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’n “Oorspronklike” Aramese Nuwe Testament? ’n Kritiese evaluasie van die Pesjitta-voorrangsteorie, Die Pad van Waarheid tot die Lewe-vertaling (Afrikaanse Lamsa-Bybel), en die kulturele aanloklikheid van oriëntalisme [An “original” Aramaic New Testament? A critical evaluation of the Peshitta Primacy theory, Die Pad van Waarheid tot die Lewe translation (Afrikaans Lamsa Bible), and the cultural lure of orientalism]

De Wet, Chris (2016) ’n “Oorspronklike” Aramese Nuwe Testament? ’n Kritiese evaluasie van die Pesjitta-voorrangsteorie, Die Pad van Waarheid tot die Lewe-vertaling (Afrikaanse Lamsa-Bybel), en die kulturele aanloklikheid van oriëntalisme [An “original” Aramaic New Testament? A critical evaluation of the Peshitta Primacy theory, Die Pad van Waarheid tot die Lewe translation (Afrikaans Lamsa Bible), and the cultural lure of orientalism]. Litnet akademies, 13 (2). pp. 275-305. ISSN 1995-5928

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A new Afrikaans translation of the Bible, entitled Die Pad van Waarheid tot die Lewe (PWL), meaning “The Way of Truth unto the Life”, was published in 2015. It was translated by a South African missionary, Gerrie C. Coetzee. What makes the PWL translation of the Bible unique is its claim that the translation, particularly of the New Testament, is based on the “original” Aramaic manuscripts, written in the same language as that spoken by Jesus, and not on the Greek version as is conventional. To the expert it is immediately evident that the PWL is simply the Afrikaans version of the so-called Lamsa Bible.

The purpose of this article is two-fold. Questioned is, first, to what extent the claims made by the Lamsa Bible and the PWL, particularly with regard to the original Aramaic manuscripts, are accurate. In this case attention will be given to the development of the Aramaic language in antiquity since the claims made by Lamsa and the PWL are based primarily on the authority and prevalence of Aramaic. Then a summary of the consensus view related to the New Testament manuscripts (as having been written in Greek) will be given, and this is then compared with the theory of Peshitta primacy as popularised by George Lamsa. Attention will also be given to the critical editions used by the PWL, especially the Khabouris codex. Second, the article also looks at why translations like those of Lamsa and the PWL have gained popularity in Western culture. In order to address this second issue, Edward Said’s theory of orientalism will be used.

The most astonishing claim made by the PWL, which is also what makes it unique, is that it was translated not from the Greek New Testament, but from the “Aramaic Peshitta”. The PWL further states that the New Testament was not originally written in Greek, but actually in Aramaic, since the language of Jesus and all the apostles was Aramaic and not Greek. The problem in this instance, of course, is that although it is true that Jesus and the apostles spoke Aramaic, we do not have any early ancient witnesses (papyri, parchments, and so on) to an Aramaic New Testament – only early Greek witnesses exist. Greek was the language spoken and written throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Inscriptional evidence also attests to the prevalence of Greek in 1st-century Palestine.

Behind the use of the “Aramaic Peshitta” lies the Peshitta Primacy theory. This theory, promulgated by Lamsa, states that the Peshitta represents a more original manuscript than the Greek and is thus more reliable and authoritative when one is seeking the words and teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The problem here is that the language of the Peshitta is Syriac, not Palestinian Aramaic (although the two languages are closely related, they remain distinct). Syriac is indeed a dialect of Aramaic. But Jesus’ language was probably Galilean (Jewish) Aramaic, a Western Aramaic dialect, while Syriac was a later Eastern Aramaic dialect. Studies have also shown that the Peshitta, which is in part a later revision of the so-called Old Syriac version, actually consulted the Greek New Testament in addition to the Old Syriac version. The problems and inconsistencies of the Peshitta Primacy theory are discussed in detail in the article, and it is indicated that the Peshitta Primacy theory and the preference for Aramaic influenced the translation. For instance, the PWL wrongly translates the Syriac word for heathen or Greek, which is carmâyâ, as Aramean (confusing it, perhaps deliberately, with the differently vocalised word, cârâmâyâ). Thus, texts which usually contain the word Greek instead have Aramean. This indicates how one’s ideology could influence a translation of the Bible.

According to the PWL, the Khabouris codex was used as a primary text in the translation of the New Testament. This obscure manuscript of the Peshitta is, however, problematic in many respects. It is, firstly, a medieval manuscript of the Peshitta. The only reason it is given prominence is because of a rumour that there is an inscription in the colophon of the manuscript which states that it is a copy of a manuscript from 164 AD. The existence and validity of this inscription are contested. The Khabouris is one of two codices acquired by Norman Yonan and his lawyer Dan MacDougal. In the 1950s Yonan publicised the discovery of a first codex, dubbed the Yonan codex, and also spread the rumour that it is a very old codex of the New Testament written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. All the claims made by Yonan and MacDougal were refuted by academics, including the respected text critic Bruce Metzger, and soon the hype surrounding the Yonan codex died down. In the 1970s the hype was somewhat revived by the introduction of the Khabouris codex to the debate, but its time in the spotlight was short-lived. Although it is an impressive codex in its own right and important for the study of the Peshitta, the Khabouris does not by any means qualify as an authoritative witness for the primary text of the New Testament.

From a scholarly perspective on the Bible, the Lamsa Bible and PWL Afrikaans translations fail miserably in their use of “authoritative and original” primary texts. It is nevertheless interesting to look at the events and groups surrounding George Lamsa and movements like that of the PWL as cultural phenomena. Lamsa particularly places much emphasis on the notion that he is the only person with the ability to correctly interpret the Bible. According to Lamsa he was born in a place and culture akin to that of the Bible. Lamsa and the ideologies behind the PWL assume that ancient Near-Eastern cultures were static and did not undergo any changes. This view of Eastern culture is described by Edward Said as orientalism. The article therefore concludes by noting that in order to better understand movements like those of Lamsa and the PWL, one needs to read them within the theoretical framework of orientalism, which would also provide clues as to why they were and are so popular and persistent in Western cultural contexts.

Item Type: Published Articles
Repository Version: Metadata Only
Keywords: Aramaic; Bible Translation; George M. Lamsa; Gerrie C. Coetzee; Khabouris; Lamsa Bible; New Testament; orientalism; Pad van Waarheid tot die Lewe; Peshitta; Syriac; Yonan Codex.
Fields of Research: 22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970122 Expanding Knowledge in Philosophy and Religious Studies
Type of Activity: Pure Basic Research
Subjects: B - New Testament
College/Association with University of Divinity: ALC: Australian Lutheran College
Depositing User: Dr Suman Kashyap
Date Deposited: 25 Mar 2019 04:23
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2019 04:23
URI: http://repository.divinity.edu.au/id/eprint/3471

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