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The Aramaic Bible - Introduction #1

History of the Peshita Bible and the Aramaic Language

All CAPITAL letter words are mine, for emphasis (Keith Hunt)


........Some descendants of the Assyrians and some of the
descendants of the TEN  TRIBES who were taken captive by the
Assyrian kings in 721 B.C., and settled in Assyria, Babylon,
Persia and other places east of the river Euphrates, were among
the FIRST converts to Christianity......

     When Jesus sent seventy of his disciples out to preach the
gospel, he instructed them not to go in the way of the Gentiles
or into any city of the Samaritans but to go to the lost sheep of
the house of Israel, meaning the ten tribes who were lost from
the house of Israel. SOME of the descendants of these Hebrew
tribes are still living in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and most of
them still converse in Aramaic. Jesus' command was carried out.
The gospel was preached to the Jews first. "Now those who had
been dispersed by the persecution which occurred on account of
Stephen, travelled as far as Phoenicia and even to the land of
Cyprus and to Antioch, preaching to word to NONE but the Jews
ONLY" (Acts 11: 19)......

     The Assyrian church, or as it is known, the ancient
Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, was one of the
STRONGEST Christian churches in the world and was noted
for its MISSIONS in the Middle East, India, and China. Its
missionaries carried the Christian gospel as far as CHINA and
MONGOLIA, INDONESIA, JAPAN and other parts of the world. 
     Not until the 14th century was this church RIVALLED by ANY
OTHER church in the world. It was the most POWERFUL BRANCH of
Christendom in the Near East, Palestine, Arabia, Lebanon, Iran,
India and elsewhere.
     All the literature of this church was written in LITERARY

     The PERSIANS used the Aramaic language because this tongue
was the language of the TWO Semitic empires, the empire of
ASSYRIA and the empire of BABYLON.....

     The TRANSITION from Aramaic (the Greeks called it Syriac -
derived from Sur, Tyre) into Arabic, a SISTER tongue, took place
AFTER the conquest of the Near East by the Moslem armies in the
7th century A.D......

     Dr. Philip K. Hitti, noted historian and Professor of
Semitic languages at Princeton University, in his book "The
History of the Arabs," uses the terms "Aramaic" and "Syriac"
INTERCHANGEABLY and states that Aramaic is still a living
language (Lamsa was writing this in May of 1957....Keith

     As a miracle of miracles, Aramaic and most of the ancient
Biblical customs which were common to Semitic people have
survived in NORTHERN Iraq until today. Aramaic is still spoken in
Iraq and in northwestern Iran by remnants of the Assyrian people
and the Jews of the exile, and the literary Aramaic remains the
same today as it was of yore. Some of the Aramaic words which are
still retained in all Bible versions are still used in the
Aramaic language spoken today (remember Lamsa was writing in 1957
- Keith Hunt): for example "Raca" - "Ethpatakh" - "Rabbuli" -
"Shabakthani" - "Talitha Koomi".......
     As we have said, the survival of this small remnant of this
segment of the ancient Semitic culture was due to the isolation,
tenacity, and warlike character of the Assyrian people who were
living isolated, now under the Parthian Empire, now under the
Persian Empire, now under the Arabian Empire, and now under the
Turkish Empire.
     And because of this isolation, these ANCIENT CHRISTIANS had
HARDLY ANY contact with Christians in the WEST. Only ONE of their
BISHOPS and a DEACON, participated in the NICENE Council in 325

     The SCRIPTURES in the Church of the East, FROM the INCEPTION
of Christianity to the PRESENT DAY (this was in 1957 as Lamsa
wrote - Keith Hunt), are in ARAMAIC and have NEVER been tampered
with or REVISED, as attested to by the present Patriarch of the
Church of the East. 
     The Biblical MSS were CAREFULLY and ZEALOUSLY handed down
from one generation to another and kept in MASSIVE STONE walls of
the ancient churches and in CAVES. They were written on parchment
and MANY of them SURVIVE to the PRESENT day. 
     When these texts were COPIED by ancient scribes, they were
CAREFULLY EXAMINED for ACCURACY before they were dedicated and
permitted to be read in churches. Even ONE missing letter would
render the text VOID. Easterners still adhere to God's
commandment not to ADD to or OMIT a word from the

