Re: Paul's knowledge of latin

From: Jack Kilmon (
Date: Tue Feb 23 1999 - 10:58:12 EST

Carl Conrad wrote:
> On 02/23/99, ""=?iso-8859-1?Q?J=FCrg_Buchegger?="
> <>" wrote:
> > This is Juerg again,
> > I'm still working on the pauline neologism ANAKAINWSIS etc. and my question
> > is referring to an earlier post by Conrad in which he suggested that the
> > word could have been coined after the latin 'renovare'. Now I wonder
> > - how much latin did a man like Paul probably know?
> > - in his biography (education, locations, every day life etc.), where would
> > have been the necessary places and times etc. to get to know enough latin
> > for Paul, so he would have creativily thought of renovare when introducing
> > Has anybody thought, read or written about Paul's possible knowledge of
> > latin? During my theological studies, my teachers never taught me something
> > in this direction...
> > Any hints? Thanks a lot!
> No, nor have I ever read anything about Paul's possible knowledge of Latin,
> and only in recent years has there been any serious talk of Jesus' possible
> knowledge of Greek, but many now think that's a possibility not to be
> dismissed out of hand. I think it even more likely that Paul knew some
> Latin than that Jesus knew some Greek.

I don't think so. Jesus grew up in a satellite village to one of the
Hellenistic cities in the Middle East (Sepphoris), one in which some
scholars, like Dom Crossan, believe his maternal grandparents lived. A
young Jewish boy growing up in the Galilee, particularly as a tradesman,
would have to have been pretty dense not to build some degree of
competency in Greek.

Overwhelming and multifocal evidences convince me that Jesus' native
in which he taught and preached, was Aramaic but I am equally convinced
that he occasionally used Greek when addressing certain individuals,
centurions and Pilatus. I think the only Latin recognized by the
of the indigenous Palestinians were monumental inscriptions. Otherwise,
I believe Latin served only for bureaucratic communications between
functionaries in the East.

> I don't know that it can be proved,
> although there's probably some information somewhere on Latin in the
> eastern Mediterranean. It wouldn't surprise me if he learned some Latin in
> Tarsus, inasmuch as his Roman citizenship comes, so I learned somewhere, as
> a consequence of citizenship in Tarsus. While learning of Latin might not
> come automatically with Roman citizenship, at least some official Latin
> permitting him to say "CIVIS ROMANUS SUM" might be presumed, even if that's
> cited in Greek in Acts. I guess the question is the extent and nature of
> Latin literacy in the eastern Roman empire.

As far as Paul's literacy is concerned, Paul, unlike Jesus, was not
a peasant. His vigorous and distinctive Greek style indicates that
he thought, spoke and wrote in Greek. I don't think Roman citizenship
came automatically with Tarsus citizenship but, like any Polis or
Civitas Libera in the East, had to be purchased for 500 drachmae or
was conferred for some great favor to the Roman authorities. Perhaps,
as Wilson suggests, Paul's parents may have provided tents to the
encampments of Marcus Antonius' legions.

I would revise your statement that it is more likely that Paul knew
more Latin (an that not being much) than Hebrew. I suspect that he
functioned with a pidgin Aramaic when needed.



taybutheh d'maran yeshua masheecha am kulkon

Jack Kilmon

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