A Review of Andrew Gabriel Roth’s Aramaic English New Testament Section “The Ex-Nihilo (Out of Nothing) Theory; Old Syriac” (p. 955-965) Part 1 James Scott Trimm
Recently Andrew Gabriel Roth has published “ Review of Andrew Gabriel Roth’s Aramaic English New Testament”. Roth subscribes to a theory known as “Peshitta Primacy” which proposes that the Aramaic Peshitta text of the “New Testament” is the most original Aramaic text of the “New Testament”.
This theory runs counter to the theory of “Critical Text” which says that the most original Aramaic text is more often to be found in the Old Syriac Aramaic Version, and in the old Hebrew versions of Matthew and Hebrews. According to this theory the Peshitta is a witness to the original Aramaic in that it is a revision of the Old Syriac, made to bring the Aramaic tradition into closer agreement with the Greek Byzantine type of text.
My book The Hebrew and Aramaic Origin of the New Testament demonstrates the Critical Theory to be true by a vast preponderance of the evidence (http://www.lulu.com/nazarene).
Roth contradicts himself in speaking of the veracity of the Peshitta. On page 965 he confidently proclaims “…we have scraps of the Gospel texts against the full Peshitta version that is rendered identically in 360 complete manuscripts!” but on page xi Roth says only that these are “for all intents and purposes, virtually identical to one another.” In fact throughout his book he discusses variations in various Peshitta manuscripts.
Is it true that all 360 Peshitta manuscripts are identical?
No it is not true. The Peshitta has not been imune to scribal errors and variances.
For example there is a variant between some Peshitta mss. in Acts 7:21 where some read "his people" and some have "his mother" (these words look alike in Aramaic). And there are other scribal errors in Peshitta mss. as well, for example Codex Khaboris is lacking the verb "pass" in Mt. 19:24.
Peshitta manuscripts can generally be categorized under two groupings: Nestorian (Peshitta) and Jacobite (Peshitto) manuscripts. These two are similar but not identical, they have clear variant readings in Acts 20:28 and Heb. 2:9.
Of the 360 more of them are Jacobite (Peshitto) than Nestorian (Peshitta) in their text.
Andrew is somewhat inconstant in his handling of the Jacobite version. Sometimes he claims that all 360 Peshitta mss agree exactly and points out the unity with which the Syrian Orthodox Church (Jacobite) and the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of
the East (Nestorian) both use the Peshitta. On other occasions he discusses the Peshitta and Peshitto as if they were very different texts.
Is it true that all 360 Peshitta manuscripts are "complete"?
No. First of all the Peshitta itself is an incomplete canon lacking 2Peter, 2&3 John, Jude and Revelation. Secondly most Peshitta manuscripts are only manuscripts of parts of
the Peshitta canon. Many contain only the Gospels while others contain only Acts and the Epistles. Even those manuscripts which contain the full 22 book Peshitta canon are often missing pages or have pages in another hand which were clearly added later to replace
lost or damaged pages.
Codex Phillipps 1388 is one of the oldest extant copies of the Peshitta version of the Four Gospels dating to the 5th to 6th centuries. It is in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin which sheds some important light on NT origins, especially for those of us who subscribe to Aramaic Primacy for much of the NT.
Now you may have heard from certain Peshitta Primacists that all Peshitta manuscripts agree exactly, or that the Old Syriac and Peshitta versions are totally independent textual traditions. I have long maintained that both of these claims are false.
Peshitta manuscripts contain variants, just like Greek manuscripts. In fact the oldest Peshitta manuscripts contain even more variants.
Moreover the Peshitta version is not an independent textual tradition, but a revision of the Old Syriac version, created to bring the Aramaic into closer harmony with the Byzantine type Greek text.
In my recent research I have been taking a closer look at Codex Phillipps 1388. This is one of the oldest Peshitta manuscripts, and it contains a great many variant readings. More importantly, many of these variant readings are Old Syriac readings, thus providing “freeze frame” manuscript evidence that the Peshitta and Old Syriac are in fact part of the same Aramaic textual tradition. Thus confirming the textual theories laid out in my book.
This information is truly exciting. It means that there is much to be gained through a critical analysis of the variant readings found in the oldest Peshitta manuscripts. Using these Peshitta manuscripts and the Old Syriac together, a critical edition could be compiled creating a critical text, which as closely as possible, reproduces the original Aramaic text.
Roth is self contradictory in his claims about the origins of the Old Syriac. On page 961 he says “Clearly the Old-Syriac was translated from Greek…” (p. 961) but on page 959 he proposes a contradictory origin saying “[the] Old Syriac is a revision of the Peshitta to bring it into more agreement with the Western Greek manuscripts…” (p. 959)
On page 955 Roth quotes a lengthy statement by George Lamsa attacking the Old Syriac.
