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What Language Did Jesus Speak?

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In this article, We will Discuss what language did Jesus speak?

This sounds interesting. Everyone needs a language to communicate. A language is a principal pattern of interaction and communication between humans. It consists of words, writing, and gesture. As for Jesus the language of Jesus and his disciples is considered to be Aramaic.

This language was quite common among the people of Judea during the first century AD and it was most likely in a Galilean dialect, a distinct form of Jerusalem. The historians agree on this point and language. As historians further quote, Jesus spent most of his time in Aramaic-speaking countries which were Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee.

It is also reported that Jesus was also conversant in the Koine Greek enough to conversate with the people who were not native of Judea. Moreover, Jesus was also proficient in Hebrew which he used for his religious practices.

Aramaic as the Main Language of Jesus  

Historians and even experts often argue over the language in which a carpenter’s son from Galilee spoke who became a spiritual figure later and got common as Jesus. As Dr. Sebastian Brock, an emeritus reader in Aramaic quotes at Oxford university,

Jesus was good at Hebrew and it was the language of religious scholars and scriptures. However, his everyday language was none other than Aramaic. Additionally, the Bible comprises the Aramaic that he spoke as biblical scholars quote.

The famous biblical film drama ‘The passion of Christ’ by the famous producer and director Mel Gibson also used the Aramaic language in this cinematic adaptation. Though the language and words were barely from 1st century Aramaic, a lot of script and words were from the later centuries.

Other languages of Jesus

Along with other languages, Latin and Greek were also common during the time of Jesus, though Arabic did not arrive till that time. Latin was dedicated to selective practices. As the stipendiary lecturer, Jonathan Katz in classics from Oxford University comments that it is kind of unlikely for Jesus to know Latin except for a few words.

Latin was the language of law and the Roman military. Greek was the lingua franca of the Roman empire and it was in practice by civilian administrators. Greek language and culture were much in practice and dominant in the cities of Decapolis, especially in Jordan. 

So, there are probabilities that Jesus would have known more Greek than Latin. Though, he was not much proficient in it as Katz summed it. As for the writing of the language, Jesus could barely write any language as per the historians. He could have been more interested in writing than reading.

Aramaic - the Language of Jesus 

The Cultural Background of the Aramaic Language

Aramaic is believed to be the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean during and post-Neo-Assyrian, Neo Babylonian, and Achaemenid empires (722-330) and remained to be the common language of that region in the first century AD.

Aramaic was getting more popular and expanding than the Greek. Aramaic later became the dominant language eventually among Jews both in the Holy land and somewhere in the middle east around 2000 AD.

Dead Sea Scrolls

The uninitiated Dead sea scrolls are ancient old Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts that were discovered during 1946/47 at the Qumran caves. The location was somewhere near the northern shore of the dead sea. As per the Dead Sea Scrolls, Yigal Yadin, a popular archeologist,

Aramaic was actually the language of Hebrews until the revolt of Simon Bar Kokhba happened from 132 AD to 135 AD. This revolt is also known as the ‘Jewish expedition’ named by the Romans. It was a rebellion movement by the Jews of Judea and it was led against the Roman Empire by Simon bar Kokhba.

Additionally, it was one of the last among three major Jewish- Roman wars. Yadin shifted his focus from the Aramaic to Hebrew in documents that were under his consideration during the Bar Khokhba revolt.

He found it quite interesting and shared that the earlier documents were in the Aramaic language while the other ones were in the Hebrew language. He further assesses that this change was probably implemented by the Bar Khokhba who wanted to restore Hebrew as the official language of the state.

Yadin further shared in another book by Sigalit Ben-Zion that this change was probably the result of the Bar Khokhba revolt. He wanted the Hebrew language as the official one.

Yadin further points out that Aramaic was lingua franca at that time. A lingua franca is a language that is used as a bridge and auxiliary language between the people who do not understand each other’s native language. 

Phonology

Aramaic Phrases in the Greek New Testament

The Greek new testament transliterates a few Semitic words. Semantic languages are the ones that come from the Afroasiatic language family. Whenever text itself refers to the language of such Semitic glosses, it uses words meaning “Hebrew/Jewish”.

However, this term is also often applied to the unmistakably Aramaic words and their phrases. It is further interpreted as the Aramaic vernacular of the Jews in the translations of recent times. According to a small group of scholars most or all of the New Testament(second division of biblical canon) was originally created in the Aramaic language. This theory is also named Aramaic primacy.

Aramaic Personal Name in the New Testament

There are personal names in multiple languages in the New testament. Hebrew and Greek are the most common ones. The bar is one of the most prominent features of the Aramaic name. It is Greek transliteration βαρ, Aramaic bar. It means ‘son of’ it is a common patronym prefix.

A patronym is a component of a personal name that is based on the name given by one’s father, grandfather, or the elder male ancestor. Its Hebrew equivalent is ben, and it is obvious in its absence.

