Language of Jesus
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It is generally agreed that Jesus and his disciples primarily spoke Aramaic, the common language of Palestine in the first century AD, most likely a Galilean dialect distinguishable from that of Jerusalem. The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee, where Jesus spent most of his time, were primarily Aramaic-speaking communities.
Cultural and linguistic background 
Aramaic was the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean during and after the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Achaemenid Empires (722 BC – 330 BC) and remained a common language of the region in the 1st century AD. In spite of the increasing importance of Greek, the use of Aramaic was also expanding, and it would eventually be dominant among Jews both in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Middle East around 200 AD and would remain so until the Arab conquest in the 7th century.
Aramaic phrases in the Greek New Testament 
The Greek New Testament transliterates a few Semitic words. When the text itself refers to the language of such Semitic glosses, it uses words meaning "Hebrew"/"Jewish", but this term is often applied to unmistakably Aramaic words and phrases; for this reason, it is often interpreted as meaning "the (Aramaic) vernacular of the Jews" in recent translations. The "Semitisms" are mainly words attributed to Jesus by Mark, and perhaps had a special significance because of this.
A very small minority believe that most or all of the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. This position, called Aramaic primacy, has been rejected by mainstream scholarship. Instead, the consensus among mainstream academia is that although it is very likely that there are Aramaic layers or source materials that underpin portions of the New Testament, the volume as we know it today was compiled and redacted in the Greek language.
Talitha kum (Ταλιθα κουμ) 
- And taking the hand of the child, he said to her, "Talitha kum", which translates as, "Little girl, I say to you, get up."
This verse gives an Aramaic phrase, attributed to Jesus bringing the girl back to life, with a transliteration into Greek, as ταλιθα κουμ.
A few Greek manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus, Vaticanus) of Mark's Gospel have this form of the text, but others (Codex Alexandrinus, the text-type known as the Majority Text, and the Latin Vulgate) write κουμι (koumi) instead. The latter is in the Textus Receptus, and is the version that appears in the KJV.
The Aramaic is ţlīthā qūm. The word ţlīthā is the feminine form of the word ţlē, meaning "young". Qūm is the Aramaic verb 'to rise, stand, get up'. In the feminine singular imperative, it was originally 'qūmī'. However, there is evidence that in speech the final -ī was dropped so that the imperative did not distinguish between masculine and feminine genders. The older manuscripts, therefore, used a Greek spelling that reflected pronunciation, whereas the addition of an 'ι' was perhaps due to a bookish copyist.
In square script Aramaic, it could be טליתא קומי or טלתא קומי.
Ephphatha (Εφφαθα) 
- And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," which is 'be opened'.
Once again, the Aramaic word is given with the transliteration, only this time the word to be transliterated is more complicated. In Greek, the Aramaic is written εφφαθα. This could be from the Aramaic 'ethpthaḥ', the passive imperative of the verb 'pthaḥ', 'to open', since the 'th' could assimilate in western Aramaic. The guttural 'ḥ' was often omitted in Greek transcriptions in the Septuagint and was also softened in Galilean speech,.
In Aramaic, it could be אתפתח or אפתח.
Abba (Αββα) 
- "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Abba, an originally Aramaic form borrowed into the Greek Old Testament as a name (2Chr 29:1), common in Mishnaic Hebrew and still used in Modern Hebrew (written Αββα in Greek, and 'abbā in Aramaic), is immediately followed by the Greek equivalent (Πατηρ) with no explicit mention of it being a translation. The phrase Abba, Father is repeated in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.
In Aramaic, it would be אבא.
Raca (Ρακα) 
- But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother [without a cause] shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
(the bracketed text does not appear in all recensions and is absent in the Latin Vulgate)
Raca, or Raka, in the Aramaic and Hebrew of the Talmud means empty one, fool, empty head.
In Aramaic, it could be ריקא or ריקה.
