The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Aramaic as the Language of Jesus
Evidence from the Bible
PRAYERS AND TITLES OF DIVINITY
In the New Testament we have Jesus and the early church praying in Aramaic:
And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (Mark 14:36)
The Aramaic word "Abba" is also found in the writings of Paul in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6) Abba is an Aramaic loan word in Modern Hebrew. The Hebrew word is "avi." God is called "Father" over 100 times in the Gospels!
Eloi, Eloi lama sabachtani
And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi lema sabachtani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, for what have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) See also Matthew 27:46.
It Jesus had been speaking Hebrew he would have said, "Eli, Eli, lama azabanti." Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1 from the Aramaic version. An Aramaic translation (or paraphrase) of the Old Testament is called a Targum. In the Traditional Hebrew text of Psalm 22 it says "Like a lion my hands and feet" but recent archeological discoveries have shown the original reading to be "They have pierced by hands and feet."
"Maranatha" 1 Corinthians 16:22. This word is also used in the Didache. It means "Come, Our Lord." The word for "Lord" in Hebrew is "Adonai."
In Aramaic "Mar" means "Lord." "Maran" means "Our Lord." Maranatha can be translated as either, "Our Lord, Come" (Marana tha) or "Our Lord has come" (Maran atha). Those who argue that Jesus spoke only Hebrew admit that Maranatha is indeed Aramaic but then state that when Paul uses it he "is writing to his non-Israelite, non-Hebrew-speaking audience." But Corinth is between Athens and Sparta! This was a Greek and not an Aramaic-speaking region. Paul uses the "Maranatha" prayer because it is a prayer of the Aramaic speaking mother-church in Jerusalem.
Son of Man (Barnasha)
The Aramaic phrase "Son of Man" can mean "a man," "a human being," "a person" or even "I" or "me." In the Gospels and other places in the New Testament it is used as a Messianic title. It seems to have come from a prophecy of the coming of a pre-existence divine being in the Aramaic section of the Book of Daniel. Here is an example of one of the prophesies concerning the Son of Man found in the Book of Enoch.
At that hour, that Son of Man was given a name, in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits, the Before-time, even before the creation of the sun and the moon, before the creation of the stars, he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits. He will become a staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on him and not fall. He is the light of the gentiles and he will become the hope of those who are sick in their hearts. All those who dwell upon the earth shall fall and worship before him; they shall glorify, bless, and sing the name of the Lord of the Spirits. For this purpose he became the Chosen One; he was concealed in the presence of the Lord of Spirits prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity. And he has revealed the preserved portion of the righteous because they have hated and despised this world of oppression together with all its ways of life and habits in the name of the Lord of Spirits; and because they will be saved in his name and it is his good pleasure that they have life. In those days, the kings of the earth and the mighty…shall fall on their faces; and they shall not rise up again, nor anyone be found who will take them with his hands and raise them up. For they have denied the Lord of the Spirits and his Messiah.
The Book of Enoch, which was also written in Aramaic, also contains prophecies of the coming of a Messianic figure whom it also calls the Son of Man. The title "Son of Man" which is derived from the Aramaic term "Bar Nasha" is used in all four gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation. (The Epistle of Jude in the New Testament contains a direct quotation from the Book of Enoch.)
Jesus saith unto her, Mary, She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabbouni; which is to say, Master. (John 20:16)
So Jesus answered and said unto him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" The blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight" (Mark 10:51, NKJV)
The Rabbinic title "Rabban" is of Aramaic origin and "Rabbi" is as well.
(NOTE: Hebrew and Aramaic are so similar that some words are the same in both languages also certain words originating from Hebrew, such as HOSANNA, made their way into the Aramaic language. (Hosanna means "Save Now" in Hebrew but came to mean "praise" in Aramaic.) The Aramaic form of the word for Passover, which is "Pascha," is used in the Greek of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7 and many other places). The holiday Hannakah is Aramaic for "Dedication" Jesus celebrated this holiday (John 10:22). Chanukah celebrated the victory of Judah Maccabeus over the Greek oppressors of the Jewish people. Judas Maccabee is Aramaic for "Judah the Hammer." Titles of religious groups such as the Pharisees, from the Aramaic "Separated Ones" and the Essenes, from the Aramaic Chasya, the "Pious" are from Aramaic.
Many of the names of people in the New Testament are Aramaic names. Many people in the New Testament have the Aramaic word "bar" in their names. Why would so many people have Aramaic names unless they are speaking Aramaic? Bar is Aramaic for "Son of" while Ben is Hebrew for "Son of." (The "Hebrew only" sect tries to dismiss the fact that there are so many Aramaic names in the New Testament. This demonstrates an error in their methodology- explaining away evidence instead of explaining the evidence.)
Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter). NIV footnote: Both Cephas (Aramaic) and Peter (Greek) mean rock. John 1:42. (See also 1 Corinthians 1:12 and Galatians 2:9). In Matthew it is mentioned that when Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest, the people said that he must be a Galilean because "his speech" gave him away. The bystanders were probably commenting of Peter's Galilean accent. The Talmud describes how the Galileans had their own accent to their Aramaic. They didn't pronounced their gutturals clearly. This is probably why Jesus' name in Aramaic is pronounced "Yeshu" in ancient Jewish sources and by Aramaic Christian till this day. "Yeshu" was the Hebrew way of saying "Jesus" until recently, when missionaries introduced the form "Yeshua" into Modern Hebrew.)
