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Thread: What languages would Jesus have spoken?

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    What languages would Jesus have spoken?

    Obviously Aramaic, but what else would a backwoods Galilean Rabbi from the first century have spoken? Latin? Just to communicate with the Romans around him? Or would he have learned Greek like other Hellenized Jews of the big cities? In Mel Gibson’s snuff flick, Jesus speaks in both Aramaic and Latin.

    I doubt seriously that Pilate spoke Aramaic. He doesn’t seem to have cared much for Judeans, but he did spend 10 years there. But like any well educated Roman of the times, he probably was fluent in Greek. Did the Romans rely on translators?

    And what language was he supposed to have conversed with the crowds that day? Did they all shout out crucify him in Latin? The New Testament was written in Greek, but did use Jesus’s last words uttered in Aramaic - in Matthew and Mark at least. Maybe they all spoke in Greek. Supposedly.

    SLD

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Naturally, no one really knows. Latin is clearly wrong, as it was not the lingua franca anywhere east of Athens, as near as anyone can tell. Even the official business of the Empire was conducted primarily in Greek in the Hellenized world, and following the fall of the Italian empire, what was left of Rome spoke Greek exclusively. What's less clear is the extent to which the average Galilean or Judean knew Greek. Almost all the works we have extant from the Judean sphere are written in Greek, but then they are also almost entirely written by the upper classes, and despite the monarchic claim Jesus does not give the impression of having been moneyed or formally educated. Josephus, when he speaks of learning Greek, seems to indicate that it was a necessary but difficult endeavor for him, and certainly not his first language. Indeed, the original draft of his histories was apparently in Aramaic.

    On the other hand, when quoting Scripture, however, the literary Jesus at least seems to be quoting the LXX, the popular Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This may be due to the authors of those works being exclusively familiar with that version, rather than Jesus himself.

    We also find occasional works, including the later passages of the Hebrew Scriptures, written in Aramaic, a Semitic language used widely as a common tongue throughout Mesopotamia following the rise of the second Assyrian empire. The Christian canon occasionally mentions Jesus speaking in Aramaic as an aside within the predominately Greek texts, the only concrete statement about his native tongue. Aramaic was widely spoken in the Ancient Near East for about two centuries after Jesus' death, before giving way to other languages aside from a few scattered communities. It was not until Simon Bar Kochba's revolt (about a century after Jesus' time) that Judah saw a revival of the Hebrew language, at least judging by the evidence suggested by the Dead Sea Scrolls assemblage. Contemporary documents often refer to Aramaic or Aramaic place names as "in our language".

    All adult men of non-slave status would have had to know at least a reasonable amount of Hebrew for religious reasons, but it's thought by most scholars that it was not used as a primary language in the post-Alexandrian era. That gives us Koine Greek and Aramaic as contenders for the most common tongue, and the possibility (quite likely in my opinion) that most people of the upper or business classes knew both, but that the majority spoke mostly Aramaic.

    Pontius Pilate was almost certainly bilingual in Koine Greek and Latin, like most Equestrian-class men of his day, and you are correct that it is unlikely he would have bothered learning Aramaic for what he hoped might be a short appointment and indeed was albeit not for the reason he hoped. So that leaves Greek as a language for speaking to any sort of crowd. Keep in mind that the crowd probably wasn't exactly a cross-section of Israel as a whole, if it existed at all (most scholars consider the whole episode a bit unlikely to put it gently).

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    Contributor Cheerful Charlie's Avatar
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    Greek, not Latin was the non-Aramaic language spoken in the Galilee area in many of the cities there. Hebrew was an archaic language found in the OT scriptures, which educated rabbis knew. If Joshua Ben Joseph knew any language other than Aramaic, he would have known some basic Koine Greek.
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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Though it crosses my mind that the interrogation of Jesus by Pilate has a more humorous note if you imagine them speaking across a language or dialect barrier. Pilate's searching question "What is Truth?" hits a different note if you imagine him saying "What is B'Quosht'aa? You keep on saying B'Quosht'aa, I do not know what that means? Someone get this man a fornicantes interpreter!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Though it crosses my mind that the interrogation of Jesus by Pilate has a more humorous note if you imagine them speaking across a language or dialect barrier. Pilate's searching question "What is Truth?" hits a different note if you imagine him saying "What is B'Quosht'aa? You keep on saying B'Quosht'aa, I do not know what that means? Someone get this man a fornicantes interpreter!"
    It says, "Romans go home."
    No it doesn't. "People called Romanes, they are going, the house?"

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    Jesus spoke King James Bible English with a Texas drawl. Any member of the Sunday Football Church of the Fighting Amurkan Jesus could tell you.

    Eldarion Lathria

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    Wikipedia
    Ferguson has been described as a fiscal conservative but also pushed for a state sales tax and corporate income tax.[6] She is often credited with a quote allegedly referring to bilingualism in Texas schools: "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas."[13] Variations of this statement have been dated to 1881, and were often used to ridicule the claimed backwardness of various unnamed Christians. Ferguson did not originate the quote.[14]
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    I think Eldarion hit the basic answer on the head, although I suspect JC spoke not with a Texas drawl but with a soft central Georgia "Suthun" inflection (" 'Preciate yo comin bah", as the clerk at Roscoe's Package Store once told me.)
    However, I think there was one other linguistic flavor in JC's bag of tricks, based on what he told the disciples in Matthew 13, to wit, he spoke in parables to confound the unbelievers, since "seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear," so he was giving up on them. I think there was more than parables going on. I think his contact with cosmopolitan types from Tyre, Antioch, and other coastal cities had introduced him to Pig Latin, and that its use as obfuscation was instantly clear to him. Most likely when Judas showed up with the posse, JC's first words were, "Udes-day, ake-way up-yay! Ets-lay am-scray!" And surely he'd have used Pig Latin on Caiaphas. The only suitable answer to "Are you the Son of God?" from a doubter was "Uts-nay oo-tay ou-yay, ope-day!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by ideologyhunter View Post
    I think Eldarion hit the basic answer on the head, although I suspect JC spoke not with a Texas drawl but with a soft central Georgia "Suthun" inflection (" 'Preciate yo comin bah", as the clerk at Roscoe's Package Store once told me.)
    However, I think there was one other linguistic flavor in JC's bag of tricks, based on what he told the disciples in Matthew 13, to wit, he spoke in parables to confound the unbelievers, since "seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear," so he was giving up on them. I think there was more than parables going on. I think his contact with cosmopolitan types from Tyre, Antioch, and other coastal cities had introduced him to Pig Latin, and that its use as obfuscation was instantly clear to him. Most likely when Judas showed up with the posse, JC's first words were, "Udes-day, ake-way up-yay! Ets-lay am-scray!" And surely he'd have used Pig Latin on Caiaphas. The only suitable answer to "Are you the Son of God?" from a doubter was "Uts-nay oo-tay ou-yay, ope-day!"
    The Saturday Football Church of the Fighting Amurkan Jesus says Jesus spoke King James Bible English with a Georgia accent.

    Eldarion Lathria

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