The following is an excerpt from Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
From the Introduction
“You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)
When or if Jesus said these words, he said them in Aramaic, one of several ancient Semitic languages rooted in thousands of years of Southwest Asian nomadic experience. In Jesus’s Aramaic the word for “truth” (shrara) means a light or clarity coming from the heart that leads one in the right direction for the moment. People who travelled seasonally, without any permanent dwelling, concerned themselves with finding such a light, an inner GPS. The word “know,” yida in Aramaic, means to grasp or hold something in one’s hand so that one can use it. The word for “free” (ncharr) points to burning or leaving things behind that one no longer needs.
Through Aramaic we can hear this saying tell us: “If you find a light emanating from the heart, it will lead you in the right direction. You’ll know what to hold on to and what to release.” Jesus is not talking about knowing or believing particular ideas, but about a way of living freely from within a sense of divine guidance.
Over the past forty years of talking and writing about the Aramaic language and Yeshua (Jesus’s name in Aramaic, which I use interchangeably with the English one), I have found people most frequently ask questions about universal themes and problems we all face today rather than about theology and belief. Among those I’ve heard are:
- What did Yeshua see as the ideal relationship between human beings and nature, as well as between people in a community?
- How do evil and injustice fit into Jesus’s view of life? What was his remedy, and is it at all applicable now?
- Does life have a meaning and purpose in Yeshua’s teaching?
An approach to Yeshua’s recorded words and teaching through his native language answers these questions clearly and consistently—even if unexpectedly—no matter which Gospel you have in your hands.
Regarding only the first point above, I would say now that all of the major words and sayings Jesus uses in Aramaic point to natural processes, using nature herself as a witness to what he is saying. In this book, you will see images from nature run throughout his sayings.
In my experience, most people who in their hearts “find a friend in Jesus” want to know how he prayed and how he acted; that is, what his own spiritual practice was and how he confronted life’s challenges. They are less interested in spending time learning or justifying a catalog of beliefs about Jesus. This book, therefore, is for anyone who wants to follow in Yeshua’s footsteps, no matter how a society or a church describes them.
We still find many places in the world where people do follow in Jesus’s footsteps and are oppressed for being Christians; for instance, in the ancient homeland of the Aramaic Christians in what are now parts of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. There are also places where Christians continue to follow the essence of Jesus’s way of life in order to bring justice to their fellow human beings. I hope that these believers and practitioners also find their lives and service supported by this book.
As mentioned, the way that ancient Semitic languages express their experience of reality is rooted in a nomadic, hunter-gatherer culture that pre-dates agriculture. While localized in Southwest Asia, this origin reflects humanity’s universal, shared childhood in other parts of the world. The Semitic languages’ root-and-pattern system (which I also describe in chapter one) builds up words and meaning from single sounds or breaths that express our early human perceptions of the world.
These languages also chronicle the growing differences between the ever-changing, interdependent nomadic way of life and the increasingly individualistic direction of settled life. Yeshua acts with a foot in both of these two worlds: the connected and the individual. He uses Aramaic in a strikingly poetic way that both illuminates very contemporary challenges and breathes life into a deeper vision of what human life can be.
As in my other books, I have included brief meditative contemplations which invite the reader into the inner sense of Yeshua’s words. Sensing our breathing and being aware of its internal sound opens us to a different, more original level of our human consciousness, one not so dependent on what the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the “tyranny of the eye.” Combining this awareness with a feeling of connection to Yeshua by using a word or two from his language has opened me and many others to the wordless experiences to which he points.
We don’t know exactly how Yeshua pronounced his Aramaic. My own renderings are based on forty years of work with the underlying ancient Semitic sounds as they arrive in late ancient Hebrew and Aramaic at the time of Jesus. My personal experience is that approaching these with a sense of devotion and heartfelt enquiry will tune a person to the meaning and atmosphere behind his words, in Aramaic, to his shem.
In undertaking this work more than forty years ago, I hoped to open up Jesus’s spirituality and sayings to a wider, deeper range of understandings, which would in turn help support and illuminate people’s daily life experiences. The challenges we face today are not in essence different from those of our ancestors: relationship, love, knowledge, work, and purpose still claim our main attention. Despite this, the implications of these challenges for the survival of humanity and the planet seem more acute. We seem to know more, yet our consciousness has evolved in such a way that makes it difficult to see what the purpose of life really is. How do we live more fully in the moment, solving the problems before us?
Jesus’s teachings have been used historically to fuel what became modern Western culture, with all its pluses and minuses. At the same time, viewed through his native language, the same teachings provide solutions to our culture’s greatest problems, pointing the way toward a proper use of our human individuality and will.
