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Larry Kelsey

{Quoting from William Norton's book}

Syriac is a very ancient language. It belongs to the same family of languages as the ancient Hebrew. In the time of the Redeemer it was spoken, in slightly different dialects, in many countries.

Syriac became the language of Palestine.-- Dr. Frederic Delitzsch, Professor of Assyriology, in the University of Leipzic, in a work on "The Hebrew Language Viewed in the Light of Assyrian Research, 1883," p. 2, says, "The transportation of the ten tribes from Palestine to Mesopotamia and Media, and the close intercourse of those left behind with people of different nations, as the Elamites, Babylonians, and Arabs, who supplied the places of the exiled Israelites, struck a deadly blow at the ancient language of the kingdom of Israel. Nor was it destined to flourish much longer in the kingdom of Judah......The termination of the Babylonian exile marks the beginning of that process," that is, as to Judah, "by which Hebrew gradually disappeared from among living languages. It is true that a small portion of the nation, those who availed themselves of the permission to return to the holy land, still wrote and spoke Hebrew; but the Aramaic [the Syriac] dialect, which had been favoured by the Persian kings, and was almost regarded as the official language of the western portion of the Persian empire, had already begun to bring its deteriorating influence to bear upon it; and, rapidly advancing, was conquering one portion of Palestine after another. This process continued under the dominion of the Greeks........At the time of the Maccabees, Hebrew had already ceased to be a spoken language........The learned among the Jews, during the last two centuries before Christ, even preferred to write in Aramaic; and at the time of Christ, Aramaic reigned supreme as the adopted language of the country."

Those of the ten tribes who were "carried away into Assyria," (2 Kings xvii. 6,) adopted the Syriac language also, as well as those of them who remained in Palestine. We have proof in holy Scripture that Aramaic, now called Syriac, was spoken by some of the Assyrians, when the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh against Jerusalem. For the elders of the Jews asked him to speak to them in Aramaic, that the rest of the Jews might not know what he said. (2 Kings xviii. 26; Isa. xxxvi. 11.) The language then called Aramaic, and now called Syriac, was not the most ancient language of Assyria. The Rev. A. H. Sayce says, in his Assyrian Grammar, 1872," pages 1 and 10, that the original Assyrian language was more like Hebrew and Phoenician than it was like Syriac. But by degrees the old Assyrian language gave place to Syriac. Mr. Sayce says at page 18, "Assyrian passed away before the encroaching influence of Aramaean."
Before the ten tribes were carried away into Assyria, they had been brought under the power of the Syrians of Damascus, and this may have tended to change their language. While they were in Assyria, they seem to have adopted Syriac wholly, and to have ceased to speak their ancient Hebrew tongue.
Dr Asahel Grant, (M. D.) a modern missionary to that part of ancient Assyria, which is now called Coordistan, published a book, the third edition of which is dated 1844, entitled, "The Nestorians, or the Lost Tribes." At page 55, he says that among the Nestorian Christians whose ancestors dwelt there from before the time of Christ, the worship is still conducted and the Scriptures are read "in the ancient Syriac language," which is now "quite unintelligible to the common people;" so that when the Scriptures are read to them, they have to be translated by the reader into the modernized Syriac, which is now spoken by these Nestorian Christians, and by the Israelites who are not Christians, who dwell near them in Coordistan. He says at page 149, that this modernized Syriac is "at this day a living language only among the Nestorians and nominal Jews of Media and Assyria; unless an exception be found among the Syrian Christians dwelling west of the Tigris; who may, perhaps, also have a Hebrew origin." He says that both the Nestorian Christians, and the unchristianised Israelites, who use this "vernacular language, peculiar to themselves, must have acquired it at a remote period of antiquity; because an entire want of social intercourse forbids the idea that they have learned it from each other in modern times." Dr. Grant says, that both the Nestorians and the Israelites say that they all speak this modern Syriac language because they have a "common ancestry;" and he thinks that their common and peculiar language "affords convincing proof that they are both alike the children of Israel."
Dr. Grant was fully convinced that the ancestors of these
Nestorians "received the gospel from the apostles and immediate disciples of our Saviour," (p.56); "from Thomas, Bartholomew, Thaddeus, and others; not from Nestorius," from likeness to whom they are called Nestorians, (p. 50.) He says that their Scriptures, which are like other copies of the ancient Peshito-Syriac Bible, have been preserved by them "in manuscript, with great care and purity," (p. 60.); that "these Nestorians throughout Assyria and Media have a general and universally believed tradition that they are descendants of the ten tribes," (p. 110); that the Israelites "admit that the Nestorians are as truly the descendants of the Israelites as themselves, (p. 114); and that the Nestorians have a tradition that they "came from the land of Palestine," (p. 113.) Dr. Grant remarks that both the Nestorian Christians and the Israelites inhabit the very country where "the ten tribes were placed," (p. 114); that they "are the only people in Assyria who can be identified with the ten tribes, and consequently that they must be their descendants," (p. 140.) He says that Dr. Perkins, another missionary, agreed with him that the body of the modern language now spoken by the Nestorians and Israelites, comes as directly from the venerable Syriac, and as clearly, as the modern Greek comes from the ancient, (p. 144.)