Mammon (Μαμωνας) 
Gospel of Matthew 6:24
- No one can serve two masters: for either they will hate the one, and love the other; or else they will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
- And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
- Now the Lord declares, "No servant can serve two masters." If we desire, then, to serve both God and mammon, it will be unprofitable for us. "For what will it profit if a man gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" This world and the next are two enemies. The one urges to adultery and corruption, avarice and deceit; the other bids farewell to these things. We cannot, therefore, be the friends of both; and it behoves us, by renouncing the one, to make sure of the other. Let us reckon that it is better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, and transient, and corruptible; and to love those [who are to come,] as being good and incorruptible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. (Roberts-Donaldson)
In Aramaic, it could be ממון (or, in the typical Aramaic "emphatic" state suggested by the Greek ending, ממונא). This is usually considered to be an originally Aramaic word borrowed into rabbinic Hebrew, but its occurrence in late Biblical Hebrew and, reportedly, in 4th century Punic may indicate that it had a more general "common Semitic background".
In the New Testament the word Μαμωνᾶς — Mamōnâs — is declined like a Greek word, whereas many of the other Aramaic and Hebrew words are treated as indeclinable foreign words.
Rabbuni (Ραββουνει) 
- Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. (KJV)
Also in Mark 10:51. Hebrew form rabbi used as title of Jesus in Matthew 26:25,49; Mark 9:5, 11:21, 14:45; John 1:49, 4:31, 6:25, 9:2, 11:8.
In Aramaic, it would have been רבוני.
Maranatha (Μαραναθα) 
Didache 10 (Prayer after Communion)
- .. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen. (Roberts-Donaldson)
1 Corinthians 16:22
- If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.
Depending on how one selects to split the single Greek expression of the early manuscripts into Aramaic, it could be either מרנא תא or מרן אתא.
Eli Eli lema sabachthani (Ηλει Ηλει λεμα σαβαχθανει) 
- Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying "Eli Eli lema sabachthani?" which is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
- And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, for what have you forsaken me?"
This phrase, shouted by Jesus from the cross, is given to us in these two versions. The Matthean version of the phrase is transliterated in Greek as ηλι ηλι λιμα σαβαχθανει. The Markan version is ελωι ελωι λιμα σαβαχθανει (elōi rather than il-ee and supposedly lama rather than lema).
Overall, both versions appear to be Aramaic rather than Hebrew because of the verb שבק (šbq) "abandon", which is originally Aramaic. The "pure" Biblical Hebrew counterpart to this word, עזב (`zb) is seen in the first line of Psalm 22, which the saying appears to quote. Thus, Jesus is not quoting the canonical Hebrew version (êlî êlî lâmâ `azabtânî); he may be quoting the version given in an Aramaic Targum (surviving Aramaic Targums do use šbq in their translations of the Psalm 22 ).
The Markan word for "my god", ελωι, definitely corresponds to the Aramaic form אלהי, elāhî. The Matthean one, ηλι, fits in better with the אלי of the original Hebrew Psalm, as has been pointed out in the literature; however, it may also be Aramaic, because this form is attested abundantly in Aramaic as well.
In the following verse, in both accounts, some who hear Jesus' cry imagine that he is calling for help from Elijah (Ēlīyā in Aramaic).
Almost all ancient Greek manuscripts show signs of trying to normalize this text. For instance, the peculiar Codex Bezae renders both versions with ηλι ηλι λαμα ζαφθανι (ēli ēli lama zaphthani). The Alexandrian, Western and Caesarean textual families all reflect harmonization of the texts between Matthew and Mark. Only the Byzantine textual tradition preserves a distinction.
The Aramaic word form šəbaqtanî is based on the verb šəbaq/šābaq, 'to allow, to permit, to forgive, and to forsake', with the perfect tense ending -t (2nd person singular: 'you'), and the object suffix -anî (1st person singular: 'me').
In Aramaic, it could be אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני.
Jot and tittle (Ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία) 
- For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law (that is, the Torah) till all is fulfilled.
