Re: Did Jesus Speak Greek?

I saw only Ken Litwak's message, not the original posting, so please
pardon any misdirection here.

Trying to decide whether the NT in Greek is a set of the ipsissima dicta
of Jesus is a problem that requires determining 1) whether the NT
authors were remote from or close to Jesus in terms of social distance,
2) if close, whether they wrote creatively or conservatively, 3) if
conservatively, whether they had to translate into Greek what they had
had delivered to them.  Since the answers to social distance and of
creative authorship must precede, and since many indicators show some
degree of both, the question of Jesus' language of choice for religious
teaching must remain only provisionally answerable.

The linguistic arguments Mr. Litwak adduces are interesting, to be
sure.  I myself am hardly certain about the issue, though I find M.
Black's "An Aramaic Approach..." (which I read long ago!) very
attractive.  I might further play devil's advocate by noting that
knowing Greek does not mean conducting one's religious teachings in
Greek.  Sun-Myung Moon may know English, but he preaches (preached?) in
Korean.  If Jesus primarily addressed particularly to an audience whose
native language was Hebrew or Aramaic and whose Greek occupied the
status of "how to talk to non-Jews", it is highly likely that his
religious statements were not in Greek.

Mr. Litwak's item #1 is only partially true; much business and
governmental activity also took place in Aramaic.  Many parts of our own
world display multiple levels of each kind of activity with varying
languages for each--grocery shopping is level very different from
construction contracting, but each is "business", for example, and in
South Africa or India most of the former happens in the vernaculars and
most of the latter in English.  How much tax was collected (doubtless
the primary government activity for laborers and tradesmen like Jesus
and his adherents) in Greek versus in Aramaic?  The Jewish tax
collectors of the NT had know Greek to talk with their bosses and
Aramaic to talk with their sources of income.

Item #2, a large amount of evidence for Greek, does not assure that most
of the population was multilingual; it only means that many knew Greek.
In southern Florida or in New Mexico there is great evidence for the
presence of English, even though large sectors of the population know
little or no English.  I knew a traveler to Kosovo toward the south of
Serbia who found that Serbian was of almost no use; Albanian was the
linguistic currency.

Item #3 is not an argument about Jesus but about the NT authors.  And
Jewish authors in Greek were bound to be aware of Greek versions of the

Dealing with ruling powers not of one's language does not require a
common language, as item #4 specifies.  Foreign authorities worldwide
typically maintain a staff of local origin to handle such irritations as
locals who don't speak the proper tongue.

The final item is rather lengthy (and I've become too long-winded
myself) but it is likely not untrue to say that the use of Greek fits as
lingua franca in cities and in towns farther west in the Near East,
Aramaic as lingua franca in towns and villages and in cities farther
east, often even as native language in such areas, and the local patois
(Hebrew?, early Arabic?, etc.) as the speech of towns, villages, and
backwaters or of special functions, such as religious texts.

--David N. WIGTIL.  ER Network Support.  U. S. Department of Energy.
Sophronos d' apistias
ouk estin ouden khresimoteron brotois.  (Euripides, "Helen" 1617-1618)
(There's nothing more helpful for mortals than sensible disbelief.)
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