What language(s) did Jesus speak?


#1

Years ago I read that Jesus spoke Aramaic, although I don’t recall where, so I looked it up again tonight. The following site argues quite persuasively that it was primarily Hebrew: https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Articles/Jesus_Hebrew/jesus_hebrew.html

Is there still a debate on this, or is Hebrew correct?

Thanks
Norm


#2

Hebrew was the language of the Jewish scripture and Jewish children are still taught the language. In the temple, in the synagogues, that was the language although I’m sure Jesus spoke Aramaic as well.

Since He conversed with Pilate, I think He also spoke Greek or Latin.


#3

Thank you.


#4

Always thought that “Tal′itha cu′mi” and “Eli, Eli, la′ma sabach-tha′ni” were Aramaic.


#5

When the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, they were still slaves, and they had assimilated to using Aramaic. So, Aramaic hanged around for a long time, as the rulers spoke aramaic, etc. That was the official language, as I understand it.


#6

He spoke Aramaic! He read Hebrew in the Scrolls in Temple!
If educated in the times, learned Jews could read Latin.


#7

Aramaic, hebrew, greek and latin at least.


#8

:thinking: or there was a translator.


#9

He probably spoke both.

Aramaic was the day-to-day conversational language, and Hebrew was the ‘liturgical’ language so to speak. It was used in the temple.


#10

Israel’s prime minister has verbally sparred with the Pope over which language Christ might have spoken. Several languages were used in the places where Jesus lived - so which would he have known, asks Tom de Castella.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis appeared to have a momentary disagreement. “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu told the Pope at a public meeting in Jerusalem. “Aramaic,” interjected the Pope. “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu shot back.

It’s broadly accepted that Jesus existed, although the historicity of the events of his life is still hotly debated. But language historians can shed light on what language a carpenter’s son from Galilee who became a spiritual leader would have spoken.

The answer
:black_medium_small_square:Aramaic would have been his first language
:black_medium_small_square:Hebrew for scholarly questions
:black_medium_small_square:May have known some Greek but unlikely to have been proficient

Both the Pope and the Israeli prime minister are right, says Dr Sebastian Brock, emeritus reader in Aramaic at Oxford University, but it was important for Netanyahu to clarify. Hebrew was the language of scholars and the scriptures. But Jesus’s “everyday” spoken language would have been Aramaic. And it is Aramaic that most biblical scholars say he spoke in the Bible. This is the language that Mel Gibson used for The Passion of the Christ, although not all the words could be found from 1st Century Aramaic, and some of the script used words from later centuries.

Arabic did not arrive until later in Palestine. But Latin and Greek were common at the time of Jesus. It’s unlikely Jesus would have known Latin beyond a few words, says Jonathan Katz, stipendiary lecturer in Classics at Oxford University. It was the language of law and the Roman military and Jesus was unlikely to be familiar with the vocabulary of these worlds. Greek is a little more likely. It was the lingua franca of the Roman Empire - used by the civilian administrators. And there were the cities of the Decapolis, mostly in Jordan, where Greek language and culture dominated. So Jesus would probably have known some Greek, although the balance of probability is that he was not proficient in it, Katz says.

There’s no clear evidence that Jesus could write in any language, says Brock. In John’s gospel he writes in the dust, but that is only one account. And we don’t know what language it was in. Jesus might even have been drawing rather than writing, Brock says.


#11

From what I have read, Latin and Greek were both languages of commerce so it seems correct to assume that Jesus and his Apostles knew some it. The ordinary language of the area was Aramaic and they used Hebrew for the synagogue.


#12

Yes, Exactly.


#13

He also spoke Greek.

There was a version of Greek known as Koine Greek. It wasn’t quite the same ‘authentic’ Greek that the Greek people themselves spoke (classic). It was an international language used throughout the mediterranean region, and it was the language of trade.

Greek was also the official language of the Roman Empire (in so far as they had one) of the time. Many people mistakenly think it was Latin. Latin was the language used in the city of Rome (and environs), but Greek was the language of the Empire.

We know that Christ did speak with Roman soldiers and Pilate. Those conversations would have happened in Koine Greek. Pilate would not have bothered to learn Aramaic, much less Hebrew.

Although this isn’t recorded in the Gospels, we can be sure that He went to the market, and other places where He conversed with non-Jews. Tyre (where we know He visited) was an international city.

So we can be fairly certain that He spoke Aramaic (as a home and family language), Greek (in public) and Hebrew (in prayer, synagogue, and Temple). We can add that He probably understood a little bit of Latin.


#14

That article argues that He understood Hebrew. Yes, that’s true.

But Hebrew was not a spoken language at that time-and-place. It simply wasn’t.

It was used as the language of prayer. The Scriptures were read in Hebrew, and it was the language of prayer (at home) the synagogues and especially the Temple. So every Jewish person would have known Hebrew. It was what we Catholics would call their “liturgical language” much like Latin for us, except that the everyday people understood it.

It makes perfect sense that the many times Christ quotes Scripture, He did it in Hebrew. All the Jewish people sang the Psalms in Hebrew, so it makes sense that they would quote the Psalms in Hebrew in conversation.

Still, Hebrew was not the language of conversation.


#15

Dr. Brock will never see this, but there are multiple references to His being able to read (from the scrolls, in the synagogues). If He could read, he could write.

My take on the OP’s question: His “mother tongue” was Aramaic (multiple quotations in that language). He could read OT Hebrew; therefore, He could probably speak it as well. He dealt with foreigners, so he likely spoke some koine Greek and Latin, altho there is no direct evidence of that.

D


#16

Not necessarily. Writing is a separate skill and it is not uncommon for people to be able to read but not write.


#17

Thank you, all. This discussion has been very helpful.


#18

Actually He knows all languages for He is God.

The question should be which languages He spoke the most.


#19

Not true. In ancient times reading and writing were considered two different skills. Almost all Jewish boys could read, they all attended synagogue schools and were taught to read Hebrew and probably Aramaic. But only scholars (their called scribes in the gospels) learned to write.


#20

I’m not so sure about the ability to speak Hebrew.

He certainly knew the language. But it was the language of prayer. Being able to read the Prophets or sing the Psalms (which we know He did) doesn’t always lead to having the ability to actually carry on a conversation in that language.

Hebrew was not a spoken language. People simply did not go to the marketplace and buy a jar of olive oil using Hebrew. Except for prayer (both public and private) Hebrew was, by then, already a dead language.

I do see that there’s plenty of evidence for Koine Greek. He spent quite a bit of time in non-Jewish cities such as Tyre and the Decapolis. For someone of that time and place, He did quite a bit of traveling. In its own way, Jerusalem was an international city. It would have been difficult and very unlikely for such a person not-to-speak Koine Greek.

In His interaction with foreigners, it’s more likely that they would have spoken a shared language (K Greek) than it would be for those foreigners to have learned Aramaic.


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