Nazarene Space

The Jewish Origin of the Peshitta Tanak

The Jewish Origin of the Peshitta Tanak


James Scott Trimm



The Aramaic Peshitta Tanak is an important, and under-recognized witness to the text of the Tanak. The exact origin of the Peshitta Tanak is unknown. The “Syriac” version of the Tanak, is mentioned by Melito of Sardis as early as the second century C.E. One tradition has it that Hiram, King of Tyre in the days of Solomon, commissioned this Aramaic translation of the Tanak. Another tradition assigns the Peshitta translation as having been commissioned by the King of Assyria, who dispatched Assa the Priest to Samarir (see 2Kn. 17:27-28). According to the Aramaic “Church Father” Bar Hebraeus, the Peshitta Tanak originated when Abgar, king of Edessa, Syria, dispatched scholars to Israel to produce an Aramaic translation of the Tanak (Bar Hebraeus; Comm. To Ps. 10). Wichelshaus suggested that this king was the same as King Izates II of Adiabene. This king, along with his family, converted to Judaism as recorded by Josephus (Ant. 20:69-71). This king had dispatched his five sons to Israel in order for them to study Hebrew and Judaism. Burkitt maintained that the Peshitta Tanak originated not long after the first century C.E., as the product of the Jewish community of Edessa, in Syria.   (Early Eastern Christianity; Burkitt; p. 71ff)


There is certainly a good deal of evidence, to support the Jewish origin of the Peshitta Tanak. The Babylonian Talmud alludes to the Aramaic text of the Peshitta with the phrase “WE translate”:

 ‘A greeting of ‘Peace’ is not permissible there’. This supports the following dictum of R. Haninuna on ‘Ulla's authority: A man may not extend a greeting of ‘Peace’ to his neighbour in the baths, because it is said, And he called it, The Lord is peace. (Judges 6:24) If so, let it also be forbidden to mention, By faith! in a privy, for it is written, the faithful God? (Deut. 7:9) And should you answer, that indeed is so: but R. Hama b. Goria said in Rab's name, By faith! may be mentioned in a privy?-There the Name itself is not so designated, as we translate it, God is faithful (Quoting the Peshitta); but here the Name itself is designated ‘Peace,’ as it is written, and he called it, The Lord is Peace.
(b.Shabbat 10b)


THE LENGTH OF THE TERU'AH IS EQUAL TO THE LENGTH OF THREE YEBABOTH. But it has been taught, ‘The length of the teru'ah is equal to three shebarim’? — Abaye said: Here there is really a difference of opinion. It is written, It shall be a day of teru'ah unto you, (Num. 29:1) and we translate, a day of yebaba (quoting the Peshitta), and it is written of the mother of Sisera, Through the window she looked forth, (Judges 5:28) [wa-teyabab]. One authority thought that this means drawing a long sigh, and the other that it means uttering short piercing cries.
(b.Rosh Hashanna 33b)


R. Samuel b. Nahmani introduced his discourse on this section with the following text: Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle: (Is. 55:13) ‘Instead of the thorn’: instead of the wicked Haman who put himself up as an object of worship, as it is written, and upon all thorns and upon all brambles (Is. 7:19) ‘shall come up the cypress’: this is Mordecai who was called the chief of all spices, as it is said, And do thou take to thee the chief spices, flowing myrrh, (Ex. 30:23) which [last words] we translate [in Aramaic], mar deki. (quoting the Peshitta) ‘Instead of the brier’: instead of the wicked Vashti, the daughter of the wicked Nebuchadnezzar who burnt the ceiling of the house of the Lord; as it is written, its top was gold, (Song 3:10) ‘the myrtle shall come up’: this is the virtuous Esther who is called Hadassah, as it is said, And he brought up Hadassah. (Esther 11:7) ‘And it shall be to the Lord for a name’: this is the reading of the Megillah; ‘and for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off’: these are the days of Purim.
(b.Megilah 10b)


The books of Ezekiel and Proverbs in the Aramaic Peshitta, read very similarly to the Aramaic Targums of those same books.  The Peshitta Tanak has many Jewish liturgical divisions. For example, the Psalms are divided into five sections as in Jewish copies, and the Torah is divided according to the triennial Torah reading cycle, and festival readings are also indicated (for example Lev. 23:1; see b. Meg. 30b). Moreover the Peshitta Torah also contains many headings which are likely of Jewish origin. For example the ten commandments have the heading עםרא פתגם “The Ten Commandments” just above Ex. 20:1 and just above Leviticus 17, the Peshitta has the heading ומוסא דקורבנא ודדבחא “The Torah of Offerings and Sacrifices”, (compare with the Talmud b. Meg. 30b).


The text of the Aramaic Peshitta was originally written in Hebrew letters, until this was forbidden by Ephraim Syrus in the fourth century C.E., and contains many Judeo-Aramaisms. (Encylopedia Judaica; Article “Bible”)  Finally, many readings in the Peshitta Aramaic Tanak read Jewish halacha into the text. Many of these are noted in the footnotes of the HRV translation


The Aramaic Peshitta translation is a literal Aramaic translation, made directly from a Hebrew text which closely resembled the current Masoretic Text.


