O Father-Mother Birther of the Cosmos?!

It has been another interesting day in the world of Aramaic Studies. Hopping around Yahoo Answers, I came across a link to a webpage that had a number of really... 'interesting' translations of the Lord's Prayer from "the original Aramaic." This gave me so much of a headache that I had to come here and discuss it so that those who are fortunate enough to come across this blog know what to look out for and what not to trust.

The following is only for academic purposes. Let it be known up front I do not endorse these translations by any means as academic or true to any known Aramaic text. With that said... here is what I came across:

Exhibit 1: Spurious
The Prayer To Our Father
(in the original Aramaic)
Thou, from whom the breath of life comes,
who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.
Nethkâdasch schmach
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.
Têtê malkuthach.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.
Nehwê tzevjânach aikâna d'bwaschmâja af b'arha.
Let Your will come true - in the universe (all that vibrates)
just as on earth (that is material and dense).
Hawvlân lachma d'sûnkanân jaomâna.
Give us wisdom (understanding, assistance) for our daily need,
Waschboklân chaubên wachtahên aikâna
daf chnân schwoken l'chaijabên.

detach the fetters of faults that bind us, (karma)
like we let go the guilt of others.
Wela tachlân l'nesjuna
Let us not be lost in superficial things (materialism, common temptations),
ela patzân min bischa.
but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.
Metol dilachie malkutha wahaila wateschbuchta l'ahlâm almîn.
From You comes the all-working will, the lively strength to act,
the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.
Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)

Exhibit 2: More Spurious

Lords Prayer Translated from Aramaic
A Translation of "Our Father" directly from Aramaic into English
O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration. Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your Presence can abide.
Fill us with your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of your mission.
Let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with our desire.
Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish.
Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us, as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.
Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose, but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.
For you are the ground and the fruitful vision, the birth, power and fulfillment, as all is gathered and made whole once again.

Exhibit 3: Neil-Douglas Klotz's "Translation"

Lords Prayer, from the original Aramaic
Translation by Neil Douglas-Klotz in Prayers of the Cosmos
O Birther! Father- Mother of the Cosmos
Focus your light within us - make it useful.
Create your reign of unity now-
through our fiery hearts and willing hands
Help us love beyond our ideals
and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures.
Animate the earth within us: we then
feel the Wisdom underneath supporting all.
Untangle the knots within
so that we can mend our hearts' simple ties to each other.
Don't let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back from our true purpose.
Out of you, the astonishing fire,
Returning light and sound to the cosmos.

Exhibit 4: G.J.R. Ouseley's "Translation"

Lords Prayer, from Aramaic into Old English
Translation by G.J.R. Ouseley from The Gospel of the Holy Twelve
Our Father-Mother Who art above and within:
Hallowed be Thy Name in twofold Trinity.
In Wisdom, Love and Equity Thy Kingdom come to all.
Thy will be done, As in Heaven so in Earth.
Give us day by day to partake of Thy holy Bread, and the fruit of the living Vine.
As Thou dost forgive us our trespasses, so may we forgive others who trespass against us.
Shew upon us Thy goodness, that to others we may shew the same.
In the hour of temptation, deliver us from evil.
The Verdict:

What do all of these "Translations" have in common? They exploit (whether intentionally or unintentionally) the unfortunate fact that the general public knows little to nothing about the language. From a scholarly standpoint, these translations have about as much in common as actual Svenska has to the cute and inane babblings of a certain loveable Muppet.

For the record, let it be known that I have absolutely no problem with mysticism and I find it a valid expression of religion. I do, however, have a problem with mistaken claims, regardless of their source. As such, I find these interpretations particularly upsetting but, if you take a step back, they are understandable from their authors' points of view.

The point of mysticism (as I've come to see it) is to actively seek out direct experience with the divine. As these interpretations are rendered, I believe that we can greatly understand their authors' religious experience and conceptions of God and the cosmos. However, when working with a language in translation, a translator must try their best to shed their undue biases and attempt to convey a plain meaning of the text in question rather than the meaning that they imply, impose or wish to interpret into.

This truly has made religious texts a can of worms for translators, from ancient times to present as religious texts are what people look into to find inspiration for daily life, help in times of need, a sense of identity, and (most importantly) the divine. There are so many expectations, emotions, and theological implications that things can get clouded, and at many times heated (think of the King James Version Only Movement or the New World Translation).

It's enough to give you a headache. :-)

What Does the Prayer Actually Say?

I suppose that it's the next logical thing to ask. :-) Before we can answer that question, however, we first need to ask, "Which 'Original' Aramaic Lord's Prayer are we talking about?"