Larry Kelsey

Part 2 of "The many countries in which Syriac was spoken"

{Quoting from William Norton}

Dr. Grant says also, "Nazareans is a term very commonly employed by themselves and others to designate the Nestorians. It is never applied to other Christian sects. The term Nazareans has been well defined to mean Christians converted from Judaism,.....who adhered to the practice of the Jewish ceremonies...... Jerome speaks of them as Hebrews believing in Christ. We have good reason from Acts xv. 5, to believe that the Gentiles never adopted the rites of the Jews, nor the name of Nazareans, to whom these rites were peculiar. It must then have been applied exclusively to the Jewish converts. Hence the conclusion that the Nestorians must have been Jews," (pp. 153-4.) By Jews, he clearly means Israelites. Mosheim, in his "Christianity before Constantine," Cent. ii, chap. xxxix., says, "A small band of Christians who joined Moses with Christ, divided into two sects called Nazareans and Ebionites. The ancient Christians did not class the Nazareans with heretical sects." Dr. Grant says, "It is the simple fact, that the Nestorians are what they profess to be--the children of Israel," (p. 113.)
Concurring proofs seem to make it certain that these Nestorian Christians received the gospel from some of the apostles; that there has been a succession of them from that time to this; that their copies of the Peshito-Syriac Scriptures are derived from copies received at a very early date; that they have been carefully made and preserved, and are of great value in determining the true text and meaning of God's word.

A like settlement to that in Coordistan, of Christians and Hebrews dwelling near to each other, has also existed from the time of the apostles until now, in Travancore and the Malabar Coast of India. These Christians, as well as those of Coordistan, use the ancient Peshito-Syriac Scriptures in their worship at the present day. They believe they have had these Scriptures from before A. D. 325, in which year their bishop signed his name at the council of Nicaea. There is ancient testimony that the Gospel of Matthew in Syriac was left with them by the apostle Bartholomew, and that the apostle Thomas preached the gospel among them. The Hebrews, to whom these Apostles preached, must have been settled there at a still earlier period. Dr. Asahel Grant said of the Christians of Travancore, "They may be, in part at least, a branch of the present Nestorians of Media and Assyria. We have good evidence that they were formerly of the Nestorian faith, though they have more recently become connected with the Jacobite Syrians. It is worthy of inquiry whether they have not traditions, rites, customs, or other evidence of Jewish origin," (p. 155.) "That the apostle Thomas preached in India, we have the testimony of numerous Greek, Latin, and Syrian authors quoted by Asseman in his Bibliotheca Orientalis, vol. iv., pp. 5--25, 435." Grant, p. 156, note.
Dr. Claudius Buchanan of the Church of England, in 1806-8, visited the Christians of St. Thomas in India, and also the Israelites who dwell near them. He found that the Israelites "are divided into two classes, called the Jerusalem or White Jews; and the ancient, or Black Jews." He saw and conversed with some of both classes. The White Jews delivered to him a narrative, in the Hebrew language, of their arrival in India. It stated that their "fathers, dreading the conquerer's wrath, departed from Jerusalem, a numerous body of men, women, priests, and Levites, and came into this land after the second temple was destroyed," which took place A. D. 70. This narrative states that other Hebrews afterwards joined them from Judea, Spain, and other places, (pp. 200-2.)
He says of the Black Jews, "It is only necessary to look at their countenance to be satisfied that their ancestors must have arrived in India many ages before the White Jews.....The White Jews look upon the Black Jews as an inferior race, and as not of a pure caste, which plainly demonstrates that they do not spring from a common stock in india. The Black Jews recounted the names of many other small colonies of the ancient Israelites resident in northern India, Tartary and China; and gave me a written list of sixty-five places. I conversed with those who had lately visited many of these stations." Dr. Buchanan seems to have regarded the Black Jews as part of the ten tribes. Those to whom the apostle Thomas preached must have been settled there before his arrival, which probably was many years before the destruction of Jerusalem, A. D. 70, and the arrival of the White Jews; so that there is a strong probability that those to whom he preached were a migratory part of the ten tribes. Dr. Buchanan says, "I inquired concerning their brethren the ten tribes. They said that it was commonly believed among them that the great body of the Israelites is to be found in the very places whither they were first carried into captivity; that some few families had migrated into regions more remote, as to Cochin and Rajapoor in India, and to other places yet further to the East, but that the bulk of the nation, though now much reduced in number, had not to this day, removed two thousand miles from Samaria." (pp. 206-7.)

