Example Aramaic and Syriac texts

Palestinian Aramaic handwriting examples with translations and notes

Syriac handwriting examples with translations and notes

Palestinian Aramaic handwriting examples with translations and notes

I have included here some interesting examples of authenticated Palestinian Aramaic inscriptions and texts. These texts are just a few examples from a much larger corpus. Nevertheless, they serve to show the linguistic and historical importance of Aramaic, especially for the study of the gospels and Christian origins.

The James inscription from Jerusalem

The first example is an important inscription from Jerusalem which has been dated by archaeologists to the first century AD. Following its discovery and an article in Biblical Archaeology Review, it was published widely in the media around the world. I have transcribed the following text from a photograph of the inscription which was published in the Daily Telegraph [1]:

Ya`cob bar Yoseph, ahui dYeshu`a

Transliteration; 'Ya`cob bar Yoseph, ahui dYeshu`a.'
Translation; 'Ya`cob the son of Yoseph, Yeshu`a's brother'.'

The last word of this inscription mentions Yeshu`a, which is Jesus' real name written in His own Aramaic language in a near contemporary inscription from Jerusalem. The names Ya`cob and Yoseph we know from their anglicized derivatives as James and Joseph. According to the gospel of Matthew and the apostle Paul, Yeshu`a the Messiah had a half brother called Ya`cob (James) who was the son of Yoseph, (see Mt13v55, Mt27v56, Mk6v3 and Gal1v19). Although no-one can be absolutely certain that the Ya`cob mentioned in this inscription was the same Ya`cob mentioned in the gospels and by the apostle Paul, there is every indication that he was.

A Messianic apocalyptic text from the Dead Sea Scrolls

The DSS collection of manuscripts come from a Judean archaeological context dated from around the 2nd century BC up to about AD 60. I have transcribed the following short excerpt from one Aramaic language scroll, 4Q246 column II, line 1. 4Q246 has been published a number of times, for this excerpt see; [2] p. 70 and [3] pp. 493 – 495. Here it is:

bareh de El eth'amar wabar `elyon eqroneh

Transliteration: 'Bareh de 'El eth'amar wabar `elyon eqroneh'
Translation: ' “The Son of God!” it will be said, and “The Son of the Highest” they will call Him.'

Compare this Jewish Palestinian Messianic text with two verses found in the gospel of Luke at Lk1v32, 35. Notice that Yeshu`a is given the same two Messianic titles in Luke's gospel which are also found in this text. These two pieces of evidence (amongst others) indicate that Palestinian Aramaic literature provides us with the correct cultural context to understand the original text of the gospel.

A quote from an Aramaic biblical manuscript in the Dead Sea Scrolls

A beautiful handwritten manuscript of the book of Job can be found amongst the Aramaic corpus from the Dead Sea. Certain features of this text and other historical data indicate that Job was originally written in Aramaic rather than in Hebrew. I have transcribed the following quotation from 11Q10, column XXXVII lines 7 and 8. This text has been published a few times, see for example [3], p. 1201. Here it is:

Lemshema` 'aden shema`thak waba`n `ayni hazthak

Transliteration: 'Lmishema` 'aden shema`thak wak`an `ayni hazthak'
Translation: ' “An ear that may hear, I have heard you and now, my eyes, I have seen you!'