The Lamsa statement in question is filled with false and even dishonest claims.
In 1947 George Lamsa, a Peshitta Primacist, addressed the issue of the Old Syriac. Lamsa made the following claim:
The “Old Syriac” manuscript of the four Gospels, known as
the Sinaitic Palimpset, discovered by Mrs. Agnes Lewis in
the Convent of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai in 1892,
unfortunately was forged by the Monks, deliberately, before
it was sold to Mrs. Lewis and her companions. They made a
hole in the date of the manuscript, thus apparently
increasing its age by 900 years. The work actually was
finished in the year 1599 A.D.. … The above mentioned error
in date recently was discovered by the writer…
(New Testament Origin by George M. Lamsa; 1947; p. 89)
Lamsa’s claims here make no sense at all and are manufactured in order to preserve his theory of Peshitta Primacy. First of all most of the information above is just plain false. Mrs. Lewis never purchased the manuscript from the monks, who were unwilling to part with it. To this very day the manuscript remains at the monastery. Lamsa himself never examined the manuscript in question but made his “discovery” “after examining several other Four Gospel manuscripts which were brought to the Near East.” Lamsa claimed that he had seen this same “malpractice” of “mutilated dates” on these other manuscripts (ibid). To begin wth in order to understand the issue we must point out that the manuscript in question is a “Palimpset”, a manuscript in which an older text has been written over by a more recent text. The only date is in a colophon to the more recent text which was, according to the scribe, made in the 1090th year since the reign of Alexander the Great began. This places the date of the re-use of the manuscript surface in the 8th century. There is no way that a hole in the manuscript could add 900 years to that dating system, nor would it place the date at 1599. However, what is truly of interest to us
is the original text below the second usage (the second usage records the life of some martyrs). This older text is the Old Syriac and it had to have been penned long before the manuscript was recycled. Paleographic evidence is generally used to date ancient manuscripts and that is the case here. The style of the script is that of the fourth century and this agrees with the external evidence.
The Lamsa quote also indicates that a palimpset would ever be used for Sacred Scripture.
However among our oldest Peshitta manuscripts are *also* ancient copies which were palimpsets (scratched off, reused manuscripts) and even manuscript pages which had been reused as book bindings:
"[speaking of Peshitta NT manuscripts] ...there are not only
ancient portions and fragments salvaged from the bindings of
books and in palimpsest leaves -- these belong incidentally
to the fifth and sixth centuries-- but there are also very
(Early Versions of the New Testament;
Manuscript Studies by Arthur Voobus;
Stockholm; 1954; page 89)
On pp. 956 Roth cites the example of Jn. 1:28.
Here the Old Syriac has "Bethabara" while the Peshitta has "Bethany".
Roth argues that "Bethabara" is the reading of the Byzantine texts and that this example demonstrates that the Peshitta could not be a revision toward the Byzantine type of text.
There are several problems with this example.
First of all Andrew wrongly identifies "Bethabara" as the Byzantine reading of this verse. Yes this is the reading of the Textus Receptus and it is a reading that appears in several Byzantine type manuscripts. But the Majority Text (the reading that appears in most Byzantine manuscripts) reading is "Bethany". Thus the reading that appears in the Peshitta is in fact the reading which appears in most Byzantine manuscripts.
On the other hand it is possible that "Bethabara" is the reading of the Greek Western text here. This passage comes from a section of John which is missing from Codex D and there is no clear extant Greek Western representative for this verse. However Codex f(13)
which often contains some Western readings (as in Mt. 1:16) does have "Bethabara".
So in this example it is totally plausible that the Peshitta represent a a revision of the Western type text of the Old Syriac toward agreement with the Byzantine type of text. This example certainly does not help Roth’s theory.
Andrew's next example (p. 957) is Luke 24:36b. Here the Peshitta contains the added phrase "It is I, don't be afraid". Andrew argues that the Old Syriac agrees with the Byzantine reading in omitting this phrase. In fact the Old Syriac agrees with the Greek Western text of Codex D here in lacking this phrase. On the other hand the only Greek manuscripts that agree with the Peshitta in adding this phrase are Byzantine (Codecies P, W, 579, 1241) . This example does more to support my theory than it does Andrew's.
Andrew's next example (p. 957) is Luke 24:47 where the OS has "and remission of sins" while the Peshitta has "for remission of sins". Andrew argues that the OS reading is the Byzantine reading and that the Peshitta is not. Now the OS reading does agree with
the Majority Text but it is also the Western reading (agreeing with Codex D and the Old Latin) .
