Another way looking at a language
20. Aramaic or Greek Lingua Franca
All of Rav Shaul’s epistles (with the possible exception of Philemon since it was sent through a Roman contact, then to the assembly) were sent to Synagogues that contained Jewish and Gentile believers whose halakha (legal faith practices) were governed by Ya’akov HaTzadik (James the Just) head of the Jerusalem Assembly. This is why in Acts 9 and 15 James writes letters in Aramaic (about circumcision and other matters) for individuals like Rav Shaul to deliver. Once delivered, a meturgeman (targumist) would translate the letters into Greek for Greek speaking members. There is plenty of evidence indicating inconsistency of Greek translation quality of Paul’s original Aramaic letters. Galatians was a terrible translation disaster, but 1 Corinthians was reasonably well translated. But there is clear evidence that Rav Shaul was well aware that “wolves” were going to misconstrue everything he said to posture their own ideas, for example:
1) 1 Corinthians 16:22 has the Aramaic phrase Maran Atha (our Master [Y’shua] comes) but why would he write this to a Greek audience? Using Maran Atha indicates two things:
a) This is a “distinguishing mark” that Rav Shaul refers to elsewhere as being in all his letters, a code word to authenticate his material from the many fakes that we know were circulating early,
See also 2 Thess. 3:17. Since the autographs are lost but the text is faithfully preserved in the Peshitta Aramaic traditions, it appears that Maran Atha appeared as some kind of seal or marking, but in 1 Cor. Rav Shaul chose to insert it in the body of the text.
b) The expectation by this distinguishing mark indicates that at least one person at the synagogue would be able to translate that Aramaic phrase for a Greek audience. The NT shows elsewhere
Acts 10 that Hebrew synagogue services were translated into Greek for the benefit of people like Cornelius. There is no reason to assume given the similar letters that James has delivered to Jews and Gentiles that the exact same process did not happen from the Aramaic to Greek Epistles. By this method, everything Rav Shaul wrote, with the possible exception of Philemon can be easily shown to have been targummed from Aramaic into Greek at the assembly level.
2) Paul states that he has a poor scribal hand/training in Galatians 6:11. He also admits in a variety of places that he has both co-writers and co-translators into Greek, as well as those who help him speak wherever he goes. We read in 2 Peter 3:15 and 16 where Peter states that Paul’s
letters are “difficult to understand” and those who are “ignorant and unstable pervert” what he writes as well as the “other scripture”. Paul’s letters were not considered as “Scripture.”
Scripture was and is the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Tanakh) and evidently the “theologians” that Peter talks about did not have a foundation in Tanakh; plus, they most likely bungled Paul’s writings because of it. However, we also see that both letters to the Thessalonians are from “Paul, Silas and Timothy.” That is also why the scribe Tertius writes his own name at the end of Romans (16:22) and why John Mark’s absence at Pamphylia results in Rav Shaul needing to travel with Luke and others instead. Put simply, Rav Shaul goes nowhere outside of Israel without a Greek translator like Barnabas, John-Mark, Luke etc..
3) There are many examples indicating good and bad targumming from Aramaic and into Greek, dearly indicating that Paul’s writings or dictation was originally in Aramaic.
If Luke was a Gentile why then would he write in Aramaic rather than Greek?
Luke’s Greek is the best by far in the Renewed Covenant writings, but the First Century Jewish historian Josephus’ Greek is superior; and Josephus admits several times that he wrote his histories in Aramaic and that even after nearly 30 years of living in Rome he was still not proficient in Greek. What is true for Josephus must also be considered for both Luke and Paul. Rav Shaul was a Pharisee who studied under Rabbi Gamaliel but Josephus descended from both priests and kings and was a leading Pharisee of his day.
Luke may have been a Gentile, but he was likely a Semitic Gentile. Although he worked in Troas, Asia Minor, he was born and raised in, “Antioch boomeus en” or “The famous Antioch “ meaning the one in Syria, not Pisdia. Syrian Antioch had a huge native Aramaic speaking population and it is from “Syria” that we get Syriac, a synonym for Aramaic. Aramaic speaking Jews and pagans have been living there for millennia. On the other hand, Antioch was also the seat of Roman power from at least 65 BCE (the Seleucids 100 years earlier, also Greek speakers) “and the” other half of the city was fully Hellenized as well. It was a center of tremendous Greco-Roman learning eclipsed perhaps only by Alexandria Egypt and her great library there.
There was perhaps no city on earth at that time more capable of producing the most sophisticated bi-lingual scholars than was the city of Luke’s birth. Therefore, his Greek mastery should be no surprise or unexplainable within the Aramaic primacist model. But even if Luke’s Greek is superior to the rest of the NT, this is not saying it is at par with wider classical standards, but only in comparison to the other targumists. From the reality of the Roman occupation there was no such thing as “KOINE Greek,” only good and bad classical Greek. The Alexandrian dialect of Classical Greek was likely similar to the way Americans mangle the English language and yet it is still understood by British folks even though they might wince at the different accents and expressions.
Frequently what we see in the NT Greek are attempts to retain Semitic word order which is opposite from the Classical or retain other Semitisms like casus pendens (and it happened while in the doing…). The tendency for Semitisms in NT Greek (things like NOT FEAR instead of FEAR NOT) were so great that some scholars in the 19th century posited a “Jewish Greek” dialect. The Western theological posturing of Greek lingua franca among the original followers of Y’shua versus tribal Hebrew and Aramaic vernacular is extremely far fetched when we understand that the original followers of Y’shua relied on the Hebrew Tanakh to prove or disprove Y’shua being Mashiyach. The highest authority of Scripture and ideas from which to make your best arguments come from the Tanakh. When evangelizing both Jews and Gentiles it was and is imperative to teach from the Tanakh to establish context and history. When sharing ideas, values terms and definitions that pertain to the Kingdom of Elohim and are as important as life itself, every individual prefers their vernacular language, most certainly not a vehicular language.
– From The Aramaic English New Testament
Peshitta English Aramaic Critical Edition
A Compilation, annotation and translation of the Eastern original Aramaic New Testament Peshitta text
Andrew Gabriel Yitzkhak bar Raphael
Andrew Gabriel Roth
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