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Re: Fw: [XTalk] Q studies: the question of Aramaic

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... Since the name of the JS has been invoked in this discussion, please permit me a quick clarification in rejoinder. The JS project was to assess the
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 12 9:31 AM
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      A. Lukaszewski wrote:

      > >>
      > >>IMHO, NT Aramaic studies needs to be more cautious when it comes to matters
      > >>of dialect. And, to reiterate what Jack mentioned, HJ studies in general
      > >>and the decisions of JS have seemed to shy away from the whole issue of
      > >>Aramaic traditions
      > >>behind the Greek. As I recall, C.A. Evans in _Jesus and His
      > >Contemporaries_
      > >>criticizes JS
      > >>and similar studies for being heavy on the Hellenism at the expense of the
      > >>Judaic element in
      > >>first-century Palestine.
      > >>

      Since the name of the JS has been invoked in this discussion, please
      permit me a quick clarification in rejoinder.

      The JS project was to assess the historical value of the content of
      *texts*, not to reconstruct the most probable Sitz of HJ (though of
      course, in the inevitable hermeneutical circle, every scholar's a priori
      impression HJ's Sitz is bound to influence his/her estimate of the
      historical value of specific texts). Since there are no extant early Xn
      Aramaic texts we were never called upon to vote on any "Aramaic
      traditions behind the Greek." But that does not mean that we "shied
      away" from this issue. On the contrary, there were several regular
      fellows who are reasonably competent in Aramaic (e.g., Bruce Chilton,
      B.B. Scott, -- former rabbi -- Sanford Lowe), & who regularly
      interjected reference to Aramaic parallels, vocabulary & constructions
      when appropriate to the interpretation of a pericope. Though my Aramaic
      is much more elementary than theirs & heavily dependent on lexical tools
      & the work of other scholars, I regularly made discussion of a possible
      Aramaic Vorlage part of my analysis in my several papers on the Son of
      Man sayings. [Cf. FORUM 4,4 p. 83ff & 7,1 207ff for the 2 in print]. So,
      the issue of an alleged Aramaic background was always on the JS
      roundtable whenever it was germaine to assessing the historical origin
      of any textual datum.

      The JS never voted specifically on Aramaic retrojections by 20th c.
      scholars such as Casey, Fitzmyer, Black, Burney etc. precisely because
      of the caveats mentioned by Jack Kilmon & A. Lukaszewski. Any Aramaic
      version of the Jesus tradition is a speculative reconstruction from the
      Greek text that depends as much upon the personal judgment & linguistic
      assumptions of a later translator as a translation into any language, be
      it English or Coptic or Christian Syriac. And as anyone who has done
      translations knows, there is always more than one way for any sentence
      to be translated. (Just this past spring a Maronite student of mine
      proudly presented me with an elegant copy of the Gospels in "modern" --
      i.e. ecclesiastical -- Aramaic written in Syriac script, which woodenly
      retro-translates the awkward Greek hO hUIOS TOU ANQRWPOU into a
      previously non-existent Aramaic neo-logism). So, there is nothing
      historically certain about any alleged Aramaic Vorlage of any Jesus
      tradition. Knowledge of Aramaic helps the scholar when, as Jack said, it
      helps clarify a problematic text or captures an idiom that is awkward or
      apt to be misunderstood in the Greek.

      I don't want to reopen the whole debate about whether Jesus taught in
      Aramaic, but one point in Jack's note that I am not as certain about is
      his statement that the "vox Iesu was in Aramaic." I think it is
      historically probable that Jesus *thought* in Aramaic constructions, but
      what language was on his tongue for any given saying is less certain.
      Galilee was multilingual in the first c. CE & some of HJ's entourage
      came from at least a marginally Hellenized background (e.g., the
      apostles Philip & Andrew -- & thus probably Simon Peter). So, unless one
      rules out *a priori* HJ's ability to converse in Greek, determination of
      what language Jesus used in formulating any saying depends completely on
      his original intended audience for that aphorism. And determining that
      is also always a matter of speculation -- either by some 1st c.
      Greek-speaking evangelist or by a modern scholar working in a totally
      different cultural/linguistic environment.

      When I was working on the Son of Man sayings & puzzling over the origin
      of that gosh awful Greek neo-logism hO hUIOS TOU ANQRWPOU, which
      virtually everybody recognizes as wooden translationese, I became aware
      that no scholar seems to have given serious consideration to the
      possibility that this idiom -- which is found almost exclusively in
      sayings ascribed to Jesus (rather than as a title for Jesus or anyone
      else) -- goes back to HJ himself: i.e., results from HJ's own
      less-than-grammatically-perfect attempt to articulate in Greek the
      Aramaic idiom BAR eNASHA in his mind. To me, this offers the simplest
      explanation of why this particular Greek idiom occurs virtually
      *exclusively* in Jesus *sayings*, genuine or not. [The only exceptions
      are martyrological confessions ascribed to Stephen in Act 7 & James in
      Eusebius HE 2.23.13, neither of which is historically verifiable]. Xn
      writers who used hO hUIOS TOU ANQRWPOU were those who were trying to
      echo or imitate a recognizably peculiar element of HJ's own speech. If
      so, then the VOX IESU IPSISSIMU must have been in Greek at least some of
      the time. Otherwise, one is faced with having to explain why writers
      like Luke & Matthew or hypthetical editor of Q, who are demonstrably
      quite competent in Greek, regularly used the doubly articular hO hUIOS
      TOU ANQRWPOU rather than the more normal anarthous hUIOS ANQRWPOU, which
      was regularly used even by Xn writers, to translate or allude to the
      Semitic idioms BEN ADAM & BAR eNASH in Daniel & other Judaic scriptures
      (e.g., Heb 2:6, Rev 1:13, & Justin's Dialog -- especially 100.3) or how
      it is that the doubly articular idiom is used in all but one instance by
      GJohn in Jesus sayings that are quite independent of anything in the
      synoptics. Attempts to trace hO hUIOS TOU ANQRWPOU to a christological
      title in some primitive community [Q or Markan] are always bound to
      founder on the absence of textual evidence that early Xns or Jews used
      this idiom as a title for Jesus or any one else. So rather than spin
      speculations about the practice of early Xn communities in the void, I
      think that here we have substantial textual evidence that HJ himself
      sometimes spoke in Greek. Imperfect Greek, but Greek nonetheless.

      Shalom!

      Mahlon

      --

      *********************

      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
      Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/

      A Synoptic Gospels Primer
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/nt/primer/

      Jesus Seminar Forum
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/jseminar/
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