Larry Kelsey

Part 3 of "The many countries in which Syriac was spoken"

{Quoting from William Norton}

It seems to be certain that in the time of the apostles the language of the Israelites in Travancore must have been Syriac. For although the language now most in use, both among the Israelites and the Christians, is the Malabar, or Malayalim, which is the vernacular language of the country, (p. 99); yet the ancient Peshito-Syriac Scriptures are still used by the Christians in worship, and they have to be "expounded to the people in the vernacular tongue," (p. 100.)
The ancient Christians of Travancore and Malabar are still called, 'The Syrian Christians of St. Thomas,' and have received that name from their use of the Peshito-Syriac Scriptures, and from the fact that their ancestors received the gospel from the lips of the apostle Thomas. Dr. Buchanan says that the apostle Thomas is said by them to have landed at Cranganore, when he first arrived from Aden in Arabia; that not far from Cranganore there is an ancient church which bears his name still; and that the tradition among these Christians is, that he afterwards went to the Coromandel Coast, and was put to death at the place still called St. Thomas' Mount. (Researches, p. 114.) When the Portuguese invaded that part of India, and had established at Goa, what even the Roman Catholic Superintendent of sixty-four R. C. churches called in the presence of Dr. Buchanan, the "horrid tribunal" of the Inquisition; that tribunal used its utmost power to bring the Christians of St. Thomas under the dominion of the Pope. By bitter persecution and condemning some of these Christians to be burnt, it obtained the possession and use of many of their church buildings. The Peshito-Syriac Scriptures which they used, like all copies of the original Peshito, did not contain 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Revelation, and some other passages contained in the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate. The copies of these Syriac Scriptures were ordered by the Inquisition, at the Synod of Diamper, to be all conformed to the R. C. Latin, and all books containing Nestorian teaching were ordered to be burnt. (Decrees of Synod of Diamper, Dr. Michael Geddes, pp. 134, 147, 428.)
But even in the buildings which were thus obtained, the Roman Catholic Service was still conducted in Syriac instead of in Latin, as Dr. J. W. Etheridge states in his History of the Syrian Churches, 1846, p. 158.
Eusebius says that in the reign of Commodus, (A. D. 180-192) Pantaenus, a Christian who had been a philosopher, went as an evangelist from Egypt as far as India; and was said to have found there"the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew," that is, in Syriac, then called Hebrew, "among some who there knew Christ; to whom Bartholmew, one of the apostles, had proclaimed Him." Dr. Buchanan says that these Christians now possess the Peshito-Syriac Scriptures of both covenants in writing; that they believe they possessed them "before the year A. D. 325," (p. 118Wink that "they have preserved the manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures incorrupt," (p. 124); and with such care that in one written copy which he saw, "the words of every book are numbered." (p. 118.)

