Tag Archives: bad syriac

How to Know When You Shouldn’t Publish Your Own “Translation”

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, when it comes to Aramaic materials sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

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:

The "Netzari Emunah"
The “Netzari Emunah”

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.

The pillar at Sarnath as it is today. Click on the image above to learn more.
The pillar at Sarnath as it is today. Click on the image above to learn more.

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?

As of writing this, if one simply searches for “aramaic” in Google Image search, this is the first nice looking carved inscription that appears in the search results, about half way down the page. Earlier it was much higher, and because of this it has caused all sorts of delightful confusion.

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…

King Jesus of Edessa by Ralph Ellis — Er.. What?

I usually don’t discuss new books here on The Aramaic Blog… but sometimes a work inspires something within me that I cannot contain. One of those books is “King Jesus of Edessa” by Ralph Ellis… and what it inspires (in me) is a bad nervous tic.


It’s the conspiracy to end all conspiracies about who the historical Jesus was. Ralph Ellis claims that he was King “Izas Manu” a patchwork figure that he seems to have cobbled together from a half dozen historical figures spanning two kingdoms (which he assumes are the same) and several hundred years.

Tom Verenna, I believe, puts it best:

[Ellis is] basically suggesting that at least four historical kings (Izates bar Monobaz, Abgar V the Black, Abgar Ma’nu VI, and Abgar bar Manu VIII the Great) from two distinct provinces with separate kings (Edessa in the province of Osroene vs. Arbela in the province of Adiabene) are one and the same person and place respectively. [He seems] to completely ignore the fact that both of these places exist miles apart

It’s quite the “Abgar salad.”

Like Frankenstein’s monster, sewn together from bits of unrelated dead people, I doubt it would work in real life no matter how many times it was struck by lightning.

However, allow me stick to something which is my forté, and that is ancient languages. As Tom has pointed out, much of Ellis’ argument is based upon how certain words sound similarly, regardless of what their actual etymology is, and there are a number of elementary mistakes. Allow me to concur with the following points:

  • There is no relation between Jesus (from the Aramaic ישוע /yeshua’/) and Izas/Izates (from the Persian ایزد‎ /’izad/). The only similarity is in their English transliteration.
  • Barabbas comes from the Aramaic בר–אבא /bar-abba/, not the Latin “barbar”. This etymology is not in dispute.
  • Manu (?) provided it is from Monobaz does not share etymological origins with the Hebrew אמנואל /immanuel/, otherwise I’m not sure where he pulled this one from.
  • Ellis has made very elementary spelling mistakes in Greek, not using a proper final sigma ς where it is required. There are a number of examples of this in the free preview of his book. It would be like spelling דין as דינ or עם as עמ. It’s blatantly incorrect.
And now on to some of my own observations I’ve picked out from perusing Ellis’ work on Google Books:
  • The claim that Adiabene means “Sons of Addai” (I assume  ܐܕܝ ܒܢܝ /addai b’ney/) makes a fundamental mistake that anyone who studies Aramaic of any stripe would find rather embarrassing. A noun in the construct form must precede the noun it modifies (like in ܒܢܝ ܐܝܣܪܐܝܠ /b’ney israel/ = “Sons of Israel”, or בני קרתא /b’ney qarta/ = “sons of the city” = “townsfolk”). Adiabene comes from ܚܕܝܐܒ‎ /hadiyav/. There is no similarity between ܚܕܝܐܒ‎ /hadiyav/ and ܒܢܝ ܐܕܝ /b’ney addai/.
  • The progression of Judas into Addai is a horrible “Edenic two-step.” Judas comes from יהודה /yehuda/, and יהודה and אדי could not perturb from one to the other as he proposes. One cannot simply ignore established etymology.

However, all of this is really to be expected, in my opinion, as Ellis is admittedly proud that he doesn’t play by the conventional rules of academia; however, because of this, I’m not quite sure that anyone could call his book or his thesis “scholarship” without equivocating.

Then again what do I know? I just translate for a living… 🙂


UPDATE April 8 2013:

As you can probably note, there are a large number of comments I removed below. In essence, Ralph Ellis has been commenting on this article under the monicker “Unknown” and we had an interesting — but sadly fruitless — discussion.

He does not operate within any acceptable or cogent framework, and his reasoning and conclusions are categorically haphazard, uncritical, and flawed; they are far from the margin and are grasping to hang on to the fringe. For details, you can read the highlights of it here; I’m not keeping it up on my blog.

The final straw was that he was very uncivil and insulting. Among other things he referred to Tom Verenna as a “fraud,” “stupid,” a “retard,” a “troll,” as having a “self-congratulatory mafia,” and after I asked him politely to stop, obliquely referred to him as a bastard (he was “questioning his paternity”). These are not the words of man with decorum. I will not tolerate such speech in my comments, nor will I tolerate Ellis here any longer.

If anyone has any doubt as to the veracity or sincerity of my statements, I have the entire conversation archived and transcripts are available upon request. In the future I might even publish some excerpts to outline the most absurd of his arguments, but for now we’ll see.


UPDATE April 10 2013:

Apparently now Ellis is taking it upon himself to take a break from smearing Tom, and took a stab at smearing me on the blogs of friends and colleagues. Since I have better things at this point in time to do (like make fun info-graphics) I will express what the general consensus is about this entire debacle amongst Bibliobloggers as of 10:30 EST this morning:


UPDATE April 14 2013:

Kindle doesn’t support Hebrew and Greek?



These ain’t jpegs. Note the proper final forms. These are CSS fonts.

UPDATE: In fact there’s an entire website and free utility dedicated to properly displaying Hebrew on Kindle. Allow me to give them a plug here:

There are plenty of screenshots to see there.