Languages are an important part of our world because they allow us to communicate through verbal language, however, a mystery for most people is, What language did Jesus of Nazareth speak, therefore, in this article we will clarify those doubts.
What language did Jesus speak?
Pope Francis has traveled all over the world, this for his role as the highest representative of the Catholic religion, the holy city of Jerusalem was no exception, when the Pope made his tour of the Middle East, he met with the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, they talked about political, social and religious issues, it was in the latter where the debate arose regarding what language Jesus spoke .
Both were very much in agreement that the places where Jesus lived and transited had many languages in use, however, their debate focused on finding out exactly which language Jesus spoke . Both found themselves in opposite situations because Benjamin maintained that Jesus spoke “Hebrew”, but the Pope did not agree, he believed and maintained that Jesus spoke “Aramaic”, to which Benjamin replied that he spoke both languages.
Language of Jesus of Nazareth: Bilingual or polyglot
It is no secret today that the existence of the son of God is a topic subject to many debates, this mainly because there are many factions that fervently refuse to accept it, however, there are many others who do accept it, the religious faithful, Many of these social scientists (Linguists and Historians) have done a lot of research to come up with the answer to what language the son of a simple carpenter (Joseph) who lived in Galilee during his early years could have used.
The Israeli Prime Minister insists that Jesus, in addition to “Aramaic”, He also spoke “Hebrew”, to which Sebastian Brock, doctor and professor “Emeritus in Aramaic” at the University of Oxford, replied that they were both correct, Jesus spoke “Hebrew” and also “Aramaic” equally.
On the one hand, the scholars used the Hebrew language for most of their writings, therefore, historically this was a language used mostly by scholars, however, it was not exclusive to them. On the other hand, Aramaic was the most common language in those years, so most men who have studied the Holy Bible agree that the latter was the language spoken by Jesus.
The theory that Jesus had spoken Arabic as his mother tongue is discredited, the reason is that this language was not native to Palestine and was introduced many centuries later, however, languages such as Latin and Greek were very popular during the time in Christ lived, but many think it was unlikely that Jesus knew much Latin.
Returning to the same order of ideas, Jonathan Katz, an academic of classical languages at the University of Oxford, thinks that, if Jesus knew how to speak Latin, it would probably be very little and not enough to be considered a speaker of this language, the reason being that this It was the language in which the Roman laws were written at that time, it was also the language used by the Roman army, therefore, it would be very unlikely that Jesus knew Latin fully.
As a curious fact, Mel Gibson, director of the controversial film entitled “The Passion of the Christ”, used Aramaic as the native language of Jesus Christ and everyone at that time, in fact, the film was recorded in that language and the actors had to speak in Aramaic, however, the script could not be written in its entirety in the Aramaic of the 1st century, therefore Aramaic words of later centuries had to be sought. Many people believe that Jesus’ native language was Aramaic in part because of this movie, here’s a clip from the movie to hear Aramaic.
Was Jesus of Nazareth illiterate?
In the Roman empire at that time, Greek was the most common language for civilians, therefore many scholars claim that it was likely that Jesus spoke that language, in fact, in cities such as Decapolis and Jordan, the language and culture Greek were dominant so some say that it could be possible that he spoke Greek.
Jonathan Katz thinks that it is probable that Jesus could speak a little Greek, but not very extensively, because although it is true that it was the language of the surrounding areas, it was not the language used in his native land, Sebastián Brock adds that there is no any evidence that Jesus could write in any language, the reason is that there is no text written by Jesus.
Returning to the previous idea, in the Gospel of Saint John, it says that Jesus wrote in the dust, but there are no more stories where it says that He could write, not even if he knew how to write, in addition, it is not clear in what language he was “writing » Jesus, therefore, since there are no texts written by Jesus, Brock says that it is possible that Jesus, instead of writing, was drawing in the dust.
Common languages where Jesus lived
In the first century, in the land where Jesus lived and also in its surroundings, there are records that the four languages that had the most presence were: Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. All these languages had a presence according to the area in which they were found, not all of them spoke Greek, not all of them spoke Latin, etc.
The least used language but at the same time, it was the official language was Latin, this was used almost entirely by members of the Roman army, although also by its officials, however, it was also used by some educated people of the time For this reason, it is unlikely if not impossible that Jesus would have learned a Latin that would allow him to speak fluently, much less that he could preach in this language.
Greek was a language used by peasants, artisans and carpenters of Galilee, although not at a very deep level, mostly to be able to carry out any type of business or to be able to communicate with the pilgrims who visited the city, therefore, it is very likely that Jesus mastered not in its entirety, but the basic knowledge of this language to be able to communicate.
In the ancient city of Jerusalem, it is estimated that a percentage of eight to fifteen percent of the inhabitants spoke Greek, despite this fact, there is no evidence that Jesus used Greek at any time, in fact, not even there are texts that say something about it, however, the possibility is not ruled out, for example, that when Jesus and Pontius Pilate spoke in private, they would have used Greek to communicate.
The historical records of the time show the possibility that when Jesus was preaching in different places, in conversations with Pharisees and ordinary people, he used Hebrew to communicate, the reason is that in the gospels of the Bible that fact is left between seeing.
