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Home > Weekly Columns > Aramaic Thoughts > Archives >
Article for March 20, 2009

Aramaic Thoughts Archives
First available on March 20, 2009

The Peshitta of the Old Testament - Part 17


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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.


Joshua 22:34 reads as follows in the ESV, “The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, For, they said, it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.” The KJV reads, “And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God.” “Ed” in this case is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew word that means “witness.” Most other versions read similarly. The problem here is that the Masoretic text reads as follows: And the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad named the altar, for a witness it is between us that the Lord is God.” A few Hebrew manuscripts, the Peshitta, and the Targum provide the name ‘ed, which is the Hebrew word for “witness.”

The question is did those few Hebrew manuscripts, the Peshitta, and the Targum preserve the original reading of the text? That seems to be the view of the editor of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, because the annotation on the text says that the name of the altar has probably dropped out. However, it could also be the case that those few Hebrew manuscripts, the Peshitta, and the Targum, faced with a text that had no name for the altar, simply provided one that fit the context. This “name” they found a couple of words over in the affirmation that this altar would be a “witness” (‘ed) between them. There doesn’t appear to be any good reason why the name of the altar would have dropped out, so we are left with a certain amount of mystery.

The last clause of Judges 5:15 reads (ESV), “Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.” The KJV reads, “For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart.” The NRSV is identical to the ESV. There is a two-fold problem with this text. The first is that the word rendered “thoughts” in the KJV is most commonly rendered “statute,” or more generally as something prescribed. Thus, the difficulty for the translator is to determine how this word is to be rendered in this particular context. The issue is further complicated by the fact that the Peshitta and a few Hebrew manuscripts have a different word that is identical to the word in the very similar clause that ends verse 16. To make it a little clearer, the word in question in the Masoretic text of verse 15 is chiqeqey, while the Peshitta and a few Hebrew manuscripts have chiqerey—a difference of only one consonant. It is this latter word that is also found in the Masoretic text of the end of verse 16. So what happened? Did the original text have the same word in both places? In that case, the Peshitta and the few Hebrew texts are correct. Was there originally a different word in each place? In that case the Masoretic text is correct, and the few Hebrew manuscripts and the Peshitta have perhaps corrected something that needed no correcting. Or was the last line of verse 15 mistakenly repeated at the end of verse 16? The textual history seems to be against that idea, but it is possible.

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