Tag Archives: Aramaic

Akeldama – Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #6)

Over time, I’ve been doing a little series of posts on Aramaic in the New Testament. This is the sixth post.

This week, I came across an Aramaic term that I just couldn’t pass up. In Acts 1, we get a rather gruesome description of Judas’ suicide after his betrayal of Jesus. We’re told that the horrific hanging happened in a particular places called “Akeldama.” Here’s the passage:

18 (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) (Act 1:18-19 RSV)

Note on the Location

You can go look up the location, but basically it was and is a field of red clay dirt that was used by artisans in antiquity as a natural resource for making clay pots. In Matthew 27, 7, 10, the place is referred to as the “Potter’s Field” (Greek: τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως), hence the notion that the clay dirt was used for making clay pots. When it is called “field of blood” in Acts 1, the origin of the term might not be Judas’ suicide, but rather the red color of the dirt. The other thing to say is that Matthew and Acts differ on who purchased the field. In Acts, Judas bought the field, but in Matthew 27:7, the priests who paid Judas to betray Jesus bought the field to bury him. Either way, the location is still around and orthodox Christians have built a monastery on the place creatively nicknamed “Aceldama Monastery.” The field has also been used as a burial place.

Note on the Aramaic Word “Akeldama”

Simply, the word Akeldama transliterates the Greek “Ἁκελδαμάχ” (transliterated more precisely, Hakeldamach, note the appropriate rough breathing) which transliterates a combination of two Aramaic words: חֲקָל דְּמָא (chaqal dema). Some Greek manuscripts have a better spelling: Ἁκελδαμά (Act 1:19). Oddly, the English eliminates the Greek rough breathing which aims to transliterate the consonant chet. The word, dema or dma, means “blood” and appears many times in various combinations in Aramaic texts, as listed in the online Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. Here is the entry from Jastrow’s dictionary:

dma_Jastrow

 

So the word, dam or dema, normally means blood, but can also refer to other fluids. The other word is chaqal, which means field. Again, CAL has a great listing and here’s Jastrow:

chaqal_Jastrow

The word “Akeldama” represents then, the construct chain חֲקָל דְּמָא (chaqal dema). In which the first word, chaqal  is masculine singular construct and dema is masculine singular emphatic. The construct chain is definite since it is a proper noun–like “the king of Persia” in Ezra 4:24–hence “the Field of (the) Blood” is the best translation. Note that Luke refers to “their own dialect” (ta idia dialekto auton), which indicates both he and his intended reader, Theophilus, are not part of the group of native Aramaic speakers, but native Greek speakers.

Conclusion

I suppose there’s no rocket science involved in explaining Akeldama. I think the only thing to say is that the English could do a better job transliterating it – perhaps as Halkeldema. The word simply means what Luke says it means “field of blood.”

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Does Lust Need a Purpose?

Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #5)

 

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Matthew 5:28 records Jesus’ famous saying about the sinfulness of lust. Often it sounds like you can seriously sin by accident. Usually, the translation sounds something like this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28 NAB)

Greek Background

However, a closer inspection of the Greek and the various translations reveals a difficulty. The Greek does not say “look at a woman with lust.” Rather, it says “…look at a woman in order to lust [after her]” or “…look at a woman for the purpose of lust.” In Greek grammar, this is what we call a purpose clause, indicated by the short words, pros to, plus an infinitive in the Greek. A good example is in Ephesians 6:11 – “Put on the full armor of God in order that you may be able to stand against the scheming of the devil” (my trans.).

Aramaic Background

Recent grammarians have, however, relied on a hypothetical Aramaic background to this Greek saying. Rather than translating the phrase as a purpose clause, they have looked to a possible Aramaic construction, where the pros to represents an Aramaic lamed, a letter that functions as a particle indicating one of any number of things: a genitive relationship, direct object, indirect object, ethical dative, purpose, direction (See Alger Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, p. 11). Fr. Maximilian Zerwick explains the supposed Aramaic background of pros to in his Biblical Greek:

“Indeed the sense need not even be consecutive; in the passage in question [Matt 5:28] one would expect the sense ‘with concupiscence’ simply, and this may in fact be the sense intended, if the προσ το [pros to] can be understood as a servile rendering of a Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) le + infinitive which, though of it means ‘to(wards)…’ and so has final or consecutive sense, may also be used without any such connotation and simply with the sense ‘…-ing.’ (p. 135, sec. 391)

Notably, Fr. Zerwick relies a lot on what “one would expect.” The difference between the two translation options might seem inconsequential, but I think there’s an significant theological principle at stake.

