Friday, October 20, 2006

John 8:58 in the Peshitta - "I was" or "I am?"

"Before Abraham existed, I was!"

Thus read both the Lamsa and Murdock English translations of John 8:58 from the Syriac New Testament (the Peshitta). Paul Younan also translated it this way, but when asked if it could also be translated "I am," he replied:

Yes, John 8:47 [8:58] can also mean "I AM". It's just a different way of saying it than what is used in 8:13 [8:24]. The second word, Yty0 comes from the Aramaic root ty0, which means "is, are."

Here is the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon entry:

)yt V1 passim there is, are

2 Syr + some . . . others
LS2 16
LS2 v: )iyt

So you see, the Aramaic root "ith" encapsulates the same linguistic sense that a copula does... the only difference is that it's actually spelled out in another word rather than implied as a shortened form of the Independent Pronoun.

George Kiraz's Analytical Lexicon of the Syriac New Testament also defines )yt as "is, are." Syriac scholar P.J. Williams in private email told me that he would translate the last clause in John 8:58 in the Peshita as "I am." This is also how J.W. Etheridge translated it (The Peschito Syriac New Testament: Translated into English, 1846).

While some anti-Trinitarian apologists on the Internet have offered Murdock and Lamsa as translations denying that ego eimi should be translated as "I am" in John 8:58, it appears that the underlying Aramaic may actually support the traditional translation after all.