One of the things I have come across which has excited me so much recently is the exploration of biblical material through the Aramaic it is widely expected Jesus would have spoken. It is worth remembering that any Bible we have now is in the language of the reader (in my case English), translated from the source languages (Hebrew or Greek, or in some cases English first) and translated from the spoken word to the source language. So the words of Jesus come to me in English, having been translated from the Greek, having been interpreted (and remembered!) from the Aramaic. If you type a phrase into Google translate and see what comes back after passing through two or three different languages, you’ll understand why this is worth remembering! (For a more in depth exploration of this and why it is important I recommend Barton, 2019).
Although I’ve been a Christian all my life, I never had much theology instruction until I became curious for it myself in recent years. So the link to Aramaic had never meant much to me. Until I discovered ‘Jesus’ in Aramaic would have been ‘Yeshua’. My God-on-Earth would have sounded his name Ye-shwa. All the songs about how beautiful the name of Jesus is suddenly take on a new dimension. Yeshua. Isn’t it beautiful!
Having had a tough few days, I decided to sit and do some contemplative art around this new discovery. I wrote the name Yeshua while I prayed over it. Here is what struck me:
Ye, or Say Yes!
In any moment, in any situation, we have a choice to say ‘Yes’ to God. If we are celebrating, we can praise God for supporting us to a great result. If we are suffering, we can say yes, God, please come and be with us in this pain. There is always a choice, an option to say ‘yes’.
Sh, or Be at Peace
Miles Davis famously counted silence as vital to his Jazz, believing that without the silences the notes had no meaning. Life without the silence is just as meaningless. We may believe it is all about the busyness and the action but actually, without the space to process, discern and plan our next moves the busyness can soon become nonsensical. Psalm 62:5, ‘For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him’ (ESV).
Wa, or Breathe
An outbreath. An exhalation. A long, slow release of deeply held air. Very similar to a Sufi meditation I learned using the name of God ‘Yawheh’, the Ya being an inbreath and the Weh being an out. In focusing on Their name as you breathe, you receive a real grounding of God in your breathing, in your body then out into the world. I find this an incredibly soothing and mindful prayer to spend time with.
Yeshua – Say ‘Yes’, Be at Peace, Breathe
All this beauty, depth and layers of meaning, of which I have only scratched the surface, in the given human name of God. What a joy to discover! What a thrill to realise The Lord’s Prayer was first shared in Aramaic, the Beatitudes proclaimed with the richness of this imagery. English is such a disappointingly limited language! However I am thoroughly enjoying using my prayer time to explore Aramaic expositions of Jesus’ recorded words further, and will leave you with this selection of gems based on the probable Aramaic for what we know as ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven’:
“Oh Thou! The Breathing Life of all, Creater of the Shimmering Sound that touches us.”
“Source of Sound: in the roar and the whisper, in the breeze and the whirlwind, we hear your Name.”
“Wordless Action, Silent Potency – where ears and eyes awaken, there heaven comes.”
(Douglas-Klotz, 1990, p12)
Peace be with you
Barton, J. (2019) A History of the Bible: The Book and it’s Faiths. London: Allen Lane
Douglas-Klotz, N (1990) Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meanings of Jesus’s Words. New York: Harper Collins