EX-NIHILO: Exposing the Errors of "The Gospel According to James Trimm"
I want to say at the outset that I come to this task with great reluctance, and that what I say here is not meant in any way to be a personal attack upon James Trimm. This is a scholarly dispute, and I am determined to discuss these issues in a scholarly manner. Having said that, I feel my hand has been forced in this matter to even respond to this degree. Issues of Scripture and canon frequently create emotions that I would very much like to avoid from both sides. I have therefore avoided Trimm's Nazarene lists and turned down various requests from him to join others that he runs for the precise reason that I did not want to engender excessive negativity. A secondary motive was that I could focus better on finishing my book which does contain a full and complete refutation of his theories However, with the appearance of long refuted misconceptions of his appearing on one of my lists and with people asking me almost daily to respond, I feel I can no longer remain silent.
In seeking advice on the matter from someone I highly respect, the counsel was that I should either reach out by phone to Trimm to resolve this dispute or to let the matter drop, leaving it up to the Ruach Ha Kodesh to guide people's hearts. However, Trimm and I have tried to sort this out over the phone before, and I also find it hard to see how the Ruach Ha Kodesh can guide anyone to anything if only one side of the story--his--is being presented. Therefore, my answer to this problem is to take a "one and done" approach. I will counter every argument Trimm has made on this list, and some others that he has proffered elsewhere, and then I will drop the matter. However, this will happen after forwarding or arranging to have forwarded this essay to every list that I am aware he has used to attempt to trash my theories and, I believe, my reputation.
And James, if you are reading this, here is my statement to you directly. If you wish to reach out to me, you know how to do so and I will be civil to you. Just because we have a disagreement does not mean we cannot get along. However, know that it is my intention that whenever I see your name on one of the lists I am on, I will most likely not engage you directly after this. You have had your shot and now this is my turn, but I will not let the dialogue deteriorate into a free for all if I can help it. My full case against your theories is coming, and so I need not do double work and write my book twice.
Moving on then, in the vocabulary of my book RUACH QADIM, I have referred to the Old Syriac primacy theory of Trimm's as EX-NIHILO, a Latin phrase that means "from nothing", for reasons that will hopefully become apparent as I relate the facts from my perspective. With those thoughts in mind, let us begin exposing the errors.
ERROR #1: THE DALET CLAUSE
In Trimm's Hebraic Roots Version NT, he makes reference to the D proclitic having many different meanings. A proclitic, in case anyone is wondering, is a prepositional prefix that attaches to the start of a word, and there are 4 of these, B, D, W and L. In the case of D, Trimm asserts that it really should mean "because", calling it a "thought switch", while acknowledging that its majority meaning is that of "OF". However, in personal research, experience and dialogues with native Aramaic speakers, I have found this idea to be tenuous at best. I have found no such mention of the "because" meaning in standard Aramaic grammars, and in the opinion of Paul Younan, who is a native Aramaic speaker, the DALET proclitic can ONLY mean "OF" when it is between two nouns. Trimm then countered by attempting to show me that Paul Younan had translated it as "because" between two nouns, and when I checked the passage, they were NOT two nouns at all! Paul Younan then confirmed my analysis on the matter, and Trimm was clearly in the wrong.
Further, in speaking with Trimm about this over the phone, he admitted that it was "not a standard view" and then said that he and another Messianic colleague proffered that idea ostensibly to deal with some difficult Aramaic NT readings, most notably Ephesians 2:15. Now the Aramaic of this verse is exceedingly complex, and so I will not get into these difficulties here. Suffice to say though that problem was that it APPEARED to say that Torah had passed away, or had been abolished, and the "because of" reading of the DALET CLAUSE mitigated against that appearance. However, in looking at the Aramaic myself, I came to the conclusion that the word Trimm thought meant "Torah"--NAMUSA--did not mean that in this case. When clarified with the statement "namusa d'porqdona" (laws of commandments) it clearly meant Pharisaic regulations, hence, no problem keeping the DALET clause meaning "of". The meaning is Torah-accurate without doing violence to the text. This I explained to Trimm in 2001, but he has yet to correct the error as far as I can tell.