The quotation uses them as an example of extremely minor details. In the Greek text translated as English jot and tittle is found iota and keraia. Iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet (ι), but since only capitals were used at the time the Greek New Testament was written (Ι), it probably represents the Aramaic yodh (י) which is the smallest letter of the Aramaic alphabet. Keraia is a hook or serif.
Korban (Κορβαν) 
- But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.’
In Aramaic (קרבנא) it refers to the treasury in the Temple in Jerusalem, derived from the Hebrew Korban (קרבן), found in Mark 7:11 and the Septuagint (in Greek transliteration), meaning religious gift or offering.
The Greek κορβανᾶς is declined as a Greek noun, much like other examples.
Sikera (Σικερα) 
- for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Hosanna (Ὡσαννά) 
- Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
This word is derived from הושע נא. It is generally considered to be a quote from Psalms 118:25 "O LORD, save us", but the original Biblical Hebrew form was הושיעה נא. The shortened form הושע could be either Aramaic or Hebrew.
Aramaic personal names in the New Testament 
Personal names in the New Testament come from a number of languages, Hebrew and Greek are most common. However, there are a good few Aramaic names as well. The most prominent feature in Aramaic names is bar (Greek transliteration βαρ, Aramaic bar), meaning 'son of', a common patronym prefix. Its Hebrew equivalent, ben, is conspicuous by its absence. Some examples are:
- Bartholomew (Βαρθολομαιος from bar-Tôlmay, perhaps "son of furrows" or "ploughman"). —
- — Simon bar-Jona (Σιμων Βαριωνας from Šim`ôn bar-Yônâ, "Simon son of Jonah").
- — Simon bar-Jochanan ("Simon son of John").
- Barabbas (Βαραββας from bar-Abbâ, "son of the father"). —
- Bartimaeus (Βαρτιμαιος possibly from combination of Aramaic bar and Greek timaeus meaning "honorable" or "highly prized", perhaps "honorable son"). —
- Barsabbas (Βαρσαββας from bar-Šabbâ, "son of the Sabbath"). —
- Barnabas (Βαρναβας from bar-Navâ meaning "son of prophecy", "the prophet", but given the Greek translation υιος παρακλησεως; usually translated as "son of consolation/encouragement", the Greek could mean "invocation" as well). — Joseph who is called
- Bar-Jesus (Βαριησους from bar-Yêšû`, "son of Jesus/Joshua"). —
Boanerges (Βοανηργες) 
- And James, the son of Zebedee, and John, the brother of James, and he gave them the name Boanerges, which is Sons of Thunder.
There has been much speculation about this name. Given the Greek translation that comes with it ('Sons of Thunder'), it seems that the first element of the name is 'bnê', 'sons of' (the plural of 'bar'), Aramaic (בני). This is represented by βοανη (boanê), giving two vowels in the first syllable where one would be sufficient. It could be inferred from this that the Greek transliteration may not be a good one. The second part of the name is often reckoned to be 'rğaš' ('tumult') Aramaic (רגיש), or 'rğaz' ('anger') Aramaic (רגז). Maurice Casey, however, argues that it is a simple misreading of the word for thunder, 'r`am' (due to the similarity of s to the final m). This is supported by one Syriac translation of the name as 'bnay ra`mâ'. The Peshitta reads "bnay rğešy," which would fit with a later composition for it, based on a Byzantine reading of the original Greek.
Cephas (Κηφας) 
- He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John, you shall be called Cephas", which is translated 'Peter'. (New International Version)
1 Corinthians 1:12
- But I say that each of you says "I am of Paul", or "I am of Apollos", or "I am of Cephas", or "I am of Christ".
- Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days;
In these passages, 'Cephas' is given as the nickname of the apostle better known as Simon Peter. The Greek word is transliterated Κηφᾶς (Kēphâs).
