New Testament Bible Class

What language did Jesus speak?

Everyday language in Galilee at the time of Jesus was Aramaic with some Hebrew words and Hebrew spellings.  Hebrew and Aramaic languages are closely related.

Language of government and “big business” was Greek.  The language of common “small business” was Aramaic.

Few people used Latin.

The Assyrian Empire, Babylonian Empire, and Persian Empire used Aramaic as the official language. For this period, (about 700–320 B.C.E.), Aramaic held a position in a large portion of the world similar to that occupied by English today.

Aramaic displaced Hebrew for many purposes among the Jews, a fact reflected in the Bible, where portions of Ezra and Daniel (written during the Persian Empire) are in Aramaic.

Aramaic remained a dominant language for Jewish worship, scholarship, and everyday life for centuries in both the land of Israel and in the diaspora (outside the Holy Land), especially in Babylon.  Since the Jews spoke Aramaic, and knowledge of Hebrew was no longer widespread, the practice arose in the synagogue of providing the reading of the sacred Hebrew scriptures with an Aramaic translation or paraphrase, a “Targum”.

Although Jesus spoke Aramaic, the Gospels are written in Greek, and only rarely quote actual Aramaic words.

Aramaic began to decline in favor of Arabic at the time of the Arab conquest in the 7th century AD.  Aramaic survives today in Eastern and Western dialects, mostly as the language of Christians living in a few scattered communities in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. 

From Biblical Archaeology Review January/February 2008:  The language Jesus spoke has been preserved for thousands of years in the mountains of Syria…a tiny village called Malula…it is likely that Jesus understood both Hebrew and Greek because of his knowledge of Scipture and his childhood in a heavily Hellenized (Greek culture) area of Galilee.  However, he would have primarily spoken a dialect called Palestinian Aramaic in his everyday conversation and teaching…the remote location of Malula protected its people and its language from invasion by foreign influences over the centuries…a special school has been set up to help students of all ages learn or refresh Aramaic skills and, now, to write this tradionally oral language.


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