Is Aramaic-to-English Translation of Lord’s Prayer on Facebook the ‘Correct’ One?

A popular Facebook post claimed that an Aramaic-language scroll discovered by archaeologists in 1892 led to a more accurate and definitive translation of the Lord's Prayer.

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Facebook posts claimed that archaeologists discovered scrolls in 1892 which led to the discovery that the Lord's Prayer when translated from Aramaic to English begins with the words O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your Presence can abide.
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Claim

Archaeologists discovered a scroll in 1892 that led to the discovery that the Lord’s Prayer, when properly translated from Aramaic directly into English, actually begins with the words, “O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration.”

Rating

Context

A Facebook post paraphrases a translation of the Lord’s Prayer by mystic, author, and scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz. As Douglas-Klotz wrote in “Prayers of the Cosmos” (published in 1990), “The transcription of the Aramaic words into English characters is not meant to be a formal, scholarly transliteration.” Moreover, he told us, the idea that there’s one true and original (or correct) translation of the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t square with reality.

In early August 2022, readers asked us via email to look into Facebook posts that made a very striking claim about what is known as the Lord’s Prayer in the Christian religion. The posts claimed that “archaeologists uncovered a scroll in 1892” that contained a version of the Lord’s Prayer, which, when translated directly from Aramaic to English, did not begin with the familiar words, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Instead, the posts claimed, the prayer began with, “O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration, soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your Presence can abide.”

In our initial research, we found that a search of Google Books showed that the “O cosmic Birther” translation wasn’t printed in any literature before the year 2000. The translation doesn’t appear in any results for newspaper archives on Newspapers.com. The oldest online mention of these exact words that we could find was from thenazareneway.com, which was first archived in 2003.

We contacted two people who appeared to be key figures tied to this subject. We will first present the purported Aramaic translation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Facebook posts and then delve into the correspondence.

‘O Cosmic Birther’

The full text of the Lord’s Prayer post shared on Facebook went like this:

This is The Lord’s Prayer…translated from Aramaic directly into English (rather than from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English).

Archaeologists uncovered a scroll in 1892 that contains this version of the prayer, one which has been mistranslated as “Our Father, who art in heaven…” for millennia.

Imagine how many other things have been lost in translation through the years.

“O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration, soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your Presence can abide.

Fill us with your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of your mission.

Let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with our desire.

Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish.

Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us, as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.

Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose, but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.

For you are the ground and the fruitful vision, the birth, power, and fulfillment, as all is gathered and made whole once again.

And So It Is!”

Multiple postings of this same text were found with a simple search on Facebook.

‘Archaeologists Uncovered a Scroll in 1892’

Steve Caruso, MLIS, is a professor in computer science at Raritan Valley Community College. He’s also worked in the past for more than 15 years as a professional Aramaic translator.

We reached out to Caruso about the Facebook post after we found that he published an article in 2007 about the “O cosmic Birther” translation (and other translations) of the Lord’s Prayer.

We first asked him about the mention of archaeologists discovering a scroll in 1892. In his answer, he mentioned the Sinaitic Palimpsest, which referred to the discovery in Sinai of an early translation of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John:

The scroll from 1892 mentioned is likely a reference to the discovery of the Sinaitic Palimpsest, which – along with the Curetonian Syriac – is one of the two surviving manuscripts of the “Old Syriac Gospels.” The name “Old Syriac” is a bit of a misnomer, as both of them are written in Early Classical Syriac, rather than the Old Syriac language, proper. Regardless, this text type was an interesting find because it represented a precursor to the Peshitta New Testament, which is the standard version of the Bible that exists in Classical Syriac Aramaic (think of the Peshitta as the King James Version of the Syriac-speaking church – they still use it to this day).

Where Syriac is a variety of Aramaic, the language of the “Old Syriac” manuscripts is too young and physically removed to be Christ’s language, and actually has features that we know that Christ’s own Galilean Aramaic did not have (including common vocabulary and grammar). I discussed a number of the problems here in this article. And the criticisms there which reference to the Peshitta would equally apply to the Sinaitic and Curetonian manuscripts as well.

A further wrinkle in the claims that this is somehow a new reading is that the Lord’s Prayer as it appears in the Old Syriac Gospels is virtually identical to how it appears in the Peshitta New Testament, and the Peshitta New Testament has been known about for millennia.

More details on the scroll discovery in 1892 can be found in Margaret Dunlop Gibson’s book published in the same year, which was titled, “How the Codex Was Found.” The book is available to be read online for free on openlibrary.org.

