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It has been claimed that "the language of the peshitta, referred to as "Middle Syriac" (but really Eastern Middle Aramaic), distinct from the Old Syriac of numerous inscriptions, appeared in the 4th century." (See Beyer, Klaus, The Aramaic Language: Its Didstribution and Subdivisions, Goettingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986, 43-44.)

Is this right?
If so what was the peshitta likely to have been in prior to this and how different would it have been?
Shlama Akhi Judge,

It's funny that, when we challenged the last scholar who made this absurd claim to back it up with real evidence, he could not. I even asked that he break down the Aramaic of Jesus, as it appears verbatim in the neutral source of the Greek gospels. And to compare that Aramaic of Jesus in the Greek new testament copies to the Aramaic of the Peshitta, in order to show me the differences. His answer, somewhere on this forum, was something to the effect, and I'm paraphrasing, that "unfortunately, the Aramaic phrases of Jesus that are preserved in the Greek Gospels do not represent cases where the grammar would be different." How convenient for him, isn't it?

For anyone to say that a dialect just "appears" (presumably out of thin air) in the 4th century, is preposterous and displays a lack of understanding in linguistics. Languages evolve rather slowly, there is almost never a rapid change in language anywhere in the world. Especially not with a language like Aramaic, which served as a lingua franca for centuries as the official language of three world empires (including a non-Semitic empire.)

Living languages slowly evolve over time. The only languages that don't evolve are dead languages, just like dinosaurs are preserved in the state they were in when they died. Latin comes to mind. It hasn't changed much over the last 1,500 years.

The fact of the matter is that any language that enjoyed such a long history as Aramaic (which is spoken today and which continues to evolve today), Chinese, English, Greek, etc., that language evolves slowly even during a person's lifetime.

"Syriac", as they like to call it, didn't just come down on a spaceship from Mars in the 4th century magically, and suddenly everyone started to understand it. It represents a snapshot, geographically and in time of the language we know as Aramaic. And the few phrases of Aramaic we find in the Greek Gospels that are attributed to Christ are identical, grammatically speaking, to the "Syriac" of the 4th century.

How similar or different it was in the 3rd, 2nd and 1st centuries is a complicated matter. The language had its own nuances and dialects from empire-to-empire, province-to-province, city-to-city and even from one village to the next. Honestly, any Assyrian today will tell you that there's a common dialect we all understand, but if we were to speak in our native village dialect and someone from the neighboring village would speak their own village dialect, we would all be very annoyed. That's today, with modern schools and technology. Imagine what it was like with Peter's accent during the trial of Jesus, they could all tell he spoke like a Galilean.

Jesus could obviously speak Chinese if He chose to. So he also chose to speak to people from various languages, and also to people with various dialects of Aramaic. He traveled quite a bit among regions that, if they are anything like today, were quite distinct in their dialects. Galilee, Judea, Syria, Jordan, etc. Michael, we are talking about a lot of different areas and villages.

Anyone who pretends to tell you they know exactly which dialect Jesus spoke, and precisely how it was different (or, akin) to the "Syriac" of the 4th, 3rd or 2nd centuries, is pulling your leg. Aramaic is, and always has been, a very volatile and peculiar language in that even during the best of times, when it was an official language, standardization was hard to come by. Much more so during times of occupation and oppression, as you find today in Iraq and in ancient times in Israel.

Yet, almost as if by miracle, it still survives in its own way and continues to live (and evolve.)

+Shamasha
Check, for instance, Mark 5:41. How different was the phrase "Talitha Qumi" in the 1st century, and the "4th century Syriac?" So different that it just reads that way in the Peshitta, apparently!

Also, check out the Interlinear on Luke 8:54 as well. Mind you, the Greek does not preserve the Aramaic phrase in Luke. How did the Peshitta, supposedly a translation of the Greek in a different dialect from what Jesus spoke, come up with the identical phrase in Luke 8:54 ?

The fact is there was no single dialect that Jesus spoke, He spoke them all whenever the need arose. And we have no evidence whatsoever that any one of them were any more different from "4th-century Syriac", than they were with each other.

So all of this is really absurd. =)

+Shamasha
Shlama Akhi Paul,

Paul Younan Wrote:"Syriac", as they like to call it, didn't just come down on a spaceship from Mars in the 4th century magically, and suddenly everyone started to understand it.

Not exactly related to the Peshitta, but the following link is for a work from a manuscript dated A.D. 411 (A.Gr. 723). Take a look at the subscription in the end:

<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/u?/CUA,89834">http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/u?/CUA,89834</a><!-- m -->

You see? Someone, in the early fifth century, 'dared' to call his own language Aramaic! <!-- sConfusedhocked: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/shocked.gif" alt="Confusedhocked:" title="Shocked" /><!-- sConfusedhocked: --> <!-- s:biggrin: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/biggrin.gif" alt=":biggrin:" title="Big Grin" /><!-- s:biggrin: -->
Phil Wrote:You see? Someone, in the early fifth century, 'dared' to call his own language Aramaic! <!-- sConfusedhocked: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/shocked.gif" alt="Confusedhocked:" title="Shocked" /><!-- sConfusedhocked: --> <!-- s:biggrin: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/biggrin.gif" alt=":biggrin:" title="Big Grin" /><!-- s:biggrin: -->

Yeah, but that was in 411 AD. Maybe by 499.9 AD, Aramaic was forgotten and suddenly everyone started speaking a language from Mars called "Syriac." <!-- sConfusedarcasm: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/sarcasm.gif" alt="Confusedarcasm:" title="Sarcasm" /><!-- sConfusedarcasm: -->