Drinking Deeply

Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 5:10 AM

Jesus spoke in Greek

I'm not super sure about this, but I think it's interesting that it's commonly assumed that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and what we have today is a translation of his words in the Gospels.

I don't entirely agree with this. It's clear that Jesus knew Aramaic well enough to converse in it, I think there are some indicators that show that Jesus was speaking Greek the majority of the times.

Jesus does speak Aramaic in the Gospels, but when he does it is pointed out. For example, Matthew 27:46 - "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani," that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It also seems telling that the bystanders misunderstood him. Was there a language barrier? Also, Mark 5:41 "Taking her by the hand he said to her, 'Talitha cumi,' which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, arise.' "

If all (or most) of Jesus' words were in Aramaic, why would the Gospel writers sometimes translate it straight and other times give both the words and the translations?

And sometimes they simply give the words and no translation: Matthew 16:17 "Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah!" There weren't surnames in Jesus' times (Another side note: Christ is a title meaning, "Messiah" rather than Joseph's last name). Bar-Jonah is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic "Son of Jonah." I'm not certain that it has to be Aramaic, but I do know it's not Hebrew.

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Anonymous Ken said...

Jesus was fluent in Aramaic because it was the common term of Palestine. He may have spoke Greek as well, but only those educated like Paul had any proficiency in Greek. That's why Peter and John's Greek is so elementary. But, I don't think you can prove that he knew or taught in Greek by translations of what he said. By the fact that when he is quoted verbatim it comes across in Aramaic means it's very likely he spoke in Aramaic. There was a language barrier, but it was between the Aramaic and the Greek-speaking audience outside of Palestine.  

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Blogger mxu said...

Hi Ken -

Thanks for your comment. What I'm saying is that it seems that (If you take the "Jesus spoke primarily in Aramaic" view) sometimes the Gospel writers transliterated Jesus' Aramaic, and then other times, they seemed to have translated, with no apparent reason why one or another.

Whereas if you argue that he spoke primarily Greek, then it would be obvious why sometimes the Gospel writers said, ".... which means...." because at those times he was actually speaking Aramaic.

The hypothesis that Jesus spoke primarily in Aramaic doesn't explain why the Gospel writers sometimes include the Aramaic and other times not, whereas the hypothesis that Jesus spoke primarily in Greek explains it perfectly.  

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Blogger Dr. J. said...

If you would like to read actually the earliest manuscripts which were in the Aramic, and have been translated to English, do a search for the Pashitta. You have to understand there was a great division within the early church after the Apostles between the East the Western Roman Empire. Jesus did speak Aramic it was the language of the day, and here is where you can find some excellent information on this http://www.aramaicpeshitta.com/index.html  

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