Andrew's next example (p.957) is Mk. 11:19 where the OS has "he would go outside the city" but the Peshitta reads "they went outside the city." Andrew argues that the Old Syriac has the Byzantine reading not the Peshitta. Again the OS reading agrees with the Majority Text but it is also the Western reading (supported by Codex D and the Old Latin). And the Peshitta reading does occur in several Byzantine manuscripts (A, K, W, DELTA, 28, 565, 700, 2427).
Andrew's next example (p. 957) is Mk. 5:26 where the OS has "And had suffered many things" while the Peshitta has "Whom had suffered many things". In fact this is not a text type issue, no Greek or Latin text that I know of has "Whom…" in this verse.
On page 958 Roth states “A majority of scholars believe that the Old Syriac was translated from a Greek source known as Codex Bezae, which would have been used as a base text by Rabulla, a Fifth Century bishop in the Syrian Orthodox Church.”
This is plainly false. Lets start with the initial claim “A majority of scholars believe that the Old Syriac was translated from a Greek source known as Codex Bezae…”
First of all our oldest manuscript of the Old Syriac dates to the fourth century, but Codex Bezea dates to the fifth century. The Old Syriac could not have been translated from a Codex which did not yet exist! Moreover most scholars maintain that the Old Syriac existed as early as the second century, even EARLIER that the fourth century.
Secondly (even if we were to accept Greek primacy) the odds that of all the Greek manuscripts which once existed, we actually have the very Codex from which a given version was translated in ancient times are ridiculously low. I cannot imagine any serious scholar proposing that this or that Codex was the very codex used to produce a given ancient version.
Now it is true that the majority scholarly opinion is that the Old Syriac version was translated from a Greek Western type of text which Codex Bezae (also called Codex D) is a fifth century exemplar. This same majority scholarly opinion also maintains that the Peshitta was a revision of this Old Syriac based on cross consultation with Greek manuscripts leaning to the Byzantine text type. In other words Roth is throwing stones in a glass house because these same scholars see the Peshitta as a translation from Greek as well and as a descendant of the Old Syriac.
The other portion of Roth’s claim is that the Old Syriac was the product of “Rabulla, a Fifth Century bishop in the Syrian Orthodox Church”.
This is not possible because:
1. The oldest Old Syriac manuscript OS(s) dates to the fourth century (about 100 years before Rabulla).
2. The quotations from the Gospels which occur in the earliest Syriac literature (such as the Acts of Thomas, the Doctrine of ‘Addai and the writings of Aphraates and Ephraim.
3. The Assryian writer Aitalaha used the term "EVANGELION D'MEPHARESHE" about 100 years before Rabulla. Aitalaha became bishop of Edessa in 323 or 324 C.E. and died in 345 C.E.. He wrote a letter to the Christians in Persia in Syriac Aramaic which survives today only in an Armenian translation. In this letter he says several times that his gospel quotations were made from the "Separate Gospels" (EVANGELION D'MEPHARESHE).
Aitallah wrote a letter to the Christians in the Persian
territory which has not survived in Syriac but in an Armenian
translation. Now this ancient document from Edessa becomes
significant from the aspect of the text historical studies.
...in more than one place he states expressis verbis that he
has quoted from the seperated Gospels.
(Studies of the History of the Gospel Text in Syriac; 1951; Arthur Voobus p. 40)
...the Evangelion daMepharreshe appears as an official
Gospel text already under Bishop Aitallaha in Edessa...
(Early Versions of the New Testament;
Manuscript Studies by Arthur Voobus; Stockholm; 1954; page 76)
4. Internal evidence easily demonstrates that the Peshitta is a revision of the Old Syriac. (See chapter on the Peshitta)
5. The Greek manuscripts which generally agree with the Old Syriac (The Western Type) are among the most ancient (dating to the early second century) while those which generally agree with the Peshitta (the Byzantine text type) are the latest and never predate the first century.
Andrew's next example (958) is Mt. 9:34; 12:24 and Luke 11:15. Andrew makes some claims about the phrase "The Pharisees were saying, `By the head of the demons, he casts out demons" in these three verses.
Andrew claims "the… OS manuscripts omit this phrase in all three places" and he claims "Codex Bezae, is also the only text to not have it either!". This claim is simply false. The OS only lacks this phrase in Mt. 9:34 and Codex D (Codex Bezae) also only lacks
the phrase in Mt. 9:34. Metzger (who champions the Greek Alexandrian text) says of this verse "It is difficult to decide whether this verse should be included in the text… According to several commentators… the words are an intrusion here from 12:24 or
from Lk. 11:15. On the other hand, the evidence for the shorter text is exclusively Western…."
