Tuesday, November 20, 2007

By Dr. George M. Lamsa

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The favorable reception accorded the Lamsa translation of the Gospels, later of the New Testament and of the Psalms, has prompted us to publish a complete translation of The Holy Bible from the Peshitta, the authorized Bible of the Church of the East. This translation of the Old and New Testaments into English is based on Peshitta manuscripts which have comprised the accepted Bible of all of those Christians who have used Syriac as their language of prayer and worship for many centuries. It is appropriate that as we have translations based on the Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament and on the Latin Bible of Jerome, so also should there be available to the modern reader that form of the text which was translated anciently into a branch of the Aramaic language which has been used by Christians from earliest times.

In the long history of the Aramaic language, there are three periods of special interest to us. From the sixth to the fourth century before Christ, it was a language of empire extending from the borders of Persia to those of Europe, and down the Nile through the length of Egypt. It was in those days spoken and written by the Jewish people at least equally with Hebrew; and so we have parts of Ezra and Daniel, and one verse in Jeremiah (10:11), that were composed in Aramaic and preserved in that ancient form of the language in the midst of the Hebrew Old Testament.

In the first century, Jesus and his earliest followers certainly spoke Aramaic for the most part, although they also knew Hebrew. Therefore the Gospel message was first preached in the Aramaic of the Jews of Palestine. Modern scholarship tells us that the originals of the Four Gospels and of other parts of the New Testament were written in Greek; this is disputed by the Church of the East and by some noted Western scholars. Regardless of which view one may accept, Aramaic speech is an underlying factor and it is unquestionably true that documents written in Aramaic were drawn on by writers of the New Testament, the basic inspired form of the Christian message.Aramaic was the language of the Church that spread east, almost from the beginning of Christianity, from Antioch and Jerusalem, beyond the confines of the Roman Empire.

This differed from the language of Palestine in choice of words and grammatical forms rather more extensively than does American English from British English and in written form these differences became regular and standardized. The Jews and Christians used the literary dialect of Aramaic that we call Syriac almost at the same time to propagate their translations of the sacred books brought from Palestine and the West, reaching into Syria and Mesopotamia and the nearby mountains, quite early into India, and into China in the course of time. Modern scholarship believes that as happened in other parts of the Church, the earliest copies of the sacred books in Syriac were revised again and again to bring them closer to the standard of the Hebrew and Greek texts from which they were drawn; this view, too, is not accepted by the Church of the East. Under any conditions by the fifth century A.D. the Peshitta version in its present form held the field by universal acclaim.

The fixed stand of the Church of the East with respect to some of the points mentioned above can best be understood by reference to the following letter, which we are authorized to quote, from the Patriarch and Head of that Church:

Patriarchate of the East, Modesto, California, April 5, 1957:
"With reference to your letter concerning Lamsa's translation of the Aramaic Bible, and the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision."
~ Mar Eshai Shimun by Grace, Catholicos Patriarch of the East
From the Mediterranean east into India the Peshitta is still the Bible of preference among Christians, though today nearly all who use it speak Arabic, or one of the tongues of South India. West of the Euphrates, spoken Aramaic as a mother tongue survives today only in two mountain villages northwest of Damascus, differing as much from the speech of Jesus' day as French from its parent Latin. East of the Euphrates, in the Kurdish mountains, and near Lake Urmia, perhaps a hundred thousand people (Christian, Jew and Muslim) speak another form of it, strangely mixed with borrowed words from the various languages of their polyglot neighbors, but still basically akin to the Aramaic (Syriac) of olden times.

George M. Lamsa, B.A., F.R.S.A., the translator of this work is uniquely fitted for the task to which he has devoted the major part of his life. He is an Assyrian and a native of ancient Biblical lands, where he lived until World War I. Until that time, isolated from the rest of Christendom, his people retained Biblical customs and Semitic culture which had perished everywhere else. This background, together with his knowledge of the Aramaic (Syriac) language, has enabled him to recover much of the meaning that has been lost in other translations of the Scriptures.

