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Home > Weekly Columns > Aramaic Thoughts > Archives >
Article for April 10, 2009

Aramaic Thoughts Archives
First available on April 10, 2009

The Peshitta of the Old Testament - Part 20


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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.


The last part of Ruth 1:21 reads as follows in the ESV, “The Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.” In the TNIV, the passage reads, “The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” The former has followed the Masoretic text, while the latter has followed the Peshitta, the Septuagint and the Vulgate.

The differences between the versions are accounted for by the following set of considerations. As the reader may or may not know, the Hebrew language is based on root words, most of which have three consonants. But some three-consonant combinations form more than one root word. Take the English word “lead” as an example. If it is pronounced “led,” then it is a noun and refers to a particular dense metal. If it is pronounced “leed,” then it is a verb meaning to guide. Even though the two words are spelled identically, they are not related in any way. So in Hebrew, there are four different words that have the basic consonantal spelling ‘nh. The first of these four words means to answer or respond. The second means to be occupied or busied with, and occurs only in Ecclesiastes 1:13,3:10. The third word is passive in its basic usage, and means to be afflicted or to be humbled. The fourth word means to sing. The first and third words are the most frequently occurring.

The word that occurs in the Hebrew text of Ruth 1:21 is the first word given above. When that word occurs, as it does here, followed by a particular preposition, it means to answer against, or to testify against. This is the meaning reflected in the ESV rendering. So where does the meaning indicated in the Peshitta and other versions come from?

The modern Hebrew text is written with vowels and diacritical marks. The ancient text, from which the ancient translations were done, did not have these marks. As a result, there was more possibility of confusion or misunderstanding. The verb form used in vs 21 shows up in the consonantal text as ‘nh. The way the Masoretic text is marked, this can only be read as “he answered/testified.” But given just the consonants, it could also be read as ‘inneh, which is how the ancient versions have read it. This latter is a form that comes from the third word ‘nh listed above. The difference between the two readings is minor, in that in either case the text indicates Naomi’s sense of the Lord’s opposition.

Which reading, however, is more likely correct? The Masoretic reading, for the following reason. The verb is followed by a particular preposition that give the verb + preposition combination the sense of “testify against.” The verb ‘nh that means to be afflicted or humbled does not occur with that particular preposition following. Hence it is more likely that the Masoretic text has retained the original sense than that the ancient versions have correctly rendered it.

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