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Home > Weekly Columns > Aramaic Thoughts > Archives >
Article for February 27, 2009

Aramaic Thoughts Archives
First available on February 27, 2009

The Peshitta of the Old Testament - Part 14


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Author Bio
Dr. Shaw was born and raised in New Mexico. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1977, the M. Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1980, and the Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981, with an emphasis in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament and Targumic Aramaic, as well as Ugaritic).

He did two year of doctoral-level course work in Semitic languages (Akkadian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Middle Egyptian, and Syriac) at Duke University. He received the Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation at Bob Jones University in 2005.

Since 1991, he has taught Hebrew and Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a school which serves primarily the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he holds the rank of Associate Professor.


Leviticus 7:21 reads as follows (ESV): And if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether human uncleanness or an unclean beast or any unclean detestable creature, and then eats some flesh from the sacrifice of the LORD's peace offerings, that person shall be cut off from his people. That accurately represents the text of most Hebrew manscripts. However, the Peshitta, the Targum, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and some Hebrew manuscripts read “swarming” instead of “detestable.” The Hebrew word for detestable is sheqets, while the word for swarming is sherets. Further, this latter word is used in Leviticus 11:20 to refer to animals that are also identified as sheqets. The difference between the two is only one consonant, so it is an easily explainable mistake. The majority Hebrew text is probably right, but I’m not sure that it makes any real difference in interpretation.

Leviticus 14:31 reads as follows (ASV): even such as he is able to get, the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering, with the meal-offering: and the priest shall make atonement for him that is to be cleansed before Jehovah. The Peshitta, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate all omit “even such as he is able to get,” as do some modern English versions, such as the ESV. That first clause of vs 31 repeats the last clause of vs 30, so the translators, both ancient and modern, have probably assumed that the repetition in the Hebrew text was accidental. Again, it is difficult to determine which reading is original. My own thought is that the omission of the first clause of vs 31 is easier to explain as having derived from the translators not seeing the sense of the repetition. If there was originally no repetition, the rise of the repetition is harder to explain. That probably accounts for the fact that the ASV and such modern versions as the HCSB have retained both occurrences of the phrase.

Levitics 16:1 reads (ESV): The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died. The Peshitta, the Septuagint, the Targum, and the Vulgate all read, “when they brought strange fire before the Lord.” The consonantal Hebrew text of this part of Leviticus 16:1 reads, bqrbtm lpny yhwh. The consonantal Hebrew text of Numbers 3:4 reads, bhqrbm ‘sh zrh lpny yhwh. This is the reading that is reflected in the ancient versions of Leviticus 16:1. Aside from the addition of the two words translated “strange fire” the texts are very close, as the following comparison shows (eliminating the two additional words from Numbers 3:4).

Leviticus 16:1: bqrbtm lpny yhwh
Numbers 3:4: bhqrbm lpny yhwh

The first word in Leviticus 16:1 means “when they drew near.” The first word in Numbers 3:4 means, “when they brought near.” The latter is a different form of the same verb as the former. Given the well-known episode of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, and the statement of Numbers 3:4, it was probably a natural mistake of the translators to change the form of the verb, and to add the two additonal words.

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