Manuscripts used in making this translation were the Codex Ambrosianus for the Old Testament and the so-called Mortimer-McCawley manuscript for the New Testament; the former is in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, Italy, and has been identified as fifth century A.D.; the latter was used for our previous translation of the New Testament, of which this edition is a revision, and has been variously identified as sixth or seventh century A.D.Comparisons have been had with Peshitta manuscripts in the Morgan Library, New York, N. Y., with manuscripts in the Freer Collection, Washington, D. C., with the Urumiah edition, and with a manuscript of the Peshitta Old Testament in the British Museum, the oldest dared Biblical manuscript in existence. Our translator states that comparisons show no differences in text between these various manuscripts, and that he has filled in the few missing portions of Chronicles from other authentic Peshitta sources, as noted in his Introduction.We hope that this translation will be of aid to Bible readers and students in obtaining a more thorough and complete understanding of the Scriptures.


The Literary and Recorded Works of Dr. George M. Lamsa

George M. Lamsa, a native Assyrian, renowned scholar of the scriptures, lecturer and author, F.R.S.A. was born August 5, 1892, in a civilization with customs, manners, and language almost identical to those in the time of Jesus. His native tongue was full of similar idioms and parables, untouched by the outside world in 1900 years.

Until World War I, his people living in that part of ancient biblical lands which today is known as Kurdistan, in the basin of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, retained the simple nomadic life, as in the days of the Patriarchs. Only at the beginning of the 20th century did this isolated segment of the once great Assyrian Empire learn of the discovery of America and the Reformation of Germany.

Likewise, until that same time, this ancient culture of early Christians was unknown to the western world, and the Aramaic (Syriac) language was thought to be dead. But in this so called "Cradle of Civilization," ancient biblical customs and Semitic culture, cut off from the world, were preserved.

Lamsa's primary training as a boy was to tend the lambs. But, as the first-born son in his family, while yet an infant, he was dedicated to God by his devout mother. Years after her death, when Lamsa was 12, her vow was renewed by native tribesmen when an ox was killed and its blood rubbed on his head. This vow to God, Lamsa claims, has always been part of him. "God's Hand," he affirms, "has been steadfastly on my shoulder, guiding me in His work."

Lamsa's formal studies began under the priests and deacons of the ancient Church of the East. Later he graduated with the highest honors ever bestowed from the Archbishop of Canterbury's Colleges in Iran and in Turkey, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Lamsa was never married, but dedicated his life to God's Calling."

At the beginning of World War I, when Turkey started invasions, Lamsa left and went to South America. Living was hard during those years; he knew only three words in Spanish -- water, work and bread. As best he could he existed in the British Merchant Marine for a time, then worked on railroads, in mines, and later in printing shops, a trade he had learned in college.

After arriving in the united States, in his early 20's, Lamsa worked as a printer by day, and by night went to school. He later studied at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, and at Dropsie College in Philadelphia.

It was through his struggles with the idioms of English, during these years, that Lamsa gradually launched into his life's work of translating the Scriptures from Aramaic (Syriac) into English. yet many years were to pass before the world received his translations.

First as a lecturer in churches and seminaries, in halls and auditoriums, before statesmen, theologians, groups of artists, actors and others, Lamsa received recognition as a poet-philosopher, and as an authority on all phases of Eastern civilization.

It was his own inner compulsion, and the urgings of hundreds who heard him, that drove him forward, and brought about, after 30 years of labor, research and study, his translation of the Holy Bible from a branch of the ancient Aramaic language, used by Christians from earliest times; it is a known fact that Jesus and his followers spoke Aramaic.

There were times when he was temporarily stopped in his translations, when the idioms in the manuscripts would not be given correct English meaning.

Lamsa relates, "Often I would lie on the bed with the script before my eyes (he has a photographic memory which retains chapter after chapter of biblical passages), and suddenly the translation would come, the English words would fall into place.

"I discovered that the words in the Bible contain power, that they are charged with the Holy Spirit. Everything comes and passes away, but God's Truth endures forever."

It was Lamsa's firm belief that his translations will bring people nearer to the Word of God, and will facilitate understanding between east and West.

The Literary and Recorded Works of Dr. George M. Lamsa

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