Seek Yahweh: Aramaic – Part 2

The earliest extant New Testament texts are in Greek. Manuscript Π 52 is considered the oldest, dated to the first half of the second century. There are several late second century and third century Greek papyri. Two famous Greek codices from the fourth century contain both Old and New Testaments – the Codex Siniaticus and the Codex Vaticanus. The earliest Aramaic New Testament manuscripts are the old Syriac copies of the Gospels from the late third to early fourth century. The next oldest Aramaic/Syriac version is the Peshitta text, containing both Old and New Testaments, dated to the first half of the fifth century (410AD-430AD). The Greek manuscripts are older than the Aramaic/Syriac. This is not disputable. What can be questioned is whether Syriac was translated from the Greek, or was it copied from earlier Aramaic versions which no longer exist.


Well-known Greek scholar, Bruce Metzger, supports that Syriac was translated from the Greek, “prepared by missionaries to assist in the propagation of the Christian faith among peoples whose native tongue was Syriac.”1 He asserts that some features of Greek syntax “cannot be conveyed in a translation,” but “as to whether or not a given phrase or sentence was present in the Greek exemplar from which the translation was made, the evidence of the versions     is clear.”2


However, noted Aramaic scholar George Lamsa states that “the Gospels, as well as the Epistles, were written in Aramaic, the language of the Jewish people, both in Palestine and in the Greco-Roman Empire.”3 Later these writings “were translated into Greek for the use of converts who spoke Greek.”4


Although there may be some debate on this issue of Greek or Aramaic primacy, the importance of Syriac translations in the early church is acknowledged by most. The Syriac Peshitta version is important in both Old and New Testament studies. “More than 350 manuscripts of the Peshitta New Testament are known today, several of which date from the fifth and sixth centuries. The text of the Peshitta has been transmitted with remarkable fidelity, so that very few significant variants exist among the witnesses.”5 When modern Bibles today are said to be translations from the Aramaic, they are translations from this Syriac Peshitta version, originally written in Estrangela Aramaic script.


An interesting study is the use of the Aramaic word translated into English as “Lord” in these versions. This is the Aramaic word mari. In Aramaic, when the letter alaph is added to the end of this word, it is in the emphatic form, mariah. This is the word most often associated with the name of God, Yahweh, in the Peshitta Old Testament. It is the word “Lord,” but it is an emphatic form of the word. This emphatic usage is used in the New Testament as well. In both Lamsa’s Bible translated from Ancient Eastern texts and in the Aramaic-English Interlinear,6 this form of mariah is simply translated as “the Lord.”


In another modern translation of the Aramaic New Testament, author Andrew Gabriel Roth does not believe that the Aramaic mariah is a conjunction of the Aramaic word for Lord, mari, but rather it is the Name of God “Yah” with the prefix “Mar” and should be translated as “Master YHWH.”7 Although the author makes a compelling argument, there are some problems with this translation. First, in order for this word to be the name, “Yah,” it would need to include the Aramaic letters “yod” and “he.” It does not. Secondly, if one simply translates every use of mariah in the New Testament as “Master YHWH,” then there are some difficult sections of Scripture. For instance, Luke 2:11 would read, “for born to you this day is a savior that is Master YHWH….” And Philippians 2:11 would read, “And that every tongue should confess that Master YHWH is Y’shua Mashiayach [Jesus the Messiah].” Such translations are very problematic.


