What is the Peshitta?
Question: "What is the Peshitta?"
Answer: The Peshitta is a collection of Aramaic manuscripts of the Bible. Aramaic was the most common “shared language” among people of the Near East and Middle East for many centuries. This includes the years immediately before and after the earthly ministry of Jesus. For this reason, the Peshitta was an important early translation of the Bible, widely distributed and widely used. The earliest available manuscripts date to the AD 400s.
The Peshitta is the primary text used in Syriac churches, which use the Aramaic language during religious services. These churches are often accused of holding to Nestorianism, though that description is often disputed.
Based on manuscript and language evidence, scholars are overwhelmingly convinced that the Peshitta dates from well after the time period of Jesus and the apostles. The Peshitta’s language obscures certain types of metaphor or wordplay. This is common in translated texts but is abnormal in an original manuscript. The particular dialect of Aramaic used in the Peshitta is from an era later than that of Jesus. For these reasons among others, it is certain that the New Testament was not originally written in Aramaic, but in Greek.
Some groups, such as the Assyrian Church of the East, believe in a concept known as “Peshitta Primacy,” or “Aramaic Primacy.” This is the position that the Peshitta represents the original writings and the Greek manuscripts are translations from that Aramaic text. This idea is mostly the result of claims made by Assyrian Church member George Lamsa. Most scholars believe that Lamsa confused then-modern Syraic language with ancient Aramaic, as they are very similar, leading to his mistaken conclusion.
Recommended Resource: How Biblical Languages Work: A Student's Guide to Learning Hebrew & Greek by Peter Silzer & Thomas Finley
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