Monday, February 23, 2009

The original spoken Aramaic or written Greek?

Restoring the original Greek in the Gospels is often insufficient to restore the original meaning of the text. In some cases translating the Greek misleads the readers.
Example: in Mat. 21,41 (kakous kakós apolesei autous) all modern translations I checked read something like “He will put those wretches (kakous) to a miserable (kakós) death” (NRSV). However, the Syriac Peshitta (d-bish bish nawbed ‘enun) as well as the Christian Palestinian Aramaic (bish bisha’ith – cf. Codex Climaci Rescriptus 1, in Müller-Kessler & Sokoloff, CCPA, IIA p. 23) understood the combination kakous kakós to represent the emphatic double adverb of the original (spoken) Aramaic. I think they are correct, and we should translate “He will completely wipe them out” or something like that. Reading kakous as a direct object, which is the natural from the Greek text only, is misunderstanding the sentence.
Two consequences:
1. In the Gospels sometimes restoring what was originally said (in Aramaic) is more important than restoring what was originally written (in Greek).
2. Modern translations often pay insufficient attention to early translations of the Greek New Testament.

19 Comments:

Ryan said...

Fascinating thoughts, Gie. As conversations about the "original text" often do, it does start to blur the line I think between textual criticism and, say, traditional source criticism, but I think those are lines worth exploring.

P.J. Williams said...

I would question whether it is ever possible to reconstruct Aramaic behind Greek gospels with any great degree of certainty. A problem with the reconstruction Gie suggests is that you have to suppose that a Greek translator rendered the same word in two different ways. A second problem is that although the word order of the Greek and Syriac corresponds, we do not know that the Greek Gospels were literally translated. We know therefore less about the word order of their Vorlage. IMHO Gospel scholarship has suffered too long under misguided attempts to reconstruct Aramaic behind the Greek Gospels.

Gie Vleugels said...

Peter williams said:
"A problem with the reconstruction Gie suggests is that you have to suppose that a Greek translator rendered the same word in two different ways." So what?
1. It is a matter of fact that the Syriac translation of two different words (kakous kakós) could be two identical Syriac words. Why couldn't the reverse have happened.
2. It would have been impossible for a Greek translator to render the double Aramaic word as two identical words in (decent) Greek.

Randall Buth said...

Looks like fun.

First, if someone wanted to take a hypothetical double adverb bish bish and preserve the form in Greek, one might try κακα κακως if wanting to avoid the same form. Otherwise κακως λιαν. Or a double adverb like Shepherd 12: μεγάλως καὶ θαυμαστῶς ἔχει τὸ πρᾶγμα τοῦτο.
However, the Greek of Mt makes good sense as it is and the idiom and word order κακους Obj κακως Adv απολλεσθαι Verb suggests that it is a formulation in Greek. Josephus has three examples of the same idiom and order: Antiq. 2.300, 7.291, 12.256. I would side with Pete in so far as doubting that the Syriac-Aramaic proposal is reliable.

More fundamentally, though, I am bothered by attitudes in NT academia where we can ignore a basic fact pointed out by Segal about 101 years ago. Whether in Aramaic contexts or Hebrew contexts, story parables are always in Hebrew in rabbinic literature. Many have similar themes as in our gospel parables. In fact, this parable has a distinct Hebrew wordplay in 'son' and 'stone' that argues for the scripture being original, the 'son' being original, and atomistic exegesis, e.g., Kloppenberg, being wrong. (Kloppenberg had the gall in 2006 to reject the wordplay on the grounds that it was Hebrew. Talk about NT criticism being out of touch with mishnaic Hebrew scholarship! Barr 1988 is still relevant: the NT guild hasn't digested 2nd temple Jewish linguistic culture yet.)

Anyway, I am still waiting to hear of a recovered Aramaic story parable from ancient Jewish sources. All things are possible, not everything is probable. So far the count is 0 versus more than two thousand Hebrew story parables.

Gie Vleugels said...

The occurrence of the combination in Josephus strengthens my claim.
Look for instance at Josephus, Antiquitates VII,291: boulesth' kakoi kakós apolesthai;
Translation by Thackeray-Marcus renders (I would say correctly) "Do you wish to perish most miserably?"
Kakoi is not the subject, but together with kakós represents the Aramaic double (= emphatic) adverb.

Randall Buth said...

Strengthens or undermines?

Antiq 2.300
κακοὶ κακῶς ἀπώλλυντο
Antiq 7.291
καὶ βούλεσθ᾿, εἰποῦσα, κακοὶ κακῶς ἀπολέσθαι
Antiq 12.καὶ παρ᾿ οἷς εὑρέθη
καὶ αὐτοὶ κακοὶ κακῶς ἀπώλλυντο.
(Note the pronoun along with the adjective in the last example, just like Matt.)

I don't follow your comment on 7.291. the Greek κακοι is a nominative modifying the subject of βουλεσθε. Ant. 7.291 would be rendered in English
"do you wish, bad people, to perish badly?"
The other texts confirm this idiom. The only difference with Matthew is that the agent of the destruction is specified. In any case, the Greek of Matt is clear and idiomatic and a mistranslation hypothesis becomes unnecessary.