The corresponding place in the book of Job is Job42v5. This passage is interesting linguistically because it contains an Aramaic idiom, 'an ear that may hear'. According to the Greek version of the Gospels, this idiom was spoken by Christ four times. These four sayings are recorded a total of seven times in the Greek gospels; It can be found three times Matthew's gospel at Mt11v15 and at Mt13v9, 43 and the parallels of the latter two verses also found in Mark and Luke, (see Mk4v9, 23, Lk8v8) and again in Lk14v35. Compared to the way our idiom is written in the Job text, in all seven places in the Peshitta Syriac version of the gospels, this idiom is written differently and incorrectly. If the idiom in our text was known in Syriac, it would have been used in the Peshitta. No reviser would have needed to change it, because, as we have seen, our idiom does not contradict the Greek text. Therefore, the consistent variance of the Peshitta demonstrates that our idiom was not used in the Syriac dialect of Aramaic. We are led to conclude that our idiom originated from Palestine where according to the Greek gospels, Christ used it four times and where our Aramaic copy of Job was actually found. So it is surprising, and of some historical significance, that the correct Palestinian Aramaic idiomatic expression found in our text from Job can also be found written correctly in six places spread over three early Syriac gospel manuscripts. (Compare this Palestinian text with the appropriate Syriac example given below.)

The survival of an alien Palestinian Aramaic idiom in the Syriac gospel tradition points to a textual link between the Syriac gospel tradition and a primitive Palestinian Aramaic gospel text. However, this is only one data point. A textual link would mean that there are other such relics to be found dotted around in the Syriac literature, as in fact there are. The Greek and Syriac gospel traditions and the Palestinian Aramaic linguistic evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls taken together demonstrate that there was a primitive gospel text written in Palestinian Aramaic which was originally used in the Syriac-speaking east and also translated into Greek for use in the Hellenistic world.

Syriac handwriting examples with translations and notes

A Palestinian Aramaic idiom found written in the Syriac gospels

Related to the Palestinian Aramaic text just discussed, here is the same Palestinian Aramaic idiom preserved intact in three early copies of the Syriac gospels; the Curetonian Old Syriac copy of Matthew and two early copies of the Peshitta gospels, [4] [5]:

Syriac text, see transcript below

Transliteration: 'Man da-'it leh 'adne' lemeshem`a nesh-shem`a '
Translation: ' “Whoever has an ear that he may hear, he will hear!'

The earliest form of the Lord's prayer written in Syriac, two excerpts

The Lord's prayer is a very famous text from the gospels and every new Christian has been taught this prayer from the beginning of the Christian faith. Presented here are two excerpts from the Lord's prayer as it was read and used in the early Syriac speaking churches, long before the Peshitta revision existed. The Syriac text has been critically reconstructed by the present author from twelve Syriac sources including biblical manuscripts and early patristic sources:

Syriac text, see transcript below

Transliteration: ' 'Abba' debashmaya' nethqadash shmak'
Translation: ' “Father that is in heaven, will be hallowed your name” '

Syriac text, see transcript below

Transliteration: 'Wa-tethe melkuthak wa-nayuwan tsabyan-nayak ba'ar`a ayk dabashmaya'
Translation: ' “And your kingdom will come and your wills will be done in the earth, as [they are] in heaven.” '

Bibliography and references

[1] 'The Daily Telegraph' published in London. Daily edition of April 18th 2003, page 12.
[2] 'The Dead Sea Scrolls uncovered' Eisenman R. and Wise M. Publ.: Penguin Books 1993
ISBN 0 14 02.3250 8 (paperback) ISBN 1-85230-368-9 (hardback)
(This book contains excerpts from eighteen Aramaic texts with English translations and notes.)
[3] 'The Dead Sea Scrolls study edition' Martinez F. G. and Tigchelaar E. J. C. Publ.: Brill in Leiden NL. 2 vols, 1997 and 1998. ISBN 9004 110585 (This collection includes editions of around 100 Aramaic manuscript fragments from the DSS with English translations and bibliographies.)
[4] 'Remains of a very antient recension of the four gospels in Syriac' Cureton, W. Publ.: London 1858. See Mt11v15, Mt13v9 and Mt13v43. However, in Luke the text reflects the Peshitta.
[5] 'Tetraeuangelium sanctum' Pusey P. E., Gwilliam G. H. Publ.: Clarendon press, Oxford 1901. See codex18 at Mt11v15 and at Mk4v9 and codex 15 at Mk4v9.

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