From: Randall Buth (ButhFam@compuserve.com)
Date: Fri Aug 17 2001 - 06:24:00 EDT
You could benefit from a little more beyond the responses on the list so
(If you're interested in hard detail, come to my review of Casey, Aramaic
Sources ... 1998, at the Historical Jesus section in Denver at SBL this
>Could anyone tell me if it would be worthwhile
>to study the NT Aramaic translations? I know there are some weird things
>that do not jive with the greek, viz. 'pveuma' is neuter in koine, yet the
>Aramaic text renders the word for spirit in the feminine......should I
>disregard the hype surrounding the Aramaic? And, do you think Jesus spoke
>Aramaic more than Greek or Hebrew?
1. You are right to be careful because there is a lot of hype and sometimes
poorly informed opinion in print by well-known scholars. Logically, by
this I even render this email suspect. Such is the state of the field.
2. Language is an indexing network to a culture. One does not interpret a
language or text without a cultural background, nor does one understand a
culture without access to the culture's language(s) and their own
writings/expressions in the original language.
3. Forutnately, we have a large repository of Jewish writings that provide
framework for the NT.
In time and cultural proximity to the gospels, the closest
writings are the tannaitic rabbinic writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Full
to these requires fluency (not 'dabbling' or "27 credits") in Hebrew. To
be added the Jewish intertestamental writings, which means spaning a
bridge between Jewish culture and the Greek language and culture. To
these, temporally secondary, may be added the Aramaic targums as
additional sources recording ancient Jewish biblical exegesis. Syriac NT
traditions are the most distant culturally. They are very valuable,
in showing how a ME Christian community read the Greek NT in the 2-5th
centuries. Palestinian lectionaries (Syriac script, western Aramaic)
a geographically closer reading tradition from the 5-10th centuries.
4. Are the above valuable? .... Beyond any doubt. The amazing thing is how
interpreters have often been content to manage with 'crippled' access to
much of it.
In general, while the gospels present interesting links to (+/-
Essene and Sadducean practices, Jesus' teaching and records place him on
the map within a popular Pharisaic/Hasidic world. The sophistication and
cultural appropriateness of the teaching and situations in the "simple"
stories is what is usually lost 'between the lines'. And all the Greek in
can't put that back in.
As an example, look at commentaries to Luke 4.18-19 and see what
they do with the scripture reading. Let me know when you find a reference
to "gezera shava" ("comparable cut/form" a Hillel-ian scriptural principle)
in Jesus' use of the scripture.
Until you are at home in the Pharisaic/Hasidic cultural world, you can use
following rule of thumb for language: Jesus and his followers used
Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, these three... and the greatest of these ...
is -- probably the wrong question.
Randall Buth, PhD
Lecturer, Biblical Hebrew
Rothberg International School
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