Theology of Intention

What’s important here from a moral theology perspective is intention. When this passage is translated based on a hypothetical Aramaic reconstruction, rather than on the actual Greek text, it sounds as if one can seriously sin by accident. The typical translation weakens the intentionality of the act being indicated by the Greek grammar, making lust sound like an almost unintentional part of “looking” since “with lust” (or in RSV “lustfully”) merely functions as an adverb modifying the verb “to look.” But if it is translated as a purpose clause, which follows the Greek grammar most closely, then the teaching indicates that a moral intention must be involved—a decision to look for the purpose of lust or in order to lust.

A Better Translation?

And, if you really want to consider the Aramaic background, the le particle also works to indicate purpose, as I listed out above. So you can have your Aramaic cake and eat it too. The ESV translation, in my opinion, strikes the balance right, with this translation:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:28 ESV)

You can’t sin by accident. Lust involves an intentional choice to commit evil, to violate God’s commandments.

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Maranatha – Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #4)

A while back I started a series of posts on Aramaic in the New Testament–an odd topic that is tough to find much about on the Internet. I’m taking the Aramaic words and phrases in the New Testament on a case by case basis, breaking down the details and explaining what’s going on.

In this post, I want to examine a word you have probably heard before: Maranatha. This word/phrase only occurs once in the New Testament: in 1 Cor 16:22. In the Greek, it looks like this: μαράνα θά, but this actually has no meaning in Greek itself. It is a transliteration of the Aramaic, marana tha (מָרָנָא תָּה) or marana atha (מָרָנָא אֲתָה). The Greek manuscripts disagree about how to spell this transliteration. Some have maran atha, others maranatha (you can see how these two match the second version of the Aramaic above) and the one I’ve chosen which is the text in the Nestle-Aland 27th critical edition.

This phrase even in Aramaic is a little grammatically confusing. It basically means “Our Lord, come!” so we have to point out three different elements:

1. The noun for “Lord” is mar. (As in Mar Ephrem, the great saint of Syriac/Aramaic Christianity.)

2. The suffix -na means “our.” Hence, “marana” is “our Lord.”

3. The verb tha (Come!) is the Peal Imperative 2nd masculine singular of the the verb atha. Atha means “he comes” and shows up in the alternate forms of maranatha. It is simply the 3rd masculine singular perfect form, the dictionary form for this word.

So maranatha can be translated either as “Our Lord, come!” or as “Our Lord comes/will come.” It could be a plea or a statement of fact. Many translators prefer the “plea form” since it is supported by the brief prayer in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

This word only appears once in the New Testament, but it reappears in a very early Christian document, the Didache. Gareth Hughes wrote a little study on comparing the two uses of the word here.

There’s a little taste of Aramaic to begin your new year!

EDIT: I wanted to add a chart of the possibilities here for clarity’s sake.

Words Translation Parsing for Verb in bold
marana tha Our Lord, come! Peal Imperative 2nd masc singular (Older Imperial Aramaic)
maran atha Our Lord comes/will come Peal Perfect 3rd masc singular
maran atha Our Lord, come! Peal Imperative 2nd masc singular (Later 1st century Aramaic)

Here’s a very old article on Maranatha by Nathaniel Schmidt (1894).

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Tabitha (Acts 9:36, 40) – Aramaic in NT Post #3

Tabitha (Acts 9:36, 40) is a person who shows up a couple times in Acts.

In Greek: ??????
In Aramaic: ????????

I’m borrowing the Aramaic transcription from Thayer’s Lexicon. He gets it from Kautzsch’s Aramaic grammar. It is a female given name seemingly related to the Aramaic word for good (tab). So it means “good, precious, worth” or something like that. Here a couple dictionary entries on it: DJPA and Jastrow p. 515b. (It is not related to the word “talitha” discussed below.) It seems similar to the names Tobias and Tobit which are related to the same root word in Hebrew and Aramaic.

However, Acts 9:36 indicates that name “translated, means Dorcas.” Well, maybe this is helpful for Greek speakers, but us English-speaking folk need a little more help. So, if you happen to look up Dorcas (??????) in a Greek dictionary, it means “antelope, gazelle.” So, what the heck? Is Tabitha really related to tab or not? It seems not.

