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The Lost Old Syriac Aramaic Reading of Acts 1:4

The Lost Old Syriac Aramaic Reading of Acts 1:4
By
James Scott Trimm

In the King James Version we read in Acts 1:4:

And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.

(Acts 1:4 KJV)

The Peshitta Aramaic  version has "And he ate bread (לחמא) with them..." where the KJV has "And, being assembled together with them..."

Here the Earliest Greek manuscripts may reflect a more original Old Syriac reading.

There are a number of variant readings in the Greek for this phrase. The Alexandrian text reads "kai sunalizomenus" Greek scholars have found this a difficult word to deal with in this text. With a long "a" sunalizomenu was used in Classical and Hellenistic Greek to mean "collect or assemble". With a short "a" sunalizomenu means literally "to eat salt together".

According to Bruce Metzger the meaning "to eat salt together" is a rare and late meaning of the Greek word which did not appear until the end of the Second century A.D.. Most of the early versions do take the word to refer to eating (The Old Latin, the Latin Vulgate; the Coptic, the Armenian, the Ethiopic and the Armenian for example). About thirty-five late Greek manuscripts read alternately sunaulizomenos "to spend the night with".

Aramacist Dr. Daniel L. McConaughy has noted that the Ancient Aramaic "Church Father" Ephraim ("Mar Aprim" (early 4th Cent.) quotes the passage in Aramaic in his Hymns on Virginity hymn 36. This is very important because Ephraim's quotations from the Gospels often agree with the Old Syriac against the Peshitta text and because the Old Syriac of Acts has been lost. Ephraim's quote uses the word אתמלח "salted" or "ate salt" here. McConaughy suggests that this is the lost Old Syriac reading which would refer to an ancient Semitic custom of eating salt together in ritual meals (Num. 18:19; 2Chron. 13:5).

There is obviously some kind of scribal error here between the roots לחמ ("bread") as in the Peshitta and מלח  ("salt") as in the Old Syriac.

( See An Old Syriac Reading of Acts 1:4 and More Light on Jesus' Last Meal before His Ascension; Daniel L. McConaughy; Oriens Christianus; Band 72; 1988; pp. 63-67)

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