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Variants in the Syriac Peshitta

 Did God Work on the First Sabbath?

 

The Antioch Bible, a bilingual edition of the Syriac Peshitta, preserves several unusual variants, some of which resolve thorny theological dilemmas. As a recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review noted, one of the most striking examples is found in Genesis 2:2.

Genesis 2:2, Revised Standard Version

And on the seventh day, God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.

Genesis 2:2, Syriac Peshitta

And on the sixth day, God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.

In the Revised Standard version above, which represents the majority of Bible manuscripts, God does some work on the Sabbath, since it says he finished on the seventh day. But in the Syriac version, God finishes on the sixth day and rests for the entire seventh day. The Syriac version preserves a different line of tradition that solves the problem of God working on the Sabbath, which he explicitly forbids the Israelites to do.

The Antioch Bible makes this and many other unique variants accessible to the English-speaking reader. Each facing page contains the original Syriac text and an easy to read, large font English translation. Variants and literal meanings are described in the introduction and marked in footnotes, which are kept light to maximize reading pleasure.  Some other variants include:

Revised Standard VersionSyriac PeshittaComments

Leviticus 10:17, Revised Standard Version

Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord?

Leviticus 10:17, Syriac Peshitta

Why did you not eat the sin offering in a holy place? For it is most holy. I gave it to you so that it may bear the sin of the assembly and may perform atonement on their behalf before the Lord.

"[I]t should be noted that only here does an item, the sin offering, appear as the subject of the verb √ܝܣܚ ‘to perform atonement’." - From the translator's introduction

Numbers 35:4-5, Revised Standard Version

The pasture lands of the cities, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all round. And you shall measure, outside the city, for the east side two thousand cubits, and for the south side two thousand cubits, and for the west side two thousand cubits, and for the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the middle; this shall belong to them as pasture land for their cities.

Numbers 35:4-5, Syriac Peshitta

The fields of the cities that you give to the Levites extends from the wall of the city and outward for one thousand cubits around the city. Measure outside the city on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side, two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, with the city in the middle. This shall be for you the unwalled zone of the cities.

"P reads the second personal plural pronominal suffix instead of the third person, along with the Samaritan Pentateuch, LXX, and the Palestinian targums, as well as many Masoretic manuscripts (BHS). This probably reflects a genuine reading in the [Hebrew] Vorlage." - From the translator's introduction

Deuteronomy 33:8, Revised Standard Version

And of Levi he said, “Give to Levi thy Thummim, and thy Urim to thy godly one, whom thou didst test at Massah, with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Mer′ibah.

Deuteronomy 33:8, Syriac Peshitta

Of Levi he said, Your brightness and your completeness are with the godly one whom you tested at Testings, and probed at the Waters of Strife.

"The Peshiṭta did not understand the ‘Thummim and Urim’ of ancient Israel, but offers an approximate rendering based on an etymology linked to the Hebrew words." - From the translator's introduction

1 Samuel 2:35, Revised Standard Version

And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind; and I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed for ever.

1 Samuel 2:35, Syriac Peshitta

I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, as my heart, and he will act according to my heart and my soul. I will build him a faithful house, and my anointed will walk before me always.

 

2 Samuel 22:32-33, Revised Standard Version

For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge, and has made my way safe.

2 Samuel 22:32-33, Syriac Peshitta

For there is no God other than the Lord, there is none who is mighty other than our God. God, who girded me (with) strength, who made faultless my way.

Isaiah 42:10-13, Revised Standard Version

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth! Let the sea roar and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands. The Lord goes forth like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his fury; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.

Isaiah 42:10-13, Syriac Peshitta

Praise the Lord with new praise, his praise from the ends of the earth, those who go down to the sea in its fullness, the islands and those who dwell in them. Let the wilderness and its cities rejoice, let Kedar become meadows, let the dwellers in the crags sing praises, let them cry out from the highest mountain. May they give praise to the Lord, may they proclaim his praises in the islands. The Lord will go forth as a mighty man, as a warrior he will arouse zeal; he will cry out, he will conduct himself manfully, he will kill his enemies.

 

Jeremiah 5:10, Revised Standard Version

Go up through her vine-rows and destroy, but make not a full end; strip away her branches, for they are not the Lord’s.

Jeremiah 5:10, Syriac Peshitta

Go up upon her walls and break them down — yet do not make an end: spare her foundations, for they are the Lord’s.

