Re: Did Jesus teach in Greek?

     Regarding Ken Litwak's notice about the assumptions of the language
of the populations in Galilee and Judea, it is certainly correct to
oppose any assumption that Galilee used Aramaic almost exclusively.
     It is equally correct to doubt that almost everyone in Palestine
knew Greek well enough to carry on discussions about the meaning of
life.  The evidence, as he indicates, is for a linguistically mixed

     But in any polyglot situation, the populations using each language
and the uses to which each language is put are typically divergent.
Different demographic groups use different languages, and different
activities require different speech.  In some areas in Switzerland and
Alpine Italy, for instance, I am told that one can regularly hear one
language among men in bars, another used by both genders in shops, and a
third in homes.

     Temple Placards:  So for instance when the Temple authorities put
up signs in Greek warning off any non-Jews, they wrote them in Greek
because of the target audience, not because Jews from the hill country
were somehow supposed to read them.
     Tombstones:  Back in Galilee, who would have put up the most
durable tombstones and inscribed them, the majority half-literate poor
or the minority educated wealthy?  If the latter, then even a 50-50
language split among surviving evidence would weigh against a large
Hellenophone group and in favor of the non-imported language.
     LXX:  It was common for educated Jews wrote and in Greek (Philo,
Josephus, Paul, other NT authors).  In fact, it is only the educated
writers of antiquity whom we can know Wort fuer Wort.  For this very
reason no presumption can be made about whether Jesus knew the LXX,
since we have no written evidence from his own hand.
     Mobs:  To find evidence for non-writing people, we have the tale in
Acts of the Apostles where Paul's switch out of Greek into "Hebraisti"
calms a very agitated audience.  This event is inversely analogous to
his inability to use the vernacular earlier in the backwaters of
Anatolia to calm another crowd stirred to worship him as a god.  To get
one's message across in any backcountry, one had to talk the talk.
     Aramaic Sayings:  Whatever speech Jesus may have had at his
command, his audience, almost exclusively indigenous to Palestine, would
be put at greatest ease in the indigenous tongue.  Repeatedly the NT
quotes Jesus and those around him in Aramaic for particularly memorable
statements: "Amen amen," "Ephphatha," "Talitha koum(i)," "Korban," "Eloi
eloi (eli eli) lema sebakhthani," "Rabbi/Rabbouni."  These phrases are
all dramatic moments, not merely Aramaic loanwords in a local version
of Greek, and this fact makes them more likely echoes of original
sayings rather than sporadic loans.
     The Followers:  Whatever mix the population of Galilee may have
been, the NT attests to a target audience virtually unmixed until Paul's
efforts.  The languages of Judea and Galilee were mutually
comprehensible, despite audible differences like those that betrayed
Peter the night of Jesus' trial.  Coupled with the Temple placard
consideration and Paul's mob a few years later, this language was likely
not to be Greek.  An important group among Jesus' listeners was Galilean
Jewish women; what was their language, and has anyone adduced any
evidence for them in either direction?

     The answer to this question must remain nebulous, but I incline
(obviously!) against Litwak's position.  Again let me refer interested
persons to Matthew Black's "Aramaic Approach", wherein a number of "hard
sayings" of Jesus, particularly the ones that are cleaned up in English
translation but remain intractable in Greek, actually become quite clear
upon retroversion into Aramaic; many retroversions also display a
variety of poetic elements that are invisible in Greek.  Nor must one
too quickly discount the ancient testimony that Matthew was written in
"Hebrew" -- I don't believe this at its face value, but it evidences an
early belief that Jesus used Aramaic and/or Hebrew as his language of
religious instruction, not Greek.

--David N. WIGTIL.  ER Network Support.  U. S. Department of Energy.
Polla ta deina, k'ouden anthropou deinoteron pelei.
                            (Sophokles, "Antigone" 332-333)
(There are many strange things, but none is stranger than man.)
{ Internet:  david.wigtil@mailgw.er.doe.gov               }
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