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On the Incoherence of Aramaic Primacy II
On the Incoherence of Aramaic Primacy II

Aramaic Primacy, formerly known as ???translation Greek theory,??? appears convincing. Its basic assumptions are simple: (a) the earliest Christians used Aramaic to advance the Christian movement in and outside Judea (b) composing books in Aramaic was common in Judaism and Christianity © every word in the Greek Gospels, written in koine Greek, is a translation of the Aramaic originals. The scope of this essay is limited to assumption ©. Aramaic primacy???s general methodology used to prove its case includes (1) locating a piece of composition within the Greek NT that ???looks Semitic??? and/or corresponds to Semitic syntax, deeming it evidence of translation (2) locating an alleged Aramaicism in the Greek Gospels that seems corrupted, deeming it as evidence of mistranslation. I will show that every word in the Greek gospels cannot stem from an Aramaic original because the former contains Greek idioms and formalities of speech that have no counterpart in the Aramaic language.

In the gospel of Mark, we find the participle ??????. After the decline of classical Greek, this participle, among many others, lessened in usage. However, post-classical Greek speakers, from after the Ptolemaic period until the second century CE, frequently used it in official writing because, to them, it was the mark of education and prestige to use the classical language in formal situations. Interestingly enough, when examining the gospel of Mark, this participle can only be found in Jesus??? words. It is detected in five instances: 4:4, 9:12, 12:5, 14:21, and 14:38. On this note, J.A.L. Lee notes:

M????, we have seen, is a prestige feature associated with formal and educated Greek. In Mark it appears only in the speech of Jesus. The natural conclusion is that as regards this feature at least, Jesus speaks "better", more formal Greek than is spoken by those around him and used by Mark in the narrative. It may be difficult to establish how this came about, but the essential reason for it is readily seen: Jesus speaks in a manner appropriate to his status.

Alongside ??????, there were other participles that post-classical Greek speakers incorporated into their formal speech, such as???????????????????its purpose was to displace the participle ???? in favor of ???proper??? Greek. It, too, can be located in Mark???s gospel (14:7); it, too, have no counterpart in Aramaic. Finally, the use of ???? ???? is found in Jesus??? words. It is normally associated with the subjunctive or future for a prohibition or strong denial. While it is a common feature in classical Greek, it is less so in post-classical. As a point of reference, the LXX is also heavily dependent upon its use. In the Gospels, we find this term in seven places (Mk. 14:31, Mt. 26:35, 16:22, Lk. 1:15, Jn. 13:8, 20:25, 11:56). Regarding this term, Lee states:

Turning to the LXX, one is struck by the great frequency of this feature. More than 800 occurrences are recorded by Hatch- Redpath.73 These are spread throughout, though with notable concentrations in the Pentateuch, Job, Ps., Si., and the prophetical books. The exact figures for the Pentateuch and Isaiah, for exam- ple, are 82 and 103 respectively (Rahlfs' text). Why the translators made such frequent use of it we can only guess. Hebraism can be ruled out at once: there is no equivalent Hebrew (or Aramaic) idiom???.Moulton reached the conclusion that the frequency of ???? ???? in OT quotations and sayings of Jesus may be put down to "a feeling that inspired language was fitly rendered by words of a peculiarly decisive tone". This conclusion is not far from the mark, but on the way to it Moulton argued that excessive use of ???? ???? is linked with translation from Semitic originals, which includes sayings of Jesus; that it has weaker emphasis in "translation Greek" than elsewhere; and (less clearly) that this over-use of unemphatic ou0 [ur is connected with "elementary Greek culture". Moulton here seems to me to be following a quite false trail. Without a corresponding Hebrew or Aramaic idiom, there can be no causal connexion between the use of ???? ???? and translation from Semitic originals. Translation therefore does not explain the concentration of ???? ???? in sayings any more than it explains its frequency in the LXX.

