Christ Spoke ARAMAIC? Why Not Hebrew?

I was told by a friend (who is a bible scholar) that Christ probably spoke Aramaic, not hebrew (in everyday life). According to him, Hebrew was a minority language in Palestine, at the time of Christ.
Why did hebrew decline as a spoken language? Is aramaic close enough to hebrew, that a speaker on one can understand the other?
Is aramaic still spoken in the ME?

At the time both languages were spoken. While Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Jewish community in Babylonia, Hebrew was the primary language of the Jews in Israel. However, it is not out of the realm that Jesus spoke Aramaic and/or Greek as both languages were also very popular in the area at the time.

Aramaic is similar to Hebrew, but not equivilant. It is written using the Hebrew alphabet and many words are similar.

Aramaic is not generally spoken in the ME anymore. It is, however, still used in Talmudic studies to this day.

By the way, shouldn’t this be in GQ?

Zev Steinhardt

Aramaic descended languages are still spoken by a few 10s of thousands in Syria. Link.

Is ancient times, especially in a crossroads/multi-conquered area like Palestine, there were a huge number of dialects/quasi-languages. Hebrew was just another minor dialect. It was never The Big Language of the region. Aramaic was a lingua franca for the region for some time. Greek had "recently’ come into the region and was starting to dominate. If you wanted to talk to people outside of your valley, you had to know at least one of those two languages.

Also, Jesus came from “the sticks,” where the percentage of Hebrew speaking population is presumed small. From grafitto, inscriptions and such, people can figure out what the language of the common man was in a given area at the time. Jesus grew up in a town (assuming…) where Aramaic was probably the most common language.

The world used to be a lot more patchwork in terms of language. On the east coast of Italy, Greeks founded colonies over 2000 years ago. In some of the more remote towns, they still speak Greek. Never switched to Latin, let alone Italian. That sort of linguistic isolation used to be a lot more common.

Maybe he was bilingual. Or even trilingual if we suppose he spoke to Pilate in Greek. (No cite for that. It could be wrong, but I have heard it postulated before.)

In Matthew 27:46, Jesus cries out, “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which looks to me to be a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic. I may have the word origins wrong, though. Don’t use this post in any debates. :slight_smile:

Zev, Mr. Keller and other Scholars reading this thread:
Why did the Rabbi want our ketuba written in Aramaic?
It’s to make it even more difficult for me to know what I signed?

In “Dogma,” which happened to be on TV tonight, Rufus (i.e., Chris Rock) pulls a small rolled-up note from behind his ear which turns out to be written by Jesus in Aramaic.

If that’s not proof positive, I don’t know what is!!! :slight_smile:

Actually, amongst Jews, it has always been very uncommon to use Hebrew as the language of everyday affairs. Hebrew, “the Holy Language”, was thought of as a language only to be used for holy purposes, e.g., prayer and Torah study. It wasn’t until the Zionist movement that Hebrew was re-invented as a “modern” language, to be used in mundane conversation.

Thus, the use amongst the Jews of Eatern Europe of Yiddish, amongst the Jews of Spain, North Africa and the Middle East of Ladino, and the use amongst Jews in the ancient world of Aramaic.


Because Aramaic is the language in which the standard ketubah template is written, in the Talmud,

Although there now exists a fairly standard and “formal” Hebrew translation of the Ketuba. It is used at marriages where the presiding Rabbi is an Army Rabbi.
I should know - my wife and I were both in the Army when we married (no, we weren’t that young - we were both medium-term officers). We were married by an Army Rabbi (MUCH, MUCH easier than the Govt. kind, BTW!). And our Ketubah is completely and only in Hebrew.
I actually hope this catches on, and Ketubot start to be made in Hebrew in other cases as well. After all, the original was put into the Aramaic language of everyday speach (rather than the Hebrew language of prayer) precicesly in order to be understandable to the Husband and Wife…


The use of “Palestine” in the OP is an anachronism, as the term didn’t exist until the second century CE. As best I know, the province was known as Judea during the late Second Temple period.

carnivorousplant: The ketubah is a contract, and it’s a good idea to read over and understand the contract before you sign it. So the ketubah should be written in a language you know. The best bet is a ketubah written in two parts, Hebrew/local or Aramaic/local.

[nitpick of nitpick]It’s a pretty standard to call the rough area Palestine in ancient history as it was what it was known to the Greeks and Romans (obviousosly in root form) centuries before the province of Syria-Palestinia. It may be lazy, but it’s a lot easier as the region contained several kingdoms with constantly shifting borders.[/nitpick of nitpick]

Aramaic is closely related to both Arabic and Hebrew and languages descended from Aramaic are still spoken in the middle-east. It was the lingua franca of the whole middle-east region at the time and had replaced many other languages such as Hebrew which had been ‘demoted’ to the langauge of Jewish religous ceremony by the time of J.C.

It originated somewhere in Syria and it’s adoption by the Assyrian empire and late the Babylonian and Persian empires made it the lingua franca of the region.

Aramic was written in several scripts and one of those scripts was adopted by the ancient Jews to write Hebrew.

Let’s move this over to GQ.

Palestine is a more recognizable term to modern readers especially lay persons not really familiar with the area.

Just my two cents…

<< Palestine is a more recognizable term to modern readers especially lay persons not really familiar with the area. >>

Yes, but now has pretty intense political implications.

What are you guys talking about?

– “Ma” Anderson, former governor of Texas

Aramic today is written in the syriac script, which was invented by Christian Missionaries in the city of Urmi in Iran. The script version they used was the Eastern or nestorian variety of the aramaic script.

When Aramaic speaking peoples diffused into the Levant around the 12th century CE, Aramaic began to replace the Canaanite speaking peoples (of which Hebrew is one). The administrative dialect of Aramaic was Imperial Aramaic, which was what the persian empire used. It only took a few decades before Imperial Aramaic had acheived dominance throughout the region.

When Imperial Aramaic gained precedence, jews began to abandon their native script, which the Samaritans (they still exist) are the only ones who have kept it alive (it looks very different from the modern Hebrew script).

When Greek grew in importance in official circles, Aramaic had then become the Lingua Franca of the region. The Aramaic script forms then took off, and this is where modern hebrew script finds its origins (and ancient jews often vacilated between old Hebrew and the new Aramaic alphabet). FInally they settled on a localized form, and this is what we see today.

The Arabs too took an aramaic script, which was used by the Nabateans, and used it to write their language.

Aramaic script has been the basis of writing for people as far east as Mongolia (where they write a version of it vertically).