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Home > Weekly Columns > Aramaic Thoughts > Archives >
Article for March 6, 2009

Aramaic Thoughts Archives
First available on March 6, 2009

The Peshitta of the Old Testament - Part 15


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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.


There is an interesting variant reading in Numbers 11:12. The context is Moses complaining to God about the complaining of the people. The people were receiving the manna daily, but they were grumbling about the lack of variety in their diet and, as usual, remembering fondly their time in Egypt. So Moses said to God (NKJV), “And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that you have laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers?”

The Peshitta, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, the Targum, and one Hebrew manuscript read “I” in the place of the last “You” in the verse. Several explanations may be offered for this variation. The clause “which I swore to your fathers,” or “which I swore to their fathers” occurs a number of times in the Pentateuch. Thus the translators and/or the copyists may have simply put that here in the place of “You” without even thinking about it. Or it might be the case that the repeated use of “I” in the context has led the translator or copyist astray, and he put an “I” in the wrong place.

Another possibility is that the final clause of verse 12 “to the land which You/I swore to their fathers” was understood as a continuation of God’s words to Moses. A careful look at the punctuation of the NKJV shows that they understand Moses “quote” of the Lord to end with “nursing child.” The final clause, then, returns to Moses’ address to God, hence the “You” fits. But if Moses’ “quote” of the Lord does not end with “nursing child,” but rather goes to the end of the verse, then “I” is appropriate and “You” is wrong.

To my mind, contextually the “I” reading makes better sense. Moses’ “quote” of the Lord goes all the way to the end of the sentence, hence the “I” is the Lord speaking, and not Moses. If the entire last part of verse 12 is the “quote” from the Lord, the “you” could also be read in such a way as to make sense, though the NKJV would have to remove the capital “Y.” That is, the Lord is saying to Moses, “Carry them to the land which you (Moses) swore to them.” This would be similar, then, to the way God addresses Moses in Exodus 32:7, where, in the wake of the Golden Calf episode, the Lord says, “your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.”

All things considered, however, I find the “I” reading preferable. The “you” reading (read as God addressing Moses) doesn’t really fit the context, and the “You” reading leaves the last part of vs 12 as a fragment, not connected to anything in the context. Such disconnected fragments do occasionally occur, but I doubt there is one here.

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