In this discussion, Nehemia Gordon gives proof that the Aramaic Peshitta New Testament was translated from the Greek, not the other way around. For the video version of Nehemia Gordon’s discussion with Michael Rood, go to:
The following is the transcript of this discussion between Nehemia Gordon and Michael Rood:
Michael: And then I was talking to him about the Peshitta, he said, “We don’t use the Peshitta. The Peshitta, Aramaic text…”
Nehemia: Let me stop you. This is the head scholar of the Aramaic…
Michael: Syrian Orthodox…
Nehemia: Aramaic-speaking church in Jerusalem.
Michael: And the head scholar of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
Nehemia: In Jerusalem.
Michael: In Jerusalem.
Michael: He is the top of the entire school, okay? He is an old man, he’s in his 80s. And he said, “We don’t use the Peshitta. The Peshitta is a later Aramaic translation from the Greek.
Nehemia: Look, I’ve spoken to scholars about this. In fact, I sat down with a scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and I told him, “You know, people have suggested that this Aramaic Peshitta is the original Aramaic that Jesus, that Yeshua, spoke and taught, and the Greek is a translation from the Aramaic,” and this guy was an Aramaic scholar, specifically of Syriac-Aramaic, which the Peshitta’s written in. Actually, when I walked into his office, he was looking at this giant… it was like this big, this dictionary of Peshitta Aramaic. And I asked him for some proof, so I said, “Well, how can we know? You’re telling me…” I mean, look, people will tell you that this Hebrew Matthew, that this isn’t the original Matthew, it was written in Greek, so why would I believe you when you tell me that the Aramaic isn’t the original? The Greek is the Aramaic? I said, “I need some proof. I can’t trust your word for it.”
And this was just for me, I don’t think I’ve ever even shared this. I really just wanted to know for myself. And so, he started off, he told me a bunch of linguistic things about how the Aramaic that Yeshua spoke was completely different than the Aramaic that the Peshitta is written in. It’s a completely different dialect of Aramaic. He said, “It would be like the difference between German and Dutch.” Dutch is the language they speak in Holland. I don’t speak either of those languages, I read a little German. German is called in their language, “Deutsch”, and you have “Dutch”, which is the language of Holland. Originally, they were obviously a single language, but now they’re incomprehensible to one another, unless you’re from the border area there. But the German people can’t understand Dutch. But they’re that similar. The Aramaic that Yeshua spoke and the Aramaic the Peshitta is written in are similar, but they’re also different enough to be, essentially, he said if it was any other language, they’d be called two different languages. But for Aramaic, we consider all these different, very vastly different dialects, one language.
And he gave me specific examples I won’t go into, but you could look up at any Peshitta grammar, it’ll tell you what those differences are. They’re profound differences. But then he gave me some really powerful examples. I’m like, “This is it, it’s the end of the story. We’re done.” I wanted to know, and he answered me. Here’s an example of one of the things he showed me.
So, the Hebrew word for “covenant” is “brit”. Now, in American Jewish-speak we call it a “bris”, and that’s because the Hebrew letter Tav when it has a dot in it, it’s a tuh. When it doesn’t have a dot, it’s a thuh or in some dialects, suh. So, “brit, bris, brees.” It’s the same word, different pronunciations of Hebrew. So, the word is “brit” or “bris”, like I had my “bris” on the eighth day, the covenant, the circumcision, in that case.
Genesis 6:18 says, “I will establish My covenant with you.” The word is “diatheke”. “Diatheke” is the Greek word for “covenant”. Aramaic has a perfectly good word for covenant. The Aramaic word for covenant is “kiyam”. It comes from the Hebrew word, the Semitic root, “lakum, lehakim”, “to establish”. That word also appears, a form of that, in the Hebrew connected to covenant, but the actual word for covenant is “brit”, and you say, “lehakim brit”. And so, Aramaic takes that and it’s “kyam”, that’s the word for “covenant”.
So let’s look in the Targum, that’s the ancient Jewish translation of the Tanakh. And there, in the very same verse, Genesis 6:18 it says, “Ve’akeim yatkiami,” “And I established My kiyam,” “My brit, My covenant”. If you looked in the Peshitta, if it was the original Aramaic, you would expect the word “kiyam” to be used all over the place as the word for “covenant.”
