Friday, June 15, 2018

Did Jesus speak Greek?

The article linked to below is fascinating around a number of questions which biblical scholars are interested in: including

- did Jesus a Galilean Jew, speak Greek?

- was Josephus an accurate historian of his contemporary world?

- what was life like for Jews under Roman rule in first century Palestine?

The article is here.

14 comments:

Andrei said...

I wwould have thought it was highly likely Jesus and the Apostles spoke Greek, it was the language of trade and commerce in that part of the world at the time.

And when Scripture is quoted in the New Testament it is the Septuagint version, in fact there are even quotes from what is called the Apocrypha by Protestants in the New Testament.

Jesus spoke with Pontius Pilate and that was likely in Greek as with the Centurion in Matthew 5

And the New testament itself is unambiguously written in Greek

Father Ron Smith said...

Some of my charismatic friends claim to be able to 'speak in tongues'. So why would Jesus not have been able to speak/understand koine Greek?

Anonymous said...

Peter; I assumed Jesus could speak koine (Greek), Aramaic, various semitic dialects including Hebrew; and also Vulgar Latin. Those of us in former British colonies forget that not everyone speaks one language.

Anonymous said...

Peter; I forgot to sign off on my comment last night at 22.22. I suspect you have already worked out that I like semicolons. As an addition, there are cities today where you cannot be monolingual. An example is Luxembourg where the government speaks French, the newspapers are in Standard German and the people speak Luxemburgisch ( a Germanic language). At the supermarket you can hear all of the above plus Portuguese. In Biel/Bienne, the street names change from German to French. In pre-WW1 Lviv, you might need German, Polish, Ukrainian or Russian. I’m sure that the Son of God could work out Koine.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Nai, Nick!
I think the puzzle with Jesus and his knowledge or not of koine Greek is the gospels do not give a hint of that knowledge, whereas they do give hints that his native language was Aramaic (which, of course, we would presume even if they didn't give those hints). A further question is whether Jesus (focusing on his full humanity) could understand koine Greek as a listener but not speak it. Some of us humans have those limitations re language.

In favour of Jesus knowing Greek to one degree or another is the simple matter of geography. Nazareth was very close to Sepphoris which was a Greek speaking town.

Liturgy said...

Sorry, Peter, the Gospels do give hints of Jesus speaking in Greek.

Part of the problem is (Docetist-tending readers aside) well expressed by:
What do you call someone who speaks three languages - trilingual;
What do you call someone who speaks two languages - bilingual;
What do you call someone who speaks one language - a New Zealander (or American; or English...)

Sepphoris, as you indicate, was only an hour's walk away from Nazareth, with a Christchurch-like rebuilding programme - inevitably Jesus the τέκτων (whatever that exactly means), with or without his dad, worked there. Just as a builder living in Kaiapoi can be presumed to have done some work in the Christchurch rebuild - or have business connections with that rebuild.

Jesus chose Matthew, a tax collector - well-connected through Greek the Mediterranean lingua franca. The Gospels assume Jesus can speak to a Centurion and to the Roman Governor. And Jesus' conversation reported in John 3 only works because of the punning on ἄνωθεν - a pun that only works in Greek and not Aramaic.

Blessings

Bosco
www.liturgy.co.nz

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Sepphoris is indicative but are conversations with a centurion and with Pilate: they might have been in Latin?

John 3: hmm, I would take convincing that John is reporting actual speech of Jesus and the speech was in Greek.

On reflection: perhaps the gospels give us weak hints (re Greek, re Latin being spoken by Jesus) and strong hints (re Aramaic being spoken by Jesus).

Liturgy said...

Peter - you've made no mention of Hebrew? Perhaps (also being a sole reference) Luke 4:16-22 is also not reporting an actual event (could Jesus read?) [Might the reading at the Nazareth Synagogue have been from the Septuagint?] I start from the assumption that Jesus spoke Aramaic fluently, Hebrew well, Greek enough to get by, and had basic Latin. That's because I think (and in my experience) that sort of linguistic agility is pretty normal. English-speakers are particularly odd in their monolingualism. And I would be interested in, say, African, Dutch, or Asian theologians & historians and the lens that they brought to Jesus' language(s). I suspect that they would start from a multilingual Jesus - whereas English-speaking theologians & historians probably start from a monolingual Jesus. Now there's a PhD topic for someone... (credit please!)

Blessings

Bosco

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; Romans of all classes spoke Greek, even in Rome. The slaves were not Latin speakers. Pilate would have avoided vulgar Latin (what Jesus might have understood) in favour of Greek. Since Jesus did not speak in Ciceronian periods (a great shame because they might have been more rhythmic than Cicero’s) Jesus and Pilate will have spoken Greek. As for the Centurion; he would have spoken Greek in preference to his Vulgar Latin if he was Italian.
Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick and Bosco
Well, yes, though at points you both sound pretty certain that "X would have .." when I feel I have to say, but that is about a reasonable hypothesis rather than evidence.
My response then is to ask, Were interpreters a feature of ancient multi-cultural, multi-lingual life?

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron
I am happy to publish below a part of your recently submitted comment. The deleted words is an unsubstantiated allegation. I have replaced them with a factual statement in square brackets.

"So, where does all of this leave us, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, today - in reference to OUR understanding of the openness of Jesus to known sinners - including those currently [at GAFCON]?"

Andrei said...

Peter - Jesus grew uo in an Hellenic world. The region had been Hellenic for 300 years when he was born. The Jewish Scriptures has been translated to Greek 200 years before his birth

Long after the Resurrection the region was still Hellenic, the Jewish Scriptures would not be translated to Latin until 300 years after the Resurrection and then for a Western Christian audience not Eastern jewish readership.

As Bosco says people who are multilingual are common - many people have a language they speak at home and with relatives and close friends which differs from the daily language they use as they go about their business in the wider world

This is common in India for example where English is the usual language of Politics and education. There are several hundred languages spoken in India

There are 25 official languages in Russia and over 100 spoken but Russian serves for Government and Education

Latin never took hold in the Eastern Roman Empire. Greek was eventually surplanted by Arabic as the majority language

And your linked article is evidence of this with Jewish burial inscriptions written in Greek

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei et al
Perhaps I need to refine the point I am making!
I have no particular view on whether Jesus was multilingual or not (and I think at a minimum he spoke Aramaic and understood Hebrew) and fully accept that the general evidence of multiculturalism and multilingualism in Palestine in his day is that he would have been multilingual, including Greek speaking.

My particular view is that specific, direct evidence within the text of Scripture is lacking, though Bosco may have a point re John 3, but that point has to run a gamut of views about just how faithful John's Gospel is to the actual, remembered words of Jesus, compared with the interpreted and recast words of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Peter; you say

“[...] he would have been multilingual, including Greek speaking.

My particular view is that specific, direct evidence within the text of Scripture is lacking [...]

I suspect that mentioning Jesus’s ability to speak the lingua franca was not necessary.

Nick