I’m often asked this question, so it was nice to come across this paper by Jan Joosten online.
Joosten Aramaic or Hebrew behind_the_Gospels
Joosten is an excellent scholar in Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, and Hebrew. This is a worthwhile (and sane) introduction to the issue.
Readers will note that eventually Joosten gets to Matthew 1:23, where Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14. He makes the point that to Hebrew or Aramaic readers, the term almah would have been ambiguous (i.e., they wouldn’t have thought of virgin). That’s overstated. On lexical grounds, it has merit, but it’s a fact of the OT that almah — due to its interchange with betulah, the more precise word for virgin, and the culture, an almah could be conceived of as a virgin. Here’s a short popular essay I wrote on the subject, posted here some time ago.
At any rate, Joosten doesn’t bring up Matt. 1:25. Two verses after his quotation of Isa 7:14, Matthew makes the comment that Joseph didn’t “know” Mary until after Jesus was born. If the gospels had been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, that’s an idiom that would have been completely understood by an audience speaking either language as a denial of sexual intercourse between Joseph and Mary, far more readily than Greek speakers.
I didn’t think there was any real evidence that the Gospels and epistles were ever written in anything other then Greek?
There isn’t – no textual evidence for anything in Aramaic or Hebrew pre-dating Greek. His argument is theoretical (i.e., COULD that be the case).
I love this line: “… a translation is the shortest possible form of commentary.”
Many years ago (2010?), when I asked you the question, you had said that you knew of someone who wrote a dissertation on this matter and that backtranslation was fallacious. Im unsure if we misunderstood each other.
A specific title isn’t ringing a bell, but there’s a good bit of journal lit. on this. Back translation from the Peshitta would be fallacious, for example, since Syriac post-dates the Aramaic of the NT era, and also because there’s no logical argument that the Peshitta texts transcribed (into Syriac script) Aramaic originals. The Peshitta was translated from Greek NT texts. A translation isn’t a transcription (everyone serious of course knows that, so that argument isn’t seriously offered). There just isn’t any Aramaic textual / manuscript evidence for any NT book in Aramaic, as logical as it would be to have at least one gospel in it.
There is something I have been wanting to ask you ,and say to you ,for a while ,about this subject. And that is,– Wouldnt someone from the Aramaic people’s be MUCH more likely to understand the idioms of those people’s than (EVEN ,LOL) an ANE scholar NOT from those people’s?—I mean ,a person from another country, would have no where near the inside knowledge to be able to figure out some of their idioms. I mean, for instance, take a person from outside USA and try to explain to them what some of our idioms mean ! !This gentleman ,Victor Alexander ,is from one of the few people groups that STILL had the ancient aramaic scriptures. I sure hope you don’t think I am trying to sell books for Victor! He is not that kind of person, he is a humble, sincere person. I know he might have some stubborn opinions about things, but please, have a heart. I hope you just are not crabby about this. I mean, doesnt the light about people being able to understand their own idioms outweigh any other issue here with flying colors (idiom example there) to the point where you would post my comments about this, regardless of any of these greatly lesser issues ,like of wether back translations are good ,or wether Victor is stubborn on some things?? I am not going to press the point, and it looks like you are not going to post my comments about this,but maybe someday after you have spread your knowledge ,and gotten your great-book( for which I love and thank you sincerely for) out to millions of people, you will remember dear Vic, and give him some credit for what God, in the love he has for Victor, is doing through him ,even if it is not perfect.
Sorry Mike, I made a mistake,I see you did post my other comments, I think
I was looking at this right when you were doing them, so got mixed in the interchange. Praying for excellence in this mission.
Knowledge of an *ancient* Aramaic speaker is irrelevant – they’re all dead. And we’re talking about WRITTEN texts, anyway. Knowledge of what an Aramaic gospel MAY have looked like can be guessed at with reasonable accuracy. But the problem is that no such material has survived if it ever existed (from the first century). The only place Aramaic makes any sense is the gospels, too (at least one of them). It makes zero sense for most of the rest of the NT, because most of that was written to Gentile churches who didn’t speak Aramaic. You’d use Greek for a mixed congregation, since everyone spoke that and could process it.
I was just checking that prophecy out and had a question about the context in Isaiah. Was Isaiah saying “look, God will give you a sign. A women will give birth to a son and by the time that boy is old enough to know right from wrong these two countries you a worrying about won’t even matter cuz God is gonna send something far worst.”
I ask because of the prophecy mosaic in the OT of the messiah. Isaiah didn’t think this was a prophecy about the messiah, did he?
He could have because the prophecy resulted in saving the line of David (Ahaz) — which was the messianic line.
The problem may be on my end but everytime I click the Joosten link it just keeps saying failure to start download.
You likely need to create an account. It’s free to do so.
