A colleague of mine, Charles Häberl has directed this delightful animation set to a story in Mandaic Neo-Aramaic. Be sure to turn on captioning for English subtitles if you can’t keep up… I had to…
“Short animation based upon the Neo-Mandaic story “Histoire de Chah Adel” in de Morgan, Jean-Jacques. 1904. Mission Scientfique En Perse Par J. de Morgan, Tome V, Etudes Linguistiques, Deuxieme Partie: Textes Mandaites. Edited by Ernest Leroux. Paris: Imprimerie nationale. Narrated by Nasser Abu Issa Sobbi. Made possible by support from the Encyclopædia Iranica.” (YouTube)
In this case, it is also a prime example of how a Google search can go terribly wrong.
Long story short, I came across this book cover a few days ago:
If you can’t make out the text at the top, it reads: “Aramaic Bible: The Aramaic Covenants • Aramaic Peshitta.” Here is an excerpt from this book’s website:
This work is a new edition from translations of the Ancient Aramaic. For example this new edition uses the name of MarYah Eashoa Msheekha (Lord Yeshua Messiah). It also uses the word Allaha for HaShem (G-d). The Ancient Aramaic translates the correct name of ‘Eil witch refers to the ‘Absolutely Eternal’ Allaha, and it introduces the Aramaic rendering of Maran for Lord, Along with other Ancient Galilean Aramaic renderings.
So let’s take a moment to pick this apart and make some sense of it. I could be wrong, but the Netzari website appears to be a Messianic sect in the Sacred Name Movement persuasion that has produced a “new edition” from (apparently) extant translations of Aramaic texts where the names have been changed to (rather poor) transliterations of late Classical Eastern Syriac terms because they — among others — are “Ancient Galilean Aramaic renderings.”
Despite… serious methodological problems, I can at least navigate around all of that and make sense of it… but there is one glaring problem that I don’t get:
Why is there Brahmi text about Buddhism on the cover of an Aramaic book about Messianic Christianity?
Yes, that wonderful carved text is in Brahmi script from one of the Edicts of Ashoka at Sarnath — official declarations issued in the 3rd century BCE in effort to spread Buddhism. Many of the Ashoka inscriptions were bi- or tri-lingual… and this is where the Aramaic confusion comes in.
When this image was originally uploaded to Wikipedia, it was under the title “Aramaic Inscriptures in Sarnath.jpg“. Whoever uploaded it simply made a mistake, as one of the languages that Ashoka did use from time to time was Imperial Aramaic. This image, however, simply wasn’t such an example, so the author subsequently corrected this mistake by changing the description to “Inscription in Brahmi on the pillar of Sarnath.” (Scroll down on the Wikimedia page, you’ll see it.)
However, guess which title Google Image Search snapped up?
Now, if someone is trying to produce a “translation” of the Aramaic New Testament to help spread their faith in Christianity, but they can’t tell Aramaic apart from an inscription in a different language which just so happens to be about spreading Buddhism that they came across on Google — perhaps they should reconsider what they’re up to.
UPDATE: They seem to have taken the hint, and have changed their book cover to a much more boring red-ish-thing. However, they are still going through with publishing it…
Most churches do a Passion Play this time of year, re-enacting the final moments of Jesus up to and including the crucifixion. Most of these Passion Plays tend to include Jesus’ final words as recorded in Matthew and Luke which appear in most Bibles transliterated as:
“Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani?”
“How the heck do you pronounce *that*?” I am asked often enough. “Eh-loy eh-loy llama sab-ach!-thane-y?”
And my answer is: You don’t.
In truth, this phrase has been subject to a game of telephone, which started in Aramaic and twisted its way through Greek, and some German spelling conventions, before landing in English.
This phrase is an Aramaic translation of the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?”
As we can see from extant translations in other Aramaic dialects, in Jesus’ native Galilean Aramaic, it was most likely rendered:
אלהי אלהי למה שבקתני
əlahí əlahí ləmáh šəvaqtáni
(The funny upside-down e signifies a shewa, a vowel kind of like the a in “above.”)
When the Gospel writers were compiling their work in Greek, they ran into some interesting problems. Mainly that the Greek writing system had no way to express some of these sounds. It ended up with this (or something like it, as there is some variation from manuscript to manuscript):
ελοι ελοι λαμα σαβαχθανι elü elü lama saḇaḥṯani
e-loo e-loo lema savakhthani
In Greek, there was not a sufficient 1 to 1 relationship with Aramaic vowels. Galilean’s ə (shewa) and its open vowel a (patah) were under many circumstances differentiated solely by emphasis and were slightly colored depending upon what sounds fell nearby. In trying to approximate them, the Greek scribe chose what sounded the closest based upon Greek vocalization.
There is no way to indicate an “h” sound in the middle of a word. So the “h” sounds in əlahi disappeared, and there was an unintended consequence: The two letters ο (omicron) and ι (iota) when placed together formed a diphthong, similar to the nasalized eu in French. In truth, if the diphthong were broken and the two vowels spoken separately with an “h” in the middle, they are very good approximations to the original.
There is also no way to express an sh sound (above š) so it was replaced with what was closest: σ (sigma, an “s” sound).
There was no “q” sound, which in Aramaic is a guttural “k” in the very back of the throat. It was replaced with χ (chi, a sound like clearing your throat).
And finally, the particular quality of the t was closer to their θ (theta) than to their τ (tau), so it was replaced with the former, softer sound.
Now when the Bible was translated into English, it went through yet another transliteration… but this time from the Greek. It looked (for the most part) like this:
Eloi, Eloi! Lama sabachthani?
How did we arrive at this from the Greek? Greek transliteration conventions were influenced by German transliteration conventions:
Again, Greek vowels aren’t at all 1:1 with English vowels — they represented different sounds — but their cognates in transliteration were very well established.
ε and η → e,
ο and ω→o,
υ→y or u,
The use of these transliterations actually broke up the οι diphthong in reading — so that was a step back in the right direction.
The letter χ (ḥ, chi) is, through German transliteration, rendered as “ch,” as the digraph ch in German makes a similar sound.
The letter θ (theta) is transliterated as “th” as that’s the closest sound in English, although the quality of it is not nearly as breathy.
Galilean Aramaic was the language of Jesus of Nazareth and a large body of early Rabbinic literature which was nearly lost to the march of time and well-intentioned negligence. Taught by Steve Caruso, this 3 hour workshop provides the history of the dialect, what remains of it both within and outside of the New Testament tradition, and introduces the student to the basics of reading, writing, and speaking through storytelling and conversation. This workshop will also serve as a means to gauge interest in holding weekly Aramaic language classes within the Diocese of New Jersey. Cost includes books and learning materials. No one will be turned away.