(CBS 11 News) There are many versions of the Holy Bible ranging from the King James Version (KJV) to The Message Bible. Few, however, have garnered as much controversy as one bible, translated from Aramaic to English.
As depicted in the movie ďThe Passion of the Christ,Ē Jesus and his disciples spoke in Aramaic.
Many believed Jesus spoke an ancient form of Aramaic that is not spoken today. The closest Aramaic to the biblical dialect is said to exist in only a few corners of the world.
Although most theologians agree that the apostlesí native tongue was Aramaic, they still say they wrote the New Testament texts in Greek in order to communicate to the emerging Greco-Roman establishment.
Dr. Rocco Errico is a near eastern theologian and Aramaic expert. He teaches from the Holy Bible, a translation from Aramaic to English by his mentor Dr. George Lamsa.
Lamsa was the first to translate the Aramaic Peshitta texts, which were discovered in Mesopotamia in the early 30s, after more than 18 centuries. His English translation, titled “The Holy Bible, From the Ancient Eastern Text (George M. Lamsa’s Translation From the Aramaic of the Peshitta)Ē was published in 1957.
Lamsa was considered by many to be especially qualified for this scholarly work because of his command of both languages. He was raised in a part of northern Iraq where the mores and culture of the ancient Aramaic still exist. For this reason, Errico says, Lamsa was uniquely able to bridge the ancient with the modern for the purposes of understanding the idiomatic nuances and social variances of the ancient Aramaic and Hebrew world to the Westerner, unlike many other Aramaic scholars.
When asked why Errico would translate the bible from Aramaic to English instead of Greek or Hebrew, he said, ďNeither Jesus, nor his immediate disciples, who were illiterate fishermen, nor his Galilean Followers, knew or spoke Greek. [Aramaic] was the language of Jesus and there are 12,000 differences [by translating from Greek and Hebrew].”
One example of these misinterpretations would be The Lordís Prayer in the KJV, which reads ďlead us not into temptation,Ē Enrrico points out.
Translated from the Aramaic, this reads very differently as, ďdo not let us enter into temptation.” The difference, says Errico, is that God does not ďlead us into temptationĒ but that one could ask for his guidance not to ďenterĒ into temptation.
Likewise, says Errico, our lack of understanding of the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, near eastern biblical culture has lead to thousands of misinterpretations of what was meant to be idiomatic and metaphoric (not necessarily historical) speech in original writings.
“The word Catholic means universal and so this was originally the universal bible,” Errico says.
To understand this more clearly, one would have to study the origins of Christendom all the way back to before Christ and follow the developments of what is now the Roman Catholic Church.
Errico says one should reference the Near Eastern Chaldean Catholic groups and the Church of the East (Assyrians and also Catholic). The Chaldean group split from the Assyrian Catholic Church and joined up with Roman Catholics. Both Chaldean and Assyrian liturgy is all Aramaic and they teach from the Aramaic Bible today, as do many Roman Catholics in their liturgies.
Some early Christ followers broke off from the emerging Christian church and were marginalized.
Research shows the Targums and Jewish Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds were written in Aramaic.
Above all, the Christian movement grew out of the womb of the Jewish faith.
Hebrew is a sister tongue to Aramaic — much like the difference between Philadelphia English to Texan English.
Still, most western theologians insist the apostles wrote in the language of commerce of the first, second and third A.D.
Dr. Brian Schmisek, professor at the University of Dallas, says Erricoís assertion that Lamsaís bible is the ďoriginal Catholic bibleĒ is wrong.
ďCatholicism has always been one Holy, Apostolic church; the gospels were written by the apostles in Greek.Ē
Errico disputes this saying why would they translate from Greek when they had Aramaic and why did the New Testament include many Aramaic phraseology if the apostles werenít speaking (and writing) in their native tongue?
ďThere is no original Aramaic version of the New Testament or original Aramaic version of the Bible because the New Testament was composed entirely in Greek,” Schmesik rebuts.
Evidence shows Aramaic texts do go all the way back to the Targums; Hebrew translated to Aramaic, B.C.). Schmisek agrees “The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest biblical texts we have … — they are in Aramaic.ď
Does this lead one to say biblical writers of the times were literate and documented much in Aramaic?
ďDr. Errico is using a translation of the Greek–an Aramaic translation of the Greek,” Schmisek responds.
Errico says he used the ancient Peshitta texts, known to be at least as old as the Greek, as well as other ancient manuscripts.
But the real controversy comes in Errico’s interpretations. He says Jesus was the son of man, the ďMeshihahĒ (Messiah), a provincial prophet on a mission to teach Godís word, that he was a spiritual genius mighty in word and deed but Jesus was our savior but not our redeemer by the cross, which some say presents a real blow to western Christian belief.
In other words, says Errico, Jesus never ever spoke sacrificial language ďfirst of all that word redemption and redeemer is incorrect, the Aramaic does not use that word.”
Errico, in that refusal man crucified Jesus — it was not God’s plan. He says why would God be unwilling to sacrifice Abrahamís son and then decide to sacrifice his own?
Thus, Errico says the question is not who was Jesus but rather what was he about; what was his mission, “He didn’t die for our sins, he died because of them.”
Schmesik disagrees, saying ďJesus was crucified, died and on the third day rose again.Ē
But when pressed about the event as witnessed — according to scripture — Schmesik adds ďPaul, who says heís seen the Lord never gives us a description of it; the Gospel of Mark ends without a resurrection appearance Ö but itís what Christians believe.Ē
ďOur faith is based on the Apostles. In one sense, itís not built on the faith of Jesus, itís built on the faith of the Apostles. The Apostles preached to us about what Jesus did and said. If you donít believe that, youíre not a Christian,Ē Schmesik continues.
Errico says that just means you would not be a ďnew thoughtĒ Christian.
Part of the problem is rooted in the fact that Jesus, after his crucifixion, was deified as Lord as a justification for his death; that Jesus didn’t become Lord in a liturgical sense until about the 1st century A.D.
Errico says Christians (mostly Jewish Christ followers) had to try and explain why the son of man or the son of God died in such a way. Old Hebrew tradition regularly used blood sacrifice and this wouldíve made sense as an explanation for Jesusí death for the atonement of our sins, but that Jesus never said that.
ďHis message was not the cross. His message was the kingdom of God coming here and now.”
Errico adds there is no heaven or hell in the Western sense of the two being specific places in the universe. Hell is an Aramaic idiom that means mental torment — when you do something wrong you suffer for it.
So the question becomes: how does one suffer for it? What then, is the great reward of being saved?
Errico says: “The reward is here not when you die. God doesn’t reward, God doesn’t punish. He (Jesus) did save us, but he saved us by his teachings and if we donít follow his teachings youíre not saved at all.Ē
For a complete understanding of Erricoís work and teachings, visit his website for the Noohra Foundation, which he began in 1970 to continue Lamsaís work after he died in 1975.
Errico has since published 10 books in the U.S., two in Germany and one in Italy. His most recent book, ďAramaic Light on Galatinans Trough Hebrews (A commentary Based on Aramaic, the Language of Jesus and Ancient Near Eastern Customs)Ē was published in 2005. His newest work, “Aramaic Light on James Through Revelation” should be published this fall.
Errico’s works have been derived by Lamsa’s work, the Peshitta manuscripts and an assortment of other source materials from various museums including the Smithsonian and the Vatican Library.
Although books and materials can be purchased through various religious institutions such as Unity Church, all of the Lamsa/Errico materials including CDs, DVDs and books are sold through the Noohra Foundation.
Errico continues to lecture for colleges, civic groups and churches across the world and was recently inducted into the Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College.