Jewish Koine Greek

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Jewish Koine Greek, or Jewish Hellenistic Greek, is the variety of Koine Greek or "common Attic" found in a number of Alexandrian dialect texts of Hellenistic Judaism, most notably in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible and associated literature, as well as in Greek Jewish texts from Palestine. The term is largely equivalent with Greek of the Septuagint as a cultural and literary rather than a linguistic category. The minor syntax and vocabulary variations in the Koine Greek of Jewish authors are not as linguistically distinctive as the later language Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek, spoken by the Romaniote Jews in Greece.

The term "Jewish Koine" is to be distinguished from the concept of a "Jewish koine" as a literary-religious, not a linguistic concept.[1]

History of scholarship[edit]

Primary work on this area was conducted by scholars such as Henry Barclay Swete in chapter 4 of his Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek.[2] However, Swete's emphasis on the peculiarity of the Greek of the Septuagint compared to other Greek texts of the period has largely been retracted by later scholars as plentiful non-Jewish Koine domestic and administrative papyri and inscriptions have been better recovered and studied. Since Swete the equation of Jewish common Attic with the "Greek of the Septuagint" has also been broadened, placing the Septuagint in the context of a wide range of Jewish texts of the period, most recently including the Greek texts among the Dead Sea scrolls.[3]

No ancient or medieval writer recognizes a distinct Jewish dialect of Greek.[4] General academic consensus is that the Greek used in the Jewish Koine Greek texts does not differ significantly enough from pagan Koine Greek texts to be described as "Jewish Greek." This also applies to the language of the New Testament.[5][6][7][8] Due to the dominant influence of the Septuagint the first documents of "Christian Greek" and early "Patristic Greek" are both an extension of classical Greek on the one hand, and of biblical and Jewish-Hellenistic Greek on the other.[9][10]

Only a thousand years later did there arise a true Jewish dialect of Greek, Yevanic.[11][12]


Koine Greek grammar already departs from earlier Greek grammar in several areas, but the Jewish texts are generally consistent with Gentile texts, with the exception of a small number of grammatical semitisms.[13] As would be expected, many Jewish texts show virtually no departures from the Koine or "common Attic" used by Gentile authors. Authors writing for Gentile audiences such as Josephus and Philo of Alexandria observe a standard of Greek grammar well above that of many surviving pagan sources.


A major difference between the Septuagint, and associated literature, and contemporary non-Jewish Koine texts is the presence of a number of pure neologisms (new coinages) or new usage of vocabulary.[14][15][16] However hapax legomena may not always indicate neologisms, given the specialist subject matter of the Septuagint.[17] Also some of the "neologisms" of the Septuagint are not totally new coinages and may be combinations of existing terms as Neubildungen in German, such as the large number of compound words representing two or more Hebrew words.[18]


