Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What's peshat with the Peshitta, Part III: Jewish? Christian?

Having twice posted about the פשיטתא, Peshitta ('What's peshat with the Peshitta I, II) I now return for round three.

As previously mentioned, an interesting (and to my mind) attractive theory of the origins of this Syriac translation of the Bible ascribes is to Jewish origin; perhaps it was even prepared for the Syriac-speaking Jewish converts of the royal house of Adiabene (חדיב) in the 1st century CE.

In any case, J. Perles, in 1859, first advanced the notion of a Jewish origins for the Peshitta in his doctoral dissertation Meletemata Peschitthoniana.

He noted many quirks which, he felt, could only be explained by a Jewish origin. Here are several examples:

1) Gen. 8:4. Ararat, אררט, given as Qardu, קרדו, in Targum Onqelos. So too in the Peshitta.

2) Gen. 30:28. Noqbhoh, נקבה, translated as 'appoint' in JPS, 'name' in Kaplan's Living Torah, and so forth, is rendered פריש, which literally means 'to separate' or 'set aside.' This is just what the Peshitta translates it as. Evidently this usage comports with a Jewish dialect of Aramaic.

So much for lone words. Now comes the matter of translation which is looser, but richer in interpretation.

3) ii Chr. 33:7. 'he set the graven image of the idol,' (JPS). The Peshitta takes this further and writes לצלמא דארבעה אפין (I didn't actually do my homework yet, and I need to look up the exact wording and spelling; this is from memory), 'a statue of four faces.' This is found in BT Sanhederin 103b (look it up!), commenting on this verse:

[Scripture writes, And he set] the graven image,' but it is also stated, [And the groves and the] graven images, [which he had set up].R. Johanan said: At first he made it with one face, but subsequently he made it with four faces. (Soncino)

4) Ezra 9:4. The verse says "at the evening offering," (JPS). The Peshitta foreshadows BT Berakhos 26a, in that it renders this as 'at the ninth hour,' i.e., the precise rabbinical time of the 'afternoon.'

Seems Jewish, doesn't it? However, another school of thought (begun by Gesenius) held that it did not have Christian origins. In response to these things this school modified its position a bit and allowed that the translator(s) might have been Jewish, but could well have been a Jewish Christian.

They noted that the Peshitta includes christological translations, such as in Is. 7:14, giving `almah as betulta (virgin) instead of tselaymeta, as used elsewhere for `almah. The response to this, naturally, is that it might have been a later interpolation. Of course this may be, but there obviously is no proof that it is.

Secondly, Is. 53:8 (the suffering servant part) translates lamo as to him, instead of to them, which is theoretically the Christian and not Jewish interpretation of this chapter. This is, in my opinion, a particularly slender reed.

Finally, an interesting piece of evidence for the Christian side was advanced by L. Hirzel in 1825: that the list of unclean birds in Lev. 11 sometimes transliterates from the Hebrew, rather than translates, and in some cases skips terms entirely. The interpretation given to this fact was that this sort of negligence could only have come from a Christian translator who was a) less fluent in the Hebrew original than would be expected of a Jew, and b) such matters as the dietary laws of the Old Testament would be of great concern to a Jew, but of considerably less to a Christian, therefore this sort of haphazard translation must have been the work of a Christian.

The reply to this, of course, is perhaps the translator was merely at a loss for the correct Syriac word to use.

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