     Some of these ancient MSS go back to the 5th century
A.D.......Apparently some portions were written BEFORE the VOWEL
system was invented and that would put it PRIOR to the 5th
century. The Pentateuch of the British Museum must have been
written BEFORE the vowel system was invented. Aramaic documents
of the 5th century and later use the vowel system, some of them
fully and some in part.
     It is interesting to know that THIS VOWEL system was ADOPTED
by the Jews and was begun about the 5th century A.D. 
     In some portions.....the old Aramaic ORIGINAL CONSONANTAL
spelling without apparatus of vowel points is well preserved.
     This is ALSO TRUE of some of the NT texts in the Pierpont
Morgan Library, New York City.
     Unfortunately MANY ancient and valuable Aramaic texts were
LOST  during Wold War One. But printed COPIES of them, carefully
made by American missionaries under the help and guidance of
competent scholars, are available. Moreover, a NUMBER of ancient
NT texts, some of them going back to the 5th century A.D. are in
VARIOUS libraries. The NT texts in the Pierpont Morgan Library
are among the oldest in existence.

     The TRANSLATOR of THIS work has ACCESS to the existing
texts; he has spent MANY YEARS COMPARING them in the course of
translating the Bible.
     Astonishingly enough, ALL the Peshitta texts in Aramaic
AGREE. There is one thing of which the Eastern scribes can boast:
     Sir Frederick Kenyon, Curator of the British Museum, in his
book "Textual Criticism of the New Testament," speaks HIGHLY of
the ACCURACY of COPYING and of the ANTIQUITY of Pershitta

     Translations are always subject to REVISION and DISPUTES
over EXACT meaning because WORDS and TERMS of speech in one
language CANNOT be translated EASILY into another without
     As said before, Aramaic was the language of Semitic culture,
the language of the Hebrew patriarchs and, in the older days, the
lingua of the Fertile Crescent. 
     The term "Hebrew" is derived from the Aramaic word ABAR or
HABAR which means "to cross over." This name was given to the
Hebrew people simply because Abraham and the people who were with
him CROSSED the river Euphrates and went to Palestine. Therefore,
they were known  by those who lived east of the river Euphrates
as Hebrews, that is, "the people across the river." All branches
of the great Semitic people had a COMMON speech. How could the
people of Nineveh have understood Jonah, a Hebrew prophet, had
the Biblical Hebrew tongue been different from Aramaic?
     There was SOME differences similar to the differences we
have in English spoken in Tennessee and that spoken in New York. 
     The small pastoral Hebrew tribes  through which God chose to
reveal Himself to mankind, for several generations continued to
keep its paternal and racial relations with the people who lived
in Padan-Aram (Mesopotamia), and preserved customs and manners
which they brought with them from Padan-Aram, and the language
which their fathers spoke. Jacob changed the name of Luz to
Beth-el (Aramaic - the house of God). Abraham instructed his
servants not to let his son, Isaac, marry a Palestinian but to go
to the Padan-Aram to his own kindred from whence to bring a maid
to his son. Years later, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, went to
Padan- Aram and married his uncle's two daughters and their
handmaids and lived in Haran about twenty years. Eleven of his
sons were born in Padan-Aram. The first generation of the
children of Jacob went to Egypt.....While in egypt, living by
themselves, they continued to use names of Aramaic derivation
such as Manasseh, Ephraim, Bar-Nun, Miriam, etc.

