THE IMAGE OF JESUS IN THE ARAMAIC GOSPELS
(THE GENTLE JESUS)

by Yuri Kuchinsky


Dear friends,

Here's the information about the Old Syriac Aramaic version of Mt 17:7 that I posted to TC-List. The only reward for my efforts was some brutal personal attacks directed against me, which eventually led to my expulsion. (How ironic that those who were making these attacks were not expelled, while I was -- although I never replied in kind. But I suppose this is the upside-down world of biblical textual criticism in a nutshell.)

In the Syriac version of this passage we can see a kinder Jesus, the Jesus who takes care of his disciples in a gentle and caring way.

So here is the standard canonical Greek version,

(Mt 17:7) kai proshlqen o ihsous kai apsamenos autwn eipen egerqhte kai mh fobeisqe

"And Jesus came near, and touched them, and said, "Rise, be not afraid,""

And this is how the Old Syriac Curetonian manuscript reads here, according to the 1904 Burkitt edition (the other Old Syriac MS, the Sinaiticus, is deficient in this passage),

"And Jesus drew near and raised them up, and said to them: "Be not afraid!""

The original Aramaic text goes as follows,

w'qarav yeshua w'aqeem anon w'amar lehon: "lo thedekhalon"

Also, Burkitt's translation is supported by the latest Wilson translation, that was just recently published this year.

Thus we have a very significant variant reading here. Instead of ordering his disciples to get up, Jesus is actually himself helping them to get up!

As I see it, the significance of this reading is that it lets us see a very different image of Jesus. Instead of being imperious and arrogant, Jesus emerges as very warm, kind, and human. This is what may be described as "the Gentle Jesus". This very significant variant may well be representing the original text of Mt.

Now, needless to say, Aland's Synopsis of the Four Gospels, the main reference volume of every right-thinking biblical scholar today, contains not a word about this very interesting variant. The recent editions of Aland's don't even mention the Old Syriac text here, although the editions of 1982 and earlier contained a curious mistake in regard to this passage. (These older editions indicated that in this passage SyC aligns with D and the Old Latin, but this is of course not the case.)

This unusual variant is not found anywhere else either in the Greek or in Latin textual traditions. And neither is it known to exist anywhere else. The Byzantine/KJV text is more or less the same here, and the same applies to all other known versions of this passage. So some people may suspect that the Syriac may be in error here, or that this may perhaps be some sort of a later corruption by the copiers of the Syriac text. But now, I have found some additional support for this text in the Magdalene College Gospel, a unique medieval manuscript that I have recently translated for the first time (it's already published and is available to the public).

In the Magdalene text, this passage in Mt 17:7 happens to be almost identical to how it is found in the Old Syriac Curetonian manuscript. In other words, both manuscripts seem to feature this image of the "Gentle Jesus". In my book I translated this passage as,

(MG 61:10) "And Jesus helped them up, and said, "Have no fear.""

The original Middle English expression here is "name hem vp", and it could have also been translated as "raised them up", or, in other words, exactly how we find this phrase in the Old Syriac. I'm not aware of any other text that shares this unusual parallel.

As a matter of fact, generally speaking, the amount of parallels between MS Pepys and the Old Syriac is innumerable, as had already been documented long ago by Dr. D. Plooij. He documented hundreds of them! And there are also many such parallels in this specific Transfiguration passage. So this particular parallel shouldn't be remarkable in any way.

Best regards,

Yuri.

 

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