Aramaic primacy

Aramaic primacy

Aramaic primacy is the view that the Christian New Testament and/or its sources were originally written in the Aramaic language. Aramaic Primacy is asserted over and against Greek Primacy (the dominant scholarly view).

Brief history

George Lamsa's translation of the Peshitta New Testament from Syriac into English brought the Aramaic Primacy issue to the West. However, his translation is poorly regarded by most scholars in the field. [ [ Review of Lamsa's translation by Herbert G May, Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 26, No. 4, Oct., 1958 (JSTOR)]
[ Review of Lamsa's translation by PAH de Boer, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 8, Fasc. 2, Apr., 1958 (JSTOR)]
] With the rise of the Internet, Aramaic primacists began to pool arguments in favor of their case. Prominent advocates include Paul Younan, Andrew Gabriel Roth, Raphael Lataster, James Trimm, and Steven Caruso; none of whom are associated with mainstream academia in this field, and work mainly through the medium of the Internet.

Methods of argument

On a basic level, Aramaic primacists focus on the high probability that the native language of Jesus, his Apostles, and most or all the authors of the New Testament was Aramaic, not Koine Greek; see also Aramaic of Jesus. They also note that the first Christian communities may have come into existence in mostly Aramaic-speaking areas now in modern Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, and that the first converts to Christianity were likely members of Aramaic-speaking Jewish synagogues, even when in Greek or Latin-speaking cities.

Aramaic phenomena

There are many phenomena that Aramaic primacists study. For example, some of them include:


Aramaic primacists suggest that in some places where the Greek New Testament reads awkwardly, that it may stem from a mistaken translation from an originally Aramaic source.

An example frequently cited is Romans 5:6-8. The Greek, translated to English, reads:

:"6 For while we were yet weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous (δικαιος) man; though perhaps for the good (αγαθος) man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Aramaic primacists argue that the progression of the author's argument does not follow logically, in that the author claims that Jesus of Nazareth died for the "ungodly" rather than for the "righteous," so the author's statement that "one will hardly die for a righteous man" seems to be out of place given the paradox of " [God's ] own love towards us."

It is suggested that this reading lies within an Aramaic source. In Romans 5:7 of the Peshitta, where the Greek reads "righteous," we find the Aramaic word for "wicked" (רשיעא) rather than the word for "righteous" (רשינא) as expected. Furthermore, Aramaic primacists point out that in several Aramaic writing systems, contemporary to the times of Paul, the words "wicked" and "righteous" look confusingly similar. This leaves the implication that a scribe while translating, whatever the source of the discourse was, from Aramaic to Greek could have simply misread the word.

Polysemy ("split words")

"Split words" some Aramaic primacists treat as a distinctive subsection of mistranslations. Sometimes it appears that a word in Aramaic with two (or more) distinct and different meanings appears to have been interpreted in the wrong sense, or even translated both ways in different documents.

Perhaps the most well known example that Aramaic primacists cite is the parable of the "camel (καμηλος) through the eye of a needle." (Mark 10:25, Matthew 19:24, Luke 18:25) In Aramaic, the word for "camel" (גמלא) is spelled identically to the word for "rope" (גמלא), suggesting that the correct phrase was "rope through the eye of a needle," making the hyperbole more symmetrical.


Aramaic is a Semitic language, a family of languages where all words come from three-letter roots. As a result, speakers of the language employ puns that play on roots with similar sounding consonants, or with the same consonants re-arranged. In applying this principle, Aramaic primacists study the dialogues of the New Testament and claim that how a choice of words that apparently seem completely unrelated or awkward in Greek may originate from an original Aramaic source that employed puns.

For example, in the True Children of Abraham debate within the Gospel of John, some Aramaic primacists note possible examples of punning between the words "father" (אבא, abba), "Abraham" (אברהם, abraham) and the verb "to do" (עבד, `abad):

;John 8:39:They retorted and said to him::"Our abba (father) is Abraham!":Jesus says to them::"If you are Abraham's children, `abad (do) as Abraham would `abad (do)!"-- [ The Aramaic Behind the True Children of Abraham Debate]

An alternate possibility is that the above conversation was actually "conducted" in Aramaic, but "translated " into Greek by the gospel writer.

Absence or presence of Aramaic quotations and translations

In the Greek New Testament, a number of verses include Aramaic phrases or words which are then translated into Greek. In the Aramaic New Testament, for example the Peshitta, sometimes the word or phrase is quoted twice in Aramaic, indicating a slavish translation from the Greek; because it is inexplicable why the Aramaic New Testament, were it the original, should include a doubled quotation.

