Re: What language(s) did Jesus speak?

From: Perry L. Stepp (
Date: Mon Mar 03 1997 - 21:36:59 EST

> Good Morning Rev. Stepp.

Hello, Jack. I'm not revered by anyone (nor do I desire to be), but I do
spend a great deal of time being pastoral! <G>

> > My questions hinge on whether or not there was a single lingua franca
> > Jesus and people in his circle. I think Jesus and his audience
> > had roughly *equal* facility with Greek and Aramaic.

> The position would hold that the economic
> underclass (the am ha-aretz) of the Galilee had equal facility in Greek.
> Ossuary inscriptions are not evidence since the stone ossuaries
> represented
> in the archaeological data are those of the economic "upper class" and
> are
> also, in the majority, from the 2nd century. I must still hold that any
> position for primary or equal status of Greek..or even Mishnaic Hebrew..
> among the ordinary people of the Galilee must contend with the Aramaic
> Targums.

I don't see how the Targums damage my position. I'm not arguing that
Aramaic wasn't widely used/ known. I'm arguing that Greek was *as*
familiar--the Targums (and aren't there problems with their dating, as
well?) do nothing to damage that claim.

> > 1.) I have been around a few truly bilingual cultures (I grew up among
> > Mexican-Americans in New Mexico and Texas). The Hispanic kids I grew
> > with didn't have a first or second language--they simply had two
> > both of which they grew up speaking and reading in and out of the home.
> > This is the type of culture Jesus grew up in.
> I don't know if that is an accurate analogy, Perry. The agrarian
> and working class Galileans were natives of the Galilee and not
> represented
> highly by Diaspora Jews, as far as I am aware.

The Mexican-Americans among whom I grew up were much closer to your am
ha-Aretz than to any kind of diaspora. They were the children of
immigrants, their fathers came to America to work in the oilfields of the
Permian basin. Their parents spoke English as a second language--some of
their moms *never* learned to speak English, the husbands wouldn't allow
it--but the kids could change languages on a dime.

> > 2.) Greek was the language of the early church. Nowhere is there
> > evidence of any competition between Greek and Hebrew or Greek and
> > (with the exception of Papias's cryptic assertion re. Mt and the
> > If there is no early Christian lit that isn't in Greek, and if Greek
> > language and culture was as pervasive as Hengel argues, then how is one
> > argue that Jesus and his audience couldn't have had great facility with
> > Greek?
> Greek was the language of the Asian Hellenistic founders of
> Christianity and the Gospel authors, editors and redactors..but not the
language of
> the
> followers and family that Y'shua left behind.

Everything following the ellipses is an unproven assertion. You have
offered no proof, only stated your conclusion QED.

> There is ample evidence
> that
> these Greek speaking gentiles used semitic source material that
> originated
> from oral..or written...traditions from the Yeshuine Jews (N'tzarim).

We both know how thorny and nebulous the arguments along this line are.
The bulk of NT scholarship considers this to be an interesting (and
potentially fruitful) hypothesis, but hardly a proven one.

> Min dāLA rokHEM lāmaRAN yeSHUa meshyCHA niheYAH. maRAN aTHA

Jack, wouldn't these qualify as "loan words"? <G>

Grace and peace,


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