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Weird Bibles 1: Archaic Aramaic script

November 9, 2011

I collect books, and one subcategory I collect is weird Bibles.  (For example, I have owned for several years a copy of Philip Goble’s Orthodox Jewish Bible: Tanakh and Orthodox Jewish Brit Chadasha that Suzanne posted about here and Mississippi Fred MacDowell posted about here – although I am happy to say that I did not pay any money for it.)

Today I added to my collection of weird Bibles, and Suzanne’s recent post on  Aramaic script inspired me to write this post.

This Bible is published by the Research Institute for the Bible and Reform Theology (RIBRT) and is called the Biblia Hebraica Et Graeca (Editio princeps).  (Henceforth the RIBRT-BHEG). 


This Bible does not stop at printing the Bible in Hebrew and Greek.  The editors state (and I have left the grammar and punctuation unchanged):

Our ‘Scriptura Sacra’ or ‘Biblia Hebraica et Graeca’ was attempted to return to the contemporary features of the original texts, retroactively in order to read the purest texts in all points. Although this ‘Veteris Testamenti Biblia Sacra’ depends upon the Leningrad Codex in its foundation, it was collated by old papyri of LXX, NT, and Qumran materials. The vowel signs of letters and Masoretic notes are omitted for readers to find some intrinsic features of the original texts. The original pronunciations may be now recovered by their high-creative studies on the old Semitic languages (Eblaitic, Old Akkadian, Ugaritic languages etc.).

What does that mean in practice?  It means that this edition is printed using archaic Aramaic script. (And no vowelization.)

So what does this Bible look like?  Here we go:



Now do you feel that brings you closer to the original?  By now I think you can guess what the New Testament looks like, but why leave it to your imagination ….



(Actually, I took these photos from the RIBRT-BHEG web site, and my edition looks different than this.  My edition has the book names written at the top of the page in Latin and standard NT Greek orthography.)

Now you may be wondering why word spaces, and verse and chapter in Arabic numbers are included in the text.  That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer, but if anyone from RIBRT wants to chime in, please leave a comment.

Now, here is the fun part.  The RIBRT-BHEG is printed in a zipper case with a fake leather cover– you know, so you can carry it around with you everywhere you go.  Let your loser friends whip out their copy of the German Bible Society Hebrew-Greek Bible – showing that they depend on modern orthography.  You can carry this baby around and read the Bible in archaic Aramaic, showing those folks are just wimps.

(Even better news, there are mini dictionaries of Hebrew→English [49 pages] and Greek→English [52 pages].  However, for some reason that I do not understand, these dictionaries use standard Hebrew and NT Greek orthography.)

I can’t give you any advice on buying this volume on the Internet (except to mention that the ISBN is listed as 8989519020 – good luck tracking down this volume)  – although if you are in Seoul, the Jongo branch of the Kyobo Bookstore has another copy as of tonight – on sale for 35,000 Won (about US$32).  The official Korea Tourism Organization web page on the bookstore advises that after purchasing your book,

There are many streets around Kyobo Bookstore that are famous for their delicious food. If it’s traditional spirits and tasty side dishes you’re after then head straight to Pimatgol. There are many different dishes to enjoy in a comfortable atmosphere. The Chungjin-dong haejang-guk (broth to relieve hangover) street and the Mukyo-dong octopus restaurants nearby are also very famous.

I particularly enjoyed the advice about broth to relieve hangovers, because as we all know, drunk book buying is a serious social problem. 

22 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 9:38 am

    Wonderful post, Theophrastus!

    Now you may be wondering why word spaces, and verse and chapter in Arabic numbers are included in the text.


    And your sharing your Seoul visit with us got me reading “in pure Korean” again. If one can’t be there, then wikipedia must do for a taste of “The Chungjin-dong haejang-guk (broth to relieve hangover)”:

    Haejangguk refers to all kinds of guk (soup) eaten as a hangover cure in Korean cuisine. It means “soup to chase a hangover”[1] and also called sulguk (술국) in pure Korean.[2][3] It usually consists of dried Napa cabbage, congealed ox blood (similar to blood pudding), and vegetables in a hearty beef broth.

    Enjoy sober weird Bible reading.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 9, 2011 10:20 am

    ΝAIEΓΩΘAΥΜAΖΩ was clear as day to me, but I had to brush the sleep out of my eyes to see that you weren’t actually writing about the “sex act.”

  3. November 9, 2011 10:27 am

    lol. The Joy of … Ambiguity. Space put between two does prevent certain things from happening. (Well, I’m blushing as I confess: there was no pun intended there, not at first anyway.)

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 9, 2011 10:33 am

    What does it say about book order? Why is Romans followed by Hebrews?

  5. November 9, 2011 1:01 pm

    That’s awesome! To nitpick, I don’t know if I’d really call it the “Archaic Aramaic” script. I think Phoenician is ever so much more precise, and if one wishes to be Judeo-centric, Paleo-Hebrew (or Ketav Ivri). The font seems to be based on the Meshe Stele (Moabite stone).

    $32? That’s fantastic.

  6. November 9, 2011 4:14 pm

    S.: I agree. But, “Arcahic Aramaic” is the name that the volume itself gives to its script (in an included card with the various alphabets) which it contrasts to “Old Aramaic” and “Modern (O. T.)”

