Christian Confession

One of the first ideas I had regarding the approach to translating the Bible, was to avoid reading the existing Bible translations thoroughly before translating. I did not wish the translations from the Greek or Latin versions to influence me. I wanted a fresh impression, as much as was possible. I attempted to suppress the wordings and phraseology that had crept into my subconscious. I had to guard against unconscious inclusions of wordings from other translations. Having attended many church services since childhood and my reading of the Bible over the years, could make my translating a difficult task.

One of the mistakes that I made at the very beginning was assuming that the modern Syriac translation of the P'shitta was authentic work of translating. This misconception set me back about a year and a half. At first the mistake depressed me, but later it turned into an unexpected advantage. I became familiar with the evolution of the Aramaic language.

I had already translated the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, in that order. Then I had a conversation one day, with an old Church of the East priest. I told him that I had been translating the Bible from Syriac into English, for the sake of sharing the authentic Aramaic Bible with my American friends and English speaking people. At this time he did not say very much, except for smiling what I thought was approval.

At a later meeting, he asked me what I was doing. I said that I was still translating the Bible. Then he had to tell me. He said, "The Syriac is all wrong!" Talk about being shocked! I had just finished translating Matthew and was getting ready to translate John. I had already translated Mark, before I met him the first time.

I asked him, "Wasn't the Syriac translated from the ancient tongue?" The Church of the East is an Ashurai Church, and we do not use the term Aramaic. This is a modern-day designation. "Aramaic" really evolved from the language of the Ashurai, the people of Mesopotamia.

He said, "No, the Syriac version was translated by the Protestants and Catholics from the Greek versions."

I asked him, still incredulous, "You mean, no one has translated the ancient tongue original at all?"

He said, "No." Then I purchased a copy of the official Ancient Church of the East New Testament Book from him. I began reading Mark, and later Matthew. I was amazed. It was different!

It took me a while to recover emotionally. I had spent one and half years of my life translating the two Gospels from what I thought was the authentic Ancient Aramaic transcription into modern Syriac. Now I found out that I had been translating from a 19th century Syriac translation of what I finally determined was really a Syriac translation of mostly an English version. This 1897 Syriac version that I had, was translated in Urmi, Iran, by American and English missionaries with the help of proselytized Ashurai Christians.

I studied the work and activities of the missionaries in Urmi from about 1839 to 1914. I made some interesting discoveries. The Ancient Church of the East, being impoverished and its people barely surviving under Islamic oppression of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, had allowed the missionaries to enter their villages in north Iran and southeast Turkey. They preached to them their modern religions.

The missionaries from the West came in and established schools and churches and medical facilities. They learned the Syriac Aramaic vernacular and wrote up a grammar for the people. As a result, everyone could now read the Bible in their modern vernacular, which until then only priests of the Ancient Church of the East knew how to read. The ancient Aramaic Scripture had been passed down to them from the Apostolic Age.

The Church of the East had retained the ancient Aramaic in their liturgy, when celebrating Mass and conducting official Church services. The Bible itself was read in the original ancient Aramaic during Church services. The priests explained it to them in their modern Aramaic vernacular, through brief sermons. By this date there were no major theologians left.

In comparison, the Catholic Church has always had priests that knew Latin. The Church of the East priests of this period did not know ancient Aramaic that well. However, the Catholic Latin version was a translation of the Greek, which is itself, by definition, a translation of the words of Jesus Christ spoken in ancient Aramaic. In contrast the Church of the East at least had the original ancient Aramaic Scriptures, hand copied without any changes from the original tongue.

Judging by the thousands of idioms that only make complete sense in the Aramaic, there is no doubt as to the origin of the Ancient Aramaic New Testament. The Ancient Church of the East Ancient Aramaic New Testament is the original Gospel of Jesus Christ. All others are translations.

The Church of the East schools during the 19th Century were in the hands of a few monks who knew the ancient Aramaic, and they only taught a few students at a time toward the priesthood. The missionaries and especially the Catholics bought up the old hand copied Bibles of the Church of the East. Some of them were in the hands of families and tribal leaders. They were precious for sentimental reasons, but they were not different from the hundreds of copies the Ancient Church of the East had then. These were all copied by hand and subsequently printed by modern presses.

The only sad thing is that the old monks who copied the Scriptures by hand on dear skins were also masters of the language and there are none left today. They knew the ancient idioms, figures of speech and expressions. A century ago, these people injected these idioms into the modern Syriac vernacular. Today, most of these idioms are a distant memory, because the times and customs have changed. The knowledge of ancient Aramaic in the Christian world is very weak.

During the present ecumenical efforts to bridge the gap between the mainstream Christian denominations, the validity of the translation that I am doing is overshadowed by larger concerns of keeping the faithful united. The modern Church of the East, therefore, has no plans to translate the ancient Aramaic Scriptures soon. One can understand their reluctance, since they may feel that they have it already in the original language and, therefore, why translate it? Perhaps it's best this way.

I have decided to carry on my translation independently of all denominations. The ecumenical movement is somewhat responsible for a superficial solidarity among the denominations involved with it. The established churches do not see any need for a new English language translation.

As I resumed the work of translation, after all these considerations, I decided not to go back and retranslate Mark and Matthew immediately. The old translated verses were still fresh in my mind and I did not want to fall in the trap of rushing through them and conforming them superficially to the new reading of the ancient Aramaic.

I opened up John and started reading the ancient Aramaic of this Gospel for the first time, and I was awed by it. Here was a clear view of the Triune God, from the very beginning of the first chapter. The key word was "Milta," a beautiful word in its theological connotation. "Logos" and "Word" are such poor substitutes. There is essentially no English translation for the word "Milta" in a theological sense. Therefore, I had to come up with one.

I have translated the word "Milta" as "Manifestation." Jesus Christ is God Manifest. There is one God. There are three Manifestations, the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit.

I translated John and then Luke, and finally I went back to Matthew and started fresh. Now I'm translating Mark. I will keep posting my translations until I have all the New Testament, then I will start with the Old Testament.

Thank you for your interest and may the Lord Jesus Christ bless you every day of your life.

Vic Alexander
May 10, 1998

Bible Index
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