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Aramaic Thoughts


The Peshitta - Part 4

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The Peshitta and Textual Criticism: An Introduction, Part 1

Cambridge University Press recently published the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible with an accompanying volume by David Norton titled The Textual History of the King James Bible. The former book is a new edition of the King James Bible, while the latter book is the work of the editor of the former giving the background to the creation of this new edition of the King James Bible. The one thing that Norton’s Textual History makes abundantly clear is that even in the day of printing presses and the connected technology, there is often a slip between what a writer or a translator intends and what comes out on the printed page. There is often a slip even between what a printer intends and what comes out on the printed page, as anyone who has ever spotted a typo in a printed book can affirm.

But comparatively speaking the printing press is a modern invention, and most of the history of the duplication of books is a history of the painful and tedious work of copying out a book by hand, either by following from a copy or an original of the book at the copyist’s elbow, or by following as one scribe among a group writing out a copy of the text as a reader reads the original to the group. As anyone who has ever copied out some portion of another work (such as an extended quote for a college essay) can testify, the copying isn’t always done accurately. The effects of miscopying are varied. In some cases what was intended is quite clear. In other cases the mistake makes the text confusing or incomprehensible. In other cases the resulting text may be sufficiently clear that the reader (and perhaps even the copyist) doesn’t realize that one or more lines may have completely dropped out of the resultant text.

That is the case with the Bible. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (and Aramaic in a few passages). Over the centuries from its first writing it was copied countless times. In addition, beginning in the third century BC it was translated first into Greek, then Aramaic, then Syriac, then Latin, and eventually into other languages. These translations were then copied by hand as well and passed on to succeeding generations. At each point of copying, there was the possibility of introducing a textual error into the copy. It is the work of textual criticism to try to undo the mistakes that may have crept into the text and restore, as much as possible, the original reading of the text.

To this end, textual critics make use of many resources. Of course, the first recourse would be to the many Hebrew manuscripts that are extent. Unfortunately, due to the diligence and care with which the Hebrew text was preserved, and the fact that the Jews tended to destroy worn or imperfect (as they deemed them) copies, most of the Hebrew manuscripts date from no earlier than the 9th or 10th century AD. The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls thus introduced a large number of Hebrew manuscripts and manuscript fragments almost a millennium older than those which were already known.

In addition to the Hebrew manuscripts, the textual critic makes use of manuscripts of the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation) as well as manuscripts of the Vulgate (Latin) and the Syriac Peshitta. Over the next few weeks, we will examine a number of the passages where the Peshitta manuscripts have made a valuable contribution to the textual reconstruction of the Bible.

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'Aramaic Thoughts' Copyright 2020© Benjamin Shaw. 'Aramaic Thoughts' articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to  2) 'Aramaic Thoughts' content may not be arranged or "mirrored" as a competitive online service.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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Meet the Author
Dr. Shaw was born and raised in New Mexico. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1977, the M. Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1980, and the Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981, with an emphasis in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament and Targumic Aramaic, as well as Ugaritic).

He did two year of doctoral-level course work in Semitic languages (Akkadian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Middle Egyptian, and Syriac) at Duke University. He received the Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation at Bob Jones University in 2005.

Since 1991, he has taught Hebrew and Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a school which serves primarily the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he holds the rank of Associate Professor.
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