Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What's peshat with the Peshitta?

There is a very interesting translation of the Bible called the Peshitta. It is written in Syriac, which is basically the eastern dialect of Aramaic--as Max Weinreich famously said ah shprakh iz ah diyalekt mit an armey un a flot, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Strictly speaking this isn't true for Syriac, but roughly speaking Syriac is Christian Aramaic, and to the extent that there was a Christendom there could be a completely language called Syriac rather than two dialects of the same language, yesterday called Chaldaic, today called Aramaic. But I digress.

The Peshitta is sort of like the Aramaic targums are, except that it is younger than, say, Targum 'Onqelos. It also was produced by Christians--although there are theories that it actually stems from a Jewish source. R. Chaim Heller (1878-1960), author of Untersuchungen ueber die Peschitta, was of this opinion, although it should be pointed out that the Seridei Esh, who wrote his doctorate in the Peshitta really lambasted R. Heller's scholarship. But I digress.

Any yeshiva bochur knows that peshitta means something like "explanation" although it is also a technical Talmudic term that means, roughly, "duh" (but you have to say it with the proper "I know that already!" inflection).

The Peshitta is useful to Bible scholars (and yes, talmidei hakhamim) because it is an ancient textual "witness" to the Torah.

Update: Devora Khayyat informed me that the Syriac script of the Peshitta is called

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