Syriac was the native tongue of Syria. Two territories were called Syria; one to the east, the other to the west of the Euphrates. The capital of Syria, west of the Euphrates, was Damascus. In 2 Sam. viii. 6, "The Syrians of Damascus" are mentioned. Before the ten tribes were carried captive into Assyria, the kings of Syria had reduced them to long servitude. 2 Kings viii. 12; x. 32; xiii. 4-7. Dr. Grant suggests that this tended to change the language of the ten tribes from Hebrew to Syriac. (p. 147.) Syria, to the east of the Euphrates included the important city called Edessa. Bar Hebraeus, a very learned Syrian of the thirteenth century, said, "Of the Syriac language there are three dialects. Of these the most elegant is the Aramaean spoken by the inhabitants of Edessa and Haran, and Syria the Exterior," that is, Syria in Mesopotamia. (Walton's Poly. Prol. xiii. 4; Asseman's Bibliotheca, Vol. I., p. 476.)

G. Amira, a Syrian of note, and the author of a Syriac Grammar, made a statement which tends to show how very widely the Syriac language was used. He said that "he was able to define the Syriac or Chaldaic tongue to be that which was born, and had chief rule in the East; which could alike be called Assyrian, Babylonian, Aramaean, Hebrew, or Christian; since it was known by nations of those names, and used by them." (Wichelhaus on N. C. Peshito, p. 21.) Walton also, in his Polyglot, (Prol. xiii. 2) says that the language in which the books of the Old and New Covenants exist in the east, and which to-day is called Syriac, "has been called Chaldaic, Babylonian, Aramaean, Syriac, Assyriac, and even Hebrew." The dialect in which the Chaldeans spoke to the king of Babylon, Dan. ii. 4; and that in which Rabshakeh, the Assyrian, was asked by the elders of Israel to speak to them, Isa. xxxvi. 11, are both called in those passages, Aramaean, a name which includes different Syriac dialects.

Dr. J. S. Asseman, the learned author of the great work--Bibliotheca Orientalis, published in four volumes folio; a Maronite Syrian; said in the Prologue to Vol. I. p. 1, that the Syriac language formerly flourished in the immense empire of the Assyrians and that of the Chaldees, and was brought to the greatest degree of amplitude and elegance; that it was afterwards consecrated by the mouth of Deity incarnate and talking with men; that it was known familiarly by the apostles; that it was used in sacred worship every where in the East; and was made famous by being used by eminent writers of the greatest excellence. It was in this language that the gospel was diffused from Edessa and other places throughout the East, as from Antioch in Syria it was diffused by Paul in Asia Minor and in Europe. Dr. J. S. Asseman, also said in his Prologue, p. 1, "To begin from those things which were first written in Syriac, it is a tradition certain and uniform, which the marvellous agreement of all the eastern nations confirms, and which both Eusebius of Caesarea, and Jerome, deemed to be established, that Thaddaeus, or as the Syrians prefer to call him, Adaeus, either an apostle or a disciple of Christ, immediately after His ascension into heaven, went to Abgar, the Toparch of Edessa, and instructed the people of Mesopotamia in the Christian faith; and that king Abgar himself received sacred baptism. The gospel was next openly proclaimed in those places, churches were built,.......and the sacred books translated out of Hebrew into Syriac.......Very many learned men began by their word, and by their writings, to deliver the divine teaching to the people, and to confute ancient, and more recent errors by their published volumes......Frequent incursions of the Persians, Arabs, and Tartars into Mesopotamia, and the adjoining provinces of the Syrians, followed; by which, cities were overthrown to their foundations, monasteries levelled with the ground, churches consumed by fire, and volumes of the most surpassing worth taken away. If any escaped the hands of the barbarians (as it is certain that very many did) they either feed the book-worms of the desert, or are torn, cut up, and devoted to profane uses by their ignorant possessors." He afterwards refers to later times, to 1555, when the N. C. Peshito was first printed, and to the efforts which have been made to discover, and to make use of, such ancient Syriac copies, both of the Scriptures and of other works, as may still exist.