Although Jesus could use Hebrew and probably knew it, it is much more likely that the language Jesus would use in everyday life and in his preaching would be Aramaic, the reason is not only that this was the most common language among the Jews from Galilee, but because in the Greek texts of the gospels, there are many loose phrases that Jesus said and these are in Aramaic, here are some of them:
talitha qum (Mk 5,41), corbán (Mk 7,11), effetha (Mk 7,34), geenna (Mk 9,43), abba (Mk 14,36), Eloí, Eloí, lemá sabacthaní? (Mk 15,34), or from his interlocutors: rabbuni (Mk 10,51).
Linguistic studies carried out on the gospels show that initially these words could have been pronounced in Hebrew, but deeper studies show that these words are more coherent in Aramaic, due to some puns that do not make sense in other words. languages, only in this language.
It can also be seen that the words pronounced by Jesus in his gospels gain greater force when they are said in Aramaic, in addition, the semantic load they have is very different from the semantic load of the Greek. When translating some gospels into Greek, many of the gospels that have puns in Aramaic lose them in the Greek.
The Hebrew language today
It is very normal that today, those who travel to the well-known holy land, prepare to speak modern Hebrew thinking that Jesus spoke this dialect, it is even surprising that there are founded Catholic societies that bear names in Hebrew, although it is true that the Hebrew is the official language established in the constitution of the Israeli state, this was not always the official language, this is due to a rather political decision, to be able to unite all the inhabitants of the country under a single language.
At the time that Jesus Christ lived this was not the case, two thousand years ago there were many languages in use as official languages of the holy land, to begin with, the Hebrew that is currently spoken in Israel could be considered a modern language, that is, it is very different to the Hebrew of years ago, languages mutate over the centuries, either to add vocabulary or, by adapting words from other languages, also because of jargon.
Hebrew and Aramaic in ancient times
Those who accompanied Abraham had a language similar to the Babylonian, meanwhile, the Canaanites had a more defined language, therefore, when the Hebrews returned from Egypt to build their language, they adapted certain qualities of the Canaanite.
King David spoke this Hebrew, so it was for many years, however, this changed with the deportation to Babylon, this caused that at first there was a slow decline of this language and, therefore, it was supplanted by a local language, but the sages and writers of the holy scriptures used this Hebrew as the holy language, this caused Hebrew to become the “language of holiness” or “language of the wise.”
Continuing with the idea previously raised, at that time they began to teach Hebrew, just as they now teach Latin, even supplications and prayers were pronounced in Hebrew, as well as the Our Father and the Hail Mary were prayed in Latin.
Saint Luke in his gospel tells that Jesus taught in his temple when the book of the prophet Isaiah was written, therefore, for his sermons to the doctors the sacred Hebrew language was used, but in daily life he used Aramaic, therefore, it is It is very likely that when Jesus spoke to less educated people, he preached in Aramaic and not Hebrew.
Many language scholars say that Aramaic was a corrupt language, the reason being that it was brought from the Babylonian exile, however, this language is as original to the region as Hebrew was, in fact, Hebrew was the language used by the nomadic tribes that roamed at that time.
Something that surprises many historians is that inexplicably, Aramaic was not lost, but rather it spread throughout the region, its expansion was so surprising because it came to occupy a large part of Asia, Iran, even the Persian Gulf, Aramaic was It spread so much that it replaced all the native languages that were spoken in the region at first.
There was a very strong cultural change from the 8th century BC only the Cults spoke Aramaic and the Hebrew people, however, in the times of Jesus, the people spoke more Aramaic than Hebrew, in this way the latter was relegated to men Saints.
It is thought that this change was probably because Aramaic was a finer and more adaptive language to the needs of the speakers, it could better express the facts that accompanied the stories. Aramaic enjoyed many variations, just as it does today, for example, the Aramaic speakers in Galilee did not pronounce some words in the same way as the speakers in Jerusalem.
There is evidence that Aramaic was used instead of Hebrew in the early gospel writings, best seen in the books of Daniel and St. Matthew. At the time of Jesus it was normal for there to be an Aramaic translator, this because there were some texts that were not in this language but in Hebrew.
Currently there are still communities that use Aramaic, there are two variations that have survived over time, they are known as “Eastern Aramaic” and “Western Aramaic”, they are used south of Damascus and near Mesopotamia. Thanks to this preservation, the transcription of the Our Father in Aramaic was possible.
Pontius Pilate and Jesus
The debate about whether Jesus spoke Greek or not comes from the speeches that are in the gospels, When he is questioned by Pontius Pilate he does not use the help of someone who speaks Latin or Greek, and Pilate does not speak Aramaic or Hebrew, for Therefore, how these two communicated is a mystery, which leaves more questions than answers.
The Greek in Palestine
A fairly simple variant of Greek was spoken, in fact, all the words that were considered difficult were removed, but aspects of the language such as the declensions and conjugations of verbs were preserved. This variant had many classical Greek prepositions, but also added many Latin words.
Certainly a verdict cannot be given about what was the native language of Jesus, the reason is that there are no concrete records of the time, however, by context it can be assumed that Jesus spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, it should be clarified that it is only something Presumably, not even specialized linguists say which of the two was his native language, but what is not clear at any time was whether Jesus knew Latin or Greek, this part of the story is the subject of speculation.
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