George Lamsa

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George Lamsa
George Lamsa

George M. Lamsa (August 5, 1892 – September 22, 1975) was an Assyrian author. He was born in Mar Bishu in what is now the extreme east of Turkey. A native Aramaic speaker, he translated the Aramaic Peshitta (literally "straight, simple") Old and New Testaments into English.

Contents

Biography

Lamsa's primary training as a boy was to tend the lambs. But, as the first-born son in his family, while yet an infant he was dedicated to God by his devout mother. Years after her death, when Lamsa was 12, her vow was renewed by native tribesmen, an ox killed and its blood rubbed on his head. This vow to God, Lamsa claimed, had always been part of him. "God's Hand,"he affirmed, "has been steadfastly on my shoulder, guiding me in His Work."

Lamsa's formal studies began under the priests and deacons of the ancient Church of the East. Later he graduated with the highest honors ever bestowed from the Archbishop of Canterbury's Colleges in Iran and in Turkey, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Lamsa never married, but dedicated his life to "God's Calling."

At the beginning of World War I, when Turkey started invasions, Lamsa was forced to flee the Imperial University at Constantinople, where he was studying, and went to South America. Living was hard during those years; he knew but three words in Spanish - water, work and bread. As best he could he existed - in the British Merchant Marine for a time, then working on railroads, in mines, and later in printing shops, a trade he had learned in college.

After arriving in the United States, in his early 20's, Lamsa by day worked as a printer, and by night went to school. He later studied at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, and at Dropsie College in Philadelphia.

It was through his struggles with the idioms of English, during these years, that Lamsa gradually launched in his "life's work" of translating the Scriptures from Aramaic into English. Yet many years were to pass before the world received his translations.

First as a lecturer in churches and seminaries, in halls and auditoriums, before statesmen, theologians, groups of artists, actors and others, Lamsa received recognition as a poet-philosopher, and as an authority on all phases of Eastern civilization.

It was his own inner compulsion, and the urging of hundreds who heard him, that drove him forward, and brought about, after 30 years of labor, research and study, his translation of The Holy Bible from a branch of the ancient Aramaic language, used by Christians from earliest times; it is known fact that Jesus and his followers spoke Aramaic.

There were times when he was temporarily stopped in his translations, when the idioms in the manuscripts could not be given correct English meaning. Lamsa related, "Often I would lie on the bed with the script before my eyes (he had a photographic memory which retained chapter after chapter of Biblical passages), and suddenly the translation would come, the English words would fall into place. "I discovered that the words in the Bible contain power, that they are charged with the Holy Spirit. Everything comes and passes away, but God's Truth endures forever." It was Lamsa's firm belief that his translation would bring people nearer to the true Word of God, and would facilitate understanding between East and West.

The last 10 years of his life, Dr. Lamsa tutored and prepared Dr. Rocco A. Errico to continue with the Aramaic work. He died on September 22, 1975 in Turlock,California where he is interred.

History and views

Lamsa was a member of the Assyrian Church of the East. He was a strong advocate of one of that Church's beliefs: Peshitta primacy (a form of Aramaic primacy). His hypothesis was that for the New Testament, the Peshitta was the original text, and the Greek version was translated from it. In support of this, he noted that Aramaic was the language of Jesus and the earliest Christians, because of the historical fact that, according to Lamsa, "Aramaic was the colloquial and literary language of Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, from the fourth century B. C. to the ninth century A. D."

Lamsa further claimed that while most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the original was lost and the present Hebrew version, the Masoretic text, was re-translated from the Peshitta.

Lamsa produced his own translation of the Bible in the form of The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts, which is commonly called the Lamsa Bible.

Scholarly views

Where many scholars hold that the sources of the New Testament and early oral traditions of fledgling Christianity were, indeed, in Aramaic, the Peshitta appears to have been strongly influenced by the Byzantine reading of the Greek manuscript tradition, and is in a dialect of Syriac that is much younger than that which was contemporary to Jesus.

Controversial translation

A notable difference between Lamsa's translation and other versions of the New Testament occurs in the fourth of the Words of Jesus on the crossEli, Eli, lama sabachthani. This is regarded by more conservative scholars as a quotation in Aramaic of the opening of Psalm 22, which in English is "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This is similar to how the psalm appears in the Aramaic Peshitta Old Testament and it appears in earlier Aramaic Targums. Lamsa believed that the text of the Gospels was corrupt, and that it is not a quotation but should read /Eli, Eli, lemana shabaqthani, which he translates as: "My God, my God, for this I was spared!" An accompanying footnote in Lamsa's English version of the Bible explains Jesus's meaning as "This was my destiny."