     After the captivity, Aramaic became the vernacular of the
Jewish people and.....Both of the Jewish Talmuds, namely, the
Babylonian and Palestinian, were written in Aramaic. The later
findings, especially of Jewish-Aramaic papri which were found in
Egypt in 1900, have produced many passages in Biblical Aramaic.
The discovery of the Commentary on the Book of Habakkuk in the
caves of Qumran in Jordan proves that Aramaic has been in
consistent use from early times to the present day.

     It is evident that during the exile and post-exile the
Hebrew writers used Aramaic. Some of the portions of their works
were put into Hebrew. Daniel and Ezra were born during the
captivity. Hebrew was no longer spoken and the official language
of writing in Babylon was southern Aramaic and the Jewish
community had already parted with their Hebrew (the two languages
were so close that Hebrew could not be retained in Babylon). 
     Thus, the CAPTIVITY produced the TRANSITION from Hebrew, a
SISTER language, into ARAMAIC.

     Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic were VERY CLOSELY related, like
American English and English spoken in England. Whether the
Hebrew prophets wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic would make LITTLE
difference. The differences would be like those between
several Arabic dialects which are spoken in Arabia. Even though
the VERNACULAR speech differs because of LOCAL color and idioms,
the NORM of the written language remains the SAME......The
GRAMMAR, VERBS, NOUNS, and OTHER parts of speech are practically
the same in the ancient Biblical Hebrew language and Aramaic. The
STRUCTURE of a sentence, in point of GRAMMAR and SYNTAX of
Biblical Hebrew or Aramaic, is the SAME. 
     But this is NOT the case when translating from Hebrew or
Aramaic into a TOTALLY ALIEN tongue such as Greek, Latin, or
     Moreover, the ALPHABET in Hebrew and Aramaic is EXACTLY THE

     The JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIA, Vol 11, tells us:

     "In Palestinian Aramaic the dialect of Galilee was different
from that of Judea and as a result of the religious separation of
the Jews and the Samaritans, a special Samaritan dialect was
evolved, but its literature cannot be considered Jewish. To the
eastern Aramaic, whose most distinctive point of difference is
'n' in place of 'y' as the prefix for the third person masculine
of the imperfect tense of the verb, belong the idioms of the
Babylonian Talmud, which most closely agree with the language of
the Mandaean writings."

     The strongest point in ascertaining the originality of a
text are the STYLE of writings, the IDIOMS, and the INTERNAL
evidence. Words which make sense and are easily understood in one
language, when translated LITERALLY into ANOTHER tongue, may LOSE
their meaning. One can offer MANY instances where SCORES of
Aramaic words, some with SEVERAL meanings and others with CLOSE

     This is why in Jeremiah 4: 10 we read in the King James:

     ".....Ah, Lord God! surely thou hast greatly deceived this

     The Aramaic reads:

     ".....Ah, Lord God! I have greatly deceived this people...."

     The translator's confusion is due to the position of a dot,
for the position of a dot frequently determines the meaning of a

     In Isaiah 43: 28, the King James version reads:

     "Therefore I have profaned the princes of the

     The Aramaic reads:

     ".....Your princes have profaned my sanctuary....." 

     This error was caused by misunderstanding of a passive
plural verb. The same error occurs in John 12: 40, which in the
Eastern Text reads:

     ".....Their eyes have become blind....." instead of 
"......He has blinded their eyes....."

     In Isaiah 14: 12, the Aramaic word AILEL, to howl, is
confused by the Hebrew word HELEL, light. The reference here is
to the king of Babylon and not to Lucifer.

     In Psalm 22: 29, the King James version, we read:

     "All they that be fat upon the earth shall eat and
worship....and none can keep alive his own soul."

     The Aramaic text reads:

     "All who are hungry (for truth) shall eat and
soul is alive to him."

     The error in this instance is due to the confusion of the
Aramaic words which have some resemblance. Some of these words
when written by hand resemble each other. 

     A list of words, their meaning and how they were confused
one with the other will be found in this Introduction.


Very instructive and very interesting indeed is this first part
of Lamsa's Introduction to the Aramaic Bible (Keith Hunt)


Compiled 2003

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