For example, Matthew 27.46 reads:

Peshitta — And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice and said: "Ēl, Ēl [non standard word for 'God'] , why have you forsaken me?" [ܘܐܠܦܝ̈ ܬܫܥ ܫܥܝ̈ܢ: ܩܥܐ ܝܫܘܥ ܒܩܠܐ ܪܡܐ ܘܐܡܪ, ܐܝܠ ܐܝܠ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢܝ]

Greek — And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: "Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" [ [ Douay-Rheims Bible, Gospel According to Saint Matthew Chapter 27 ] ]

However, the parallel verse in Mark, Mark 15.34 reads in both in the quotation/translation form it has in the Greek:

Peshitta — And in the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice and said: "Ēl, Ēl lmānā shvaqtāni" that is "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [ܘܒܬܫܥ ܫܥܝ̈ܢ: ܩܥܐ ܝܫܘܥ ܒܩܠܐ ܪܡܐ ܘܐܡܪ, ܐܝܠ ܐܝܠ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢܝ ܕܐܝܬܝܗ ܐܠܗܝ ܐܠܗܝ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢܝ]

Greek — And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying: "Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani?" Which is, being interpreted, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" [ [ Douay-Rheims Bible, Gospel According to Saint Mark Chapter 15 ] ]

The evidence of these verses would tend to support the claims of St. Papias and Irenaeus that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Aramaic presumably for Aramaic speakers in Syria-Palestine, while the Gospel of Mark was written for the Greek speaking Christians of Rome, who would not have known Aramaic fluently, but who might have become familiar with certain phrases from the preaching of the Apostles or the liturgy, just as the words "Alleluia", "Amen", "Abba", "Hosanna" and "Sabaoth" are still in common usage in the western liturgy.

On the other hand, while Mark 3.17 ("Boanerges") and Mark 15.22 ("Golgatha") is repeated and also slightly changed in the double quotation in the Peshitta (which also mis-attributes these names to the Hebrew tongue), the verses Mark 5.41 ("Talitha koumi"), Mark 7.34 ("Ephpheta") do not include a double quotation of the Aramaic words. Similar instances of repetition or single quotation can be found elsewhere in the Peshitta by referring to the verses in the Aramaic words used by Jesus.

Internal disagreements

Aramaic primacists are divided into several distinct camps in terms of their methods of researching and reconstructing the Aramaic layer of the New Testament.

Peshitta Primacy Approach

Peshitta Primacists believe that the Aramaic Peshitta is the closest text to the original New Testament. ProminentFact|date=June 2008 figures that side with this view are the late George Lamsa, Paul Younan ( [] ), Andrew Gabriel Roth ( [ Aramaic NT Truth] ), and Raphael Lataster ( [ Aramaic Peshitta Bible Repository] ). In modern day, this movement is primarily based on the internet, although some historical Peshitta Primacy advocates include several Aramaic-speaking churches.

For example, Mar Eshai Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East was quoted:

With reference to....the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision. [ [ Peshitta Aramaic/English Interlinear New Testament ] ]

Peshitta-critical Approach

Peshitta-critical Aramaic primacists take both the Peshitta and the Syriac manuscripts and critically compare them, similar to how Greek Primacists take a critical approach to determining which Greek text better represents the original. Prominent figures that side with this view are James Trimm ( [ S.A.N.J.] ), and Joe Viel. This movement is also primarily based on the internet.

Aramaic Source Criticism

Source-critical Aramaic primacists research first-century Aramaic, culture, and psychology to reconstruct the New Testament sources in dialects contemporary to its authors. Prominent figures that side with this view are Matthew Black, Bruce Chilton, Maurice Casey, Geza Vermes, Frank Zimmermann, and Steven Caruso ( [] ). Aramaic Primacists who follow this approach generally believe that the Peshitta and Peshitta-Critical approaches are pseudoscience as they are often theologically motivated rather than based upon verifiable textual evidence. Most who ascribe to Aramaic Source Criticism are primarily published through journals or academic presses.


Mainstream and modern scholars have generally had a strong agreement that the New Testament was written in Greek. They acknowledge that many individual sayings of Jesus as found in the Gospels are translations from oral Aramaic, but hold that the Gospels' text in its current form was composed in Greek, and so were the other New Testament writings. Scholars of all stripes have had to acknowledge the presence in the Gospel of Mark of scattered, but only occasional, Aramaic expressions, transliterated and then translated. An example of how mainstream scholars have dealt with Aramaic influences within an overall view of the Gospels' original Greek-language development may be found in Martin Hengel's recent synthesis of studies of the linguistic situation in Palestine during the time of Jesus and the Gospels:

Since non-literary, simple Greek knowledge or competency in multiple languages was relatively widespread in Jewish Palestine including Galilee, and a Greek-speaking community had already developed in Jerusalem shortly after Easter, one can assume that this linguistic transformation [from "the Aramaic native language of Jesus" to "the Greek Gospels"] began very early. ... [M] issionaries, above all 'Hellenists' driven out of Jerusalem, soon preached their message in the Greek language. We find them in Damascus as early as AD 32 or 33. A certain percentage of Jesus' earliest followers were presumably bilingual and could therefore report, at least in simple Greek, what had been heard and seen. This probably applies to Cephas/Peter, Andrew, Philip or John. Mark, too, who was better educated in Jerusalem than the Galilean fishermen, belonged to this milieu. The great number of phonetically correct Aramaisms and his knowledge of the conditions in Jewish Palestine compel us to assume a Palestinian Jewish-Christian author. Also, the author's Aramaic native language is still discernible in the Marcan style. [Martin Hengel. 2005. "Eye-witness memory and the writing of the Gospels: Form criticism, community tradition and the authority of the authors." In "The Written Gospel", ed. by Markus Bockmuehl and Donald A. Hagner. Cambridge University Press. Pp. 89f.]