"Influence from LXX. . . ‘Go up upon her battlements and break them down … leave her buttresses for they are the Lord’s’ is probable." - From the translator's introduction

Lamentations 3:19-21, Revised Standard Version

Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope

Lamentations 3:19-21, Syriac Peshitta

Remember my servitude, my chastisement — with wormwood, with gall. Remember: restore my life to me. This I take to heart, because of this I will hope in him:

 

Ezekiel 8:17, Revised Standard Version

Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too slight a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence, and provoke me further to anger? Lo, they put the branch to their nose.

Ezekiel 8:17, Syriac Peshitta

He said to me: Do you see, O mortal man? Is it a little thing, to those of the house of Judah, this abomination that they perpetrate here? For they have filled the land with iniquity, they anger me again, snorting through their noses.

"MT ש לחים את־הזמורה אל־אפם ‘sending a branch (used in idolatrous worship?) to their nose’. P did not understand the reference to the branch. He kept ‘noses’ but changed the phrase to fit the theme of anger." - From the translator's introduction.

Hosea 4:18, Revised Standard Version

A band of drunkards, they give themselves to harlotry; they love shame more than their glory.

Hosea 4:18, Syriac Peshitta

They have all been promiscuous; they have loved dishonor and a false god.

"The latter might be the original Hebrew, the basis of the rendering with ‘a false god’, slightly corrupted during transmission." - From the translator's introduction.
Joel 1:9, Revised Standard Version

The cereal offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord.

Joel 1:9, Syriac Peshitta

The meal-offering and the libation are lacking from the house of the Lord; the kings sat in mourning, and the priests ministering to the Lord.

 

Amos 7:9, Revised Standard Version

The high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jerobo′am with the sword.

Amos 7:9, Syriac Peshitta

The ridiculous idols’ shrines will be laid waste, the sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste, I will arise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.

"MT במות ישׂחק ‘high places of Isaac’. The roots שׂחק and צחק both mean ‘to laugh’, but the proper name ‘Isaac’ is usually spelt based on √ צחק . The less common spelling of the name here may be intended to emphasize the root meaning; clearly this is the sense which P renders." - From the translator's introduction
Jonah 4:2, Revised Standard Version

And he prayed to the Lord and said, “I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil.

Jonah 4:2, Syriac Peshitta

He prayed before the Lord and said: I beg you, Lord - was not this what I said, when I was in my own country? Because of this, I rose early, I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, that you are longsuffering, that your lovingkindness is great, you turn away evil.

 

Micah 7:3, Revised Standard Version

Their hands are upon what is evil, to do it diligently; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together.

Micah 7:3, Syriac Peshitta

Their hands are ready for evil, they do not do good; the ruler says: Give! The judge says: Bring a gift! The prince speaks (of) his soul’s desire.

 

Nahum 3:19, Revised Standard Version

There is no assuaging your hurt, your wound is grievous. All who hear the news of you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?

Nahum 3:19, Syriac Peshitta

There is no-one who grieves for your wound; your wound is grievous; all who heard the report of you exulted over you: for your evil has continually violated every man.

"MT אין־כהה ‘none to lessen’. The Hebrew root meaning is ‘to be/grow dim’; nowhere else is it used of healing a wound. P’s choice may have been guided by the sense of the next part of the verse." - From the translator's introduction.

Habakkuk 2:4, Revised Standard Version

Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 2:4, Syriac Peshitta

He takes no pleasure in the unjust: but the righteous will live in faith.

 

Zephaniah 1:9, Revised Standard Version

On that day I will punish every one who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud.

Zephaniah 1:9, Syriac Peshitta

I will punish all the violent, the plunderers, on that day, who filled their wine-cellars by violence, by deceit.

 

Zechariah 5:6, Revised Standard Version

And I said, “What is it?” He said, “This is the ephah that goes forth.” And he said, “This is their iniquity in all the land.”

Zechariah 5:6, Syriac Peshitta

I said: What is it? He said to me: This is the measure which goes forth, and in it are the debts of all the land.

The Revised Standard Version includes a note that the word in Hebrew means "eye," which makes no sense. Instead, the editors of the RSV substituted a synonym what is found in the Greek Septuagint and the Syriac Peshitta, "iniquity."

Malachi 3:16, Revised Standard Version

Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another; the Lord heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and thought on his name.

Malachi 3:16, Syriac Peshitta

These (things) those who fear the Lord said, each to his neighbor; the Lord listened well, he heard; he wrote those who fear him and praise his name in the book of remembrance before him.

