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Scripture Restoration Project Example

I want to share with you, an example of the process involved in this Scripture Restoration Project. As an example, we will look at the first phrase in Matthew 3:4 = Mark 1:6.

But first, let me give a very brief overview of our sources for this text.

First of all we have the Greek texts of Matthew and Mark. The various Greek manuscripts have many variant readings which fall into three different text types: Western, Alexandrian and Byzantine. In my book The Hebrew and Aramaic Origin of the New Testament, I lay out the evidence that the Western type is the most primitive and Semitic type of text, most closely related to the Old Syriac (discussed below). The Alexandrian type is a revision towards a much smoother Greek, with fewer Semitisms, and much more pleasing to the Greek ear. The Byzantine is a later text type that attempts to resolve the variants from the two. (That is a super-brief overview).

We also have, for this particular passage, a Greek translations of the same text as it appeared in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is a lost apocryphal Jewish Gospel used by the ancient Nazarenes and Ebionites, that survives today only in about fifty quotations preserved in quotations by so-called “Church Fathers” and other sources into the middle ages.

Next we have Aramaic sources for this text. We have Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6 as they have been preserved in the Aramaic Peshitta Text, and we have Matthew 3:4 as it has been preserved in the Aramaic Old Syriac text, however the Old Syriac Aramaic of Mark 1:6 has not survived. These Aramaic sources reach back to at least the fourth century. In my book The Hebrew and Aramaic Origin of the New Testament, I lay out the evidence for their relationship to each other, as well as the text types mentioned above. The Old Syriac is the more primitive Aramaic version, being most closely allied with the Western type text and retaining some Jewish Aramaic that is actually intolerable in Syriac Aramaic. We have only two incomplete manuscripts of the Old Syriac comprising, between the two of them, about 95% of the four Gospels. The Aramaic Peshitta is a standardized Aramaic version that appears to have been revised to more closely agree with the Greek Byzantine type texts and to be more pleasing to the Syriac ear (smoothing out Judaicisms in the Old Syriac).

Next we have three Hebrew sources. First there is the Hebrew DuTillet manuscript of Matthew which was confiscated from Jews in the 1500’s. Second, there is the Munster Hebrew version of Matthew which Sebastian Munster obtained from the Jews in the 1500’s and published in 1537. Finally there is the Shem Tobe Hebrew version of Matthew which was copied by Shem Tov Ben Shaprut into his polemic work Evan Bohan in 1385. In my book The Hebrew and Aramaic Origin of the New Testament, I lay out the relationships between these three versions, as well as their relationship to the Aramaic sources above and to the three Greek Text types.

Now that I have very briefly introduced the sources for this passage (sources for other passages may vary, with either fewer or additional exemplars) let us examine my process of restoration:

First let us look at our sources:


Mt: Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰωάνης εἶχεν τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τριχῶν καμήλου

English: “Now Yochanon had a garment (his) of hair of camel”

Mk: καὶ ἦν ὁ Ἰωάνης ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου

English: “And Yochanon was clothed in the hair of camel”

GH: και ειχεν ο Ιωαννης ἔνδυμα ἀπὸ τριχῶν καμήλου

(Quoted by Epiphanius)

English: “And had Yochanan a garment of hair of camel”

Now the Aramaic sources:

Old Syriac Matthew: הו דין יוחנן לביש הוא לבושא דסערא דגמלא

English: Now (he) Yochanan was clothed with a garment of hair of camel”

Old Syriac Mark: (Lost)

Peshitta Matthew: הו דין יוחנן איתוהי הוא לבושא דסערא דגמלא

English: Now (he) Yochanan was clothed with a garment of hair of camel”

Peshitta Mark: הו דין יוחנן לביש הוא לבושא דסערא דגמלא

English: Now (he) Yochanan, his clothes were a garment of hair of camel”

And Hebrew Sources:

DuTillet/Munster: והיה לבושו של יוהנן משערות גמלים

English: “And Yochanan had garments (his) was from hairs of camels”

Shem Tob: והנה יוחנן היה לבוש מצמר הגמלים

English: “And behold, Yochanan was clothed from hair of camels”

OK so now some analysis. We have three basic readings here.

Some texts say that Yochahan had a “garment” (noun): (DuTillet/Munster Matthew, Peshitta Matthew, Greek Matthew and Greek Gospel according to the Hebrews)

Others say that Yochanan was “clothed” (verb): Shem Tob, Greek Mark)

And a third reading group says that Yochanan was “clothed” (verb) with a “garment” (noun) (Old Syriac Matthew, Peshitta Mark)

We can also see that the words “garment” and “clothed” are from the same Semitic root and have a similar or identical appearance. So we must ask ourselves, how did this variant arise? There are 3 possibilities:

  1. The original reading used only the verb “clothed” and a variant occurred thru scribal error, misreading this as the noun “garment”. Then a later scribe conflated the two readings to include both words.
  2. The original reading used only the noun “garment” and a variant occurred thru scribal error, misreading this as the verb “clothed” and a later scribe conflated the two readings to include both words.
  3. The original had both words and thru haplograophy, one was dropped. This either occurred twice, resulting in each reading, or a scribal error resulted in a miscopying of one word for the other after the haplography occurred.

One rule I have learned to use, is to look to our Hebrew manucscripts (which are late) for vocabulary, while looking to our older Aramaic sources for form.

What is especially interesting is that Shem Tob Hebrew Matthew agrees with canonical Mark against canonical Matthew in this phrase.

Something else that is especially interesting in that in our oldest, most primitive Semitic text, the Old Syriac, Old Syriac Matthew agrees word for word with the Peshitta reading of Mark. The Old Syriac of Mark is lost, but this makes it very compelling to extrapolate that the Old Syriac Mark followed in this reading (remember the Peshitta is a revision of the Old Syriac).

Moreover, if we compare this Aramaic reading to the Peshitta Aramaic reading of Matthew, we see that the text is identical except for one word replacing the verb “clothed” with a verb of being, thus giving the sense of “having” a “garment” rather than “being clothed” with a garment, in agreement with Greek Matthew.

From all of this information, I conclude that the original form of this phrase is preserved in Old Syriac Matthew and Peshitta Mark (which are identical and contain both words).

Moreover, this gives us a very Semitic reading using a Hebraism known as the cognate accusative in which a noun drawn from the same root as its verb is used to strengthen the impact of the verb action. Some examples in the Tanak:

cried with a great and exceedingly loud cry (Gen. 27:34)

we have dreamed a dream (Gen. 40:8)

vowed a vow (Judges 11:30)

thundered with a great thunder (1Sam. 7:10)

Our two Hebrew readings, have each preserved part of the original wording (DuTillet/Munster preserving the noun and Shem Tob preserving the verb), and if we graft that wording onto the template of the original form of the phrase as found in Old Syriac Matthew and Peshitta Mark, we have the original Hebrew restored to us! The original read:

והוא יוחנן לבוש היה לבושו משערות גמלים

“And he Yochanan was clothed with a garment (his) from hairs of camels”

So this shows you the process involved in recovering the original Hebrew of just one phrase within a verse of text. Neither of our two Hebrew texts preserved the original reading, but each preserved parts of it, while the Aramaic sources preserved a template in which to graft the Hebrew words!

This is very exciting work!

I realize that it is not the activity of James Trimm alone who is responsible to do this work, it is all of us together who are charged with the responsibility of accomplishing this work. I very much look on the efforts of this restoration work as a cooperative one with each one of you. We are all joint heirs with Messiah and should always be about our Father’s business. I am honored to be able to be partnered with truth seekers as this restoration of Scripture moves forward in fulfillment of prophecy.

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