[b-greek] Re: Fwd: Re: Hebrew or Greek? 2

From: Dave Washburn (dwashbur@nyx.net)
Date: Sat Apr 21 2001 - 11:34:59 EDT

> I was asked to forward the following to the list for Al Lukaszweski:
> Subject: Re: [b-greek] Re: Hebrew or Greek? 2
> Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2001 02:51:20 +0100
> From: "A. Lukaszewski" <all1@st-and.ac.uk>
> To: Dave Washburn <dwashbur@nyx.net>
> Dave,
> While I fully concur with you that the Gospels were not written
> originally in Hebrew,
> I would like to offer a citation that might clarify the lingua franca
> issue in
> first-century Palestine and to ask a question concerning your sources.
> With respect to Hebrew as a living language in the first-century, you
> might take a
> look at Rendsburgs' "Diglossia in Ancient Hebrew" (ASOR, 1986?). He
> demonstrates, I
> think, quite well that Hebrew was a living language and not reserved
> strictly for
> religious purposes.

The remarkable thing to me about such "proofs" is that they tend to
use religious evidence such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, ossuaries
and the like. Burial was a religious rite and it is logical to expect
that on occasion at least, inscriptions on the ossuaries would be in
the religious language. The Dead Sea Scrolls are exclusively
religious documents; whoever wrote them was clearly using
Hebrew for their religious documents, rites etc. But there were
also Aramaic and Greek documents among them, including a near-
complete Targum of Job, so we know they were conversant in
these other languages as well. The most remarkable thing about
the DSS is that there are no "common" documents among them at
all. The nonbiblical scrolls are all related to the community's (if
there was a "community") religious life. So none of this material
actually tells us whether Hebrew was a language in "common" use
at that time.

> Further, what evidence do you have of "virtually everyone" being
> bilingual? And to
> what extent do you anticipate that they were bilingual?

I already answered this, at least I thought I did. Greek was the
trade language of the Empire, so to trade with non-Jews the people
would have to know Greek. They had to talk on occasion with the
occupying Romans, and somehow I don't see the majority of these

Roman soldiers and statesmen taking the time to learn Aramaic.
We have puns that Jesus made as well as more subtle word-plays
in Matthew 16 and John 21, word games that are not possible in
Aramaic (or Hebrew), so if the wording of these passages means
anything, he must have been speaking Greek at the time. For
more info, see the excellent essay on the languages of Jesus in
Thomas and Gundry's Harmony of the Gospels (Moody Press).

Now I'd like to ask Jack: what's your source for the statement that
only 5% of the population was literate?

Dave Washburn
"You just keep thinking, Butch. That's what you're good at."

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