Papias provides a very early, but difficult, source for the idea that the canonical Gospels were either based on some non-Greek written sources, or (in the case of Matthew) possibly "composed" in a non-Greek language. The relevant fragments of Papias' lost work "An Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord" ("Logiōn kuriakōn exēgēsis", "c." 110-140) are preserved in quotations by Eusebius. In one fragment, Papias cites an older source who says, "When Mark was the interpreter ["hermēneutēs", possibly "translator"] of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord's words and deeds." Papias' surviving comment about Matthew is more tantalizing, but equally cryptic: "And so Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interpreted ["hērmēneusen", possibly "translated"] them to the best of his ability." [Eusebius, "Historia ecclestiastica" 3.39.15-16, as translated by Bart D. Ehrman, "The Apostolic Fathers", Vol. II, Loeb Classical Library, 2003, p. 103. For the word translated "composed," Ehrman prints "sunetaxato" in his facing-page Greek text, rather than the variant reading found in some manuscripts, "sunegrapsato". But, whereas "sunegrapsato" definitely means "composed," other scholars have taken the reading "sunetaxato" to mean "collected." The online Catholic Encyclopedia offers a fuller discussion in the section of [ this article] entitled "Authenticity of the First Gospel," and in [ the article on Papias] .] A similar claim comes out more clearly in a text by Irenaeus, but this testimony is later than (and probably based on) Papias.

These accounts, even if they do imply non-Greek originals (which is not clear), have been doubted, in part with an argument that the literary quality of the Greek of these books indicates that the Greek would be the original. This argument extends to the other books where the Church Fathers accepted Greek as the original without debate. The Greek New Testament's general agreement with the Septuagint is also counted as evidence by Greek Primacists. However, the Aramaic texts of the New Testament reference Aramaic versions of the Old Testament.

Furthermore, the possibility that the Jewish community was more of a polyglot in nature is often overlooked by both Aramaic-supporting and Koine-supporting scholars. It is possible that Aramaic and Koine (and even Latin) versions of the books and oral teachings of the New Testament were circulating contemporaneously, similar to the situation in present day Orthodox Jewish communities, where popular, newly written, religious works in Rabbinical Hebrew are promptly translated into English and Yiddish.

There are also alternative explanations for the cases where Aramaic Primacists claim that the Aramaic seems to read better. One example (as stated above) is in the case of the "camel through the eye of a needle." In Jewish and Christian literature we see the following:

:"...who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle.":"- Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezi'a, 38b"

:"They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.":"- Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth, 55b"

:"13 There was a rich man named Onesiphorus who said: If I believe, shall I be able to do wonders? Andrew said: Yes, if you forsake your wife and all your possessions. He was angry and put his garment about Andrew's neck and began to beat him, saying: You are a wizard, why should I do so? 14 Peter saw it and told him to leave off. He said: I see you are wiser than he. What do you say? Peter said: "I tell you this: it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.":"- Apocryphal Acts of Peter and Andrew."

Aramaic Primacists generally respond that these sources are late compared to the account in Q, as the Mishnah, the base document of the Babylonian Talmud was compiled in 200, where the Acts of Peter and Andrew is a 3rd century work and therefore the original mis-translation of גמלא ("gamlâ") pre-dates and is potentially the source of these subsequent paraphrases.



*cite|author=Black, M.|title=An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts. 3rd Ed.|publisher=Hendrickson Publishers|date=1967
*cite|author=Burney, C. F.|title=The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel|publisher=Oxford at the Clarendon Press|date=1922
*cite|author=Casey, M.|title=The Aramaic Sources of Marks' Gospel|publisher=Cambridge University Press|date=1998
*cite|author=Casey, M.|title=An Aramaic Approach to Q|publisher=Cambridge University Press|date=2002
*cite|author=Fitzmyer, J.|title=The Semitic Background of the New Testament|publisher=Eerdmans Publishing|date=1997
*cite|author=Lamsa, G.|title=New Testament Origin|publisher=Aramaic Bible Center|date=1976
*cite|author=Torrey, C.|title=Documents of the Primitive Church|publisher=Harper & Brothers|date=1941
*cite|author=Zimmermann, F.|title=The Aramaic Origin of the Four Gospels|publisher=Ktav Publishing House|date=1979

External links

* [ Aramaic Peshitta Bible Repository] — copies of George Lamsa's and Paul Younan's translations of Peshitta, plus many research tools and free books
* [] — collection of amateur articles on Aramaic primacy
* [] — site contains the transcription of the Khaboris Codex

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