 

Matthew 6:12-13, Revised Standard Version

And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:12-13, Syriac Peshitta

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

"Whereas the Greek text at this point has ‘debts’ (τὰ ὀφειλήματα) and ‘debtors’ (τοῖς ὀφειλέταις), but in the parallel Luke 11:4 we find ‘sins’ (τὰς ἁμαρτίας), the Syriac uses a term that means both ‘debts’ and ‘sins’. The Syriac provides a telling clue as to the original wording Jesus was likely to have used, in his own Palestinian Aramaic dialect, where the same root carries both meanings." —From the translator’s introduction.

Mark 14:23, Revised Standard Version

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.

Mark 14:23, Syriac Peshitta

Then he took the cup, offered thanks and pronounced a blessing, and gave it to them. They all drank of it.

 

Luke 6:35, Revised Standard Version

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.

Luke 6:35, Syriac Peshitta

But love your enemies, do good to them, lend to them, and do not cut off any person's hope.

"Most witnesses have, “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend expecting nothing in return” (μηδὲν ἀπελπίζοντες). However, a very few (e.g. W Ξ sys) have a text that supplies a personal object for the verb (μηδένα), thereby requiring a different meaning for the verb, “to disappoint,” or more literally, “to cut off one’s hope.” The Peshiṭta and the Sinaitic manuscript of the Old Syriac clearly share this distinctive text." - From the translator's introduction

John 8:34, Revised Standard Version

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.

John 8:34, Syriac Peshitta

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.”

"Here a wordplay is evident in the Syriac text that is absent from the Greek. The word for “commit” or “do” and the word for “slave” derive from the same root, ‘bad, and sound very similar. The pun is so pronounced, it likely points to a wordplay in an underlying Aramaic expression, one that is lost in the Greek." - From the translator's introduction

Acts 26:11, Revised Standard Version

And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Acts 26:11, Syriac Peshitta

I punished them in every synagogue, forcing them to blaspheme in the name of Jesus. I was full of tremendous rage against them, and I also went to other cities to persecute them.

 
Romans 8:38, Revised Standard Version

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38, Syriac Peshitta

I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor authorities nor powers, both those that exist now and those that will exist in the future, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate me from God’s love which is in our Lord Jesus the Messiah.

 

1 Corinthians 5:12, Revised Standard Version

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

1 Corinthians 5:12, Syriac Peshitta

What right do I have to judge outsiders? You should judge insiders. . .

"One ancient papyrus of the Greek text (P46) made this phrase an affirmative statement rather than a question. The Peshiṭta appears to be following such a text, since the usual translation of the Greek interrogative particle (οὐχί) is not present, although technically any statement in Syriac could be read as a question. The translation here thus differs a little from translations of the standard Greek text." - From the translator's introduction

Galatians 1:6, Revised Standard Version

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel.

Galatians 1:6, Syriac Peshitta

I am amazed how quickly you are turning away from the Messiah, who called you in his grace, toward another gospel.

[T]he phrasing of the Syriac text here completely re-structures the sentence, which results in a somewhat revised reading of this verse. The Greek text (including the variant), is translated ‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ…’ (NRSV). The text of the Peshiṭta offers an interpretation of the Greek text that explicitly names the Messiah as the one who calls people, as opposed to the implicit conclusion of the Greek text that it is God who calls people ‘in the grace of Christ.’" - From the translator's introduction

Ephesians 3:16-17, Revised Standard Version

. . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

Ephesians 3:16-17, Syriac Peshitta

[asking] him to grant, according to his glorious riches, that you be strengthened with power through his Spirit, that the Messiah might dwell in your inner person by faith and in your hearts by love, even as your root and foundation is strengthened,

"In the Greek text, the phrase “in your inner person” clearly belongs with verse 16, but the wording of the Syriac text offers interprets this phrase as belonging to verse 17. Specifically, in the Greek text, it seems as though phrase “in your inner person” belongs with the previous clause “to be strengthened by his power through the Spirit.”" - From the translator's introduction

Philippians 2:14-16, Revised Standard Version

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Philippians 2:14-16, Syriac Peshitta

Do everything without murmuring and without division, so that you might become perfect, without blemish as the purified children of God, living in a stubborn and perverse generation. Among such people, you will be seen as lights in the world, in order that you might be salvation for them, for my glory in the day of the Messiah so that I will not have run in vain or labored for nothing.

"The Syriac word ݂generally means “place,” as in a physical location, but when it occurs with the preposition -ܒ, it can take on the meaning “for” or “in place of.” Thus, through the use of this particular meaning of this phrase, the Syriac translation of this verse expresses the hope that the audience, through the example of their shared life in Christ, might provide the way to salvation for their non-Christian contemporaries." - From the translator's introduction

Philemon 12, Revised Standard Version

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.

Philemon 12, Syriac Peshitta

and I have sent him to you; receive him as you would my own child.