‘O Cosmic Birther’

Next, we asked Caruso about the translation included in the Facebook posts. “Aye, the whole ‘O cosmic Birther’ theme,” Caruso said. He told us that, to his knowledge, the translation originated with mystic, author, and scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz. He also said that it’s been “re-hashed numerous times by numerous modern gnostics and mystics since, often unprovenanced,” calling that a “major red flag”:

Lots of folks, when they share this kind of content don’t understand that the goal of a modern mystic (such as Neil Douglas-Klotz) isn’t to get back to the original meaning of the text, but to expound upon a text in ways that are not literal and which go beyond the original words as a kind of meditation.

Douglas-Klotz did talk a little bit about this in his original book, but it wasn’t a very compelling or strong disclaimer. In contrast, the goal of a linguist is the opposite: To try and express what the words, in context, originally meant – and when these memes are made, that’s the first critical bit of context that is dropped. Aramaic is such a relatively obscure family of languages that many folk can make all sorts of claims that are difficult enough to fact-check as it is – and because of that it’s been a subject where the exciting tall tales tend to outnumber the boring facts on social media by a large margin.

Interviewing Douglas-Klotz

In Douglas-Klotz’s 1990 book, “Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus,” the author opens with a disclaimer of sorts, apparently the same one referenced by Caruso. It reads, “The transcription of the Aramaic words into English characters is not meant to be a formal, scholarly transliteration. The latter would have required the reader to learn yet another alphabet with special characters, and this book is meant to be used by lay persons.”

In our email correspondence with Douglas-Klotz, we soon learned what appeared to be happening with the “O cosmic Birther” translation that was being shared on Facebook. He told us that there have been no shortage of what he termed “paraphrases” of his previous translations:

There have been an enormous number of “paraphrases” (in publishing terms plagiarism) of my multiple translations of the prayer floating around online for the past 30+ years. The one now floating around is the current one. As far as I can tell none of the people doing them know Aramaic. They are just improvising based on their own fancy, using material from the multiple actual translations from Aramaic in my first book (1990), “Prayers of the Cosmos.” My methodology and sources are in “The Hidden Gospel” (1999).

He also said that the idea that there’s one true and original translation of the Lord’s Prayer just doesn’t square with reality:

Ancient Semitic languages, their root-and-pattern system and their ‘way of knowing’ (epistemology) in the ancient world mean that the words of prophet or visionary would always be understood on multiple levels. The ideal of one, single “literal” translation did not exist. That comes later with Christian theology.

According to Douglas-Klotz’s work, the “O cosmic Birther” variation on Facebook appears to simply be a paraphrased version of the translations he published in his book in 1990, meaning that it is not, in fact, any sort of an original, definitive, or literal translation of the Lord’s Prayer.

“I have nothing against people improvising on what I’ve done for their own use, or composing their own prayers from scratch,” Douglas-Klotz said. “It’s when they begin to post that something is the ‘one, true’ translation from Aramaic that I start getting a lot of email (or doing multiple posts on Facebook, which is what’s happening now).”

Caruso added, “I fear that this old canard will never die but is fated to live forever on the internet.”

Note: Douglas-Klotz was also the former chair of the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of Religion and is the author of, “Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus: The Hidden Teachings on Life and Death.”

Sources:

Caruso, Steve. “O Father-Mother Birther of the Cosmos?!” The Aramaic New Testament, 9 June 2007, http://aramaicnt.org/2007/06/09/o-father-mother-birther-of-the-cosmos/.

—. “Problems With Peshitta Primacy.” The Aramaic New Testament, 20 Oct. 2012, http://aramaicnt.org/articles/problems-with-peshitta-primacy/.

Gibson, Margaret Dunlop. How the Codex Was Found: A Narrative of Two Visits to Sinai from Mrs. Lewis’s Journals, 1892-1893. Macmillan, 1893.

Lewis, Agnes Smith. How the Codex Was Found, a Narrative of Two Visits to Sinai, from Mrs. Lewis’s Journals 1892-1893, by Margaret Dunlop Gibson. Macmillan, 1893.

Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus. Harper & Row, 1990.

“The Lords Prayer.” The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies, https://www.thenazareneway.com/lords_prayer.htm.

Recent Updates
  1. Updated [Aug. 4, 2022]: Updated to incorporate comments from key sources. Rating revised from "Research in Progress" to "False."
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