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Articles on the Original Aramaic Scriptures

Original Aramaic Text
"The Jewish Aramaic Bible versions are known to us, first and foremost, as major literary crystallizations." (Sheki'im mi-targume ha-Mikra ha-Aramiyim, by Moshe Henry Goshen-Gottstein, Rimon Kasher, 1983, Bar-Ilan University). "Before the Christian era Aramaic had in good part replaced Hebrew in Palestine as the vernacular of the Jews. It continued as their vernacular for centuries later... Translations of books of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic for liturgical purposes must have begun before the Christian era... In recent decades there has been increasing interest among scholars and a larger public in these Targums. A noticeable lacuna, however, has been the absence of a modern English translation of this body of writing." (The Aramaic Bible, by Philip S. Alexander, 2003)

"The Jewish Aramaic Bible translations came into existence when, and where, Hebrew was no longer fully understood. As such the earliest Aramaic interpretative literature, found in Qumran, is to be understood... In the diaspora under Hellenistic influence, the Greek translation of the Septuagint replaced the originl Hebrew text. This situation did not please the Rabbis, who... keenly appreciated that much was lost in translation... an Aramaic translation under rabbinic supervision of Torah and Prophets appeared as well. These translations are relatively unique in their structure, and specifically in their oral-performative setting, which binds them to the original text... " (Extracted from "Playing Second Fiddle: How the Rabbis Tamed the Jewish Aramaic Bible Translations" by Willem Smelik, University College London, and Alex Samely, The University of Manchester).

"Jewish Aramaic Bible translations have an uncommon structure in performance and contents... They are deliberately modelled as a counterpoint to the original text... They are painstakingly literal in a one-to-one fashion wherever possible, up to the point of copying Hebrew syntax, while freely adding interpretative supplements, or substituting some lemmata (within the one-to-one mode), for exegetical and theological reasons. While these remarks apply to all of the Jewish Aramaic translations, they are quite distinct from one another in several ways. While some translations bear the imprint of rabbinic authority, others reflect the concerns, interests and opinions of educated laymen. ("The Antiphony of the Hebrew Bible and Its Jewish Aramaic Translations: The Need to Read a Translation in Concert with the Original", Dr. Willem Smelik, University College London).

While the Aramaic translation of the Peshitta Tanakh reflects the original Hebrew that was used by the Masoretes in producing a revised, standard version of the Hebrew text, there are books within the Tanakh that were written originally in Aramaic, and not in Hebrew. For example, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, once a single "book", were originally written in Aramaic and translated to Hebrew. (See Boundaries of the Ancient Near Eastern World: A Tribute to Cyrus H. Gordon, by Cyrus Herzl; Biblical Books Translated from the Aramaic, by Frank Zimmermann; The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues, by Steven L. McKenzie, Matt Patrick Graham; The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Based on the New American Bible, by Robert J. Karris). It is likely that other books such as Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Esther, the Chronicles and Malachi were also originally written in Aramaic and later translated into Hebrew. These texts, including Ezra and Nehemiah, were written between 530 and 430 B.C.E.

The earlier Masoretic text was produced out of necessity due to the ancient Hebrew script no longer being used as well as due to the fact that a standardized edition with full use of vowel points and grammatical tradition was needed for Jews at the time - this is what we refer to as "Masorah". The currently used Hebrew Bible among Jews and Christians, was edited much later by Jacob ben Hayim Ibn Adonyahu around 1524 C.E. based on manuscripts that he had available to him at the time, as will be shown below, those manuscripts had problems of their own.

The Jewish translators of the Aramaic edition of the Tanakh had access to the original (sometimes called "Vorlage") text of the Hebrew. This is one reason there are discrepancies between the Aramaic and the later revised, standardized Hebrew edition.

