What were the languages of Jesus?

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The languages of Jesus most likely were Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.

Aramaic

Aramaic is a Semitic language that originated among a people known as the Aramaeans around the late 11th century B.C. A version of it is still spoken today by communities of Chaldean Christians in Iraq and Syria. Through trade, invasions and conquest, Aramaic became the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean during and after the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Achaemenid empires (722–330 BC) and continued as a common language of the territory in the first century AD.

According to Josephus the Jewish historian, in the first century AD, the Aramaic language was widespread throughout the Middle East – The Jewish War. And according to the archaeologist Yigael Yadin, Aramaic was the language of Hebrews until Simon Bar Kokhba’s revolt (132 AD to 135 AD). The use of Aramaic expanded and it eventually became dominant among Jews both in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Middle East around 200 AD and remained so until the Islamic conquests in the seventh century

Most religious scholars and historians agree that Jesus mainly spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic, which was the common language of Judea for Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee, where Jesus spent most of his time.

The books of Matthew and Mark record Jesus speaking different Aramaic words such as: talitha koum (Mark 5:41); ephphatha (Mark 7:34); eloi eloi lama sabachthani (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34); abba (Mark 14:36). Aramaic is very similar to Hebrew, but has many different words and phrases that were taken from other languages, mainly Babylonian.

Hebrew

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites, Judeans and their ancestors.  Hebrew belongs to the Northwest Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family, and is the only Canaanite language still spoken.

The Hebrew language was spoken primarily by the scribes, instructors of the law, Pharisees, and Sadducees, who were the “religious elite” in Israel. Hebrew was most probably read in the synagogues and the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, the majority of people understood Hebrew.

Greek

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus, Albania, other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning at least 3,400 years of written records.

Jesus most likely spoke Koine Greek for it was the language of the Romans that controlled Israel. It was used by the political and business sector. Those that acquired the skill of speaking Greek were considered privileged. Josephus bragged on learning Greek: ”I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language”— Antiquities of Jews XX, XI.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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