Do the Old Syriac and Peshitta NT use a Greek Word for “Torah”?

Do the Old Syriac and Peshitta NT use a Greek Word for “Torah”?
James Scott Trimm

Recently it was suggested to me that the Old Syriac and Peshitta Aramaic versions of “New Testament” books had to be translations from a Greek source, because they use the Greek word נמוסא for “law/Torah” rather than the Aramaic word אוריתא ‘Uraita, which comes from the same root as the Hebrew word “Torah”, and which is used in the Targums and Talmuds.

Namosa is an Aramaic Word

The fact is that נמוסא (Namosa) is an Aramaic word, though it is a loan word from Greek. “Namosa” is as much an Aramaic word, as “ballet” is an English word, though it is a loan word from French. No one would argue that an English book which used the word “ballet” must have been translated from French. Likewise, the use of the Aramaic word “Namosa” in no way implies that the Old Syriac and Peshitta versions were translated from Greek.

In fact, Hebrew and Aramaic words are built upon a system of three letter root verbs. And both languages have incorporated the root verb נמס into their vocabulary systems as a root meaning “to civilize”.

The Aramaic word נימוסא is used in the Targums and the Jerusalem Talmud. For example where Psalm 1:2 says:

But his delight is in the Law of YHWH;
and in His Law does he meditate day and night.
(Psalm 1:2)

The Aramaic Targum has נימוסא nimosa for “Law [of YHWH]:

אֱלָהֵן בְּנִימוּסָא דַייָ רְעוּתֵיהּ וּבְאוֹרַיְתֵיהּ מְרַנֵן יֵמָם וְלֵילֵי

And where 1Samuel 2:13 reads:

And the priests’ custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand;
(1Sam. 2:13)

וְנִימוּסָא דְכַהֲנַיָא מִן עַמָא כָּל גְבַר דְנָכֵיס נִכְסְתָא וְאָתֵי עוּלֵימָא דְכַהֲנָא כִּמְבַשֵׁל בִּסְרָא וּמַשִׁילְיָא דִי לֵיהּ תְּלַת שְׁנִין בִּידֵיהּ:

The word for “custom” in the Targum is נימוסא nimosa.

In the Jerusalem Talmud we read the phrase “he is engaged in studying the laws of his Creator” (y.Ber. V, 9a) and again the Aramaic word is נימוסא nimosa.

Many more examples could be cited from the Rabbinic literature, both Hebrew and Aramaic. In fact in modern Hebrew in Israel today, a mother could be heard scolding her child, saying “Nimosa!” meaning to be polite, “behave yourself”.

So it is clear that this word may be of Greek origin, but it has become a loan word in Hebrew and Aramaic, and even incorporated into their system as a three letter verb root. This word is as much a Hebrew and Aramaic word as it is a Greek word, just as “ballet” is as much an English word as it is a French word.

It is very clear that the Targums and Talmuds were not translated from Greek sources, but were (in the case of the Targums) Aramaic translations of Hebrew, and (in the case of the Talmuds) composed in Aramaic.

Nomosa in the Syriac Dialect

So now let us deal with the question of the regular usage of this word in the Aramaic Old Syriac and Peshitta versions.

Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, one of many such dialects over the centuries. Aramaic dialects of this period are classed as Eastern and Western. The Western dialects were used in Galilee and Judea, while in Syria and “Babylon” (the area of the old Babylonian captivity) Eastern dialects were used.

The Targums and Jerusalem Talmud were written in Western Aramaic, while the Peshitta and Babylonian Talmud were written in Eastern dialects of Aramaic.

The books of the “New Testament” were originally written in Hebrew or Western Aramaic. Certainly a Western Aramaic version was needed and existed from a very early time. But a Syriac Aramaic version was also soon needed for the Gentile believers at Antioch (in Syria), and so a Syriac version was probably made from the Western Aramaic version. This was primarily a revision of dialect.

So we have two Aramaic words for “Law”: אוריתא (‘Uraita) and נמוסא (Namosa). In fact the word אוריתא (‘Uraita) does appear in both the Old Syriac and the Peshitta in Matthew 11:13; 12:5 and 22:40. However the word normally used for “Torah” in the Old Syriac and Peshitta is נמוסא (Namosa).

In the Western dialects (and in the Babylonian Talmud) אוריתא (‘Uraita) is the normal word used for “Torah” (although נימוסא can be used, as in the Targum to Psalm 1:2). And in the Syriac dialect of Aramaic נמוסא (Namosa) is the normal word for “Torah” and the use of אוריתא (‘Uraita) is like using a foreign word, which the Syriac reader probably understands, but as a commonly understood word from another dialect.

In fact the word נמוסא (Namosa) is the word used for “Torah” throughout the Peshitta Tanak (“Old Testament”). For example:

Then said YHWH unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law (בנמוסי), or not.
(Ex. 16:4 KJV)

This is just one of literally over a hundered examples. I have previously written on the Jewish origin of the Peshitta Tanak, it is well established the the Peshitta Aramaic Tanak was translated directly from the Hebrew Tanak.

If the use of namosa for “Torah” in the Old Syriac and Peshitta “New Testament” books, proves that they were translated from Greek, then the use of the same word for “Torah” throughout the Peshitta Aramaic Tanak would also prove that Peshitta Tanak is a translation from Greek. And a proposition that would also “prove” things we know are not true, proves nothing at all.

The fact is that the Peshitta Syriac Aramaic version is a revision of the Old Syriac version (towards greater agreement with the later Byzantine tyope text) and that the Old Syriac is a Syriac version of prior Western Aramaic and/or Hebrew versions of the books of the “New Testament” and as such they are important sources for restoring the original Hebrew and Aramaic of the books of the “New Testament”.

I have recently been given (by Dr. Al Garza) a thumb drive containing literally thousands of pages of Hebrew manuscripts of “New Testament” books, and their relationships to the Old Syriac Aramaic will be important clues, as I sort out those that are merely medieval Hebrew translations from Greek or Latin, from those that may actually play an important part on Hebrew and Aramaic NT origins.

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