Andrew's next example (p. 958-959) is Mark 6:33 where the Old Syriac lacks "and they ran before them" which the Peshitta contains. Andrew argues that this Peshitta reading is the original reading. Andrew says "There are two textual traditions which differ here in the Greek." In fact there are much more than two traditions in the Greek of this verse. Metzger refers to "the wide variety of readings" in this passage (Textual Commentary).
There are at least six different readings in the Greek for this one passage. Moreover the normal Western type witnesses are divided on the verse. Codex D, the Old Latin and the Old Syriac (s) are all divided on how this verse should read. The reading Andrew supplies as the "Byzantine" reading is not the reading of the Byzantine Majority Text which has "and out went them and came before them" but of the Alexandrian text (agreeing with Codecies Alef and B) (Although admittedly some Byzantine manuscripts contain the reading).
Andrew's next example (p. 959) is Mark 12:23 where the Old Syriac contains the phrase "when they shall rise" but the Peshitta does not. Andrew labels this reading a gloss which he says "the Imperial Byzantine Greek adds". However it is far from certain that this is a gloss. Even though the Alexandrian text (Alef and B) also lacks the phrase, Metzger (who sees the Alexandrian as the best text type) says of this passage "The absence of ["when they shall rise"] … is probably deliberate, having been omitted by copyists as superfluous… It is hard to imagine that a copyist would have been tempted to gloss
["when they shall rise"]…" (Textual Commentary).
Andrew's next example (p. 959) is Mark 13:7 and the difference between the Peshitta which reads ALEF-BET-RESH-KUF and the Old Syriac which has ALEF-SAMEK-RESH-KUF. In fact in this passage the Peshitta may preserve the true reading. The Peshitta is a revision of the Old Syriac and we only have one surviving Old Syriac witness to this verse. And it could contain a scribal error in this verse.
Andrew's next example (p. 959) is Luke 23:48
Here Andrew keys in on the following phrase which appears here in the Old Syriac ""and saying: `Woe to us! What has befallen us? Woe to us from our sins!".
Andrew says "the Old Syriac then, is … left virtually alone with a spurious reading… This reading, absent in the Peshitta, [and] the Greek traditions can only be found in two other manuscripts: Codex Sangermanensis – a 9th century Latin Vulgate manuscript [and] The Apocryphal Greek Gospel of Peter"
First off Andrew has wrongly identified Codex Sangermanensis as a Latin Vulgate manuscript when it is in fact an Old Latin manuscript (and thus more directly part of the Western textual tradition).
Secondly Andrew has missed a very important witness to this reading. It is very Ironic that this reading is attested to by this one other witness. This is because this other witness is one whom Andrew insists never quotes the Old Syriac against the Peshitta. In
Aphrates Hom. 271 he quotes this passage and includes the phrase "Woe to us! What has befallen us!", a phrase that Andrew himself has said the Old Syriac is "left virtually alone with" and is "absent in the Peshitta".
Roth’s next example is Acts 1:4
There is some confusion as to what the correct reading of this passage is in the Greek.
Most Greek manuscripts have a reading which can mean “eat salt with” or “bring together or assemble”
Codex D has a nonsense reading.
Other Greek Western witnesses (614, 1739) and some Byzantine copies have “to spend the night together with”.
Here the Peshitta reads:
“And while he ate bread with them…”
This verse is referenced by Ephraim in his Hymn XXXVI where he cites the passage with the meaning literally “he salted” but which Ephraim elsewhere uses to mean “he ate salt” (Thesarus Syriacus, 2 Vols. (Oxford, 1879-1901) 2:2133; Robert Payne Smith).
All of this points to an Old Syriac reading of:
“And while he ate salt with them…”
This reading is also supported by the Old Latin and Coptic versions.
Andrew Roth argues against this reading, saying that no such custom existed saying “Nowhere is there any ‘Semitic Custom’ of Jews gathering to eat salt.”
In fact the Jewish custom of eating salt together is well known. The Hertz commentary to the Torah mentions this ancient custom:
Among most ancient peoples it was a sign of friendship
‘to eat salt together’ ."
The Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text English
Translation and Commentary by J.H. Hertz
Comment on Lev. 2:13
Modern Jews still keep this custom:
Observant Jews sprinkle salt on bread before
reciting the b’rakhah over it…
(Jewish New Testament Commentary;
by David Stern; p. 94 (comment on Mk. 9:50))
Other Semites also kept this custom. Even the Peshitta Primacist George Lamsa reflects on his own Assyrian culture in this matter:
Salt is a sacred token of friendship. When Easterners eat salt
together, they pledge their lives for each other. When kings
and princes enter a city, they are greeted with an offering of
salt as a token of welcome and sincerity.
Gospel Light; by George Lamsa;
p. 200 (comment on Mk. 9:50)
This Semitic custom of eating salt together is even alluded to in the Tanak (Ezra 4:14).
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