ERROR #2: THE KHAD SEMITISM
One of Trimm's favorite devices in proving the primacy of Old Syriac over the Peshitta is the use of the alleged Semitic idiom--KHAD. Trimm claimed that the Old Syriac preserved this idiom reading as "a certain man", for example, whereas the Peshitta did not and read "a man". This however, was truly ridiculous. Not only was KHAD not a Semitic idiom but simply one way of several to express the same idea as we would in English, but the fact was without even trying, we pulled out more than a dozen readings where Peshitta had KHAD and Old Syriac did not! The thread is still there, for anyone who wishes to see it at www.peshitta.org.
ERROR #3: MAR EPHRAIM QUOTING THE OLD SYRIAC
Trimm then, in his pursuit of trying to venerate Old Syriac over Peshitta, alleges that Mar Ephraim, a 4th century Syrian saint dear to the Church of the East, the body that preserved the Peshitta, quotes from the Old Syriac and not the Peshitta. The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. Mar Ephraim was a poet and a targumist. Hence, sometimes when he expounds on a verse it may come out sounding like Old Syriac, and other times like Peshitta. On many other occasions, Mar Ephraim's alleged quotes do not resemble either. Plus there are many things that are attributed to Mar Ephraim that actually came centuries after his time.
There is no mechanism, historical, linguistic or otherwise, that Trimm can offer proving the Church of the East venerated Old Syriac at any time. In this I have consulted with several members of the Church of the East, and they assure me that Mar Ephraim never quoted this counterfeit text. One of these men who told me this was a Bishop (Qasha) in the COE. This man was raised an Orthodox Jew and mastered Hebrew at an early age. Then he converted to the COE, and he has served it faithfully for the last 40+ years. He also, quite honestly, speaks the purest Aramaic I have ever heard in my life. When COE traditions and their leadership say such and such is the case, I absolutely take their word over Trimm's.
Now I can hear the reply already, "Well of course Andrew the COE would protect its own traditions", but my point is, would you not do the same James? I sure as gehenna would, let me tell you. To have some westerner who knows almost nothing of the traditions of the COE come in and say they know better than the folks who have been steeped in that tradition for many centuries is the height of scholarly hubris. Therefore, Trimm's allegation here against ancient testimony to the contrary is tantamount to a Baptist telling a Lubavitcher that a verse that is not in Talmud actually is because they think they know the tradition better than the Rebbe. Therefore, I enjoin everyone to listen to the voices of those who know their own tradition best.
ERROR #4: "THE SCHOLARS ARE ON MY SIDE"
When all else fails, Trimm resorts to saying that my position finds little or no support in the scholarly community. For me though, this is hardly a problem, for two reasons. First, it is the scholarly community, with their focus on Greek over Aramaic, that is in my view the heart of the problem! I don't care what they say about the Greek. I care what they can refute from the Aramaic, and my experience there has been, not much at all.
Second, Trimm is being very disingenuous when he says that his position also has widespread support, because it does not. The fact is, Trimm only has support in the part of his theory that alleges Peshitta was revised from Old Syriac, and this is something that I have tons of examples proving wrong in the book. When Trimm then says that the Old Syriac was NOT a translation from the Greek, guess what? All of a sudden he is about as alone as I am in his positions in the scholarly community. CC Torrey's work has been largely discredited, and Metzger is as staunch a Greek NT Primacist as the world has ever produced. The fact is, we will not get anywhere with this approach, because you can find some scholar proffering almost anything in biblical studies. That is why I do my own work and let the reader decide.
ERROR #5: THE 'SMOKING CANON' ARGUMENT
The argument here goes like this:
1) The Peshitta does not have 5 books that the West has canonized.
2) I believe that God has preserved His Word in that full 27-book collection that includes the disputed 5.
3) Therefore, the Peshitta cannot be the original.