Some of the examples are

  • Matthew – Bartholomew (Βαρθολομαῖος from bar-Tōlmay, perhaps "son of furrows" or "ploughman").
  • Matthew  – Simon bar-Jona (Σίμων Βαριωνᾶς from Šim‘ōn bar-Yōnā, "Simon son of Jonah").
  • John  – Simon bar-Jochanan ("Simon son of John").
  • Matthew  – Barabbas (Βαραββᾶς from bar-Abbā, "son of the father").
  • Mark  – Bartimaeus (Βαρτιμαῖος possibly from a combination of Aramaic bar and Greek times meaning "honorable" or "highly prized", perhaps "honorable son").
  • Acts  – Barsabbas (Βαρσαββᾶς from bar-Šabbā, "son of the Sabbath").
  • Acts  – Joseph who is called Barnabas (Βαρνάβας from bar-Navā meaning "son of prophecy", "the prophet", but given the Greek translation υἱὸς παρακλήσεως; usually translated as "son of consolation/encouragement", the Greek could mean "invocation" as well).
  • Acts  – Bar-Jesus (Βαριησοῦς from bar-Išo, "son of Jesus/Joshua").
  • Aramaic place name in the new testament

These Testaments are here with the Original Extracts from the Book.

Gethsemane (Γεθσημανῆ)

Matthew 26:36
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane”
Mark 14:32
“And they went to a place that has the name Gethsemane”
The place where Jesus was praying with disciples and used to take them along before his arrest has been given Greek transliteration. It tells about the Aramaic Gath-Šmānē, meaning which means ‘the oil press’ or oil vat with its reference to the olive oil.

A few other names of places include are listed below with the original references from the book.
Golgotha (Γολγοθᾶ)
Mark 15:22

And they took him up to the place Golgotha, which is translated as Place of the Skull.
Gabbatha (Γαββαθᾶ)
John 19:13

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
Akeldama (Ἀκελδαμά)[
Acts 1:19
And this became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that field was called, in their own dialect, Akeldama, that is Field of Blood.
A pool of Bethesda (Βηθεσδά)
John 5:2

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.

Hebrew Language

Hebrew language is a Northwest Semitic language and comes from the Afroasiatic family. This language historically is regarded as one of the spoken languages of Israelites and their longest surviving descendants, the Judeans and Samaritans.

This language has the privilege of being saved as a liturgical language of Judaism. A liturgical language is a sacred language that is used in the church service for religious purposes.

Hebrew is the only Canaanite language that is still spoken today and also a bright and successful example of a dead language that was revived later.

Moreover, it also happens to be one of the two northwest Semitic languages in use with the other one being Aramaic.

Hebrew as the Language of Jesus

Hebrew has always been taken as a liturgical language due to its contributions to the religious activities and for also being in practice by Jesus himself. All of the Hebrew bibles are written in biblical Hebrew and date back to the 10th century.

It is present in its current form in the dialect that according to scholars believe flourished in the 6th century during the Babylonian captivity. Babylonian captivity or exile refers to the period of Jewish history during which a huge number of Judeans from the ancient kingdom of Judah were captivated in Babylon, which was the capital city of the Neo Babylonian empire.

This is why the Hebrew language has been associated with the Jewish as Lashon Hakodesh which means the ‘holy tongue or tongue of holiness’ since the old times.  This language was not quoted in the Bible as Hebrew but actually as Yehudit (the language of Judah).

Jesus’s proficiency in Hebrew is another topic. According to historians as Hebrew was the language that was used for church service and religious practices and also for written work so Jesus did know the language and could understand it, however, he was not much fluent in Hebrew. But Hebrew language has great contribution to being used in the Church so Jesus had great regard for this language.

Classical Hebrew

Classical Hebrew exists in two main types and has its great affiliation and connection with Jesus and Bible. 

  1. Biblical Hebrew
  2. Early post-biblical Hebrew

1. Biblical Hebrew

Broadly speaking, Biblical Hebrew is a language that was spoken by the ancient Israel which was flourishing between the 10th century BCE and the turn of the 4th century CE. It has further dialects which are evolved and overlapped since then. These are

1. Archaic Biblical Hebrew

This dialect was there from the 10th to the 6th century BCE and was used for correspondence during the monarchic period until Babylonian happened. This dialect has its representation of certain texts in the Hebrew bible. The song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the song of Deborah (Judges 5) are notable works. Paleo-Hebrew alphabet was used to write for this.

2. Standard Biblical Hebrew

This dialect remained in service from the 8th to 6th centuries BCE, it was there for corresponded to the late monarchic period and the Babylonian exile. A bulk of the Hebrew Bible represents it. Its present form is around since the very ancient times.

3. Late Biblical Hebrew

5th to the 3rd centuries BCE, for the correspondence to the Persian period and with the representation of the certain text in the Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah’s books are notable in this dialect. This dialect is not much different from the classical biblical Hebrew, except for a few words which were added to the language for government correspondence mainly, and some of the syntactical innovations were also there for the use of particle she- (it is an alternative of “asher”

4. Israelian Hebrew

It is the last dialect on the list. It is a proposed northern dialect of biblical Hebrew. Historians believe that this dialect existed during all the eras of the Hebrew language.

2. Early post-biblical Hebrew

It has two main variants which are

1. Dead Sea Scrolls

This Hebrew variant has its history of starting from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE, corresponding to the Roman periods prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and represented by Qumran scrolls which were mostly from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also abbreviated as DSS, this variant is known as Qumran Hebrew too.

2. Mishnaic Hebrew

It was in service from 1st to 3rd and according to some 4th century. This was used for correspondence to the Roman empire after the devastation of a temple in Jerusalem and it represents through a bulk of Mishna and Tosefta within the Talmud and by the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

Final words

As historians report, there are pieces of evidence found that Jesus could understand multiple languages. He could speak and understand Hebrew as the holy language and language of the church. There are many scripts of the Bible from the ancient era which tell Jesus knew the Hebrew language. However, the daily language of Jesus was Aramaic. He spent all his life among the people and places where Aramaic was spoken. He was also proficient in the Koine 

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