Peter J. Gomes, 1942-2011, Preacher Par Excellence

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 28 April 2011 0 Comments
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I am a big fan of yours and the work you have done over the years. I met you in Charlotte when you lectured at the Gay and Lesbian Center and then arranged for you to speak at Unity Church of Greater Hartford even though I was unfortunately unable to attend as I was there on a one-year assignment as Transitional Minister. I am also a big fan of Rocco Errico and the understanding he brings to the Bible from being a disciple of George Lamsa, who grew up in Kurdistan and spoke Aramaic as his native language. It seems that Rocco makes a big point of his belief that the New Testament was written in Aramaic first and then translated into Greek. I don’t think that’s true but I do find enormous help from his understanding of the Aramaic language and his understanding of Semitic thinking, customs and culture. As a small example, according to Dr. Errico, the phrase “a burning bush which would not be consumed” is a Semitic idiom which means having a big problem which won’t go away. I’ve always interpreted that to mean that Moses knew it was his mission, his guidance to get the Israelites out of Egypt and humanly he didn’t want to accept this guidance.


Dear Phil,

I have read some of Dr. Errico’s work and have learned from his insight. Basically, however, I do not accept his premise of an Aramaic original for the various books of the New Testament. Neither, might I add, does any reputable New Testament scholar I know.

This is not to say that Christianity was not born in an Aramaic-speaking world. That was clearly the language of Jesus and his disciples. One should therefore expect to find some connection between the original Aramaic of the formation and the Greek gospels that form part of the New Testament. There is, however, no evidence that suggests that these books had Aramaic originals. No such Aramaic original, not even a fragment of one, has ever been discovered.

Much can be learned from locating the formation of the gospel tradition in the Synagogues as I have demonstrated in my book, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes but not by idle speculation about Aramaic originals about which there is not a shred of historic evidence. There have been other scholars like C. C. Torrey who sought to gain access to meanings which might have been lost in translation from the oral Aramaic to the written Greek by translating the gospels back into what might have been the oral Aramaic. Though this is a highly speculative process I have found some of his insights to be helpful.

Give my best to the people of Unity of the Keys.

~John Shelby Spong




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