This is so ludicrous that I have to actually be selective in the way I choose to destroy it. First of all, assuming I do keep a 27-book canon, what does this matter? If I hold to this, then I have taken on faith that these books are inspired, regardless as to which group may have kept or not kept them. I can believe that the Nazarene canon was longer than the Peshitta at one time, and show how it was last seen in the direction of Rome. Is that proof? Of course not, but that's why it's called faith. Catholics keep a longer OT and they have faith. Ethiopians keep a longer NT and they also have faith. What does it matter?
Second, who is the best judge of what a bunch of first century Jews in Israel held sacred about their Messiah? Surely it isn't Rome, is it? I mean let's face facts here. Every single Messianic Jew that holds to a 27-book canon does so because a bunch of Catholics got together in the fourth and fifth centuries and canonized these books. Protestants followed the Catholic lead and Messianics followed the Protestants.
I need to be clear about this. I can believe in whatever canon I choose without having to prove it extant to any one tradition. That is my faith, and my choice.
I can also believe in it, if I choose to, in spite of tremendous difficulties that surrounded the adoption of the disputed books. The fact is Revelation was debated as late as the ninth century and was rejected in the East centuries before that. As for 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and Jude, all of these books had trouble making it into the WESTERN CANON for the first four centuries of the faith. Therefore, so what if the Peshitta does not have these books? If it did, then it really would prove it came after Old Syriac, because it would come from a time AFTER the controversies were settled in the West, assuming the Peshitta was trying to also align itself with the Byzantine text, which is another arrant lie.
Third, where is Old Syriac Romans? How about Old Syriac Philippians? How about anything other than 60% of the Gospels and a smattering of Acts? Since Trimm is SO SURE that the Old Syriac was the original, surely there must be evidence that these other books were revised from it as well? The fact is, there is none. Also, the Old Syriac mss don't agree with each other, so how can that be inspired original text? Furthermore, if I am wrong because the Peshitta lacks these five books, how wrong can Trimm be lacking more than 20 for his original alleged texts?
Plus there is one other factor Trimm has not considered. All of these points so far assume I hold to a 27-book canon. The fact is, I no longer do. I believe that the 5 disputed books are pious writings, probably inspired, but nevertheless the problems that are recorded about them even in the West that sanctified them are too great to give them the stamp of canonicity. You see, the difference between "inspired" texts and "canonical texts" is merely one of process. Canonization is a legal and political forum whereby books are given a stamp of 100% certainty that they came from the hands of apostles and their associates. But when you have no sure quotes from 2 Peter until the year 180 even in the West, questions are bound to come up.
I therefore have the same view as the COE, which places these 5 books just below the level of canon as "pious writings". That means, to put it in a Jewish paradigm, that these books would be considered somewhere between the Talmud and the Ketuvim. Or, to use the COE as a guide, their beloved Mar Ephraim's poetry is considered LESS INSPIRED than the western 5. Furthermore, the Western 5 are considered to be free of doctrinal errors and are fit for religious study and education, as the COE encourages its members actively to read them. The only difference is they would not be quoted in the actual service. However, even in Judaism there are parallels to this, whereby the Torah is given more weight than the Prophets and the Prophets more weight than the Ketuvim. Further, the Torah and Haftorah are always enshrined in weekly reading cycles, whereas the Ketuvim frequently is not, but does have other uses.
Therefore, while I have faith in the divine inspiration of these 5 books, their bifurcation from the other 22 puts me under no obligation to "prove" that Peshitta must have them to be original. In fact, what we see is that the Peshitta comes out with older readings that were changed later by these other texts.
For example, take the story in John 8:1-11 of the woman caught in adultery. The Peshitta does not have those eleven verses. Does that mean it cannot be original? Hardly! Reason being, THE FOUR EARLIEST GREEK MSS DON'T HAVE THOSE ELEVEN VERSES EITHER! So which is original and which is the fraud? Do we say that the earliest and most reliable Greek mss are uninspired because they lack this story? I have yet to see one Christian or Messianic do so. Why then would these same people with their weakened western traditions, turn around and attack the much stronger eastern ones because they don't match up with what they think it should have?
