in the email to confirm your addition to this list.
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.

'Aramaic Thoughts'

The importance of Aramaic

Read Article »
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology