Aramaic text more original that the Greek!

by Yuri Kuchinsky

(Parts 1 and 2)

[Part 1 of this article was posted to Usenet discussion groups on 10 Sept 2002, and Part 2 on Sept 19]


Greetings, friends,

Here's a good example of how the Old Syriac Aramaic text of Luke appears to be more original that our canonical Greek Luke. As you can see below, the Aramaic text of Lk 11:52-12:1 is obviously more logical and straightforward, whereas the standard Greek version suffers from various internal inconsistencies that really seem like later corruptions.

So here's this passage as it's found in the ancient Old Syriac Curetonian MS,

Lk 11:52-12:1 (Old Syriac Curetonian; 1904 Burkitt translation)

(Luke 11:52) "Woe to you, scribes, that have concealed the keys of knowledge! You yourself have not entered, and them that are entering you have hindered."
(53) And when he was saying these things against them in the sight of all the people, it began to be displeasing to the scribes and Pharisees, and they were disputing with him about many things,
(54) and were seeking to take hold of a pretext against him, that they might be able to accuse him.
(Luke 12:1) And when a great multitude was gathered unto him, so as to trample one on the other, he had begun to say to his disciples: "First beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is respect of persons."

So, as we can see, the scene above is all happening in one and the same place.

And now, let's compare this with the standard Greek-based canonical text, as it's printed in most Bibles today. This is how we find this passage in the Revised Standard Version,

(Lk 11:52 RSV) "Woe to you lawyers! for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering."
(53) As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things,
(54) lying in wait for him, to catch at something he might say.
(Luke 12:1 RSV) In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples first, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."

So let's now focus in particular on the verses starting with 11:53.

1. For some reason, in the Greek-based version of verse 53, Jesus is portrayed as "going away from there". But the general logic of this passage indicates that we're still talking about one and the same scene.

2. The Old Syriac makes it very clear that the scribes and Pharisees were publicly embarrassed by what Jesus said about them, so then, as a result, they start to provoke him with questions. But in Greek, the reason why they are trying to provoke him isn't quite as clear.

3. In the Greek text, the scribes and Pharisees are "lying in wait for him" (enedreuonteV auton). This implies that they are engaging in some sort of a conspiracy, which is not at all apparent in the Syriac text. In the Syriac version, their actions are more spontaneous; thus, no conspiracy is implied.

4. In the Syriac, a great multitude of people is said to have gathered around Jesus. So the reason why the people are so crowded together is because they want to hear Jesus. But this is not made directly obvious in the Greek text.

5. In the Syriac text of Lk 12:1, Jesus is quite clearly addressing his disciples within hearing of the rest of the crowd. And so he says, "First beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, etc." It's obvious that, in saying what he's saying, he's still primarily targeting his religious opponents. But in the Greek text, on the other hand, the placement of the word "first" (prwton) is very ambiguous. All the standard Greek-based English translations include this word as part of the introductory remarks, and not as part of Jesus' speech -- but this tends to confuse considerably the whole meaning of what Jesus is saying. So the Syriac text makes a lot more sense here, because its meaning is very simple and straightforward. But what we find in the Greek version really seems like a nonsense reading. Indeed, how can Jesus be saying "first to his disciples" something that, according the general logic of this passage, is heard by everybody else at the same time?

Thus, what we see in the Syriac text is the following,

-- The Syriac version is completely straightforward, simple, and obvious. There are no interpretative difficulties here of any sort.
-- The people of Israel show more interest in Jesus' teachings, compared to the Greek text.

In contrast, the Greek version seems to have been heavily reworked by a later editor.

-- In the Greek version, the natural sequence of events has been confused in various ways.
-- The scribes and Pharisees are being portrayed as cunning and conspiratorial.
-- The people of Israel are distanced from Jesus to a certain extent.

And the Old Syriac Curetonian MS also happens to be supported in this passage by the Codex Bezae, in both its Greek and Latin versions.

Here's the Greek Bezae version, for those who might know Greek. In fact, verse 12:1 reads almost exactly like the Syriac text,

(Lk 12:1) pollwn de oclwn sunperiecontwn kuklw,
wste allhlouV sunpnigein hrxato
legein proV touV maqhtaV * prwton
prosecete eautoiV apo thV zumhV
twn farisaiwn htiV estin upokrisiV

Also, this Syriac text is supported to some extent by many other Old Latin Luke MSS, and by numerous other ancient texts as well. So this surely indicates that the text of this Old Syriac MS is a lot closer to the original text of Luke.


