The Aramaic Lord’s Prayer
Growing up, many of us learned and recited the Lord’s Prayer in church or at bedtime, saying something like this:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses (debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us (our debtors).
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
This is only one translation of Jesus’ words, a translation based on Greek manuscripts which were translated over the centuries from one language into another — into Latin, German, and into various forms of the English language. However, Jesus did not teach in Greek, Latin, German, or English. He spoke and taught in Aramaic, the common langauge of the time in Israel. In the Temple, he would have spoken Hebrew – a sister language to Aramaic, which was the more formal language for the Temple.
The New Testament was written in Greek, which had become the common language of the Mediterranean world, so the words of Jesus were expressed in a foreign language. Around the time of the first Council of Nicaea (325 CE), when Western Christianity was trying to sort itself out and squash some of the arguments about how Jesus Christ was to be understood, the eastern areas of what are now Turkey, Syria and Iraq were controlled by the Persian Empire. Christians had established themselves here by the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and they were largely of Semitic extract and Aramaic-speaking. These early Christians were not repressed and persecuted as they were in the Roman Empire, and they built schools, libraries and places of worship, with Persian support. Moreover, from the earliest days, they had access to copies of early scriptures which they could study in their homes, in their natural dialect, Aramaic. This was the version of the scriptures which came to be known as the Peshitta – meaning simple, straight, true. It included the 4 gospels, but was written in Western Aramaic, called Syriac by Western scholars. The earliest manuscript copy of the Peshitta is from the 4th Century CE, and it is claimed to be the nearest to the original form of Jesus’ words by Aramaic-speaking Christians of various denominations. It would have been translated back into Aramaic from the original Greek in which it was written. The descendants of these early Christians still feel that the Peshitta is a version of the original Aramaic words of Jesus, and that they stayed very close in spirit to his original message.
After the Council of Nicaea, most of these Aramaic-speaking groups broke contact with both Roman and Eastern Orthodox Christianity over the increasingly complex creeds and the forceful attempt to impose a single theology on all Christians. Little was heard about them in Europe for the next 1500 years. The irony is that most Christians in Europe were not allowed to read the scriptures until well after the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages – yet Aramaic-speaking Christians had copies of the gospels in Aramaic in their homes for their open use a thousand years earlier. We have to ask the question, who is most likely to have something nearer the original?
Neil Douglas Klotz, in his book Prayers of the Cosmos, (Harper and Row, 1990), takes the Peshitta version of Jesus’ words, and tries to expand it in a way which brings out some of the nuances of meaning in the Aramaic – and these are many. There are less words in Aramaic than in Greek, so each word contains more shades of meaning. It means that there is not one definitive translation (as our rational, western minds would like), but several, depending on how we hear it, what we read into it, the resonances created in the individual. It throws a whole new dimension of profundity of meaning into the words of Jesus.
Those interested in learning more about the Aramaic versions of Jesus’ sayings should read Prayers of the Cosmos by Neil Douglas-Klotz (Harper and Row, 1990). Here is one version of his:
O, Birther of the Cosmos, focus your light within us — make it useful
Create your reign of unity now
Your one desire then acts with ours,
As in all light, So in all forms,
Grant us what we need each day in bread and insight:
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
As we release the strands we hold of other’s guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
The power and the life to do,
The song that beautifies all,
From age to age it renews.
I affirm this with my whole being.
(Neil Douglas Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos)
6 Poetic Renditions of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer:
As rendered by Mark Hathaway (www.visioncraft.org) based on the work of Neil Douglas-Klotz (www.abwoon.com – Prayers of the Cosmos, Harper & Row, 1990). May be reproduced in whole or in part if this citation is included.
O Divine Womb,
birthing forth the river of blessing which runs through all,
Soften the ground of our being,
and hallow in us a space for the planting of thy presence.
In our depths,
sow thy seed with its greening-power
that we might be midwives to thy Reign.
Then, let each of our actions
bear fruit in accordance with thy desire.
Impart to us the wisdom to bring forth the gifts of the earth
and share them daily according to the needs of each being,
And restore that which has been usurped
by injustice to its rightful owners,
as we restore to others that which is not our own.
Do not let us be seduced
by that which would divert us from our purpose,
but make us sensitive to the moment at hand.
For from thy fertile soil is born the creativity,
the life-energy, and the dance,
from birthing to birthing. Ameyn.
O Source of the Wave,
which envelops and embraces the cosmos,
sustaining and renewing it at each moment,
Penetrate the deepest recesses of our hearts,
and there create a space for thy holy shrine.
In this nuptial chamber,
conceive the creative potency of thy Reign,
So that we may give birth to the embodiment of thy desire:
As from the emanation, so too in form.
With passion and soul let us generate
that which is needed to sustain life this day.
Release us from the bondage of our karma,
as we free others from the captivity of their guilt.
And do not let superficiality cause us to vacillate,
but rather free us from all that impedes growth.
For from thee bursts forth all that
dignifies, gives life, and astonishes,
from cycle to cycle, restoring wholeness. Ameyn.
O creative Breath,
ebbing and flowing through all forms,
Free us from all constrictions,
so that the current of thy life
may move in us without hinderance.
Empower us with thy creativity,
and clothe us with royal dignity,
So that,fully at one with the vortex of thy desire,
sacred actions pour forth from us
with each breath we release.
Renew in us this day
our lifebreath, vigour, and passion,
And untie the tangled threads of destiny which bind us,
as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.
Do not let us lose ourselves in distraction,
but by the way of the breath,
lead us into mindfulness.
For from thy depths pour forth
the Way, the Life, and the Splendour,
from age to age, it is so. Ameyn.
O Source of the Radiance,
dancing in and about all-that-is,
Shine forth into the depths of our beings,
and enkindle there the flame of thy essence.
Grant that it may blaze forth
and fill us with its searing creativity,
Until, fully united with thy fiery desire,
light pours out from us, taking form.
May we be revitalised each day
with nourishment for body and spirit,
And be liberated from all that oppresses us,
as we struggle to mend the fabric of our world.
Let us not be enmeshed in the nets of illusion,
but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.
For from thee shine forth
the precepts, the sustenance, and the generative fire,
from centring to centring. Ameyn.
O Silent Sound,
whose shimmering music pulsates
at the heart of each and all,
Clear a space in us where thy melody
may be perceived in its purity.
Let the rhythm of thy counsel reverberate through our lives,
so that we move to the beat of justice, love, and peace.
Then, our whole being at one with thy song,
grant that the earth may be filled
with the beauty of thy voice.
Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share
what each being needs to grow and flourish,
And give us courage to embrace our shadow with emptiness,
as we embrace others in their darkness.
But let us not be captive to uncertainty,
nor cling to fruitless pursuits.
For from thee springs forth
the rhythm, the melody, and the harmony,
which restores all to balance, again and again. Ameyn.
O Parent of the Universe,
manifesting thyself as generative energy,
Bend over us and remove
all that clutters our being
and set apart a place
where thy sacredness may dwell.
Fill us with thy creativity,
so that we may be empowered to bear
the fruit of thy vision.
Then, moving to the heartbeat of thy desire,
make us the embodiment of thy compassion.
Drawing from the ground of our humanity
grant that we may renew each other
with love, understanding, and sustenance.
Empty us of frustrated hopes and despair,
as we restore others to a renewal of vision.
And let us not fall into agitation,
but save us from precipitous actions.
For thou art the ground
of the fruitful vision, the birthing-power, and the fulfilment,
as all is gathered and made whole once again. Ameyn.