He Who Lives By The Sword

When I was going over some sayings of Jesus, a new pun popped out at me that I hadn’t realized before and I cannot seem to find anyone else who has mentioned it yet. Perhaps I may be the first. 🙂

In Matthew 26:52 we have a scene where Jesus rebukes Peter for being rash:

Then said Jesus to him, Put up again your sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

In the Greek, the bolded part above reads thus:

παντες γαρ οι λαβοντες μαχαιραν εν μαχαιρη απολουνται
pantes gar hoi labontes mahairan en mahairê apolountai
For all who did take a sword, by a sword they shall die.

A plain retro-translation back into Galilean Aramaic reads:

בגין כל דנסבון סייף בסייף נמותון
bagin kal d-nsab saiyf, b-saiyf yimuthun
For everyone who took up a sword, by a sword (OR “in the end”) they shall die.

Which is *very* interesting.

In Western Aramaic dialects (specifically Galilean) the word saiyf can mean either “sword” or “end.” Given the context, this wordplay is undoubtedly intentional, and the Greek as we have it today, of course, misses this right off the bat.

Furthermore this has fun implications for the “Peshitta Primacy” movement, as it outlines differences between dialects.

The same passage in the Peshitta reads:

ܟܠܗܘܢ ܓܝܪ ܗܢܘܢ ܕܢܤܒܘ ܤܝܦܐ ܒܤܝܦܐ ܢܡܘܬܘܢ
kulhun ger hanun da-nsab saife, b-saife n’muthun
For all of they who take up swords, with swords they shall die.

Not only does this double meaning not occur in Syriac, or other Eastern dialects from the era, the Peshitta misses it completely, instead choosing to render both instances of /saipa/ in the plural (which makes the pun impossible in the Peshitta… say that 3 times fast).

I’ve gone ahead and put this into the “He Who Lives By The Sword” and “Problems With Peshitta Primacy” articles over on AramaicNT.org, but I think it might deserve its own spot in an article devoted solely to Galilean Aramaic Wordplay.

Finally of note, this pun does not occur in Hebrew. (As far as I am aware.)

All of this taken together is strong evidence that this saying within Matthew dates back to an Aramaic source (be it oral or written) which means that it is quite an early tradition.


7 thoughts on “He Who Lives By The Sword

  1. In Hebrew, the word חרב doesn’t usually literally mean sword, especially when prefixed by ב. It is an idiom for violence, often in the form of military attacks. Is this also the case with סייף in Galilean Aramaic?

  2. My comments – This doesn’t make any sense. You may ask why.

    “for all they (plural) that take the sword (singular) shall perish with the sword.”

    All they – “plural” and sword – “singular.” That’s like me walking with only one shoe instead of two shoes.

    Another reason why this doesn’t make any sense is Jesus Christ told his disciples – “And let him that hath no sword, sell his garment, and buy himself a sword.” (Luke 22:36 – Murdock Translation).

    His disciples were able to get “2” swords and Jesus said “they” are sufficient (Luke 22:38 – Murdock Translation).

    After Peter smote servant of the high priest, and took off his right ear (John 18:10), Jesus said this in Peshitta – “Return the sword to its place; for all they that take swords, shall die by swords” (Matthew 26:52, Murdock Translation).

    This verse in Peshitta makes sense, because “All they” – plural and “swords” – plural. It must be noted that Jesus is telling this to Peter and other disciples who were with him. Jesus know that his disciples had 2 swords (plural) with them (Luke 22:38).

    Aramaic (also known as Syriac) spoken by Jesus was the same Aramaic spoken throughout the Middle East in first century AD.

    Jesus spoke Aramaic to the people who came from all over Middle East to see him and they all understood him.

    Through these verses (Matthew 4:24-25, Luke 6:17, and Mark 3:7-8), we read that Multitudes came from Galilee, Syria, Judaea, Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Idumea, Jordan, and from beyond Jordan to hear the discourse of Jesus Christ and to be healed of their diseases.

    Aramaic Primacist William Norton provided this information (below) in his 1889 book “A translation, in English daily used, of the Peshito-Syriac text, and of the received Greek text, of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John: with an introduction on the Peshito-Syriac text, and the revised Greek text of 1881 (1889).”

    Page ix-x (Introduction) – “Josephus is a very important witness in proof of the extent to which Syriac was known and used in the first century. He took part in the war against the Romans which led to the destruction of Jerusalem, A. D. 70. He was taken captive by them, and was well acquainted with all the events connected with the war. He wrote a history of it in Syriac; and states how great a multitude of people, living in different nations, from near the Caspian Sea to the bounds of Arabia, could read and understand what he had written in Syriac. He afterwards wrote the same history in Greek, that those who spoke Greek, and those of the Romans, and of any other nation who knew Greek, but did not know Syriac, might read it also.”

    Like me, there are several people who believe Aramaic Peshitta is the original.

    Other than William Norton, Lamsa, and Mar Eshai Shimun, here are other well known people who support the originality of Peshitta.