The real root of Tabitha in Aramaic is the word for gazelle, ??? (tby). The “-tha” ending just feminizes the masculine word. Here’s Jastrow’s entry:
http://www.catholicbiblestudent.com/uploaded_images/tby-726702.JPG

So, Tabitha means gazelle. I suppose that that is a complimentary female name. Now, there is one other point of interest here. In Acts 9:40, Tabitha has died and Peter goes in to the body, pronounces the words “Tabitha, arise” and she is raised from the dead. Of course, this looks a lot like the phrase Jesus used “Talitha, qum” or “Talitha, arise.” Very interesting that these two resurrection stories have such similar words. Also, it seems that the minor variant “tabitha” in Mark 5:41 probably originated from confusion with Acts 9:40. But it seems that this is merely a coincidence. “Little girl” and “gazelle” mean very different things even though they are only one letter different.

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Talitha cum! (Mark 5:41) (Aramaic in NTPost #2)

This is my favorite use of Aramaic in the New Testament.

Overview of this series
Many scholars conjecture Aramaic underpinnings to much of the Greek in the New Testament. They will cite “Semitic influence,” “semiticisms,” or “Aramaisms.” The point is that a lot of the writers of the NT were GSL people (Greek as a second language). Some people used to think that parts of the NT were originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic (especially the Gospel of Matthew), but very few people hold that anymore. Most folks think that the NT was written by Aramaic speakers who were bilingual in Greek. Although some deny knowledge of Aramaic or Hebrew to certain NT authors.

What I want to do in these posts is highlight something more specific: the use of transliterated Aramaic in the NT. “What weird idea!” you might say. But these curious words are often misunderstood or simply not understood since they are rarely translated into English, they are simply transliterated (i.e. the sounds are reproduced by English letters) from Greek because they were transliterated into Greek from Aramaic. Now, this gets a little complicated because the Greek does not necessarily show all the features of the Aramaic. I mean, Aramaic is written right to left with no vowels and such. Greek attempts to reproduce the sound of the Aramaic, but isn’t always faithful or consistent.

Side note: one of the ways we know how ancient Hebrew and Aramaic were pronounced is through the use of transliteration in the Greek NT, but more importantly, the ancient Septuagint translation of the Bible. Most transliterated words are names since they are notoriously hard to translate.

Talitha cum! (Mark 5:41)
In Aramaic: טַלִיתָא קום
Transliterated into Greek: ταλιθα κουμ

Now, the first word we can find in the Jastrow Aramaic Dictionary:

If you notice, the vowel pointing I used is a little different than Jastrow’s because I’m working back from the Greek transliteration, but no matters, it’s the same word. So the word basically means “young girl” or something like that. There’s a very similar word for boy (taley).

Now qum is a very common word which means “to stand, arise.” But here’s the fascinating part. In Aramaic, qum is used as a second masculine singular imperative, which would make perfect sense here IF the dead person were a boy. The feminine version would be  קומי qumi! So a couple questions arise, so to speak: 1.) Is the Greek faithful to the Aramaic? 2.) Are there textual variants? 3.) Is the dead person actually male?

In reverse order:
3.) We know from the previous verses, esp. v.35, that it was a daughter who had died, not a son. She is usually referred to as “child” (paidion in Greek) which is a neuter word. But, we know it’s a daughter, so the dead person is female, not male.
2.) There are textual variants! Now, don’t get too excited. Sinaiticus, Vaticanus are on the side of the text qum. But Alexandrinus, Koridethianus and a few others have qumi (well, it’s actually in “κουμι” in Greek transliteration). I guess the New Testament text committee decided on qum because of B and א. There’s a few other witnesses that have ταβιθα instead. But these are very rare.
1.) Ah! And lastly, it appears that no, the Greek doesn’t quite capture the Aramaic. The variants are probably corrections rather than representing an earlier text. It also seems that most of the early copyists did not know Aramaic, so they wouldn’t be tempted to correct it.

The translation usually given “Little girl, arise!” is quite good. The Greek inserts “I say to you” just to clarify that it is an imperative.

Well, now you know more than you ever could have wanted about this passage. Now you can impress your friends with your Aramaic knowledge!

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Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #1)

Anathema (1 Cor 16:22)
Bethesda (John 5:2)
Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani! (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34)
Gabbatha (John 19:15)
Golgotha (John 19:17)
Kephas or Cephas (John 1:42, et al.)
Maranatha! (1 Cor 16:22)
Rabboni (John 20:16)
Raqa (Matt 5:22)
Siloam (Luke 13:4; John 9:7, 9:11)
sign on the cross (John 19:20)
Tabitha (Acts 9:36, 40)
Talitha cum! (Mark 5:41)

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