Larry Kelsey

Part 4 of 'The many countries in which Syriac was spoken'

Josephus is a very important witness in proof of the extent to which Syriac was known and used in the first century. He took part in the war against the Romans which led to the destruction of Jerusalem, A. D. 70. He was taken captive by them, and was well acquainted with all the events connected with the war. He wrote a history of it in Syriac; and states how great a multitude of people, living in different nations, from near the Caspian Sea to the bounds of Arabia, could read and understand what he had written in Syriac.
He afterwards wrote the same history in Greek, that those who spoke Greek, and those of the Romans, and of any other nation who knew Greek, but did not know Syriac, might read it also. He says, that in order to write the Greek history, he used at Rome the aid of persons who knew Greek; that Greek was to him a "foreign language;" (Jewish Antiquities, Book I.); and that very few of his countrymen knew it well. (Jewish Antiq. Bk. XX., Chap. IX.) He says in his two books against Apion, that Apion and others "had undertaken to make false charges against his history." In a long defence of it, he said of the Greeks, (Book I, Chap. 8,) "They see that some Greeks of the present time dare to write about these things, who neither were present at them, nor have taken care to get information from those who know about them." "But I have written a true history of the whole war, and of the particular events which occurred in it; for I was the general of those whom we call Galileans, so long as it was possible to resist; and I was taken and made captive by the Romans. Vespasian and Titus then kept me in custody, and compelled me to attend them." During the siege of Jerusalem, "Nothing was done which escaped my knowledge; for while I was observing whatever was done by the encamped army of the Romans, I carefully wrote it down; and I was the only person who understood what was told by those who delivered themselves up. Afterwards, having obtained leisure at Rome, the whole of my work being in a state of readiness, I made use of some to work with me in respect of the Greek tongue; and in this way I completed my account of those transactions. I had so strong a conviction of the truth of that account, that the first persons whom I selected to bear witness to it, were the chief commanders of the war, Vespasian and Titus. To them first, I gave my books; and I gave them afterwards to many of the Romans who had fought together in the war." It is evident from this account, that Vespasian and Titus knew Greek, and that if any of the Jews who delivered themselves up to the Romans during the siege, could have spoken Greek, Josephus would not have been the only person who understood them.
Josephus, in the Prologue to his Greek translation of the history of the war, says, "I have proposed to translate into the Greek tongue, and to relate for those who live under the rule of the Romans, what I before composed in the language of my own country, and sent to the upper barbarians." A. M. Ceriani, of Milan, speaks of a part of this history as still existing in the Ambrosian Library of Milan, in Syriac. There is other proof that Syriac must be the language which Josephus calls that of his own country. Josephus says, "I thought it would be unbecoming to overlook the perversion of the truth with respect to events so important, and that Parthians, and Babylonians, and the remotest Arabians, and those of our own race beyond the Euphrates, and those of Adiabene"--a part of Assyria--"should know correctly, by means of my diligence, whence the war began, and amid what great sufferings it proceeded, and how it ended; and that the Greeks, and those of the Romans who were not in the war, should be ignorant of these things, and should be deceived by flatteries or fictions." If we compare the countries mentioned in this passage of Josephus with those named in Acts ii., as countries from which devout Jews had come who were then "dwelling at Jerusalem," we find in both accounts Parthians, Arabians, and dwellers in Mesopotamia. The words of Josephus prove that Syriac was well understood in these countries as well as in Palestine; and that the tongues spoken by the apostles, which excited the surprise of those who came from these countries, must have been other tongues than Syriac, which was spoken or read both in Palestine and in these countries. Peter, after the miraculous gift of tongues, addressed "all" these persons
then dwelling at Jerusalem, (Acts ii., 5, 14,) and must have spoken in a language which "all" could understand; for he intreated all to "hearken to his words." (Acts ii. 14.) This is proof that there must have been some language which all understood, and as Josephus states that Syriac was so generally known throughout the East, and there is no proof that any other language was so generally known there, it seems that the language to which Peter intreated all to hearken must have been Syriac. So that the events of that Pentecost concur with the testimony of Josephus to show how widely the Syriac language was understood.

Shlama w'Burkate, Larry Kelsey