The apostle's given name appears to be Simon, and he is given the Aramaic nickname, kêfâ, meaning 'rock' or 'stone'. The final sigma (s) is added in Greek to make the name masculine rather than feminine. That the meaning of the name was more important than the name itself is evidenced by the universal acceptance of the Greek translation, Πέτρος (Petros). It is not known why Paul uses the Aramaic name rather than the Greek name for Simon Peter when he writes to the churches in Galatia and Corinth. He may have been writing at a time before Cephas came to be popularly known as Peter. According to Clement of Alexandria, there were two people named Cephas: one was Apostle Simon Peter, and the other was one of Jesus' Seventy Apostles. Clement goes further to say it was Cephas of the Seventy who was condemned by Paul in Galatians 2 for not eating with the Gentiles, though this is perhaps Clement's way of deflecting the condemnation from Simon Peter. In any case the relationship of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism (which this involves) is still disputed.
In Aramaic, it could be כיפא.
Thomas (Θωμας) 
- Then Thomas, who was called Didymus, said to his co-disciples, "Now let us go that we might die with him!"
Thomas (Θωμᾶς) is listed among the disciples of Jesus in all four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. However, it is only in John's Gospel that more information is given. In three places (John 11:16, 20:24 and 21:2) he is given the name Didymus (Δίδυμος), the Greek word for a twin. In fact, "the Twin" is not just a surname, it is a translation of "Thomas". The Greek Θωμᾶς — Thōmâs — comes from the Aramaic tômâ, "twin". Therefore, rather than two personal names, Thomas Didymus, there is a single nickname, the Twin. Christian tradition gives him the personal name Judas, and he was perhaps named Thomas to distinguish him from others of the same name.
In Aramaic, it could be תאומא.
Tabitha (Ταβειθα) 
- In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas.
The disciple's name is given both in Aramaic (Ταβειθα) and Greek (Δορκας). The Aramaic name is a transliteration of Ţbîthâ the female form of טביא (Ţabyâ). Both names mean 'gazelle'.
In Aramaic, it could be טביתא.
Aramaic place names in the New Testament 
Gethsemane (Γεθσημανει) 
- Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane.
- And they went to a place that has the name Gethsemane.
The place where Jesus takes his disciples to pray before his arrest is given the Greek transliteration Γεθσημανει (Gethsēmani). It represents the Aramaic 'Gath-Šmânê', meaning 'the oil press' or 'oil vat' (referring to olive oil).
In Aramaic, it could be גת שמני.
Golgotha (Γολγοθα) 
- And they took him up to the place Golgotha, which is translated Place of the Skull.
- And carrying his cross by himself, he went out to the so-called Place of the Skull, which is called in 'Hebrew' Golgotha.
'Gûlgaltâ' Aramaic, means 'skull'. The name appears in all of the gospels except Luke, which calls the place simply Kranion 'the Skull' in Greek, with no Semitic counterpart. The name 'Calvary' is taken from the Latin Vulgate translation, Calvaria.
In Aramaic, it could be גולגלתא.
Gabbatha (Γαββαθα) 
- When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
The place name appears to be Aramaic. According to Josephus, War, V.ii.1, #51, the word Gabath means high place, or elevated place, so perhaps a raised flat area near the temple. The final "א" could then represent the emphatic state of the noun.
In Aramaic, it could be גבהתא.
Akeldama (Ακελδαμαχ) 
- And this became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that field was called, in their own dialect, Akeldama, that is Field of Blood.
The place of Judas Iscariot's death is clearly named Field of Blood in Greek. However, the manuscript tradition gives a number of different spellings of the Aramaic. The Majority Text reads Ακελδαμα ([H]akeldama); other manuscript versions give Αχελδαμα ([H]acheldama), Ακελδαιμα ([H]akeldaima), Ακελδαμακ ([H]akeldamak) and Ακελδαμαχ ([H]akeldamach). Despite these variant spellings the Aramaic is most probably 'ḥqêl dmâ', 'field of blood'. While the seemingly gratuitous Greek sound of "kh" [χ] at the end of the word is difficult to explain, the Septuagint similarly adds this sound to the end of the Semitic name Ben Sira to form the Greek name for the Book of "Sirakh" (Latin: Sirach). The sound may be a dialectic feature of either the Greek speakers or the original Semitic language speakers.
