Netzarim, Original followers of Yeshua & His 12
Aramaic is 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 mitzvah” which is Aramaic.
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.
By Andrew Roth