One must also ask if the proposed reconstruction helps, and if it is attested? Is it natural Western Aramaic? Where is it in the targumim or yerushalmi? I don't see it. It appears to be a Syriacism. The Greek as it stands is not problematic. Why would we choose to move from the clear and certain to the 'maybe'? And as a further check, I would ask what it would sound like in Hebrew? It is not attested mishnaic Hebrew that I know of.

All of these are good reasons for supposing that the Syriac translators of the Greek NT are fitting Mt's Greek to a Syriac idiom, but not revealing an original saying. I don't think that Mt 21.41 ever existed in a Semitic language. It was composed by Matthew in Greek. Behind Mk 12.9 and Lk 20.16 in the parable itself we have ἐλεύσεται καὶ ἀπολέσει τοὺς γεωργοὺς τούτους καὶ δώσει τὸν ἀμπελῶνα ἄλλοις.
יבוא ואבד את החכירים האלה ונתן את הכרם לאחרים
or variations on this.

the Hebrew actually raises one last problem. The oral performance of the parable would probably have been in mishnaic Hebrew, but there are indications that the Jerusalem Church probably wrote up the accounts of the New Moses in a literary Hebrew, like Qumran or 1Maccabees. Hence the style above.

Daniel Buck said...

"The oral performance of the parable would probably have been in mishnaic Hebrew, but there are indications that the Jerusalem Church probably wrote up the accounts of the New Moses in a literary Hebrew"

This bears supporting. Are you arguing for a Hebrew original of Matthew in which all such dialogue was verbatim, untranslated Hebrew?

If so, what we have now, if it is based on an autograph, is Matthew's Koine edition of his gospel, with all Scripture quotations conformed to the LXX rather than being Greek translations of what Jesus actually said.

In 21:42 of the Greek edition of Matthew, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118, a very close translation of the MT except that, with the LXX, he adds a 'kai' to the last clause.

This changes the meaning. Jesus asked, "Haven't you ever read . . ." to which our answer would be, if the whole conversation took place in Hebrew, no, they never read 'kai'.

Randall Buth said...

shalom Daniel,

On support, a start is provided in a 90 page article by Buth and Kvasnica, in Notley, ed., Jesus Last Week, Brill, 2006, dealing with this parable.

Please note that I specifically mentioned in comments in this thread above that Matthew wrote in Greek and that there was no Semitic original to our Matthew, here. We are dealing with multiple layers. Original event. Oral retelling. Writeup in a Hebrew דברי ישוע. Translation(s) to Greek. Development of Greek sources into the synoptics, however you envisage this. Finally, canonical Greek Matthew writing his account with a Greek idiom at Mt 21.41. Incidentally, many see the groups of emissaries in Mt and Mk as secondary to the simple sendings in Luke, probably the more original form of the parable. but arguments are subjective. see article above.

Mr Wizzard said...

It looks like the HCSB got the meaning you see on this one.
"“He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told Him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.”" (Matthew 21:41, HCSB)

I've become more and more a fan of the way it has translated many things. Though my own knowledge of the original languages is very very limited, I do have Logos to help me out in my studies.

Randall Buth said...

PS: earlier, by 'oral performance' I was referring to Jesus' orally presenting the parable to his audience in the scene described in Lu 20 Mk 12 Mt 21.

P.J. Williams said...

I think that Randall makes some very interesting points.

To Gie,
Ad 1: We have a general paucity of material showing either Aramaic to Greek translation or Greek to Aramaic translation in the first century. I would not therefore like to say that such and such could not possibly have happened. At the same time, the Peshitta's rendering is inherited from the Old Syriac (Sys, Syc) and we therefore need to consider the Old Syriac translation technique, which does not seek verbatim correspondence.

Ad 2: There is an internal tension in your argument that the putative Greek translators could not have rendered the putative Aramaic a certain way because that would not have been decent Greek, since you are also arguing that what the translators actually did write isn't decent enough Greek and needs to be explained on the basis of an Aramaic idiom.

Gie Vleugels said...

Let me first come back to the passages in Josephus with the κακοὶ κακῶς combination.
I quote Randall:
"Antiq 12.καὶ παρ᾿ οἷς εὑρέθη
καὶ αὐτοὶ κακοὶ κακῶς ἀπώλλυντο.
(Note the pronoun along with the adjective in the last example, just like Matt.)"
Indeed, in none of these cases should κακοὶ be read as the subject. Randall (and I guess almost everyone except Peshitta and CPA) reads it as apposition to the subject. Why? Because (like an adverb!) it can be left out without destroying the sentence.
In Mat. 21,41 you can drop κακοὺς and the sentece has still a direct object: αὐτούς.
It is easier to take it always as an emphatic adverb (as Thackeray-Marcus do in VII,291) than to read it as an apposition.
Josephus, like the speakers in Mt. 21,41, has Aramaic for his mother tongue, and the Aramaic comes through here and there. Do we find the construction in Plato?

