often the “forgotten” language of the Bible, sandwiched between what
some view as a 100% Hebrew Tanakh (or “Old Testament” to some) and
the Greek New Testament. In recent years however, modern
scholarship has made great strides in establishing that neither
assumption is correct. The Palestinian Talmud, Sotah 7.2 says,
“Let not the Aramaic be esteemed by you lightly my son, as the Holy
One, blessed be He, has seen fit to give it voice in the Torah and
the Prophets and the Writings.” In other words, Aramaic is given
voice in every major part of the text. Parts of Ezra and Daniel
were originally written in Aramaic, along with a line from Genesis
and other portions from the Prophets. Aramaic also has a major
voice in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in many of the most ancient
prayers in Judaism today, such as the Kaddish and Amidah, to name
just two. Other key Jewish literary works such as the Talmud, Zohar
and Kabbalah were also composed in the Aramaic language.
To be unaware
of the importance of Aramaic is to be unskilled or ignorant of a
significant and critical part of Biblical history, the importance of
which is well attested to in the archaeological record. The
majority of Bible students are unaware that the Aramaic language has
been “masked” behind Hebrew letters in Jewish liturgy, much the same
way that Yiddish is half German and yet written in Hebrew letters.
An example of how Aramaic and Hebrew have mixed together so
effectively is illustrated by a “ben mitzvah”, which is what
it would be called if it were “pure Hebrew” rather than “bar
In the last
two decades there has been a renewal of interest in the New Testament and
much more attention being paid to the Aramaic collections known as the Peshitta.
While it is impossible to detail these insights here, we have
documented and discussed hundreds of places in the New Testament
where Aramaic clears up obscure or difficult Greek readings.
The Greek NT
is so ubiquitous and popular that many Christians simply turn a
blind eye to its problems because it is so familiar and comfortable
for them. But the fact is, first century Jews did not attend dinner
parties hosted by lepers (Matthew 26:6-7, compare that to Leviticus
13:45-46); nor did they allow eunuchs to worship in the Temple (Acts
8:27, compare that to Deuteronomy 23:1); nor were the leading rabbis of
Y’shua’s day denying the Exodus (John 8:33) or being clueless that
half a dozen prophets actually did come out of Galilee (John 7:52).
Perhaps you have noticed that every Greek copy of Matthew chapter 1
only has 13 generations from the Captivity to the Nativity, instead
of the 14 that Matthew commands (1:17) and that last generation is
found “hiding” in the Greek, but only through a mistranslation from the
older Aramaic text.
And yet, in
all these cases and countless others, the Aramaic clears matters up
instantly and completely. The effect on the average
believer—whether Nazarene or Christian—has been nothing short of
stunning. In those precious discoveries, it is seldom about making
a “doctrinal point” but more about receiving a joyful clarity that
the Aramaic brings to New Testament studies. Over the years my
amazement at this text has increased exponentially as the original
poetry, irony and even outright sense of humor of our Savior leapt
off the pages and into the hearts of his followers who read the
Aramaic Peshitta texts.
As you will
discover in Wheel of Stars, investigating the ancient Aramaic language
can prove to be extremely rewarding and bring a much more concise
and beautiful understanding to many passages and questions.
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