  • Ioudaizein (Ἰουδαΐζειν): "to judaize" (Galatians 2:14, see Judaizers)
  • sabbatizo (σαββατίζω): "(I) keep the sabbath"
  • pseudoprophetes (ψευδοπροφήτης): "false prophet" (classical texts use ψευδόμαντις pseudomantis)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matthew Kraus How should rabbinic literature be read in the modern world? 2006, page 214. "It is suggestive of a “Jewish koine” that stretched beyond the frontiers of Jewish Palestine.50 Interpretations of biblical narrative scenes have also been discovered in the Land of Israel. The visit of the angels to Abraham was found at Sepphoris "
  2. ^ Henry Barclay Swete Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek Chapter 4: The Greek of the Septuagint
  3. ^ W. D. Davies, Louis Finkelstein The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 2, The Hellenistic Age 1990 Page 105 "Even in the expression of central theological concepts, such as that of love or that of the 'people' (of God), the LXX commonly uses the general terminology of its own time.1 Good examples of fairly colloquial Jewish koine can also be found in non-canonical writings like Joseph and Asenath or the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs... Nevertheless the LXX has something of a local atmosphere belonging to Alexandria. Some terms, especially those representing things and places known in Egypt, are rendered with customary words of the contemporary Egyptian linguistic usage; ... in Egypt, has effected the viability of certain choices of rendering in the LXX;1 but these are essentially a minor element in the ... Much more important is the Semitic influence upon the Greek of those biblical books which were translated from Hebrew (or Aramaic)"
  4. ^ A.-F. Christidis A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity – Page 640 2007 "No ancient or medieval writer recognizes a distinct Jewish dialect of Greek. In particular, Jews themselves have no name for any “Jewish- Greek” idiolect (contrast later terms like Yiddish [Judeo-German] or Judezmo [Judeo-Spanish])."
  5. ^ Adam B. Jacobsen – Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrologists Page 57 1994 "Mark does reflect Semitic interference in certain regards (loan-word borrowings, semantics), but his syntax and style are largely free of it.39 While the editor of P.Yadin does not speak of a 'Jewish dialect' of Greek, I believe that in his ..."
  6. ^ Chang-Wook Jung The Original Language of the Lukan Infancy Narrative 2004– Page 11 "... or at other times 'a special Jewish dialect of Greek'. Cadbury declares with certainty that no spoken Greek by the Jews existed which 'differed extensively and uniformly from the language of other nationals'. He concedes that there are some ..."
  7. ^ Henry Joel Cadbury The making of Luke-Acts – Page 116 1968 "Septuagint and other Jewish Greek writings as well, seemed to represent a distinct dialect of Greek. The differences between the sacred writers were less than those which existed between all of them taken together and pagan Greek, whether the ... there is no evidence that Jews spoke a Greek that differed extensively and uniformly from the language of other nationals."
  8. ^ John M. Court -Revelation – Page 87 1995 "It is a first-century CE Jewish dialect of Greek, as used in Palestine ('distinguishable dialect of spoken and written Jewish Greek' — Nigel Turner; 'while he writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew' — R.H. Charles; 'Greek language... little more ..."
  9. ^ Natalio Fernández Marcos The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of ... Page 343- 2000 "Christian Greek has to be studied as an extension of classical Greek on the one hand, and of biblical and Jewish-Hellenistic Greek on the other. Generally, it seems clear that it has fewer neologisms than Christian Latin.24
  10. ^ Christine Mohrmann Études sur le latin des chrétiens – Volume 3 Page 195 1965 "Early Christian Greek has, as point of departure, the Jewish-Hellenistic Greek of the Septuagint. During the first two centuries, Early Christian Greek develops very rapidly, and is distinguished from the general koinè by numerous semantic "
  11. ^ E. A. Judge, James R. Harrison The First Christians in the Roman World Page 370 " ... powerful Jewish community in Alexandria imprinted itself on the koine as seen in Egyptian papyri should also be carefully checked in the light of these cautions.9 A thousand years later there did arise a true Jewish dialect of Greek, Yevanic, ..."
  12. ^ Steven M. Lowenstein The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions – Page 19 – 2002 "From 3000 to 5000 Jews in the Yanina region (Epirus) of northern Greece who spoke a Jewish dialect of Greek, unlike the other Greek Jews, who spoke Judeo-Spanish (see group 3). 9. From 1500 to 2000 Jews of Cochin in southern India, ..."
  13. ^ Jacob Milgrom, David Pearson Wright, David Noel Freedman Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and ... 1995 Page 808 "On the pronounced paratactic character of the Jewish Koine, influenced by both popular Greek and Semitic Hebrew and Aramaic, see F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (trans. and rev. R. W. Funk: Chicago: ..."
  14. ^ Katrin Hauspie, Neologisms in the Septuagint of Ezekiel. 17–37. JNSL 27/1 in Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages – Universiteit van Stellenbosch
  15. ^ Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel and Katrin Hauspie. Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint 2008 Preface
  16. ^ T. Muraoka A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint 2009 ISBN 978-90-429-2248-8 Preface to the 3rd Edition
  17. ^ The Greek and Hebrew Bible: Collected Essays on the Septuagint – Volume 72 – Page 140 ed. Emanuel Tov "There is another reason for a cautious use of the label 'neologism': a word described as a neologism on the basis of our present knowledge may, in fact, be contained in an as yet unpublished papyrus fragment or the word may never have been used in written language."
  18. ^ Tov "...Neubildungen is more precise..."