Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An Aramaism in Matt. 11:26 par. Lk. 10:21

Although I've spent some time lately debunking various attempts to find Aramaic wordplay in the gospels, I do think that Aramaisms are to be found in them, and that New Testament scholars need to be aware of them.

A simple and very clear example is the idiom in Matt. 11:26 par. Luke 10:21, where Jesus in his prayer says to God, that He had revealed hidden things to babes, because "thus it was well-pleasing in thy sight" (Gk. houtos eudokia egeneto emprosthen sou), literally, "such was will/pleasure before you."

This particular idiom does not appear in the Septuagint, in the Greek Pseudepigrapha, or in any other place in the New Testament (except one, Mt. 18:14, see below). The best parallels elsewhere are in Aramaic, especially the targums.

In these examples, a translation of the Hebrew is given first, then a translation of the Targum:

Deut 10:10: "the Lord did not want to destroy you" = Targ. Neof. "there was no pleasure before the Lord to destroy you"

Judg. 13:23 "if the Lord wanted (to kill us)" = Targ. Jon. "if there was will/pleasure before the Lord (that we should die)"

I Sam. 12:22 "the Lord wanted to make you a people for himself" = Targ. Jon. "there was pleasure before the Lord to make you a people before him"

I Sam. 16:8 "the Lord has not chosen this one" = Targ. Jon. "there is no pleasure before the Lord in this one"

Isa. 1:11 "what is the multitude of your sacrifices to me?" = Targ. Jon. "there is no pleasure before me in the multitude of your holy sacrifices"

Jer. 44:22 "the Lord cannot bear any more" = Targ. Jon. "there was no longer pleasure before the Lord to forgive"

Jonah 1:4 "you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you" = "you, O Lord, have done as there was pleasure before you"

There are quite a few other examples.

The word translated "will, pleasure" is רעוא ra'awa, which corresponds very closely to Greek. eudokia. The Aramaic of the Gospel phrase would be something like ken hewat ra'awa qodamak, "such was will/pleasure before you" = "that is what you wanted to do."

A similar instance in the Gospels is Matt. 18:14: "it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven" (Gk. ouk estin thelema emprosthen tou patros humon tou en ouraniois), which in Aramaic would be la ra'awa qodam abukon di bi-shmayya. Here thelema is used instead of eudokia, but the underlying idiom is clearly the same.

Is this definitely Aramaic and not Hebrew? There are examples of the equivalent Hebrew phrase, the oldest of which is in Pirke Avoth 5:20: "May there be pleasure before you, O Lord our God (that the Temple be built)" = yehi ratzon millephaneykha YY eloheinu. Therefore it is possible that the Aramaism in Mat. 11:26 par., 18:14 is actually a Hebraism. However, the use of "before" (Aram. qodam, Gk. emprosthen) as a mark of respect, in this idiom and others, seems to have its origin in Aramaic, not Hebrew, usage. Therefore I opt for Aramaic.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: These are long-known examples of Semitic influence; of many references, the best discussion is probably in Gustav Dalman, Die Wörte Jesu.


Anonymous said...

A strange argument of etymology: m=utton means the source is French?
NB: Pirqe Avot is older than the targums. Cf. also a well-known Qumran phrase 'men of his pleasure' in both Hebrew and Aramaic.

Unknown said...

Interesting discussion that I only recently came across. It is quite interesting to see that this particular phrase was a later development in the linguistic milieu of the early church.
However, your construction, while not implausible, needs further evidence which is not forthcoming. As noted, the trouble with using the Targumim is the disputable dating and provenance. In my QA work, the more prevalent word for pleasure is ןידע (e.g., 1QapGen
2.9, 2.14). The only occurrence of אוער that I can find in QA is 1QapGen 2.23. Consequently, the wording you construct may contain later vocabulary or vocabulary geographically far removed from that used in Eretz Israel in the time of the early church.

Nevertheless, thanks for an interesting discussion.


Ed said...

Your method is far too restrictive. Clearly Qumran with its tiny corpus is insufficient for purposes of retroversion. Only a look at the entire diachronic lexicon will enable any kind of successful back-translation. If you assume that a normal vocabulary has 5-10K words, Qumran Aramaic with its 1.5K vocab (over half of them hapaxes) must be supplemented with others.

Hans said...

If the Hebrew sources for this idiom are relatively late, coming from a time when Aramaic already was spoken widely, then it may be an Aramaism in Hebrew as well?