And now, we can also take a look at the difference between the Aramaic and the Greek texts of Lk 11:52. Here, the difference is quite subtle, and yet it seems rather important. According to the Aramaic text, the scribes "have concealed (d'tashytawn) the keys of knowledge", while, in the Greek, they have "taken away (hrate) the key". (The Vulgate Latin equivalent of /hrate/ is /tulistis/.)

But in the Western text of the Greek Bezae, the word that is used instead of /hrate/ is /ekripsate/, which is equivalent to the Syriac /d'tashytawn/. And this reading is also supported by six Old Latin MSS. (The equivalent Latin word is /abscondistis/, and it's found in the very ancient Old Latin MSS e a b c d q.)

As a result, in these Western texts, we see that the Pharisees are not really accused of deliberately preventing the common people from obtaining the knowledge necessary for enlightenment. Rather, it seems like Jesus is accusing them of standing in the way unintentionally, because they have made too many subtle qualifications about the correct observance of the laws.


And here, for reference, is the King James Version of these verses. What we can see there is that KJV actually happens to agree with the Syriac text in one very important detail. Namely, according to KJV verse 53, Jesus is not really going anywhere from that place, like he's in the typical Alexandrian Greek text. Instead, according to KJV, he's still saying "these things" just where he was before.

(Luke 11:52 KJV) Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.
(53) And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things:
(54) Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.
(Luke 12:1) In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Here are the relevant verses again,

(Lk 11:53 KJV) "And as he said these things unto them" = legontos de autou tauta pros autous
(Lk 11:53 RSV) "As he went away from there" = kakeiqen exelqontos autou

Thus, in both the Aramaic and KJV/Byzantine texts, the continuity of the whole action is still being preserved, which makes the narrative more logical and straightforward.

Quite clearly, in this passage KJV version is superior to what we find in our "modern" Alexandrian text, and in all those popular English translations that are based on it.


And here's how we find this passage in the Magdalene Gospel,

(MG 42:1) "And then it came to pass that there were great crowds of people around Jesus. (2) And then, [speaking] openly, he began to warn his disciples to beware of hypocrisy, so that they keep themselves from it."

Thus, just like with the Old Syriac, the Magdalene version is also entirely coherent and logical. And here, as well, we see that the people of Israel show more interest in Jesus' teachings, compared to what we find in the Greek text.

So is this the stuff that the Moderators of TC-List have judged to be too dangerous for them? Was I really expelled from this list because of my special interest in these Aramaic gospel texts? I sure think so myself... Because these folks are really nothing other than a "Jesus the Greek" Cult!

Best regards,


Yuri Kuchinsky -=O=- Toronto

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead to where there is
no path and leave a trail." -=O=- Ralph Waldo Emerson



Hello, friends,

There's one more thing that can be added to my analysis of this passage in various MSS. In my previous analysis, I've neglected the rather obvious fact that, in our canonical Luke, this passage is broken down into two parts by a Chapter break: the end of Ch. 11, and the beginning of Ch. 12.

But in the Aramaic version of Luke, the whole passage that I've cited (Lk 11:52-12:1) is just one paragraph, without any breaks. (The Aramaic text of Luke does not feature Chapter breaks, but rather paragraph breaks that often agree with the modern division into paragraphs and Chapters.)

Thus, if I'm correct in regard to the Greek version of this text having been heavily re-edited at a later date, then it's possible that whoever re-edited it also added the Chapter break there -- the break that happens to interfere with the natural flow of this passage.

I haven't really done a lot of research on this matter, but it seems like the earliest system of chapter divisions in the gospels is preserved for us in the Codex Vaticanus, a fourth century Alexandrian text. According to some scholars, the system of divisions that is found there seems to antedate the codex in which it appears. So it's possible that the current system of chapter/paragraph divisions in Luke would have been introduced by a later editor who was also heavily re-editing the gospel of Luke.

It seems like the end result of this editor's work was to confuse the natural meaning of quite a few passages, and to make them more difficult to understand.

Also, curiously enough, when we look at the KJV version of this passage, it's only broken in two parts by a Chapter break. But the RSV version of this passage is actually broken into 3 parts! Because, for some reason, RSV also adds a paragraph break after v. 52, which KJV does not do. Thus, it looks like RSV is continuing the work of that ancient ecclesiastical editor, who was trying to make this passage more difficult to follow...

Best regards,



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