In Aramaic, it could be חקל דמא.
Pool of Bethesda (βηθζαθα) 
- Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
Bethesda was originally the name of a pool in Jerusalem, on the path of the Beth Zeta Valley, and is also known as the Sheep Pool. Its name in Aramaic means "House of Grace." It is associated with healing. In John 5, Jesus was reported healing a man at the pool.
In Aramaic, it could be בית חסדא.
See also 
- Allen C. Myers, ed. (1987). "Aramaic". The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. p. 72. ISBN 0-8028-2402-1. "It is generally agreed that Aramaic was the common language of Palestine in the first century AD. Jesus and his disciples spoke the Galilean dialect, which was distinguished from that of Jerusalem (Matt. 26:73)"
- Sáenz-Badillos, Ángel; Elwolde, John (1996), A history of the Hebrew language, pp. 170–71, "There is general agreement that two main periods of RH (Rabbinical Hebrew) can be distinguished. The first, which lasted until the close of the Tannaitic era (around 200 CE), is characterized by RH as a spoken language gradually developing into a literary medium in which the Mishnah, Tosefta, baraitot and Tannaitic midrashim would be composed. The second stage begins with the Amoraim, and sees RH being replaced by Aramaic as the spoken vernacular, surviving only as a literary language. Then it continued to be used in later rabbinic writings until the tenth century in, for example, the Hebrew portions of the two Talmuds and in midrashic and haggadic literature"
- E.g.Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14: têi hebraïdi dialéktôi, lit.'in the Hebrew dialect'
- Fitzmyer, Joseph A. A Wandering Armenian: Collected Aramaic Essays. P.43: "The adverb ἐβραïστὶ (and its related expressions) seems to mean 'in Hebrew', and it has often been argued that it means this and nothing more. As is well known, it is used at times with words and expressions that are clearly Aramaic. Thus in John 19:13, ἐβραιστὶ δὲ Γαββαθᾶ is given as an explanation of the Lithostrotos, and γαββαθᾶ is a Grecized form of the Aramaic word gabbětā, 'raised place.'"
- The Cambridge History of Judaism: The late Roman-Rabbinic period. 2006. P.460: "Thus in certain sources Aramaic words are termed "Hebrew," ... For example: η επιλεγομενη εβραιστι βηθεσδα "which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda" (John 5.2). This is not a Hebrew name but rather an Aramaic one: בית חסדא, "the house of Hisda".
- E.g. Geoffrey W.Bromley (ed.)The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, W.B.Eeerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1979, 4 vols. vol.1 sub.'Aramaic' p.233: 'in the Aramaic vernacular of Palestine
- Kutscher, E.Y.. (1976). Studies in Galilean Aramaic.
- Greenspahn, Frederick E. 2003. An introduction to Aramaic. P.25
- Fernández, Miguel Pérez and John Elwolde. 1999. An introductory grammar of rabbinic Hebrew. P.5
- Fitzmyer, Joseph A. 1979. A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays. P.12
- Davies, William D. and Dale C. Allison. 1997. Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Volume III. P.624
- Williams P.J. 2004. The linguistic background to Jesus' Dereliction Cry. The New Testament in its first century setting (ed.Williams P.J., Andre D. Clarke et al.) P.7-8.
- Brunson, Andrew. 2003. Psalm 118 in the Gospel of John: An Intertextual Study on the New Exodus Pattern in the Theology of John. P.204
- Balz, Horst. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 3. P.509
- Bauer's Lexicon: Gal 1:18; 2:9,11,14; 1Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; also 1Clement 47:3
- Eusebius, Church History, Book 1, Chapter 12, Paragraph 2
- The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon - Entry for "ṭbyʾ"