    Suzanne: The full preface is here and it says:

    The order of letters of the Apostle Paul in this edition was changed according to that in P46 and P13, by which the so-called blasphemous problem concerning the anonymous author in the canonical scripture of divine inspiration was at first overturned.

    So, I guess they feel Hebrews must be Paul, lest the book become “blasphemous.”

    Kurk: Had I been more alert last night, I would have noticed that the preface also said:

    For this edition especially, every word is marked by spaces in order to establish the future systematic database. The division space between words, of course, is found very rarely. But the beginning with the complete syllables of a word and ending at such a word in every line is observed frequently in many literary papyri. As far as the alignment of texts concerned, the normal rule of the early Roman period as shown in the Herculaneum papyri was on the whole considered for this edition. The system of paragraphs and coronis used in this edition is closely agreed with those used in early literary papyri. The picture of colonis would be earlier than that of the first century AD. Other critical signs usually used by modern editors of papyri were held not available to this edition, because they were not identified in reading of the general literary papyri except the lectional signs (trema or diairesis, apostrophe, diastole, accents – acute, grave, circumflex, breathing – mostly the rough breathing, ancora mark for the omitted passage etc.) seen in the scholarly reading or schoolboy exercises. The stichometric notes were also omitted in this edition.

    So I guess the editors envisioned using this printed volume to build a future “systematic” database..

  7. November 9, 2011 4:24 pm


    “S.: I agree. But, “Archaic Aramaic” is the name that the volume itself gives to its script (in an included card with the various alphabets) which it contrasts to “Old Aramaic” and “Modern (O. T.)”

    I completely missed that – mea culpa! My guess is that it was influenced by Omniglot or something similar.

  8. November 9, 2011 10:03 pm

    “Archaic Aramaic” isn’t a designation that an Aramaic epigraphist would use for a script, so that’s a bit of a red flag to me (“Old Aramaic” is the designation for all scripts from the era used to write Old Aramaic dialects). At first glance, squinting, I agree with S.. It looks a heck of a lot more like a reproduction of the script on the Mesha Stele (for example, the shins [which are not seated properly to boot]) not Aramaic. 🙂

    Now I must admit, I *like* the Greek script. It’s *much* easier on the eyes than the “Aramaic.” However, their excuse for leaving out all of the diacritical marks and an apparatus (for the whole thing) is deplorable. 😛

    WeiRd indeed.


  9. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 9, 2011 11:38 pm

    The script looks like P46 except for the spaces so I a not sure what diacritics have been left out.

  10. November 10, 2011 5:57 am

    Steve — I think there are many more red flags than just the term “Archaic Aramaic.”

  11. November 10, 2011 7:13 pm

    @Theophrastus Without a doubt! Pardon my earlier meiosis. 🙂


  12. veryrarelystable permalink
    November 11, 2011 5:24 pm

    I also love the title at the top of the (old Aramaic) page of Kings, written with standard Hebrew orthography! It won’t impress your friends so much if you need these “cheats” to find your way around the volume! No such page titles in the Greek section, though.

  13. November 12, 2011 9:25 pm

    Veryrarelystable: Yes, it is weird that the headings are in Latin and standard orthography.

    For the NT section, took those photos from the RIBRT publisher’s web site and it omits the headings, but the actual copy I have has the NT headings in both standard NT Greek orthography and Latin. Not sure what to make of that.

  14. D. Charles Pyle permalink
    September 9, 2015 1:23 am

    I have one of these Bibles as well. It actually has two differing Hebrew fonts. Anything considered pre-exilic was set by the editors in Paleo-Hebrew characters as above in the photos. Anything considered post-exilic by the editors was set in a later Hebrew font similar to that found in post-exilic inscriptions and somewhat similar to what is in a number of the Dead Sea Scrolls. For instance, Isaiah and Jeremiah are set in Paleo-Hebrew characters, whereas Ezekiel and Daniel are set in post-exilic Hebrew characters.

    Annoyingly enough, for all their claims in the introduction to adopt the earliest readings there are early readings that they leave out and remain with the Masoretic Text set in Paleo-Hebrew font. Such an example of this is to be found in Deuteronomy 32:8. It should read “sons of God” but they left the later reading “sons of Israel” instead. That was a bit of a disappointment for me.

    I really enjoy the Greek text, however, and it has become my main reading Bible for Greek reading in spite of some additional errors introduced into the text by the editors while typesetting. Unfortunately, apart from the old orthography that varies from standard printed forms (one gets used to that with practice) it has an annoying spelling error throughout in the New Testament portion. The verb ekballo and most of its various forms are regularly spelled with a gamma instead of a kappa (for example, egballo for ekballo, and so forth). I suspect that the editors misread badly written kappas for gammas in the manuscripts and set the text that way throughout from Matthew to Revelation. I got so annoyed by this that I went through and marked all such occurrences in my copy with an extra diagonal line to correct gamma to kappa. It made me feel like an ancient scribal corrector, which was an interesting feeling.

    I do also enjoy its compactness and its design to be zipped up when not in use. All-in-all an interesting Bible, at any rate.


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