Interview with Christopher Fredrickson for the Beth Shiloh Newsletter on the Lapid Jewish Aramaic New Testament
R' Bonville: You have released a new translation of the Brit Chadasha in Aramaic tell us a little about this one and why it is different from other Aramaic translations currently being sold
Christopher: Certainly, well first of all there are wonderful translations out there from greek texts from later Hebrew texts and as you have noted Aramaic texts. Now I got frustrated years ago when I noticed that most Aramaic translations out there currently are from what is called the UBS collection. Now, there is nothing wrong with the UBS but it serves a different function than what some are looking for. For example, we have the Masoretic of the Hebrew Tanach and it is a majority text comprised of many texts which has formed the majoriative text. We all rely on the Masoretic whether we realize it or not, but as a language nerd I like to look at the texts that comprised the Masoretic and the textual chronology with including the Targumim as well as the Septuagint.
This brings us to my Aramaic text, which we used the Khabouris, the Yonan texts mainly which are the two oldest texts. Then when in question to differences in the two I would break the time using the 1199 Houghton Codex. Now with the UBS we have older documents and newer documents that are used as equals. Texts such as the Old Syriac and others for existence are not even "Old" as the title would seem to indicate, it pops up around the 16th century as was known to be an Aramaic translation from the greek. So when you put a text like that and give it the same weight as the Khabouris you are gonna have trouble in seeing the uniqueness of the oldest Aramaic texts.
R' Bonville: Where did you learn Aramaic and what is it's importance to you?
Christopher: That is a wonderful question. First of all I was brought to the Aramaic about 13 years ago, when I was learning Hebrew. I came across the Khabouris in Ashuri script, and for your readers who don't know the Ashuri is the same as the Hebrew Defus script we are all familiar with. So, I bought an Aramaic dictionary, and then a collection of semitic language dictionaries. I later crafted my Aramaic fluency by studying under Ewan McCloud who is one of the leading scholar in Aramaic and I learned Aramaic in Ashuri, Estrangela, Serta and Swadaya Script. This translation earned me my moreh certification in Aramaic actually.
In terms of it's importance to me, it was the Aramaic that brought me back to Yeshua many years ago. And when you look at, for instance, the Targums of Onkelos it is such an important part of textural chronology, especially when you see the through texts such as that the underlining commentaries within it that Onkelos had incorporated in out that shows us what the understanding was of passages at that time. Considering we have Aramaic as early back as the text of the Genesis in the Masoretic and Aleppo and Lenigrad Codexes and of course the Targumim that pre-date the first century it should be very important to us. Also, most scholars note that the Jews during the days of Yeshua spoke predominantly Aramaic in the Jewish world at this time, the history dating back to the Medo-Persian Empire and Babylonian Exile and seeing it in Daniel shows there is major importance of Aramaic in the Jewish world. And well as the fact many of the texts we hold dear such as the Talmud and Zohar were all written in Aramaic not Hebrew. I love following the chronology of thought and we have Biblical texts that allows us to do this.
R' Bonville: Now you are well known as an Aramaic Primist, most I know who are like you don't like greek translations, any thoughts on that?
Christopher: Lets be objective and honest here. The scholarship is split down the middle in terms of Aramaic and Greek primacy. So to diminish the Greek is dishonest and shouldn't be done. And let's look at what is in publication now in the Messianic world that is used often. The Scriptures 98, is translated from the greek, the Complete Jewish Bible, also translated from the Greek, the Delitzsch Hebrew is a greek text translated into Hebrew. We owe a lot to the greek texts and I am not ashamed to say that I have at least 10 Greek bibles on my bookshelf and I hold them in high regard. I love Phil Gobel's OJB and though it has ashhkinazi Hebrew transliterations, it is a NKJV Bible with transliterations from the Masoretic and the Delitzsch Hebrew and again the Delitzsch is a Hebrew translation of the greek. Greek is important in terms of textural chronology. So I try and be objective and though I am an Aramaic Primist, I love greek Bibles.
R' Bonville: Why the Aramaic transliterations?
Christopher: Well, I dunno how old you are, but I remember there became an interest in 2004 in Aramaic because of the Passion of the Christ, then after the movie was in the theaters interest in Aramaic pleated. Now, Aramaic has a rich history within Judaism and sadly hardly anyone knows Aramaic anymore. It is a dying language and if we didn't have the Ashuri script of Aramaic and if we didn't have Eliezar Ben Yehudah advocating for the Jews to learn Hebrew in the late 19th Century then Aramaic would be dead. Aramaic primists like myself , need to get people excited about Aramaic again.
So, being a fan of Gobel's OJB, I said "that is so cool what he did with the Hebrew transliterations, I should do that with my Aramaic translation". So that is what I did. I thought this would help people in terms of discussing Aramaic and learning key vocabulary in Aramaic and it may peak their interest in learning Aramaic. And I think it is one step closer to bring people's interest back to this language that has such a rich history that has almost become forgotten.
R' Bonville: What was the biggest obstacle in translating the Lapid Jewish Aramaic New Testament?
Christopher: Honestly, my attention span lol. Juggling between two documents and trying to use them in concert with one another and then using a third text as a tie breaker at times takes a lot of time. I have horrible anxiety and sometimes I would spend an hour on just one phrase saying "ok be unbiased how should this render?" . And sometimes I would pull in the Delitzsch to help me out, or thousands of pages I have taken notes on over the years in several binders from numerous scholars in the Aramaic world I have attended lectures with and such. Sometimes I would pull out commentaries to help me out. And the process was definitely frustrating at times because it is a process that took close to 12 years. My patience is not that good usually lol. So sometimes i would put it down and not touch it for months out of frustration. But I would constantly come back to it.
