Another way looking at a language #4 Ancient times

Another way looking at a language

11. Misreading in early times

Already in early centuries of our current time we got some misreadings in the most ancient Greek manuscripts (Second and Third Centuries of the Common Era) could only have happened by misunderstanding a Peshitta-exclusive reading.

How careful translators and readers of translations have to be can be seen in, for illustration purposes, Matthew 26:6-7, where the Greek NT states that Jeshua or Jesus was dining in the house of a man called “Simon the Leper.” In the narrative a servant girl brings Jeshua an alabaster jar of expensive perfume to anoint him. The impossibility of this reading is evident when one understands that in Jeshua’s day, lepers could not own property, or jars of perfume, or have servant girls, let alone entertain Jewish guests in the near vicinity of Jerusalem (Leviticus 13:45-50).

Bilingual inscription (Greek and Aramaic) by k...
Bilingual (Greek and Aramaic) inscriptions by king Ashoka at Kandahar (Shar-i-kuna). (3rd century BCE). Preserved at Kabul Museum. Today disappeared. Two-dimensional inscription. - Image via Wikipedia

In response to the facts, some Greek NT advocates suggest that Simon “used to be a leper” and maybe he was celebrating his healing from Jeshua in much the same way that the above mentioned Elazar/ Eliezar or did in John’s or Yochanan’s Gospel. However, there are at least three huge problems with this kind of posturing. First and foremost, Matthew doesn’t record this and John does, so is it fair to overthrow one Gospel writer by another, as if one was somehow less careful in his information? In fact, when theologians venture outside the plain reading of the text (using a completely separate scenario disconnected from internal evidence), it can’t be considered as an honest, scholarly contribution.

The second problem (and a very acute one) is that Torah (Hebrew, ; Aramaic, ; Greek, Νόμος) clearly instructs that lepers must not be referred to as lepers after they are healed (Leviticus 13:1-44). Third and finally, if Simon let people refer to him as “the Leper” (against Torah) it would also greatly inhibit his ability to do business in Israel and he would be well within his legal rights to sue for damages.

Thankfully, Aramaic provides the obvious solution within the text itself. Since Hebrew and Aramaic have no vowels, two words spelled the same, but pronounced differently can have two totally different meanings. In this case, the word in question is spelled gimel-resh-beyt-aleph (GRBA). Pronounced as “gar-bah” the word is “leper” whereas with “gar-ah-bah” (same letters) means jar maker”! Furthermore, since these two words are also pronounced differently, the mistake would most likely happen when copying from an ancient written document that does not offer modern vowel pointing.

12. Ancient codices and modern translation

There are hundreds of examples that attest to Peshitta (The oldest Syriac translation of both the Old and New Testaments) pre-dating the Greek texts, putting it within solid striking distance of the very original writings of the Shlichim. It is this level of accuracy, as expressed both in ancient codices and the most up-to-date modem scholarship being represented in the translations we are going to use this coming year.

Inscription of Abraham son of Sarah from Mtskheta, Georgia. 4th-6th cc CE.
A schematic drawing of the Judeo-Aramaic inscription on a gold plaque found in Mtskheta, Georgia in 1992. It is apparently an amulet, mentioning its owner Abraham, son of Sarah. Date from 4th century until 6th century
This time we do look at two different translations at once, having the Aramaic on one side of the page and English or Dutch on a facing page. Also because for one translation does only exist with the full New Testament and only a few parts in the Old Testament (The Torah). This is the Aramaic English New Testament translated also into an Aramaic-English-Dutch New Testament in the most recent edition of 2011 (AENT and the AEDNT). For Dutch we also shall compare it to ‘De Heilige Boeken van het Nieuwe Testament -De Peshitta”, the Messianic Peshitta translation by E. Nierop (2009, 2010) (NL)

The other translation shall be based on the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures and is also based on the same basic effort as the version we are going to use the year after this one. So we shall be able to compare the evolution of two different Bible Translations based on the work of the South African Chris Koster, namely this academic year “The Scriptures” (“De Geschriften”) and afterwards “The HalleluYah Scriptures”.

We choose those Bible Translations especially because they go back to the language of the man who we want to follow as our example. Jeshua, to most Christians known as Jesus spoke Galilean dialect of the Ancient Aramaic language at home and with friends. His mother-tongue belongs to the Semitic languages of the Northern Central or North-western group or to the Afro-asiatic language phylum. It was the international trade language of the ancient Middle East and therefore also understood by many who originally spoke another tongue. Speaking Aramaic Jesus easily could be understood by those who spoke another dialect or other language. It is particularly closely related to Hebrew, and was written in a variety of alphabetic scripts. (What is usually called “Hebrew” script is actually an Aramaic script.) Aramaic displaced Hebrew for many purposes among the Jews, a fact reflected in the Bible, where portions of Ezra and Daniel are in Aramaic. Some of the best known stories in biblical literature, including that of Belshazzar’s feast with the famous “handwriting on the wall” are in Aramaic. It remained a dominant language for Jewish worship, scholarship, and everyday life for centuries in both the land of Israel and in the Diaspora, especially in Babylon.



Previous: Another way looking at a language #3 Abraham



  1. Why believing the Bible
  2. Hebrew, Aramaic and Bibletranslation
  3. Spelling Yahshuah (יהשע) vs Hebrew using Yehoshuah (יהושע)
  4. Some Restored Name Versions
  5. HalleluYah Scriptures
  6. HalleluYah Scriptures Corrections
  7. Lord or Yahuwah, Yeshua or Yahushua

In Dutch:

  • Evidence from History and the Gospels that Jesus Spoke Greek (A)- “Ελήλυθεν η ώρα ίνα δοξασθή ο υιός του ανθρώπου” (
    The evidence is as yet inconclusive as to what language Jesus would have normally spoken to the Jewish crowds or to his disciples. However, for nearly the last century, “it has become practically a generally accepted tradition that the mother tongue of Jesus, the language he knew best and therefore usually spoke, was Aramaic.”1 This is mainly due to the conclusions of Dalman,2 “who stated that, though Jesus may have known Hebrew, and probably spoke Greek, he certainly taught in Aramaic.”3 Some New Testament scholars have even gone as far as to say that “Jesus only spoke in Aramaic.”4
  • Could Computer Analysis Help Date the Gospels? (
    Back in 1998 Maurice Casey, a New Testament scholar at University of Nottingham, wrote a book called Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel. Casey had studied the Dead Sea Scrolls extensively, and drew upon them to make the case that most of Mark was written originally in Aramaic.

    How? Weren’t the Gospels, as we have them, written in Greek by Greek Christians many decades after the events they purported to describe?
    Throughout the first century of critical scholarship, the use of Aramaic was beset with such severe problems that most scholars might well feel that it was a specialized area of dubious value….The use of Aramaic of different times and places, the use of only one word at a time, the elevation of supposed puns to the level of  a major tool when they could not be properly verified, all this was enough to keep Aramaic as a specialized area.

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