Gillian Greenberg gives some interesting information on his comparisons of the Masoretic and the Syriac/Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh in his book Translation Technique in the Peshitta to Jeremiah:

"In the earlier literature, Talmon assembles evidence in the rabbinic writings, Hebrew fragments from after 70 CE such as those from Wadi Murabba`at and Massada, and some subsidiary details from the ancient version, and concludes that proto-Masoretic Texts were indeed established during the first century CE...Against the background of the evidence for the date of the standardization of the proto-Masoretic Text, it is historically possible that a MS which was close to even if not identical with the latter would have been in existence at the time of writing of the Peshitta, and could have formed the Vorlage....that the translators would have sought out a 'model' text, one given high status by those involved in Palestine, as the basis of the work of such importance, and that the model they would have wanted to work from would therefore have been in the line of transmission of the MT....

Jutscher describes some of the biblical scrolls found at Qumran as 'vernacular' copies, deliberately simplified and otherwise adapted for Hebrew-speaking readers, and circulating in the Holy Land up to the second century CE. The nature of these MSS, and the question of their suitability for the Vorlage of the Peshitta, is also discussed by Weitzman. These non-proto-Masoretic Text MSS, which made up such a large proportion of the total, may have been of great importance during the earlier life of the Qumran community: but their number may give a misleading idea of their importance during the later stages, the time at which the Peshitta was written, when as Tov suggests a central stream in Judaism may have been responsible for the copying and circulation of these texts...This evidence of the text of the Peshitta before the fifth century is found largely in the writings of Aphrahat and also in those of Ephrem...

'The Judaism of the Peshitta Pentateuch ... is predominantly rabbinic but embodies some non-rabbinic elements. The religion of the Peshitta Psalter is emphatically different from rabbinic Judaism ... The hypothesis may be ventured that the Pentateuch was translated while that community was yet Jewish, and the Psalter when its evangelization was well under way if not complete.' [Quoting Weitzman]...

Weitzman points out that the presence of some Jewish exegesis in the Peshitta is compatible with an origin in a Christian community if that community had Jewish roots or Jewish contacts, and concludes, overall, that the Peshitta was the work of non-rabbinic Jews, conscious, at least during the time of translation of all but the last books, of isolation from Jews elsewhere in the world... For such a community, the production of a biblical text which was readily accessible in a community where the knowledge of Hebrew was decreasing may have been more important than literalness." (Extracted from Translation Technique in the Peshitta to Jeremiah by Gillian Greenberg, copyright 2002, BRILL).

Some who hold to the purity of the Aleppo Codex (another Hebrew Masoretic text) claim that there are thousands of errors in the commonly accepted Hebrew Bible. "In Venice, circa 1524, a Tunisian scholar named Ya'acov Ben-Hhaim used the printing press to produce an edition of all 24 books of the canonized Bible, the first of its kind. With its inclusion of famous Bible commentators such as Rashi and Ibn Ezra, the Mikraot Gedolot Edition, as it became to be known, was accepted as the definitive and authoritative Torah text. After another printing in Warsaw, it became the standard for Orthodox communities. There is just one problem: the Mikraot Gedolot is highly inaccurate. Of that edition, the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings together contain several thousands of errors. Not just of musical cantillations and vowels, but letters as well. Ya'acov Ben-Hhaim [Jacob ben Chaim] carried out his manuscript comparisons on texts that were within his geographical reach, but they were not accurate themselves. (It is interesting to note that the printing of the Mikraot Gedolot was executed under the aegis of a Christian printer, Daniel Bomberg, and Ben-Hhaim, who converted to Christianity. It is not clear, however, whether Ben-Hhaim's conversion was before or after 1524.)" (Jerusalem Post, "The True Torah?", by Robby Berman)

The Aleppo Codex is attributed to the work of Aaron ben Moses ben Asher (sometimes called "Bar Asher") who "lived in Tiberius during the first half of the 10th century. His family had been involved in creating and maintaining the Masorah for either five or six generations. Ben-Asher rapidly gained fame as the most authoritative of the Tiberias masoretes, and, even after his death, his name continued to hold respect." (Jewish Virtual Library, from Gates to Jewish Heritage)

