CPA Aramaic

The “Christian Palestenian Aramaic” Version

In 1852 James Murdcok wrote:

Besides the manuscripts of the Peshito and Philoxenian versions, Adler found in the Vatican at Rome, one manuscript of the four Gospels, in a translation different from either. It is more servile and inelegant than the Peshito; but is not so servile as the Philoxenian. Its idiom also differs from both; for it is not pure Syriac, but is a species of Chaldee, or Jewish Aramaean: and the characters in which it is written, approximate to the Hebrew. Adler supposed it was made by some Jewish Christian about the fourth century. And as it is written in Jewish Aramaean, and not Syriac, he called it the HIEROSOLYMITAN VERSION. It has never been published, and is not considered of any great value.
(The Syriac New Testament Translated into English from the Peshitto Version; By James Murdock Appendix II p. 503)

In the century plus since then Adler’s fragment as well as many others, have been published. They are still “not considered of any great value” by much of academia and as a result little work has actually been done with this version. A very important field of study has been sitting wide upon for centuries because CPA was “not considered of any great value.”

Here we have an Aramaic version of both the Tanak and “New Testament” many copies of which are written in Hebrew letters, while others are written in characters similar to Syriac, and in a dialect closer to “Jewish Aramaean” than Syriac. A version which Adler believed “Adler supposed it was made by some Jewish Christian about the fourth century.” Obviously this is a very important Ancient Aramaic version.

What is the origin of this version? In 451 C.E. at the Council of Chalcedon Jacobite Syrians were excommunicated due to their Monophysite doctrine. The center of the Syrian Church was Antioch. While Antioch was a Syrian city, it was also a Greek colony. As a result Antioch had a healthy population of Greeks and Hellenist Syrians making it a bilingual community. When the largest portion of the Syrian Church was excommunicated, many of these Hellenist Syrians remained loyal to the Greek Catholic Church. These followed the Constantinopolitan Tradition of Eastern Catholicism and the Byzantine Rite and became known as Melekites. Those Melekites who lived in the Judean Desert, the vicinity of Jerusalem, Amman, and the Sinai Peninsula between the 3rd century and the 13th century C.E. used a unique Aramaic version of the Scriptures. This Aramaic Version is generally of the Western Text-Type and has been called by several names: Syro-Palastinian; Palestinian Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic (CPA).

Although the version has been called “Syriac” this is totally inaccurate. This version is not Syriac at all, nor is it even an Eastern dialect of Aramaic. CPA is in a Western dialect much more like that of the targums. The term “Syriac” was attached wrongly to this version because the script in which most copies are written resembles the Estrangelo script with which many Syriac documents are written. Most of this version is lost, only about 20% of it survives.

CPA uses Greek versions of names throughout, for example using swsy (“Iesus”) in place of (w#y (“Yeshua”). However in Acts 13:6 the name (”Bar Yeshua” appears, which may be a clue that an earlier version of CPA may have retained Semitic names.

This Aramaic version seems to have some relationship to the Old Syriac. The first surviving NT verse in CPA is Mattew 1:18.

In fact some relationship does exist. For example in Mattew 1:18 the Old Syriac and CPA are clearly related.

The Old Syriac reads:

Now the birth of the Messiah was thus:
While betrothed was Miriam his mother to Yosef before they came near
one to another (literally one to one) she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

CPA has:

Now the birth of the Lord Iesus the Messiah was thus:
While betrothed was Miriam his mother to Yosef before they came near
one to another (literally one to one) she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

In the Aramaic, with the exception of the alteration of “Messiah” to “the Lord Iesus the Messiah” and the alteration of the dialect these two verses are almost identical including the idiomatic Aramaic phrase literally “one to one” to mean “one to another”.

More research will need to be done to determine what, if any part, CPA can play in researching Aramaic textual origins.

We are now making detailed comparisons of CPA with the Old Syriac, Peshitta and other versions. This effort promises to be very fruitful in improving our understanding of Hebrew and Aramaic NT origins.

Matthew 1:1-17 (has not survived)

Matthew 1:18-25

(under construction)

(c) Copyright 2016 James Scott Trimm