The Aramaic Gospel
THE veteran scholar, Gustaf Delman, occupies a unique place among New Testament specialists. His wide erudition, his special knowledge of Rabbinical literature, and of Palestine, its landscape, atmosphere and social life in the time of Jesus— combined with the devoted enthusiasm which shines in all that he writes—give his work a quality and value of its own. Be- lieving that the discourses of Christ were delivered in Aramaic, and that shades of meaning lost in Greek may be recovered by translation back into the vernacular, he has devoted years to the task of recoveripg the actual words which our Lord must have spoken.; and the meaning which they would carry for contemporary minds. Only by this method, he thinks, can we hope to get nearer an understanding of how One " whose portrait is preserved to us in a Greek form, looked among the Hebrews." The collection of studies which has been so admirably translated by Dr. Levertoff must inevitably make their chief appeal to linguistic specialists, since they are full of detailed grammatical work ; and only by such specialists can their technical merits be estimated. But there is much in them to interest that large class of readers who welcome anything which helps them to visualize more clearly the world in which the great events -of the Gospel took place, and gives more precisiori 'to-their:understanding of the sayings of Christ.
The book opens with a study of the three languages current in the time of Jesus : Aramaic, His mother-tongue ; Greek, everywhere spoken, and almost certainly known by Him to some extent ; Hebrew, the language of formal religion, in which He would read the Scriptures when He " stood up " as a lector in the synagogue of Nazareth, returning to Aramaic when He sat down " as a teacher to comment on His text. Next there are detailed reconstructions of the contrasting scenes in the Nazareth Synagogue where Jesus proclaimed His mission while expounding the Law according to the regular practice of His day,- and on the rocky hill above Capernaum where He announced in His own terms the reign of God ; of the Last Supper, considered as the Passover Meal ; and of the Crucifixion. The elaborate study of the Last Supper and its connexion with Passover rites brings out very clearly the entirely Jewish origins of the Eucharist, and should be enough to deal the death-blow to the " Mystery-cult " hypothesis. At every point reference to Rabbinical literature throws fresh light on the meaning of words and deeds so familiar that we have almost forgotten that they arc strange ; and proves how intimate, colloquial and homely, how racy of the soil, was the form of Christ's teaching—how willingly He used the prover- bial philosophy of His time.
Thus such characteristic Gospel sayings as He that findeth his life shall lose it," " Sit not down in the highest room," " With what measure ye shall mete " and at least two of the beatitudes, appear to be Aramaic proverbs, taken up and made the vehicle of a new order of ideas. The parable of the labourers in the vineyard is found to be a Jewish tale, retold with a new moral ; for in the Rabbinic version, reward is according to the amount of work done ! Even the Johannine " many mansions " may depend on the Rabbinic belief that after death blessed souls went each to a place specially reserved for his own' class ; whilst that same belief surely casts the light of a Divine generosity on the promise made to the dying thief : " To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.".