My previous post made mention of an Aramaic New Testament. This has turned out to be an interesting side trip in my studies. The assertion I mentioned is that the original gospels were written in Aramaic rather than Greek. However, regardless of whether Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually wrote in Greek, it is important to note that the actual verbal sayings of Jesus to his disciples were almost certainly in Aramaic. So the “original Greek texts” that we refer to so often in modern times can only be translations at best. It seems to me that reading a transliteration of the New Testament in Aramaic would be the closest we English speakers can get to receiving the actual words of Christ.
Some years ago I was given a copy of the The Peshitta on CD ROM. The Peshitta is the official Bible of the Church of the East. The name Peshitta in Aramaic means “Straight”, in other words, the original and pure New Testament. The Church of the East believes that the Peshitta is the only authentic and pure text which contains the books in the New Testament that were written in Aramaic, the Language of Mshikha (the Messiah) and His Disciples.
In reference to the originality of the Peshitta, the words of His Holiness Mar Eshai Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East, are summarized as follows:
“With reference to….the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision.”
The above information is from an excellent web site: http://www.peshitta.org/. This website includes the full Aramaic text of the four gospels plus Acts, along with an interlinear English translation. I keep finding new things to study much more rapidly than I can keep up!
I love bookstores. I discovered a nice little bookstore in Cottonwood, Arizona yesterday. Their inventory was pretty unusual, and I found a couple of books (at half price!) to add to my collection. That is one reason why I entitled this post “More Books”.
The other reason that I chose that title is that are many more books and writings that were written in the early years after Christ than those which are included in our Bibles today. They are sometimes called the New Testament Apocrypha. Many are similar in form and content to the gospels and epistles that are in our Bibles, but they were not judged suitable to be included with the canonical books of scripture. The names of these books could lead one to believe that they were written by apostles or other prominent figures of Jesus’ day. However, actual authorship is often questionable.
The two books that I just purchased are text and commentary on The Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Judas. I already had a book on the New Testament Apocrypha which includes a large number of early writings, including The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Bartholomew and The Gospel According to Mary. I have a lot of studying to do! Even if we accept that the early church leaders were correct — or even divinely inspired — in their selection of the canonical books, these writings of the first centuries after Christ can inform us on what the earliest Christians thought was important. They are part of the history of Christianity.
Another subject for my future studies and future blog posts will be the history of how we got our Bibles. The selection of the books to be included is one major aspect, but there are also issues surrounding the identification of the earliest/original texts, the accuracy of the copies made by scribes, and the accuracies of the various translations. For example, I came across some information a while back that theorizes that the original gospel writings weren’t in Greek at all. That theory is based on some textual analysis plus the idea that the Jewish apostles would almost certainly have written in their native Aramaic language and not the Greek trade language. In that case, what we consider “original Greek” texts today would actually be early translations from Aramaic. The more I dig into the earliest Christian history, the more I learn that those formative first centuries were much more complicated than I thought!