Apart from the fact that no equivalent for ???? ???? exists in Aramaic, it is significant to reiterate that Mark???s use of this term shows LXX influence. An Aramaic speaking evangelist, writing for his countrymen in first century Israel, is expected to have quoted from the OT targums/peshitta, since his audience was well-versed in these books. But the employment of ???? ???? in Mark???s Gospel suggests that he was writing for a Greek-speaking audience, familiar with the Greek OT. The only group that fits this profile were Hellenic Jews:

Whatever the reason for the frequency of ???? ???? in the LXX, it must have been a very noticeable characteristic of the version for those who heard and read it. In view of this and its unexpected frequency in the NT as compared with contemporary Greek, we may reasonably conclude that it came into NT usage largely from the LXX. It follows that its tone is likely to have been formal and dignified, as is true generally of LXX features in the NT, moreover in this case there is the association with prophecy and the like to add further to its formal character.

Apart from the use of classical Greek participles, the Greek gospels contain idioms that have no counterpart in Aramaic, such as:
1) The genitive absolute (occurs 132 in the gospels)
2) The genitive of the father???s name or ???patronymic genitive.??? While Aramaic uses the word ???son of_____,??? the Greek uses [name of son] of [name of father]. This can be found in (Lk 6 :16; cf. Mt 10: 2, 3; Mk 2: 14; 3: 17, 18; Lk 6: 15)
3) The genitive masculine singular article in the sense of ???the son of.??? This is used before the name of a grandfather. It occurs seventy-five in Luke 3:23-38 and has no parallel in Aramaic.
4) The way of giving a person???s age. In Hebrew and Aramaic, it is expressed as ???son of x number of years,??? but this is never expressed in the Gospels. Instead, age is expressed as the genitive of x number of years, preceded by ????. It has no counterpart in Aramaic. We find numerous examples of this in the papyri, including Tebtunis Papyri, II, 376:32; 380:33, 34. In the Gospels, it is located in Mk 5:42, Lk 2:42, 3:23

5) The expressions ???? ????????????, ???? ??????????, ?????????? ???????????? have no counterpart in Aramaic. These can be found in all four Gospels.

6) The occurrence of the phrase ???????????????? ??????????. This expression is used, in Greek documents, in the sense of knowing how to read and write. In the Gospel of John, it is used to extinguish the charge that Jesus was illiterate (Jn 7:53-8:11). It is found, on numerous occasions, in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri 53:16; 67:24; 69:23; 72:37; 76:36; 77:30; 83:27; 85:24; 86:26; 91:40; 101:59; 106:24). Of course, there is no equivalent in Aramaic expression.

7) On a contextual note, mentioning the assemblies of ???the Pharisees and all the Jews??? as a separate group in Mk 7:3-4, or the ceremonial purifications practiced by the Jews or mention of the pool of Bethzatha located ???in Jersualem, near the Sheepgate (Jn 5:2) is a strange way of speaking for a person who is writing in Aramaic, for Aramaic-speaking Jews. As it is absurd to suppose that Jews would refer to themselves as an out-group, these expressions must be ways of introduction to persons unfamiliar with the evangelists??? settings and groups. If that is the case, then it is unlikely that he wrote in Aramaic for the purpose of conversion.

In conclusion, we have a short survey of Greek participles and idioms that are problematic to the A.P. position. If the Greek Gospels were direct translations of the Aramaic originals, then we would not find anything therein that cannot be precisely expressed in Aramaic. Since we do find terms that are inexpressible in Aramaic, we must conclude that the Greek Gospels are not direct translations of Aramaic originals. Of course, further research is needed to distinguish exactly how much of the Gospels are pure Greek and from what is Aramaic.


Riddle, Donald. "The Logic of the Theory of Translation Greek." Journal of Biblical Literature 51.1 (1932): 14.
Lee, J. A. L. "Some Features of the Speech of Jesus in Mark's Gospel." Novum Testamentum 27. (1985): 6. 27 Mar 2010
Lee, J. A. L. "Some Features of the Speech of Jesus in Mark's Gospel." Novum Testamentum 27. (1985): 20-22. 27 Mar 2010
Goodspeed, Edgar J. "Greek Idiom in the Gospels." Journal of Biblical Literature, 63.2 (1944): 27 Mar 2010.

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On the Incoherence of Aramaic Primacy II - by Kara - 03-27-2010, 07:33 PM

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