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Home > Weekly Columns > Aramaic Thoughts > Archives >
Article for April 17, 2009

Aramaic Thoughts Archives
First available on April 17, 2009

The Peshitta of the Old Testament - Part 21


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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.


Continuing in the Book of Ruth, there are some minor variations in the third chapter, where the Peshitta differs from the Masoretic Text (MT). 3:15 reads, “So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and put it on her back; then he went into the city” (NRSV). The question here is, “Who went into the city?” According to the MT, Boaz went into the city, because the verb form is a third masculine singular form. But according to the Peshitta, the Vulgate, the Targum, and a number of Hebrew manuscripts, it is Ruth who enters the city, since the verb form is a third feminine singular form. It is not clear that the Septuagint agrees with the MT on this point, simply because Greek does not differentiate between third masculine singular and third feminine singular in its verb forms. Hence, the wording of the Septuagint is neutral on this point.

A number of modern versions, such as the NRSV, simply go with the MT reading without any note about the variation. Interestingly, the ESV, which is very close to the RSV and somewhat close to the NRSV, renders, “She went into the city” without any annotation. In other words, the translators have considered the evidence sufficiently strong against the MT, that they have not noted the variation. The NIV and the TNIV put the MT reading in the text, but have a footnote on the variation.

In accounting for the variation among the texts, a number of considerations come into play. First, the Hebrew third masculine singular form is not likely to be confused with the third feminine singular form. So it is not a similarity of letters that might have caused confusion for a copyist. Second, Boaz is the primary actor in the verse. This could lead a copyist to think a third feminine singular form was a mistake (hence “correcting to a third masculine singular). Or the proximity of the third feminine singular verb at the beginning of vs 16 (the same verb as is under question) may have led a copyist to think that the third masculine singular in vs 15 was wrong. Or the same presence of the third feminine singular at the beginning of vs 16 may have led a copyist to mistakenly write a third feminine singular in vs 15 as well. The reader can see how muddy the waters are in trying to determine which reading is correct. My preference would be to do what the NIV did, that is, translate “he,” but put a note in the margin.

There is also a very interesting variation in vs 17, but that will require a more extended discussion next week.

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