From Chapter One – Frequently Asked Questions
But weren’t all the original Gospels written in Greek? Are you translating backwards from Greek to Aramaic? If not, what manuscript are you using?
Over many years, academic and religious scholars have proposed various theories about how Jesus’s words went from his mouth to written pages or scrolls. None of these are more than theories, based on scholars’ reading of various texts, on their analysis of the dating of various manuscripts, or on the social and archaeological data available. No theory has proven conclusive, and scholars continue to argue to the present day about the “transmission history” of the various Gospels.
Aramaic Christian scholars offer evidence that the earliest Greek versions of the four Gospels contain various Aramaic words and idioms transcribed into Greek letters (“eth-phatah” is one such example we’ll see). The earliest Aramaic versions contain no such Greek expressions. They conclude that some Aramaic version of the four Gospels must pre-date any Greek one.
Having said all this, the earliest copy of the whole Greek New Testament in existence, dating from about the third century CE, is about a hundred years older than the earliest Aramaic one. Dating of individual Gospels is disputed according to the theories mentioned above.
Aramaic Christian scholars counter the dating argument by saying that in their tradition, people did not keep copies of old manuscripts. Rather, they recopied them before they became tattered, then ritually burned the old ones.
Aramaic Christians of all branches today use the version called the Peshitta, meaning “simple” or “straight.” It is in an Aramaic dialect called Syriac; however, all the major words that Jesus must have used are the same in his earlier first century CE Palestinian Aramaic. Somewhat earlier than the Peshitta is the Old Syriac version, the oldest copy of which was found in the Egyptian Sinai region in St. Catherine’s Monastery. Again, the main words Jesus must have used are the same in it. I use the Peshitta for my translations of Yeshua’s sayings and stories and occasionally refer to the Old Syriac version.
Praise for Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus
“Religion easily dies when it succumbs to rote. The Aramaic translations of Klotz cut through the rote and bring us to the deeper meanings of Jesus’s teaching that can still touch our hearts, move our souls, and ignite our action.”
—Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing
“In this luminous offering, we discover the wisdom teacher this burning world is yearning for: a native Jesus, deeply connected to the earth and her wisdom, a Jesus long-ago silenced by the religion founded in his name, a Jesus who speaks directly to the heart of people of all faiths, and maybe especially to those of us who cannot fit ourselves into the confines of a single tradition. Neil Douglas-Klotz has distilled his decades of rigorous scholarship, deep practice, and revolutionary insight into a potent elixir for our times.”
—Mirabai Starr, translator of Julian of Norwich: The Showings and author of Wild Mercy
“For more than 40 years, Neil Douglas-Klotz has been exploring the mysteries of the Syriac and Aramaic languages to better understand what Yeshua wanted and still wants to tell us. This patient work is not in vain, it is necessary to bring us closer to this presence and this teaching, which enlighten us, awaken us, heal us and save us. Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus takes us step by step towards the promised Beatitude, already everywhere and always there, if we have eyes to see it, ears to hear it, a heart to know it and to love it.”
—Prof. Jean-Yves Leloup, author of The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
“Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus returns us to the original Aramaic of Jesus’s words, where the breath, the body, and the soul are part of a living wholeness in which nature and the divine are not separate. Here, language is a part of the creative flow of the seasons and our inner being, awakening us to the Holy Wisdom that is within. Neil Douglas-Klotz’s depth of study gives new life to these great teachings, helping us to be in harmony with our original nature, our own connection to Sacred Unity. An invaluable book.”
—Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, author of Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism
“Neil Douglas-Klotz is a modern-day mystic, a visionary, and a receiver of revelation. Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus is a wake-up call for our time. This book liberates and restores Yeshua’s original mission and message as an invitation to everyone—devotees of all paths, scholars, nomads, contemplatives, and activists alike—to journey ‘home’ to the source through a subtle and dynamic process of gradual revelation.”
—Chloe Goodchild, voice pioneer, founder and author of The Naked Voice
About the Author
Neil Douglas-Klotz is an internationally known scholar in the fields connecting religious studies (comparative Semitic hermeneutics) and psychology as well as a poet and musician. He is the author of Prayers of the Cosmos, Desert Wisdom, The Hidden Gospel, and The Genesis Meditations and coauthor of The Tent of Abraham with Sr. Joan Chittister and Rabbi Arthur Waskow. He is the past chair of the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of Religion and is active in various international colloquia and conferences dedicated to peace and spirituality.