Gie Vleugels said...

Hello Peter (Williams),
Your 2nd objection is well put.
"since you are also arguing that what the translators actually did write isn't decent enough Greek and needs to be explained on the basis of an Aramaic idiom."
But wouldn't κακῶς κακῶς look more clumsy than κακοὺς κακῶς ?
I admit that the argument based on the 'decency' of the Greek text is not very weighty.

Randall Buth said...

Gie-
>Indeed, in none of these cases should κακοὶ be read as the subject.

What's the point of the nominaative plural, if not to co-reference the subject?

Gie-
>Plato.

How about Sophocles Oid.Tyr. 248, Aris. Pl 65 and LSJM note "Adv. and Adjective frequently coupled in Tragedians, Attic, etc."

Sophocles Ajax 839 κακους κακιστα goes one step further. Sophocles Phoenicians 1369 κακως ... απολλυσθαι κακους.

I rest my case. Next item:

How do we know that Josephus first language was Aramaic? because 20th century scholars provide an echo chamber? Josephus knew written and oral Law well (Life 2 [7-9]) but never mentions learning Hebrew. He wrote War 'in the patriarchal language', which in War 5.272 turns out to be Hebrew. ('ben ba-a "stone is coming" is unambiguously Hebrew and sounds like υιος ερχεται ben ba. NB: this is an instant warning shouted to the Jewish populace below.) Most 'anti' evidence is dubious at best, like -a endings on Greek transliterations. the same evidence would prove that the Hebrew Bible was written in Aramaic! When Josephus said that σαββατα was from Hebrew 'rest' he was correct, contra most moderns who are distracted by the -a. Aramaic is נח not שבת.

So what was his mother-tongue? I don't know, but he was tri-liingual and from an early age.

Randall Buth said...

PSS:
a correction on a point of Gie's:
Gie-"But wouldn't κακῶς κακῶς look more clumsy than κακοὺς κακῶς ?"

As mentioned, the double adverbial would have been κακα κακως, not κακους ... .
κακους κακως is a good Greek idiom.

Anonymous said...

Williams wrote: "We have a general paucity of material showing either Aramaic to Greek translation or Greek to Aramaic translation in the first century."

I have frequently read that Aramaic was the spoken language of first century Palestine. If there are few to no Aramaic to Greek or Greek to Aramaic translations, then was Aramaic really in common use after all?

What about the targumim? Is there no Greek translation of them? Do any of the New Testament or Hebrew Bible trajectories reflect the influence of the targumim?

If there are more translations from Hebrew to Greek or Greek to Hebrew, does that mean that Hebrew was not really "dead" yet?

Scholars have always seemed very divided on this issue to me.

Randall Buth said...

Dear Anonymous,
you raise issues not easily answered in a blog comment. I would suggest outside reading, especially by scholars of mishnaic Hebrew. There was a Hebrew diglossia, a written, literary Hebrew and a colloquial spoken Hebrew, in use throughout the Second Temple. the Land of Israel was multilingual, not monolingual or bilingual. and the writers of the Bible during the Second Temple were not 'blowing smoke' but were actually communicating with the people when writing all of that material in Hebrew. In fact, the targumim are only really attested from after the Second Temple. [Job is a special case in Hebrew and we do have an apparent eastern import available at Qumran in two copies. The Old Greek made use of Aramaic, too, (42:17ff) when translating the strange Hebrew dialect of Job.]

Anonymous said...

Randall Buth wrote: "I would suggest outside reading, especially by scholars of mishnaic Hebrew."

I have read several of Neusner's works, but perhaps not the "right" ones. Do you have a brief bibliography you would suggest?

My "majority" of scholarly literature I have read seemed to say that Aramaic was the spoken and written lingua franca of 1st Century Palestine (the targumim supposedly attesting to this...), that Greek was sort of a secondary mode of communication, Latin a third, and Hebrew merely used in worship (not unlike Latin today).

Regardless, I would highly appreciate a brief bibliography that would update my understanding of this issue! Thanks in advance for any help!

Randall Buth said...

Well, first of all, Neusner is not a scholar of mishnaic Hebrew.

I would start with names like Kutscher and Bar Asher. Kutscher was the 'dean' of mishnaic Hebrew and Aramaic studies a generation ago. Bar Asher is one of his students and is a premier Aramaist and mishnaisist. Some of their work appears in English. Qimron and Sokolof are two more of Kutscher's students with articles available in English. If you really get going, there is a two volume work called leshon miqra ulshon Haxamim by Abba Bendavid, 1967. It is mainly based on printed texts, thus held in a second tier among mishnaic scholars today, but it is the most comprehensive introduction to many stylistic issues and has about an 80 page discussion on the development and use of languages during the Second Temple.

One caveat when reading on this subject is to make sure that the author is familiar with secondary literature published in Hebrew. If not, the survey may be less than reliable.