Ahh– but that is just it, you said ” Theoretically” God is about purness, and origins, and the meanings come out clearer in the ancient Aramaic .That is why translations such as Victor Alexanders really help us get back to the ancient word view . And
I find it awesome that you and him Both are trying to do the same thing. It helps us in getting back to the ancient word view. And as also said by the notable scholar Amy- Jill Levine, ” The meanings are clearer in some of the ancient Aramaic.” I see people like you and Victor, as having secrets to give to the world, that will get us back to the ancient world view. Mike, I addressed this question to you when I saw you, and also in some of my comments, about Victor Alexander, and your answers were revelant, but we did not amplify much the helpful and good point of the scriptures being more clearly understood in the ancient Aramaic. And very helpful in getting us back to the ancient word view. Though there might not be a scholarly showing much ,that the original scriptures were written in Aramaic, It could be that it is because of the Platonic influences, that they were trying to Hide the ancient Aramaic origins. And that the scriptures WERE written in Aramaic.So Theo ( God) is behind the PURENESS of
Wanting to be more helpful here, I felt it would be good to say a little more in regard to this for the sake of the readers. This seems like an important matter here actually, for what we are trying to do in getting back to the ancient world view. So I want to at least give the readers the opportunity to look at Victor Alexander’s work, and see if they don’t find some of the verses a lot more pure, as relating to the spiritual word, than others. I know what you have said about this before when we BRIEFLY touched on this, but I am almost SURE you would agree on the point that there are some things about this that are VERY helpful. So, my contribution here is pointing the readers here to look up Victor Alexander’s work on this, and I am sure that all of us TOGETHER, can have wisdom on this. And also, since I have been looking into this subject quite avidly, for a while now, I can actually site specific verses from his translation, in future comments,that are so coherent to what we are trying to do ,in getting away from the Platonic and other influences. When we think about this, the fact that, just like today, the early AD century writers were trying to obliterate God, just like if you were to read a whole stack of today’s magazines for example, and not find one mention to God , so in like manner , the early AD century writers were trying to obliterate the Aramaic God ( the Pure God, anyway) from the world.
Mike if I am way off base here pls say so.. I assume it would be valuable if not priceless to have a reference that would “flag” idiomatic expressions that were likely used by the speakers/hearers [especially Lord Jesus Himself] in Hebrew or Aramaic. Decades ago I had a book [in a box somewhere now] that claimed to do this ‘backward extrapolation’ but the author was too obscure for me to put much weight on. if there is such a source that would untangle such, especially in the Gospels, I would really appreciate your guidance. I am a Southerner, and believe me, I know something about idiomatic expressions and the odds of such being TOTALLY misunderstood even with both the source/receiver supposedly speak the SAME language! lol…
That’s an interesting idea> It makes me wonder if someone couldn’t go through the several books on this and the journal articles to create a database (i.e., mark up the phrases within verse references). All I need now is an intern who does Aramaic!
God is compelling me to pursue love between brothers to glorify His unity that Jesus spoke in His High priestly prayer,” Father, the time has come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also glorify you, that they may be one , Father, as we are one” I feel so strongly about unifying two brothers who are both so passionately trying to give to the world a more pure worldview. I will write Victor Alexander, and prod him to love and contact you in this HE WOULD BE GREAT FOR THIS SCHOLARLY WORK AND ACT OF LOVE. Oh how glorious this will be !! —-Oh, beloved brother Mike, if there is some Other reason, other than lack of love ,I will just figure it it is some graceful reason, and will just trust God, and I won’t keep writing about this,and it is up to God to bring us to excellence in scholarly work,and to the point of love. “Oh Father, we leave this in your hands and light”
-Mike–I want you to understand that I am not alighning myself with what Victor said about you here, but I felt led to share our corraspondance with each other here———- It pricked my heart,—- Im just not sure where
From: Robert Combis
Sent: Monday, June 15, 2015 8:46 AM
To: Victor Alexander
Subject: A call for love
Beloved brother Victor, I am writing to you about an opportunity for unity
and love between two brothers whom are both trying to give the world a more
purer worldview. Michael Heiser, who has a website called Naked Bible , and
has a question their posted to the public ” Were the gospels originally
written in Aramaic?” You can read it yourself, just go to his site, and
scroll down on the column farthest to the left, and you will see it easily.
And , at the bottom of the comments section on this specific post about ”
Were the gospels written in Aramaic ?” you will see in the very last
comment a desire by him to have someone work together with in bringing this
work of highlighting the Aramaic idioms, in the gospels,with the same goal
that you BOTH are so passionately trying to give to the world.I am praying
that you would contact Him, ( I have his personal phone number if you want
it) I want to tell you , in my own comments there, I called you “stubborn”
but I meant this in a GOOD sense, you are stubborn for the truth,and I am
just trying to prod Mike on to love between us all. ” Father, I pray that
love and light will show its glory”!!
I read some of the comments on Michael Heiser’s web pages.
There’s a lot of knowledge there. I’m sure none of these people are native
Aramaic speaking people — but, of course, they have studied the languages
… the way we study the different dialects of Chinese or the languages of
India. They have become quite good at the linguistic and historical aspects
(they also know quite a bit of theology); but they are on a different plane
I have been translating for twenty years now. The path I travel is
different. I didn’t read the Bibles of the various denominations and
memorize any of their verses. I have not done comparative studies.
If I had done all that, I wouldn’t have already translated the New
The issue of Aramaic Primacy will not solve the problem, because within the
Aramaic Primacy there are other issues as well. The problems are too
complicated. They are two thousand years old.
And there is the matter of thousands of Assyrians being murdered by the
Muslims in Syria and Iraq. These people are dying as martyrs of the Eastern
faith in Maran Eashoa Msheekha. What good is it going to do whether Jesus
spoke their language or someone else’s language? Whether their Bibles are
identical with the Greek Bibles or different?
For Michael Heiser and the American commentators on his page, these people
don’t even exist, let alone their faith in Maran Eashoa Msheekha and their
understanding of the idioms.
Christianity should not be about linguistic considerations and how many
books someone sells; it should be about life and death issues regarding the
spirit that Maran Eashoa Msheekha endows His Children with.
You’re right, Eashoa Msheekha’s love transcends all theological matters. The
High Priests that condemned Eashoa to death were aware of all the
Scriptures; there were no differences in their Texts.
It was not even in their interpretation of the Texts, but in their lack of
recognition of who Eashoa Msheekha was.
One people know who Eashoa Msheekha is, their spiritual eyes will be open
and they will be able to read the Scriptures clearly. That’s why I have
concentrated on five points – the Landmarks of my translation project. They
are at the bottom of my index page:
With Maryah’s blessings,