Ancient Aramaic Manuscripts, Pshitta "O" and "A"
There is controversy raging in different parts of the world, particularly in the USA, regarding the veracity of the King James Version of the Bible, and other western translations, and particularly criticising the emphasis given to the Divinity of Christ. The argument is used by opponents that when the Syrian church split into “two parts” in approx. AD 500, the “western manuscript,” as opposed to the “eastern manuscript,” became the base document for the western translations. According to this thinking, Aramaic was translated to Greek, then to Latin, before the vernacular languages of Europe, and in the process picked up much error, both scribal and political, to say nothing of the denominational biases, and religious sect interpretations. As is well known by the history of the “church” since Constantine, there is much truth in these arguments and concerns. The western document, called by some Pshitta “O”, has vociferous opponents, who go so far as to say that the KJV should be scrapped!
The proponents acknowledge some errors etc. (http://www.revelationsmessage.co.uk/Corruption%20of%20the%20Bible%20Text.htm) but take the view that rather than disregard the western Bibles, they should be used as base documents for study and notation of differences, as many Bible scholars consider them to be valuable sources of information and Truth, and they are well spread throughout the world. There is also the historical fact that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, has found many people for the Body of Christ, through the pages of the KJV!
The introduction of the Companion Bible and its highly analytical work, has done just that, and up to its publication in the early 1900s, was very up to date regarding the available manuscripts; and because of the work of the late Dr. Ginsberg, a Jewish scholar of high standing (http://www.revelationsmessage.co.uk/Christian%20David%20Ginsburg.htm) the OT notes are unique! In Appendix 94 of the Companion Bible, the Syrian history and split is mentioned, and the point is made that the fragmentation was “into three or more parts.” It acknowledges the Syriac manuscript, and makes frequent notes on the differences to KJV in the margin. However, as one “Syriac” was translated to modern Aramaic from the English and another is ancient, and known as “the Old Syriac” the comments in Appendix 94 are probably based on the latter, as Dr. Bullinger defines it as “made from the Hebrew for Christian use before the 4th century A.D.”
See also Victor Alexander’s note on the later version of the Syriac:
The modern Syriac translation that was made in Urmia, Iran, in the late 1800s, would've been a big help in my translation efforts, if the American missionaries that translated it had made it from the Ancient Aramaic. That they did not is symptomatic of their preconceived notion that the Greek was the original language of the New Testament. Therefore, they translated the Bible from the English language into modern Aramaic (Syriac.) To this day, the Eastern churches use these translations from the English. There's never been a translation of the Ancient Aramaic Scriptures into modern Aramaic. Frankly, it cannot be done. Modern Aramaic is too deficient in vocabulary to handle it. The Ancient form of the language ceased to be used by the 13th Century. However, the Eastern churches still retain the Ancient Aramaic Bible in the original script and is read during church services in most Eastern Orthodox churches to this day. The problem is that when they translate it into the modern vernacular of their respective lands, they use the Greek and Latin versions as the basis of their scholarship. Furthermore, because most of the Eastern churches fall in Islamic countries, their voices are silent with respect to who has the authentic Scriptures. And the Western churches aren't about to give the Eastern churches any credit for maintaining the Bible in its original language.
Sept. 21, 2004
The work on the Companion Bible was being finalised in the early 1900s, and the eastern Pshitta “A”, had been available to scholars since the 1700s. It is not known whether Dr. Bullinger and Dr. Ginsberg had access to the “A” manuscript, and the possibility is that they did not, although Dr. Bullinger was heavily involved in the British and Foreign Bible Society, which in all probability meant that he was aware of it, and had access to it for his detailed work as he mentions the "East and West" versions of Aramaic, the latter being known as "Syriac". Also it would make sense of his frequent comments in the margins to Pshitta differences, and with his thoroughness he would have wanted to compare the two.
According to the “Nestorian Forum,” the “A” manuscript was probably introduced to the west in the 1700s, by “the Maronite scholar, Assemani.” The introduction of this manuscript produced translations by Etheridge, Murdock, and Lamsa. These translations can be examined on the Internet. Etheridge used the “O” manuscript, Murdock the “O”, and Lamsa the “A”. All these used modern Aramaic to translate! The fact of its availability from the 1700's, again gives credence to the availability to Dr. Bullinger!
There is much controversy regarding the languages used at the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry, and various factions have vested interests for their views. Dr. Bullinger is of the opinion that Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek were used. Greek would have been needed in any case for the use of the Septuagint, and Latin for interaction with the occupying Romans. Aramaic and Hebrew would have been common. When our Lord was before Pilate, He is recorded as answering direct, and not through an interpreter, and it is almost certain that Pilate would have used Latin. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Jesus was able to use at least three of the languages. It should not be difficult to accept that premise, as when He debated in the Synagogue at the age of 12, He confounded the Priests and Elders with His great knowledge. It is clear that ANY ability He needed for His task, would be at His disposal!
As regards the first writings, leading to our present Bibles, what is generally accepted is that the Syriacs are rooted in the Jewish translations of the Old Testament, into Aramaic in AD100+, and not taken from the Septuagint! This negates the often quoted criticism of the Pharisaic (Orthodox) Jews, that only their "writings" are authentic, because of the so-called Greek Septuagint "errors". Again there is some controversy regarding the "Old Syriac," and some consider it to be a fake. However, there are at least two manuscripts, and the forgery accusation is less likely in the light of current scholarship. This debate is current, and there are a number of books being produced, which will give the latest opinions and findings. The PshittA, is a reworking of Old Syriac material, to produce a unified version of the scriptures for Syriac speaking churches.
It is of course necessary to avail the student of the Bible with the very latest information, especially when controversy, and possibly misinformation surrounds a subject. This will enable the individual, with the prayerful help of The Spirit of Truth to be well and accurately informed. As well as the above mentioned translations, a recent New Testament translation has been done by Victor Alexander, an ancient languages scholar, who as a Christian has found the work profoundly moving. His work is on-going, and at the present time he is working on the Old Testament. When possible, he searches for manuscripts in the Euphrates Valley, considered to be the main possible location of older documents, due to scattered and inaccessible communities, which escaped the ravages of the various occupations in that area over the last 2000 years. His translation of the New Testament into English, from the original ancient Aramaic Pshitta “A” manuscript, using ancient Aramaic can be accessed on Supporters Page.
Summary: The "PshittA" is the Eastern form of the "Old Syriac" derivatives. The "PshittO" is the Western form, which was used for "all" western translations. The age of the "PshittA" and "PshittO" is in question, but ranges from AD100 to 300. The authenticity of the Old Syriacs is questioned by some. Some say that only one copy exists, and is a fake, but there are at least two. There is current research on this whole subject, and academic books being written. One of the copies of the "A" document has "Masoretic similarities," and was/is used by the "Armenian church" for their copies. Translations have been done by; Lamsa, using the Eastern. Murdock, using the Western. Etheridge, using the Western. These used modern Aramaic.
Victor Alexander, using the Eastern, "A" manuscript translates using the "Ancient Aramaic!" This latter is recent, and is most interesting in the translation of John 17:14 "I gave them Your Trinity!"
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