Aramaic grammars and dictionaries, contend with Lamsa's assertion about Jesus' last words, as the word שבקתני [shvaqtani] in Aramaic is the perfect 2nd person singular form of the verb שבק [shvaq] which means "to leave, to leave s.t. left over, to abandon," or "to permit" with the 1st person singular pronoun affixed. This would, in turn, cause the phrase to translate as "why have you left me?" "why have you let me be?" "why have you abandoned me?" or "why have you permitted me?"

Where many scholars hold that the sources of the New Testament and early oral traditions of fledgling Christianity were, indeed, in Aramaic, the Peshitta appears to have been strongly influenced by the Byzantine reading of the Greek manuscript tradition, and is in a dialect of Syriac that is much younger than that which was contemporary to Jesus.

Critics of Lamsa assert that he, like many native speakers Aramaic, extend the semantic areas of words beyond the evidence of existent texts.

Works

  • Life in the Harem. Washington, D.C: [s.n.], 1921.
  • The Secret of the Near East: Slavery of Women, Social, Religious and Economic Life in the Near East. Philadelphia, PA: Ideal Pr., 1923.
  • Emhardt, William Chauncey, and George Mamishisho Lamsa. The Oldest Christian People: A Brief Account of the History and Traditions of the Assyrian People and the Fateful History of the Nestorian Church. NY: Macmillan, 1926.
  • Did 'the Jews' Kill Jesus? NY:[s.n.], 1930.
  • Key to Original Gospels. Philadelphia, Pa: John C. Winston Co, 1931.
  • My Neighbor Jesus: In the Light of His Own Language, People, and Time. St. Petersburg Beach, Fla: Aramaic Bible Soc., 1932.
  • The Four Gospels According to the Eastern Version. Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1933.
  • Gospel Light: Comments on the Teachings of Jesus from Aramaic and Unchanged Eastern Customs. Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1936.
  • The Book of Psalms, According to the Eastern Version. Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1939.
  • Modern Wisdom. New York: Association Pr., 1939.
  • The Shepherd of All: The Twenty-Third Psalm. Philadelphia, Pa: A.J. Holman, 1939.
  • Josephus and the Greek Language. New York: [s.n.], 1940.
  • The New Testament According to the Eastern Text: Translated from Original Aramaic Sources. Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1940.
  • Second Reader in Aramaic. Philadelphia: [s.n.], 1942.
  • New Testament Commentary from the Aramaic and the Ancient Eastern Customs. Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1945.
  • New Testament Origin. Chicago: Ziff-Davis, 1947.
  • The Short Koran, Designed for Easy Reading. Chicago: Ziff-Davis, 1949.
  • The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts: Containing the Old and New Testaments. Philadelphia: [s.n.], 1957.
  • Was Jesus an Essene? A Comparative Study of Jesus and the Prophets; a New Light on the Hidden Years. Pontiac, Mich: Charles R. Hocklin, 1959.
  • A Brief Course in the Aramaic Language. [s.n.], 1960.
  • Old Testament Light: A Scriptural Commentary Based on the Aramaic of the Ancient Peshitta Text. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1964.
  • Gems of Wisdom. Lee's Summit, Mo: [Unity School of Christianity], 1966.
  • The Kingdom on Earth. Lee's Summit, Mo: Unity Books [distrib. Hawthorn, NY], 1966.
  • The Shepherd of All: The Twenty-Third Psalm. San Antonio, Tex: Aramaic Bible Center, 1966.
  • And the Scroll Opened. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1967.
  • More Light on the Gospel: Over 400 New Testament Passages Explained. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1968.
  • The Hidden Years of Jesus. Lee's Summit, MO: Unity Books, 1968.
  • The Man from Galilee; A Life of Jesus. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1970.
  • Roses of Gulistan. St. Petersburg Beach, Fla: Aramaic Bible Society, 1972.
  • Old Testament Light: A Scriptural Commentary Based on the Aramaic of the Ancient Peshitta Text. Philadelphia: Holman, 1978.
  • Pearls of Wisdom. Marina del Rey, Calif: De Vorss, 1978.
  • Idioms in the Bible Explained; and, A Key to the Original Gospel. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1985.
  • The Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text: George M. Lamsa's Translations from the Aramaic of the Peshitta. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.
  • New Testament Light: More Light on the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation: Over 400 Passages Explained. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.
  • The Modern New Testament from Aramaic. Marina del Rey, CA: DeVorss, 1998.
  • Lamsa, George Mamishisho, and Daniel Jon Mahar. The Deluxe Study Edition of The Modern New Testament from the Aramaic: With New Testament Origin, Comparative Bible Verses, & a Compact English-Aramaic Concordance. Martinez, GA: Aramaic Bible Soc., 2001.


Biographical Works

  • Lamsa, George Mamishisho, and Tom Alyea. The Life of George M. Lamsa, Translator. St. Petersburg, Fla: Aramaic Bible Soc., 1966.

See also

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