If we look at the history, what it tells us is that the West accepted ALL the 22 books in the Eastern Canon fairly early on. There were minor disputes about James and Hebrews due to their Jewish character--in fact even Martin Luther had problems with James for that reason. Although, even on the lists at the end of the second century (Origen, the Muratorian Fragment) and later (Eusebius) we see attestation to the fact that IN SPITE of their controversy, they were "nearly universally received". In any case, the controversies over James and Hebrews pale in comparison to that of the Western 5. If you can accept them, you must accept the 22 for which there is much stronger evidence. But, the idea that the Peshitta can't be original because it lacks these books is absurd. It would surely have been a fraud if it did have them!
ERROR #6: THE PESHITTA MANUSCRIPTS ARE ALSO SCRATCHED OFF
Embarrassed over the fact that the Old Syriac was abominably treated by the monks who had it--that it was left to rot on a shelf for centuries and had the biography of a Roman saint written over the "holy script"--Trimm shifts gears to say that Peshitta mss were also treated this way in some cases.
If so, then James, NAME THE MANUSCRIPT OR BACK OFF. The COE has never scratched off sacred text and put other writing above it. It would go against everything they believe in to do so. Therefore, the burden is on you James to prove that they did, not me to prove they did not. What I believe is going on here is that Trimm is following the scholars who believe that the Old Syriac was the precursor to the Peshitta. These scholars also allege that the Old Syriac is a Peshitta mss, and therefore, since it is scratched off, a Peshitta family mss is also scratched off. Semantics, smoke and mirrors, is all that is.
However, once again I ask that we take the word of the people who have held to their traditions as to what does and what does not constitute their body of sacred writings. Also, there are some mss that have minor holes in them due to age, or whose ink has faded over the many centuries, but there is no mss in the Peshitta collection where a keeper in the COE deliberately scratched off holy text and put their grocery list or other things over it instead. It simply does not and cannot happen.
Name it James, go ahead, and I will check into it. But until I am proven wrong completely I will never, ever back off that this is a terrible falsehood and a smear on the COE that you have propagated.
ERROR #7: ORIGEN DOES NOT QUOTE AN EXCLUSIVE PESHITTA VERSION OF HEBREWS 2:9
Wrong again James, he does:
The reading of ORIGEN, "That He without God" (laying aside His Divinity; or, for every being save God: or perhaps alluding to His having been temporarily "forsaken," as the Sin-bearer, by the Father on the cross), is not supported by the manuscripts.
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown
This is the Peshitta reading and you know it. "not supported by the manuscripts" means just that. These guys never saw Peshitta and therefore have no idea where Origen's quote came from. Now it may be possible that the discovery of such a Greek mss was found since this book was done. If so, show me the manuscript. Name it James and show me the text. Your attempts to sweep this under the rug have failed.
Furthermore, I want to see HOW MANY of these Greek versions there are. If it's just one or two, what does that prove? They are still a handful against thousands of other Greek mss that read differently. It could also still be that the Greek reading came from the Peshitta, but we can't know that when you simply make blanket statements without proof, can we? Finally, if these conditions are met, you still have a problem. You have alleged that Peshitta was revised to agree with the Byzantine text but guess what? It doesn't read that way! Plus, I have no doubt that Origen wrote that verse down in Greek and that others may have copied it, but what does that have to do about the quote itself as part of an overall corpus? You are saying that Origen wrote that down in Greek--fine. But that does not mean the reading was original to Greek.
The fact is, you only think this Origen quote is key to my argument. It's not. By far the best evidence I have is that Greek texts from as early as the second century were mistranslated from a Peshitta-exclusive reading. Since the Old Syriac mss are no earlier than the 4th/ 5th century, that leaves them out of the equation, whereas the Peshitta which has the original reading is older than the Greek texts that got the word wrong. I know you have no idea what I am talking about, because I have not shared these proofs on peshitta.org or the other lists I am on. Only a trusted few know them and I have a ton James. Dozens against the Old Syriac and multiple dozens more proving the Greek was mistranslated only from Peshitta, with readings the Old Syriac simply does not have. Just wait. The proof is on the way. If anything was designed to align with the Byzantine traditions, it is your texts, not mine.