Michael: Yeah, look in the…
Nehemia: In the New Testament.
Michael: Right, the New Testament, in Matthew, etc.
Nehemia: Right. So Matthew 26:28, I’m just choosing a verse here that has the word “covenant”. It says, Yeshua says here, “For this is My blood of the covenant.” Okay, so in the Greek, it has for covenant, “diatheke”, same word as when it translated “brit” in the Tanakh. So, we have Hebrew, “brit”, Aramaic, “kyam”, Greek, “diatheke”. What do you think you have in the Peshitta? The Peshitta’s Aramaic. Some people say it’s the original Aramaic that Yeshua spoke. Surely, you have the word “kiyam”, the Aramaic word for “brit”. And that would be a great word, because also, you get from that the word “lakum”, which means “to rise up”.
So, if the word “covenant” were connected to “rise up”, and Yeshua’s saying, “This is the blood of My rising up, of My covenant,” that would be a powerful message. But in the Peshitta, you don’t have “kiyam”, you have “diatheke”.
Michael: It’s Greek.
Nehemia: It’s the Greek word for “covenant”! So, I’m sitting there with this man…
Michael: In Aramaic.
Nehemia: In Aramaic. I’m sitting here with this professor of Hebrew University and saying, “How can I know? I can’t just take your word for it. People say the same thing about Hebrew Matthew. Show me definitive proof,” and he shows me this. And I’m like, “So, we’re done.” I said, “Okay, I need a second witness.” He gives me a second piece of evidence – and this was a long conversation, I’m not gonna bring all of it. Second witness, he says, “Okay, Nehemia. What’s the Hebrew word for “law”? I mean, we were speaking in Hebrew, he didn’t actually say that.
He said, “In Hebrew, the word for “law” is Torah obviously.” The word in Aramaic is “oraita”, it’s a very common word in Jewish usage. “Oraita” is the word for Torah. It’s from a similar root, a perfectly good word for Torah. The Greek word for Torah is actually, we have it in English, “Nomos”.
Nehemia: Nomos. And for example, you’ll say, antinomian is someone who’s against the Torah, against the law, antinomian, anti-nomos. So, what is the word we have in the Peshitta, in the Aramaic, which according to some people, is the original Aramaic that Yeshua spoke, where scholars say it’s a translation from Greek? He says the word is “nomosah”.
Michael: Is the Greek word for…?
Nehemia: The Greek is written in Aramaic letters in the Peshitta. So I’m sitting with this guy and I’m like, “Okay, we don’t even need to go any further.” And we do, we sat for quite a long time and we talked about other things. But I’m like, just from those two things, those two key concepts in both the Tanakh and the New Testament, “covenant” and “law, Torah”, and they’re translated with Greek words rather than Hebrew words. To me, that was the definitive proof.
Michael: You know, because of his lack of English and my lack of Aramaic, he just said, “We don’t use it. It is a translation of a later Greek text, because things that weren’t found in the early Greek text and are found in later Greek text are found in the Peshitta.” So, that is something I’ve known for a long time. But he said, “No, we don’t use it. We use a different Aramaic text altogether.” Don’t touch it.
Nehemia: And don’t misunderstand me, the Peshitta absolutely has value.
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Nehemia: When I was working on the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of my jobs was, scholars would submit these transcriptions of these Dead Sea Scrolls, and with the transcription of the biblical scroll were all the parallels in the Greek and the Aramaic, the Targum, which is the Jewish translation, and the Peshitta, which is the Christian translation, and my job was to go check and see, first of all, does it say that in the scroll? Does it say it in the Greek, the Septuagint, and the Peshitta, because there’s a Peshitta of the Old Testament, as well, and does it say it in the Jewish Targum? And so, we would reference these things. Scholars reference these things, they have value.
