Discussing the possibility of Aramaic sources can be highly complex, particularly attempts at reconstruction of whole passages. In historical Jesus studies, the so-called criterion of Aramaic influence is regularly dismissed. This is both right and wrong. It is right in that none of the criteria take us back to the historical Jesus but thus wrong in the sense that it is not necessarily worse than the other criteria. But, like the other criteria, it might be possible to use Aramaic to get back to earlier tradition. Of course, even Aramaisms may not even do that—it is entirely possible, as critics rightly point out, that there could have been Aramaic influence on Greek traditions. But then the criteria should never have been used in a quasi-scientific sense anyway. So now, in addition to the examples of דכו/זכו and שבתא/שברא, I want to give another two examples where I think there is evidence of pre-gospel Aramaic sources before giving some suggestions about what else we might say about Aramaic and the Gospel tradition.
The first is from the Lord’s Prayer (if that’s the right title) and the (genuinely famous?) difference between Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4:
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matt. 6.12)
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. (Luke 11.4)
In Aramaic ‘debt’ and ‘debtor’ (from חובא) is another way of talking about ‘sin’ and ‘sinner’. Chilton noted some time ago that such uses are common enough in the Isaiah Targum. Here debt/debtors can refer to people punished by the Messiah, people destroyed by God, wicked gentiles, enemies of Jerusalem, and so on. This is entirely consistent with all the conventional words for ‘sinner’ in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, all of which remained stable from the Hebrew Bible/OT through to rabbinic literature. The language of debts/debtor is also found throughout the Syriac Peshitta (same root) and used to translate all the standard uses of ‘sinner’ in the Hebrew Bible. Obviously, we have to be careful using translations as late as the Peshitta and the Isaiah Targum but lateness alone should not be used as a reason or excuse to discount this possibility underlying Matt. 6.13 and Luke 11.4. For a start, the Aramaic root is certainly known by the first century (e.g. 11Q10 21.5; 34.4). But also, related traditions using the language of debt are found in the Gospel tradition (in addition to Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4, see Matt. 18.23-25; Luke 7.36-50; Luke 16.1-9).
Given the difference between Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4, we might suggest the possibility of an Aramaic source. This time, however, Luke would not have gone for a significant change (as with ‘rue’ and ‘give alms’) but for a more straightforward understanding of ‘sins’ which would be less culturally specific than not including mention of ‘sins’ at all.
The second example is from Mark 2.27-28 and parallels:
Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the son of man is lord even of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2.23-28)
For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’ (Matt. 12.8)
Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’ (Luke 6.5)
This might be the best possibility of the generic use (with reference to the speaker/individual too) of the Aramaic idiom for ‘man’ (though the gendered term can be used more generally for ‘human’): (א)נש(א) בר. Throughout the Gospel tradition, the term seems to function as something like a title (as is almost inevitable if the term was translated from Aramaic to Greek with reference to Jesus). Aside from when there are obvious allusions to Daniel 7.13 (e.g. Mark 13.26; 14.62), it is not clear whether it is even possible to determine with any certainty that ‘son of man’ sayings necessarily reflect an earlier Aramaic idiom. In various cases they potentially could (e.g. Mark 2.10; Luke 9.58//Matt. 8.20), but in themselves they could equally have been a title which has come from Mark or whoever else wrote such passages in Greek. The son of man problem across the Gospel tradition is for another day but in the case of Mark 2.27-28 we do seem to have good evidence of an Aramaic source where it appears to function as a form of parallelism indicating its generic aspects (cf. Ps. 8.4). What’s more, the sentiment of justifying Sabbath practice in terms of being made for humanity was something known in, and associated with, Palestinian Judaism (e.g. Exod. 16.29; Jub. 2.17; Mek. Exod. 31.12-17; cf. b. Yoma 85b). But perhaps most significant is that both Matt. and Luke drop the generalising Mark 2.27 (‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath’) and clearly make sure that we are dealing with a title for Jesus alone: The Son of Man. The implication being, of course, that Mark has retained a more literal understanding of an Aramaic idiom.
These are, then, two more of the better possibilities of Aramaic sources underlying the Gospel tradition. I have noted that this remains limited in its use for historical Jesus studies, at least in the sense that it does not necessarily take us back to the words of Jesus. It is also of limited use for the Synoptic Problem. If there were lots of examples like Matt. 23. 26//Luke 11.41, Luke 11.42//Matt. 23.23 and Matt. 6.12//Luke 11.4 then we might be able to make a case for Q (an Aramaic Q or q’s at that). But I’m not sure that there are enough examples of such parallels in Matt. and Luke to do so (at least not to my knowledge) and so these one word or phrase examples alone only point to isolated cases which is not, statistically speaking, enough. Such examples might mean a qualification of a model of Luke using Matt., or vice versa, in the limited sense that there might also have been Aramaic sources alongside Mark and Luke or Matthew. One interesting possibility is that such Aramaic sources might, in whatever form, account for Papias’ confusion that canonical Matthew was originally written in the Hebrew (i.e. Aramaic) language (as I tentatively argued with Mike Kok at SBL in 2013)
Using such examples are limited. But pointing to the potential of earlier Palestinian tradition and accounting for some problems in the Synoptic tradition is something, is it not?