Perhaps, one of the best definitions of this emphatic form of mariah is found in the 1926 Syriac New Testament Lexicon. A copy of this definition is pictured below.8


The Aramaic word mariah is an emphatic form of the root word mari, or Lord, and as such is used as a designation of the tetragrammaton, the four letter name of God. However, this word can also be understood of human masters as supreme lords or when Jesus is called “The Lord.” There is a Spanish translation from the Peshitta text9 which probably gives the most accurate rendering of this word, allowing the context to provide proper interpretation. There are 205 uses of this word mariah in the Aramaic New Testament. 128 times, the Spanish translates this word as “Yahweh,” the name of God; 75 times, as “Señor” (or Lord, sir, master); and two times, as “Amos” (or Owner). (See foot note for all 205 uses.)10


So we can see that, although Greek manuscripts are older than Aramaic/Syriac manuscripts, the early Syriac Peshitta version is important in New Testament studies. The emphatic use of the Aramaic word mariah is commonly used as a surrogate for the name of God in both the Old and New Testaments. These Aramaic translations offer us more insight into a study of God’s name.


1 Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford University Press, Copyright © 1992), pg 67

2 Ibid, pg 68

3 George M. Lamsa, The Holy Bible From The Ancient Eastern Text (A.J. Holman Co, Copyright © 1968), pg ix

4 Ibid, pg xii

5 Op cit., Metzger, Page 70

6 The Way International Research Team, Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament (American Christian Press, New Knoxville, OH Copyright © 1992)

7 Andrew Gabriel Roth, The Aramaic New Testament (Netzari Press, Copyright © 2008), page v

8 William Jennings , Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament , (Oxford University Press, 1926), page 130-131

9 La Biblia Peshitta en Español, (Broadman and Holman Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, Copyright © 2000)


10 Here are NT uses of the Aramaic word mariah and how it is translated into the Spanish Peshitta Version:

Translated as the name of God,     Yahweh: Mt 1:10, 22, 24; 2:13, 15, 19; 4:7, 10; 5:33; 21:19, 42; 22:4; 23:39; 27:10; 28:2; Mk 11:9; 12:11, 29 (twice), 30, 36; 13:20; Lk 1:6, 9, 11, 15, 16, 17, 25, 32, 38, 45, 46, 66, 68; 2:9, 15, 22, 23 (twice), 24, 26, 38, 39; 4:8, 12, 18, 19; 5:17; 10:27; 13:5; 19:38; 20:37, 42; Jn 12:13, 38; Ac 2:20, 34; 3:19, 22; 4:26, 29; 5:9, 19; 7:30, 31, 33, 37, 49; 8:26, 39; 11:21; 12:7, 11, 17, 23; 13:10, 11; 15:17 (twice); Ro 9:29; 11:34; 15:11; 1Co 1:31; 2:16; 3:20; 10:26; 14:21; 2Co 6:17, 18; 10:17; Ep 2:21; He 7:21; 8:8, 9, 10, 11; 10:16, 30; 12:5, 6; Ja 4:10, 15; 5:4, 10, 11 (twice); 1Pe 2:3; 3:12 (twice); 2Pe 2:29; 3:8, 9; Ju 1:9, 14; Re 1:8; 6:10; 11:17; 15:3, 4; 16:7; 18:8; 19:6; 21:22; 22:5, 6

Translated as the Spanish word, Señor (Lord, Master, Sir): Mt 3:3; 22:43, 45; Mk 1:3, 5:19; Luke 1:76; 2:11; 3:4; Jo 1:23; 8:11; Ac 1:24, 2:21, 36, 39, 4:24, 7:49, 9:10, 15, 27, 10:36, 13:12, 49; 14:3, 25, 26; 16:32; 18:9, 25; 19:10; Ro 9:28; 10:12, 13; 14:9, 11, 14; 1Co 3:5; 4:4, 5, 17, 19; 7:17; 8:6; 11:27 (twice), 29; 12:3, 5; 15:58 (twice); 16:10; 2Co 2:12; 3:16, 17 (twice); 18 (twice); Eph 4:5, 17; 5:19; Phil 2:11, 29; Col 3:22, 24; 4:7; 2The 3:3; 2Tim 2:19 (twice); Jam 1:7; 3:9; 5:7; 1Pe 3:5; 2Pe 3:10, 15; Rev 4:8; 11:4; 22:20.

Translated as the Spanish word, Amos (Owner): Ep 6:9; Col 4:1

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