R' Bonville: Can you give an example of something people will be surprised with in your Bible?
Christopher: They will be surprised I think with how helpful the transliterated key words are. For instance, this is something that stocked me early on. As you know ins Semitic languages most words have many definitions. But in translations we only get one of them. One example is the word Khaye, now the word Khaye, which is used over 100 times in Aramaic Khabouris and Yonan Codexes and both codexes agree each time it is used, the word Khaye has a double meaning. It means both "life" and "salvation". Many times when your Bible translates life or salvation in your new testament, the other word is also applicable because the two are one in the same. So you can imagine how that context allows the text to open up in a way that many do not realize. Now, because of this New Testament people will see it there and realize the double meanings or triple meanings in the text. That I think is going to help people amazingly in their study.
R' Bonville: Is there any commentary with your Bible?
Christopher: Honestly, I love many of the Chumashim I have, I love Artscroll's stuff because of the commentaries. I am an Artscroll fanatic. I love commentaries, but I chose not to put as single line of my commentary in here for a few reasons. First of all, there have been some Messianic translations I have liked from Aramaic texts but the non-textural commentaries I found to be inaccurate and I saw a sectarian thing going on because of it. I didn't want to be part of that because I know how I was turned off by many of them because the scholarship of Artscroll wasn't there.
Now, I do have the Rabbinic Gospel series where there is not my commentary but rabbinic footnotes from rabbinic texts, but I didn't do that with this New Testament.
Also, my publisher told me if I had any commentary I would have to fit it into 2 pages which would be impossible. I wanted to do some appendixes but instead of selling a separate volume I decided to release a free PDF in about a few weeks about how I translated certain things and why I translated certain things a certain way that differs from many greek translations. And that PDF will be free in a few weeks.
R' Bonville: You don't have to answer if you think I am out of line. But you are the sole translator of this Bible and you have said on the radio people should only buy translations that are made by a team. How do you justify your translation then?
Christopher: Do not worry I am not offended, and that is a wonderful question. It may sound weird but I stand by my statement. What is the reason for a team? Peer review of course. Now, I have combed over my notes from lectures and conversations from theological and linguistic scholars. I can tell you, I would say about 70% of these notes and conversations I have had with these individuals and scholars actually come from them and what I have learned from them and things we have discussed. I have piggy backed on m any scholars I hold in high regard. I have combed through thousands of pages of notes on the linguistics from them. Many phone and Skype conversations when I have been stuck etc. Also, I had them peer review this text in it's early form before it was released. So unlike some others, I can say I have had the best team which is a bunch of uncredited scholars and things they have taught that I took down notes from. Then I had sent my early draft off to them and said, "tell me if anything needs to be changed". I would discuss certain changes that one suggested with the others and then tried to make a decision based upon the input from all of them and take the majority consensus.
It should also be noted, unlike some, I didn't do this for the reason of putting out a product. It was done because there has been a huge hole in the community for good Aramaic texts and I just felt led to do this mainly for my own study. Then I saw one very popular translation was discontinued and I said, "the void needs to be filled" and so I decided to step into the void but I made sure I had good peer review. So that is a very fair question and I appreciate you asking it.
R' Bonville: What do you hope to ultimately accomplish from this?
Christopher: I am not hoping for any sort of individual accomplishment in terms of sales or notoriety. What my ultimate goal is to stir an interest in Aramaic and for people to see it's amazing importance. I find it amazing people are learning Hebrew I love that so very much, but also I think after learning Hebrew people need a slight push to be able to learn Aramaic. And considering this is the language every scholar almost agrees that Yeshua taught and spoke Aramaic I think we in the believing community should be the ones who preserve the Aramaic. And I hope in seeing the richness of the Aramaic in this text people will gain an interest in Aramaic and start using it more and maybe e the Hebrew and Aramaic Learning Institute, which I run, would not be the only place people can go to learn Aramaic. I would love to see more people teaching Aramaic and more people learning it and using it in their teachings and on the social media. I donno how many we will spark an interest in because of this, I really don't but I would like to think I have been able to help that community come a little closer to the forefront because of this.
R' Bonville: What books other than yours would you recommend for people interested in languages?
Christopher: Oh my there are several. First I would say to learn the languages a little bit before buying a lot of books. But the Baal HaTurim series from Artscroll is awesome, he goes through textural anomalies and gematria in the Torah for every Torah Portion, it is a 5 book set and it ids amazing. I also really like the Pirkei Chotam series, now unless you can understand kabbalah methods to some degree it may be a little more complicated but I love it. A good primer is Rabbi Michael L Munk's Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet. Also, ArtScroll's series on Onkelos, they have only released Bereishis and Shemos this far but it is amazing because they compare the Onkelos Aramaic alongside the Masoretic Hebrew texts so you get two in one and the footnotes show why Onkelos chose to render certain things differently from the Masoretic and it is amazing.
R' Bonville: Any plans on a Tanach?
Christopher: Nooooooo!!!! Kol Menechem, Artscroll and Feildheim have many amazing ones and they cannot be improved on in my opinion. The New Testament and Aramaic are too often neglected and I originally did this for my own study, so me releasing it was not something I planned on initially. But I can promise you I will not do a Tanach.
Read the Gospel of Matthew from the Lapid Jewish Aramaic New Testament
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