ERROR #8: CRAWFORD REVELATION IS THE ORIGINAL VERSION OF THE BOOK
Revelation, like the rest of the Western 5, is clearly translational Aramaic and of Greek origin. Where are your scholars when you dissent to that James? It seems they have all left the room. Furthermore, Crawford Revelation is, according to the respected Rylands Library that has it, from the 12th century (Bulletin John Rylands Library, p. 118). The text also has some Serto characters, which would be more consistent with that time frame. For what follows, the reader should understand that there are TWO Aramaic versions of this book. The first, was a translation from Greek, and a horrible one at that, done by Thomas of Harkel in 616. Another guy also tried to do this a century before this, but his work fell out of favor and has not survived. In any case, the second version of Revelation is the Crawford mss that Trimm venerates.
Crawford Revelation is also nothing more than a variant of the book done once and stuck in a codex instead of the more popular Harkalean Version, which is a translation from the Greek done in 616.
In any case, as much as I would like to believe in an original Aramaic Revelation, the fact is no such document has survived. I grant that there are a few hints that such may have existed--the coffin/bed reading is the strongest piece of evidence in that direction--but in the end they are just that, hints and shadows, not proof.
In Trimm's essay on Crawford, he gives a slew of readings to show mistranslation of the Greek. In reality, it is a sham, and I'll tell you why. One of Trimm's examples is that Crawford in 5:5 reads "the root of David is worthy" whereas the Greek reads "the root of David has conquered". In Trimm's mind, the Aramaic word ZEKA means both "worthy" and "conquered" and therefore Crawford must have meant the former and the Greek misinterpreted the latter.
I admit that either reading is plausible. If "worthy" then it makes sense because three lines before the question is "who is WORTHY to open the seals?" However, if David has CONQUERED through Messiah, then he can open the seals for that reason as well. How then do I know it's a sham? Simple. What Trimm does not tell you is that Peshitto Aramaic Revelation, the one that he and I and everyone else KNOWS is a translation from the Greek, also has ZEKA in the text! Therefore, it is equally possible, if not far more likely, that the Greek reading is the original which was translated into both versions as ZEKA. Furthermore, in case after case that Trimm cites as a Crawford original reading, either that reading is identical to the Peshitto Revelation or the key word that makes the difference in the reading is the same in both Crawford and Peshitto Revelation. Other times Trimm's variants are non-existent, and can be chalked up to slight differences in the way an Aramaic or Greek speaker would express the same thought, such as what he said about 4:8.
So, in the end, Trimm takes Peshitto Revelation out the picture because if he includes it then it will show that it and Crawford read very much alike and look very much like they came from the Greek. Then, with just the Crawford and the Greek to compare, he can speculate all he wants about why a multiple meaning word like ZEKA has to mean one thing over the other, as long as it favors his view that is.
ERROR #9: NOT GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
I have often said that, in spite of my beliefs, I have a great respect for the Greek New Testament. I say that because it is both very ancient and well-attested to in many ways even though in many other places it is flawed. The fact is though, these errors in the Greek constitute my best evidence for Peshitta originality!
But does that mean the Greek is wrong all the time? Surely not. Therefore, just because Peshitta may agree with the Greek in some places doesn't mean it was revised to do so. The fact is, sometimes the Peshitta reads like the Greek, other times much like the Old Syriac and still other times like nothing else out there. However, in those places where Peshitta and the Greek agree against the Old Syriac, it is just as likely that the opposite of Trimm's allegations are true.
In other words, if the Peshitta can show the Greek mistranslated a word from it here and there, but agreed with otherwise in a sentence, then all that means is that the non-disputed parts of that sentence are the most ancient reading available! On the other hand, there are tons of places where the Old Syriac clearly had to come later. It is almost always a word for word translation of a bizarre Greek mss called Codex Bezae, word by word, and line by line, where the text has been preserved.
Admittedly though these issues are complex and can hardly be dealt with a limited post as this one. That is why I am trying to finish my book, lay out all the evidence there, and let the reader decide who is right and who is wrong.
Peace and blessings to you and thank you for your kind attention.
Andrew Gabriel Roth