There are, unfortunately, several Aramaic versions that exist historically. By far the most famous is the one found in the Syriac Peshitta. Generally when someone refers to the "Original Aramaic" they're talking about this one. A wonderful recording of it was done by SAVAE (the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble) and it can be found here (it's #3 on the list and rather pretty; also notice that they've fallen to the interpretation by Neil Douglas-Klotz as shown above. I've contacted them about it over the past number of years since the Ancient Echoes CD came out, but they haven't done a thing about it after numerous conversations via email... ~sigh~).

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 what the Peshitta was redacted from at a later date (how much and in what manner is up to debate, but it is generally believed that the Peshitta came from the OS being edited to match the Greek tradition at 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 much more than one would find between two modern Bible translations. They basically say the same thing.

The Translation

Below I've included a transliteration of the Lord's Prayer from the Syriac Peshitta with my own translation and notes. I've tried to break things down word by word to clear up any misconceptions, questions or naysaying. This isn't a perfect translation, as no translation is, but I believe that it does a better job outlining things in a more or less comprehensive fashion:

Notes on transliteration below:

Abwun dvashmaya

(Our father who is in heaven.)

abwun = our Father
d-va-shmaya = of whom/which - in - heaven

Nethqadash shmakh
(May your name be holy.)

nethqadash = will be holy
shmakh = your name
Note: The imperfect or "future" tense can be used in some cases as an adjuration, i.e. "May so-and-so happen."

Tethe malkuthakh
(May your kingdom come.)

tethe = it will come
malkuthakh = your kingdom

Nehweh tsevyanakh
(May your will be [done])

nehweh = it will be
tsevyanakh = "your will" or "your desire"
Note: This literally means closest to "Your will will be" which is awkward in English at best.

Aykana dvashmaya
(As it is in heaven)

aykana = like, as
d-va-shmaya = of whom/which - in - heaven

Af bar`a
(Also [be] on the earth)

af = also
b-ar`a = in/on - the earth

Hav lan lakhma
(Give us bread)

hav = give
lan = to us
lakhma = bread

Dsoonqanan yomana
(That we need today)

d-soonqanan = of which - we lack/need
yomana = "today" or "daily"

Ushvuq lan khaubeyn
(And forgive our sins)

u-shvuq = and allow/forgive
lan = unto us
khaybeyn = our sins/debts/shortcommings

Aykana d'af khnan
(Also as we)

aykana = like
d-af = in the same manner - also
khnan = we

Shvaqan lkhaiveyn
(Have forgiven sinners)

shvaqan = we've forgiven
l-khaiveyn = unto - sinners/debtors/the guilty, etc.

U'la te`lan lnisyouna
(And don't lead us into danger.)

u-la = and - not
te`lan = "lead us" or "cause us to enter" (could be either due to verbal form ambiguity)
l-nisyouna = unto - danger/temptation

Ela patsan men bisha
(But deliver us from evil)

ela = but
patsan = deliver us
men = from
bisha = evil

Metul d'dheelakh hee malkootha
(Because the Kingdom is yours.)

metul = because
d-dheelakh = of which - "yours" (it's a grammatical construct signifying ownership which is a bit complicated to explain here)
hee = is
malkootha = kingdom

Ukhaila utheshbookhtha
(And the power, and the glory)

u-khaila = and - power
u-theshbooktha = and- glory

`Alam l`almeen
(Forever; To eternity)

`alam = forever
l-`almeen = unto - the ages (idiom. "eternity")


ameyn = "truly" or "it is truth!" traditional ending to prayer or an oath (e.g. "ameyn ameyn amarna lakh" = "truly, truly I'm telling you!" or "I swear!")

The Catch

Yes there's a catch. :-) About the Peshitta and Old Syriac versions: They are written in Syriac Aramaic, a dialect that truly crystalized after the lifetime of Jesus and in a different geographical location, so this 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.

I know of several reconstructions of the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic that would be very similar to the dialect that Jesus would have used, given certain assumptions we make about him. However, those will come about on a later date.

Stay tuned!



UPDATE November 2012:
I have posted my reconstruction of The Lord's Prayer here:

The Lord's Prayer in Galilean Aramaic on AramaicNT.org.


For a deeper look at the Lord's Prayer in various Aramaic traditions, there is now a class over at Aramaic Designs: ARC010: The Aramaic Lord's Prayer.

Topics covered include:

- What is So Special About the Lord's Prayer?
- A (Brief) History of Aramaic & the Dialect of Jesus
- The Syriac Peshitta Tradition
- Other Syriac Traditions and Their Relations to Each Other
- Scholarly Reconstructions
- Modern Aramaic Traditions
- Odd Translations
- Conclusions, Thoughts & Final Paper

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