As you mentioned, the Peshitta is a translation of a Greek text. The Greek text has changed over time, so the Peshitta is looked at as what they call a version, version meaning a witness to the Greek. Sometimes, you’ll find things in Latin, what’s called “the old Latin”, that testified to an earlier Greek text than what survived in the Greek. So these things have value, I’m not saying, “Throw away the Aramaic, or even the old Latin, which has value, if you’re looking at the New Testament.” The Greek is the primary text of the New Testament that survived, that’s just the way it is. Even for the Hebrew Matthew I’d say, “Look at the Hebrew Matthew, but the Greek is the primary text.” The Hebrew, though, has sometimes, as a second witness, preserved things that are lost in the Greek.
So the Peshitta has value as a second or even a third-hand witness, but to say it’s the primary text, I mean, “covenant” and “Torah” in Greek words? Come on, there’s a good Hebrew word for Torah and a good Aramaic word for Torah. Neither of those are used.
Michael: No, I have to tell you a little bit if a story, because I was part of an antinomian cult in the past. It was an Ultra-Dispensational Replacement Theology…
Nehemia: Ultra-Dispensational, I don’t even know that is, but okay.
Michael: Okay, well this is a mess, I’ll tell you, and it got into all sorts of grace perversion, okay? That’s how I know this so well. But it was George Lamsa who finished the proofreading of his Peshitta on the New Testament in the home of Victor Paul Wierwille, who became the leader of this really big cult back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, called The Way International. That’s where he finished up doing the proofreading of that text. And so, Wierwille took upon himself to try to prove that this was the primary text of the New Testament.
And so, after a while, he’s got some pretty good scholars, some people that are good in Aramaic. As a matter of fact, we go back to the very first computer-driven typewriter, and where it developed was the IBM Typeball. At one time, they were long levers, a typewriter…
Nehemia: A computer-driven typewriter?
Michael: Yeah, yeah. I learned in high school on a very old typewriter.
Nehemia: This had to be before I was born, Michael.
Michael: Oh, yeah, long before you were born. I think we determined I was in the Marine Corps the year you were born, okay? So, in high school, I am learning on a manual typewriter. You had these long fingers come up and hit the paper through the ribbon, okay? That’s how I learned. But the people that are really good, had electric typewriters. And The Way International, they developed an IBM Typeball, first of all, the IBM Typeball was there. It’s a ball that rotates and moves and strikes the paper through the ribbon…
Nehemia: Oh, it’s long things coming out, those long like…
Michael: Instead of the long levers, it’s just a typeball. And so, there’s brrrrrrrrrrr, brrrrrrrrrrr just like that. And so, this is the first thing that could be connected up to a computer.
Nehemia: Oh, okay.
Michael: This is before the dot matrix.
Nehemia: They were using this for Aramaic.
Michael: And they developed the Typeball for the Aramaic text. And so, they were the ones that printed the Aramaic Concordance. You know, they developed the whole thing.
Nehemia: So this cult that you were part of is actually putting out an Aramaic text?
Michael: That’s right.
Nehemia: Wow, okay.
Michael: The job of the research department is to prove that was the original text. Well, everyone on the research department, I know them. They’re friends of mine. I was in the Marine Corps, they were at different schools. And so, I’m going to Bible school and seminary with these guys, and afterwards, after they were all off the payroll, they said, “We were paid to prove things that are absolute nonsense.”
Nehemia: You mean, after they left the cult, they’re saying this?
Michael: That’s right, after they left the cult they said, “That was our job. We proved things out,” and they were called in and said, “You don’t understand that the head of this organization has already determined this is what it is, and if you want to keep your jobs, you will prove that.”
Nehemia: Wow. Wow.
Michael: And that’s how it goes, and a lot of scholarship, a lot of universities, you’d better be in line with exactly what we want you to say, or you’re gone. You’ll not have tenure. I mean, you start talking about “intelligent design” in an American school, well, this is what Ben Stein proved, I mean, you are gone. “We’ve already determined that there is no God, that there’s no intelligent design, and if you say anything to even imply it, you are gone.”
Well, these people found themselves in the same position. But as soon as they were out, they said, “It’s pure nonsense. There’s no way that the Aramaic was the primary text. We were paid to prove it, and it’s not true.”