Friday, February 17, 2012

What Language did Jesus speak ? Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek ... Phoenician ?

"It is generally agreed that the historical Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, perhaps along with some Hebrew and Greek. The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum, where Jesus lived, were primarily Aramaic-speaking communities, although Greek was widely spoken in the major cities of the Eastern Mediterranean such as Antioch and Alexandria. Jesus may have also known enough Hebrew to discuss the Hebrew Bible, and he may have known Koine Greek through commerce in nearby Sepphoris.

Aramaic, as a Semitic language, was a common language of the Eastern Mediterranean during and after the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Achaemenid Empires (722 BC – 330 BC). Aramaic remained a common language of Palestine in the 1st century AD, despite the subsequent Macedonian-Greek (331 BC) and Roman (63 BC) invasions.

Indeed, in spite of the increasing importance of Greek, the use of Aramaic was also expanding, and it would eventually be entirely dominant among Jews both in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East around 200 AD; it would remain so until the Arab conquest in the 7th century. Jesus and his disciples spoke a Galilean dialect clearly distinguishable from that of Jerusalem (see Jewish Palestinian Aramaic).

To give some perspective, in the same time period, the Mishnah was recorded in Hebrew, Josephus wrote in Hebrew, and Philo and Paul of Tarsus wrote in Greek.
Talitha cumi (Aramaic, ‘maiden, arise’), in the Gospel of St. Mark, are the words said by Jesus to the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue as he raised her from the dead. The words are left, and a translation is given, in all the European versions of this Gospel.

Josephus wrote in the preface to The Jewish War:

" I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians; Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work]."

Most of the apostles from the Galilee region also spoke Aramaic. The message of Christianity spread (primarily among Jewish Aramaic-speaking enclaves) throughout Judaea, Syria and Mesopotamia, and even to Kerala, India in Aramaic (or Syriac; Aram is the Hebrew word for Syria). " - Wikipedia


  1. Your article about Hebrew language is really interesting. Thanks for sharing your idea with us. I have comprehensive knowledge about Hebrew language , culture and we are making a plan to teach Hebrew language for our students so that they will have sufficient knowledge about their native language Hebrew .

  2. Thanks Brad, I'll check out your site !

  3. Josephus wrote Jewish Wars in Aramaic. Not Hebrew. When he says "Hebrew", he is referring to Hebrew tongue. The tongue of Hebrews during the time of Jesus was Aramaic. After the Babylon exile, Aramaic became the language of Hebrews. Jews are also known as Hebrews (Philippians 3, Genesis 14:13), because they are descendants of Abraham who is called a Hebrew.

    Let me point out an example. In 1800s, when British controlled India, Indians used to call English "British Language", because it is the language of British People. So when an Indian said "You speak British" in 1800s, he/she was referring to English.

    Just like that, Hebrews called Aramaic "Hebrew" and Arameans called Aramaic "Aramaic."

    Even today, Iraqi Jews call their Aramaic language "Hebrew" ("Ibraith" for Hebrew in Aramaic), because that is the language of Hebrews.

    I believe New testament was written in Aramaic. Not Greek.

    I wrote an Article about it here if anyone is interested.

    I wish I could post the information here. But its too long.

    1. Thanks Conway ... I agree with you -I'll check out your blog. Thanks for the comment. I am learning Aramaic so that I can read the Zohar, and Bahir ...