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O Father-Mother, Birther of the Cosmos?
It was another interesting day in the world of Aramaic Studies. Hopping around Yahoo Answers, I came across a link to a web page that had some really… “interesting” translations of the Lord’s Prayer from the “original Aramaic”. This gave me so much headache that I have to come here and discuss it so that those who are lucky enough to come across this blog will know what to watch out for and what not to trust.
The following is for academic purposes only. Be it known up front, I do not endorse these translations in any way as academic or true to any known Aramaic text. That being said…here’s what I found:
Exhibit 1: Spurious
The prayer to our Father
(in the original Aramaic)
“O Thou, from whom comes the breath of life,
which fills all the realms of sound, light and vibration.
May your light be experienced in my holiest.
Your Heavenly Dominion is approaching.
Nehwê tzevjânach aikâna d’bwashmâja af b’arha.
Let your will come true – in the universe (everything that vibrates)
as in earth (which is material and dense).
Hawvlân lachma d’sûnkanân jaomâna.
Give us wisdom (understanding, assistance) for our daily needs,
Waschboklân chaubên wachtahên aikâna
daf chnân schwoken l’chaijabên.
break the chains of faults that bind us, (karma)
as we leave the guilt of others.
Wela tachlân l’nesjuna
Let us not get lost in superficial things (materialism, common temptations),
she patzân min bischa.
but let us be freed from that which hinders us from our true purpose.
Metol dilachie malkutha wahaila wateschbuchta l’ahlâm almîn.
From you comes the will that works, the living force to act,
the song that beautifies everyone and renews itself from age to age.
Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with all my being)
Exhibit 2: More Spurious
Lord’s Prayer translated from Aramaic
A translation of “Our Father” directly from Aramaic to English
O Cosmic birth of every radiance and vibration. Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your Presence can dwell.
Fill us with your creativity so that we can be empowered to bear the fruit of your mission.
May each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with our desire.
Give us the wisdom to produce and share what every being needs to grow and flourish.
Untie the tangled threads of fate that bind us, as we free others from the entanglement of past mistakes.
Do not be seduced by that which diverts us from our true purpose, but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.
Because you are the soil and the fruitful vision, the birth, the power and the achievement, as everything is gathered and made whole again.
Exhibit 3: “Translation” by Neil-Douglas Klotz
Lords Prayer, from the original Aramaic
Translated by Neil Douglas-Klotz in Prayers of the Cosmos
O Birth! Father – Mother of the Cosmos
Focus your light on us – make it useful.
Create your kingdom of unity now –
through our burning hearts and willing hands
Help us to love beyond our ideals
and acts of compassion for all creatures arise.
Animate the earth in us: we then
feel the Wisdom below that sustains all.
Untie the knots inside
so that we can mend the simple bonds of our hearts to one another.
Don’t let superficial things fool us,
But free us from what is holding us back from our true purpose.
Out of thee, wondrous fire,
Returning light and sound to the cosmos.
Exhibit 4: “Translation” by GJR Ouseley
Lords Prayer, from Aramaic to Old English
Translated by GJR Ouseley from The Gospel of the Twelve Saints
Our Father-Mother Who art above and within:
Hallowed be thy name in double Trinity.
In Wisdom, Love and Equity your Kingdom comes to all.
Your will be done, As in heaven so on earth.
Give us day by day to partake of your holy bread, and the fruit of the living vine.
As You forgive us our sins, so we can forgive others who have offended us.
Show us your goodness, that we may see the same in others.
In the hour of temptation, deliver us from evil.
What do all these “Translations” have in common? They exploit (either intentionally or unintentionally) the unfortunate fact that the public knows little to nothing about the language. From a scholarly point of view, these translations have about as much in common as current Swedish has with the cute, goofy daddies of a certain lovable Muppet.
For the record, let me know that I have absolutely no problem with mysticism and find it a valid expression of religion. I do, however, have a problem with false claims, regardless of their source. Therefore, I find these interpretations particularly shocking but, if you take a step back, they are understandable from the points of view of their authors.
The point of mysticism (as I have come to see) is to actively seek direct experience with the divine. When these interpretations are made, I believe that we can understand a lot about the religious experience of their authors and the conceptions of God and the Cosmos. However, when working with a language in translation, a translator must try to do his best to remove his undue prejudices and try to convey a clear meaning of the text in question rather than the meaning that imply, impose or wish to interpret in.
This has really made religious texts a can of worms for translators, from ancient times to present as religious texts are what people look for to find inspiration for everyday life, help in times of need, a sense of identity and (most importantly) divine. There are so many expectations, emotions and theological implications that things can get cloudy, and at times heated (think of the King James Version Only Movement or the New World Translation).
It just gives you a headache. 🙂
What does the prayer really say?
I think that’s the next logical thing to ask. 🙂 Before we can answer this question, however, we first need to ask, “Which “Original” Aramaic Lord’s Prayer are we talking about?”
There are, unfortunately, many Aramaic versions that existed historically. By far the most famous is the one found in the Syriac Peshitta. Generally, when someone refers to the “Original Aramaic” they are talking about this. A wonderful recording was made by SAVAE (the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble) and can be found here (it’s #3 on the list and quite beautiful).
Next is the version found in the Old Syriac Gospels (OS), a set of two manuscripts (the Sinaitic Palimpsest and the Curetonian texts) that are written in an older dialect of Syriac than the Peshitta and are generally believed to be the which was Peshitta. redacted by at a later date (how much and in what way is up for debate, but it is generally believed that the Peshitta came from the OS that is edited to match the Greek tradition of the time). The Prayer as found in the OS is in a slightly different order and very slightly different wording (even between manuscripts); however, these differences are nothing more than one would find between two modern Bible translations. They basically say the same thing.
Yes, there is a catch. 🙂 About the Peshitta and Old Syriac versions: They are written in Syriac Aramaic, a dialect that really crystallized after the life of Jesus and in a different geographical location, so it would not be the exact language that Jesus would have used.
In essence, the catch is that even these (including my text above) would not be the “Original Aramaic” of the Lord’s Prayer.
We know of many reconstructions of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic that would be very similar to the dialect that Jesus used, given certain assumptions that we make about him. However, those will come at a later date.
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