"The scholar who added the vowels and accents was Rabbi Aaron Bar Asher, one of the most illustrious experts in the specialized science of the Biblical text that goes by the name "Masorah." The Masoretes developed elaborate systems for maintaining the accuracy of the written, consonantal text of the Bible, as well as for recording the vowels and accents, which had previously been handed down through oral memorization. Though several such systems were devised during the early medieval era, in the end the one from Tiberias achieved dominance; and Aaron Bar Asher was perhaps the most distinguished exponent of the Tiberian school of Masorah." (Shepherdstown, West Virginia December 1999,­ January 2000. Prime Minister Barak of Israel and Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara of Syria enter into ill-fated peace negotiations under American auspices)

Maimonides wrote, "The codex which we used in these works is the codex known in Egypt, which includes 24 books, which was in Jerusalem ... and was used for editing the books (of the Bible), and everyone relies on it, because it was edited by Ben-Asher, who studied it carefully for many years and edited it many times ... and I relied on it in the Torah Scroll which I wrote according to it."

"Which is the accurate version? Because the book is sacred, its text must be agreed upon and accepted unconditionally, without any discrepancies among the various versions. Yet this is not the case. It is true that there are no discrepancies that change the basic meaning of the text... However, there are differences between ancient Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible and, therefore, the same can be said about the printed editions based on these manuscripts. To enlightened readers, the recent attempts by some scholars to 'find' hidden messages by combining letters in the Bible seem pathetic, at best." (Hebrew Bibles, from 1488 to a new edition of the Keter Aram Tzova, by Nachuym Ben Zvi)

Not enough research has been done in regards to the Aramaic Tanakh in order to show any major differences between it and the Aleppo Codex. With this Codex being available at least in part, anyone with a good knowledge of the Syriac/Aramaic translation of the Tanakh should be able, with ease, to compare the two in order to provide an early analysis.

The Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh, for the most part, is translated directly from the original, pre-Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, thus providing us with a much more pure text - especially compared to the "Ben Chaim" European edition of the Tanakh which is most certainly corrupted. This is the same text that almost all English translations of the "Old Testament" are eventually based upon. Clearly more research in this field needs to be covered, and only time will tell.

"Even to the West of the Euphrates river, in the Holy Land, the main vernacular was Aramaic. The weekly synagogue lections, called sidra or parashah, with the haphtarah, were accompanied by an oral Aramaic translation, according to fixed traditions. A number of Targumim in Aramaic were thus eventually committed to writing, some of which are of unofficial character, and of considerable antiquity. The Gemara of the Jerusalem Talmud was written in Aramaic, and received its definitive form in the 5th century. The Babylonian Talmud with its commentaries on only 36 of the Mishnah's 63 tractates, is four times as long as the Jerusalem Talmud. These Gemaroth with much other material were gathered together toward the end of the 5th century, and are in Aramaic. Since 1947, approximately 500 documents were discovered in eleven caves of Wadi Qumran near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. In addition to the scrolls and fragments in Hebrew, there are portions and fragments of scrolls in Aramaic. Hebrew and Aramaic, which are sister languages, have always remained the most distinctive features marking Jewish and Eastern Christian religious and cultural life, even to our present time." -- Paul Younan.

"The Peshitta translation of Genesis, and indeed of the Pentateuch as a whole, is particularly rich in links with contemporary Jewish exegetical tradition, and this makes it likely that these books were translated by Jews rather than by Christians.... the Peshitta translation of Proverbs is also likely to have been the work of Jews in northern Mesopotamia; it subsequently came to be taken over by Syriac-speaking Christians and by later Jews (who lightly modified the dialect)" -- The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, by Sebastian Brock.

This edition of the Pshitta Tanakh transliterates certain names and phrases, such as the Name of God (MarYah, which means Lord YHWH). The translation does not always follow a prose, or smooth English form and may seem "out of place" for some readers.

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Pshitta Tanakh: The Aramaic Jewish Bible in English (Nusach Beit Shalom)
Copyright 2007-2014 by Ya'aqub Younan-Levine, and 2014-2019 by Nehemiah Cohen.
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