    “I have no reason to doubt that the Peshitta is superior to that of the Greek. It was handed down to us by the Apostles through the scribes and preserved to us in our very own generation. No other version written in any other language can claim such authenticity and antiquity.” – Patriarch Mar Dalin I, China in the 1800’s, Assembly of Jerusalem

    “Undoubtedly the Peshitta, written in the Aramaic language of the East, contains the pure and untainted Word of the Messiah.” – Mar Yokhanan Dalin III, Portugal in 1980, Assembly of Jerusalem

    “We have in the Aramaic Peshitta the preserved word of Our Lord unchanged from the time of the Apostles.” – HH Patriarch Mar Michai, Detroit in 1989, Assembly of Jerusalem.

  3. @konway k – I’m sorry but you’re making several large mistakes:

    The plural as a “feature” rather than a “bug” doesn’t quite work, especially in the way that you’re trying to harmonize the Gospel accounts. The Peshitta is the odd duck out with that reading, and it misses the point completely.

    Secondly, Syriac is an Aramaic language, but Aramaic is *not* one monolithic language in and of itself. There are *hundreds* of dialects (that most linguists are acknowledging as separate but related languages) most of which are not mutually intelligible.

    To say “Aramaic (also known as Syriac) spoken by Jesus was the same Aramaic spoken throughout the Middle East in first century AD,” is like saying “Romance languages (also known as French) spoken by Napoleon was the same Romance language spoken throughout all of Europe in the early 1800s.”

    Following me?

    Jesus and his earliest followers did not speak Syriac, they spoke Galilean Aramaic, and because of this they were know to be Galileans by their speech alone (cf. Mt 26:73). It is a dialect that was fairly intelligible amongst Judeans (Eastern) and Samaritans (Western) as well, but was different enough that there are about a dozen nasty anecdotes that survive in the Babylonian Talmud (an Eastern Aramaic volume) that make fun of Galileans for how they speak “sloppily” (which is simply how one speaks correctly in Galilean Aramaic).

    During Jesus’ time, Syriac was still strongly a pagan dialect and in its relative infancy, and the very first inscription we have on record in Syriac anywhere near where he taught is on the sarcophagus of a convert to Judaism well after Jesus’ death (which was, to prevent any confusion, also inscribed in Western Aramaic [i.e. Galilean] to ensure it wouldn’t be misunderstood!). For the record, all Syriac is Eastern Aramaic, even “Western” Syriac, and the differences in places are rather vast when it comes to orthography (spelling), vocabulary, and grammar. It was not until the lead-up to the 4th century that Syriac really came together as a *literary* language.

    The Peshitta Primacy movement also needs to rely upon sources younger and more up-to-date than the late 1800s. A *lot* has happened in Aramaic studies over the past 130 years, such as shifts in nomenclature that you seem to have fallen victim to. Josephus most certainly did not write in Syriac, he would have written it in Western Aramaic. William Norton’s use of “Syriac” (“later Aramaic”) is in contrast to “Chaldee” (“earlier Aramaic”), the former term more properly defined in present day to the Eastern, Syriac family, and the latter almost completely depreciated and disused (in its place, Imperial, Biblical, Old, or several other Aramaic designations).

    Furthermore, dogmatic statements that cropped up in the Church of the East in the past 30 years (with centuries of silence on the matter) are not helping your case. These are very recent on the stage of textual theory, and have not been helped with such “advances” as George Lamsa’s where he invented unsubstantiated “idioms” to “prove” his theories.

    There is a solid reason Peshitta Primacy is in the fringe, and not accepted by mainstream academia. 🙂


  4. Why do you bring in Babylonian Talmud when I am talking about first century AD?

    Many things have changed between the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the time Talmud was written.

    Until Jewish Wars and fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, there were huge connections between Israel and several other nations due to the existence of the temple of Jerusalem.

    It wasn’t Lamsa who brought the importance of Peshitta for the first time to Western Tradition.

    It was William Norton did in 1800s. He was a great scholar who provided dozens of evidences in his book about the originality of Peshitta.

    We see Simon (from Cyrene in Libya) in Jerusalem, believer who visited Jerusalem from Ethiopia, A Woman who came to Jesus from Syro-Phoenicia, Multitudes from Syria especially from big syrian cities like Damascus and Qanawat coming to listen to Jesus and his parables, and the list goes on.

    Peter had an accent that belongs to Galilee. Just like British accent. Americans can easily recognize a british accent when they hear the way they speak.

    This is just like my accent. When I speak my native language, other people who speak the same language can easily recognize which region I am from due to my accent.

    If you are claiming that this verse “for all they (plural) that take the sword (singular) shall perish with the sword” makes sense, then the other people will laugh at you.

    That’s because, it is illogical.

    Have you ever seen a group of people (plural) going to battle in ancient times with only one sword (Singular) as the weapon for the whole group?

    It has to make sense. The discussion can go forever and ever. But I am ending it here.

  5. I would like to add an additional information with my previous comment.

    John of Gischala (Gischala, a town in Galilee) was a Galilean who came to Jerusalem during Jewish Wars and became one of top 3 Jewish leaders who fought against General Titus and Romans in Jewish Wars (66 AD -70 AD). Judeans understood everything he said. Before John of Gischala came to Jerusalem, Both Josephus (Judean) and John of Gischala (Galilean) had commanded Jewish armies in Northern Galilee. They had no difficulty in communicating with each other. Up to fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Aramaic was the same everywhere it was spoken.

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