Aramaic Thoughts 11

The Peshitta – Part 11

Multi-Part Article

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 athttp://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 athttp://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.

 

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