For example we read in Exodus 22:30 (31):


And you shall be set-apart men unto Me. Therefore,
you shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts
in the field: you shall cast it to the dogs.
(Ex. 22:30 (22:31) HRV)


Where we read “flesh that is torn of beasts in the field” the Hebrew reads ובשר בשדה טרפה  The Aramaic Peshitta has for this phrase ובסרא דנתיש מן חיותא חיתא  “And flesh which is torn from a living beast”. The Peshitta here alludes to the concept also found in the Talmud which applies the meaning of this text to eating flesh torn from an animal while it is still alive:


R. Johanan said: The verse: Thou salt not eat the life with the flesh,(Deut. 12:23) refers to a limb [severed] from a living creature; and the verse: Ye shall not eat any flesh in the field, that is trefah [torn of beasts],(Ex. 22:30) refers to flesh [severed] from a living creature and also to flesh of a trefah animal.
(b.Hullin 102b)


Another example is found in Leviticus where we read:


And he shall take the two goats,
and set them before YHWH at the
door of the tent of meeting.
(Lev. 16:7)


The Peshitta Aramaic has here “set them alive before YHWH” in agreement with the tradition recorded in the Talmud that the goats are both alike, and therefore both alive at the time they are presented together at the altar:


R. Aha b. Jacob said: It is derived from the case of the Scapegoat. The Divine Law says. And he shall take the two goats, which implies that the two shall be alike in all respects,
(b.Hullin 11a)

Another example in Leviticus reads:

21 And you shall not let any of your seed pass to Molekh,
neither shall you profane the Name of your Elohim: I am YHWH.
(Lev. 18:21)

Where the Hebrew gas “Molekh” the Peshitta Aramaic has “alien” (נוכריתא). This follows the tradition recorded in the Talmud that the use of “Molekh” in this passage is a euphemism for a “heathen” (b.Meg. 25a; m.Meg. 4:9).  According to the Mishna this passage is a euphemism meaning "you shall not let any of your seed pass to an Arameaness (בארמיותא)" (m.Meg. 4:9) the Gemara to this Mishna passage relates a tradition from the school of Rabbi Yishma’el which understands this to refer to “an Yisra’elite who has intercourse with a Cutheaness (הכותית) and begets from her a son to idolatry (בן לעבודה)” (b.Meg. 25a).


Again in Leviticus we read:


8 Shabbat Day by Shabbat Day he shall set
it in order before YHWH continually: it is
from the children of Yisra’el; an everlasting
(Lev. 24:8)

Where we read “Shabbat day by Shabbat day” the Hebrew has: ביום השבת ביום השבת The Aramaic Peshitta has instead ביומא דשתא “on the sixth day”. And the Greek LXX has “on the Shabbat”. The Peshitta may reflect a tradition recorded in the Talmud (b.Men. 97a) that while the work was done “Shabbat by Shabbat” it was actually done on the evening of the sixth day just before the Shabbat began.  However it may also be possible that the Aramaic reading  “of דשתא six” is a scribal error for דשבתא “of the Shabbat”.


The Peshitta Tanak is clearly of Jewish rather than Christian origin.  This is evident from the parallels with many Jewish Targums, the use of Jewish literary divisions, the various citations of the Peshitta as a Jewish translation in the Talmud and the influence of the Talmudic traditions on passages in the Peshitta Tanak.  Because the Jewish origin of the Peshitta has been largely overlooked, a valuable and important resource to Tanak understanding and textual criticism has been greatly under utilized.



If you believe in the work we are doing here then now is the time to step up to the plate and financially support this work.

We really need you to step forward and do your part.

Please help us bring the message of Torah and Messiah to a lost world and create Scripture study materials for believers.

You can donate by going to the pay-pal counter at or donations can be sent by paypal to

Donations can also be made out to “Nazarene Judaism” and sent to:

Nazarene Judaism
PO Box 471
Hurst, TX 76053




Views: 591

Comment by James Trimm on May 18, 2012 at 12:51am

Well the text of the Peshitta agrees with the Masoretic Text against the LXX in far more cases than not.

The Sentence structure of the Peshitta Tanak follows that of the Hebrew Tanak generally using ARamaic cognates. just not possible if it had been translated from the Greek.

Comment by James Trimm on May 18, 2012 at 12:52am

Which Syriac Peshitta Tanak mss. say they were translated from Greek?  Can you give manuscript numbers and what libraries and museums they are located in?

Comment by Erik Adoniqam on May 18, 2012 at 5:32pm
Scholarly consensus from what I've read doesn't claim that the Peshitta TN"K was translated from Greek. Rather, they say that it was likely translated around the first century from a Hebrew original but has since been **reworked** to fit many of the variants in the LXX which of course matches the Greek NT. This would explain why the Peshitta exhibits Semitic cognates while invoicing after the Greek NT's citations of LXX variants and the like. I think this to be the case, but then again I also believe the majority of the NT was committed to writing in Greek anyways. So it makes even more sense if that be the case.
Comment by James Trimm on May 18, 2012 at 5:38pm

You need to read my book

The Semitic Origin of the New Testament at

The Peshitta was probably translated in ancient times directly from a Hebrew text.. I see no reason to speculate on a revision because many Dead Sea Scroll Hebrew Tanak mss. have significant LXX agreements as well.


You need to be a member of Nazarene Space to add comments!

Join Nazarene Space












© 2019   Created by James Trimm.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service