Simon Peter, Thomas called Twin, Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples were gathered together. (John 21:2)
In Aramaic Thomas (teoma) means "the twin."
Canaanean means Zealot, which means "terrorist" or "insurgent." (Mark 3:18)
"And also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) out of whom seven demons had some out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. (Luke 7: 2-3 NIV) Magdala is the Aramaic word for "tower." Jerome commented that perhaps she acquired this title since her faith was like a tower. However, it seems she is called Mary of Magdala because she came from the town of Magdala.)
Thaddeus and Lebbeus
(Matthew 10:3) Thaddeus means "breast" or "nipple" and Lebbeus, or Libba, means "heart."
In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. (Acts 9:36). This Aramaic name means Gazelle.
Martha in Aramaic means "Lady" (Luke 10:38-41. John 11:1-39, John 12:2).
Matthew 10:3. Son of Ptolomey or perhaps "son of furrows" or "son of the ploughman."
In Hebrew "Son of…" is Ben. In Aramaic it is "Bar." There are many people with this Aramaic name-form in the New Testament.
Barabbas means "Son of the Father," He was the one whom was chosen by the crowds to be released instead of Jesus the Messiah. He was a brigand and a murderer (Matthew 27:16)
And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jona; because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)
Bar-Jonas, means "Son of Jonah." Certain manuscripts read "Son of John" instead. The name "John" was Johannan.
Barsabbas was considered as a candidate to be numbered among the Twelve Apostles (Acts 1:23). His name means "Son of the Sabbath," perhaps because he was born on a Sabbath day.
And when they had gone through the whole island, as far as Pahpos, they found a certain man, a magician, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Jesus. (Acts 12:6)
This man's name means "the Son of Jesus." During the first century, Jesus was a very common name. In his writings, Josephus mentions several different people named "Jesus." The name "Jesus" is a form of the name "Joshua."
This Barsabas was sent to Antioch carrying a letter from the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15: 22). He was a prophet (Acts 15:32) Judas Barsabbas is most likely a close relative of Joseph Barsabbas, possibly his brother.
Joseph Barnabas (Acts 4:36) from Bar-Nava meaning "Son of Prophecy," translated as "The Son of Encouragement" or "The Son of Consolation." This was the traveling missionary companion of Saint Paul.
NAMES OF PLACES
"When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha)" (John 19: 13).
Josephus in The Jewish War V. ii. 1:51 states that Gabbatha means "high place' or "elevated place."
"Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.) Here they crucified him, and with him two others-one on each side and Jesus in the middle" (John 19: 17-18). See also Mark 15:22.
Meaning "House of Dates"
Jesus performed a miracle at the Pool of Bethzatha. This Aramaic place name is mentioned in the famous Copper Scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Copper Scroll is an ancient treasure map from the first century.
Have no fear of those who kill the body, but can by no means kill the soul. Fear him instead who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. (Matthew 10:28)
The word "Gehenna" in Aramaic came to be the word used for "the burning hell" or "hell-fire." This was from the symbolism found in the burning rubbish dumps of Gey-Hennom, in the valley outside of Jerusalem. The Aramaic word Gehenna is derived from the Hebrew "Gey-Hennom," meaning "Valley of the Sons of Hennom." This cursed place was a place of idolatrous worship and human sacrifice in the Old Testament era. The Aramaic word "Gehenna" is found in many places in the Greek text of the New Testament but is usually translated as 'hell" in English versions. Also, in should be noted that Jesus in this saying in Matthew 10:28 uses what the Aramaic scholar Joachim Jeremias called the "divine passive." This was reverencing the name of God by speaking of the Lord by means of circumlocutions. The Jewish people at the time of Jesus' ministry would avoid speaking the proper name of God, which is "Jehovah" or "Yahweh." (Actually the original pronunciation wore likely Yahwoh and alternately Yahoo. The Divine Name could also have been originally pronounced "Yahuwoh." The form Yahoo is found in many ancient writings and inscriptions including the ancient Aramaic scrolls used by the Jewish community in Elephantine, Egypt shortly after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.) Often they would substitute "Name," "Glory," "Heaven" and many other words for the Divine Name. Jesus often uses the "divine passive" when he speaks of God as "Him," "He who" and etcetera.
ARAMAIC WORDS AND PHRASES USED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," which is "Be opened." (Mark 7:34). This word is Ethpatach and is the same in both Hebrew and Aramaic because these languages are so closely related.
And taking the hand of the child, he said to her, "Talitha koum," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, get up." (Mark 5:41)
This Aramaic phrase here is important because Jesus is using it in an Aramaic speaking household. So we see that the household of a president of the synagogue is an Aramaic-speaking household. Thus we see that it wasn't just the uneducated who spoke Aramaic but also the educated and the elite. Talitha means little girl-not "Tallit" (garment) nor "Little lamb."
But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:22)
In the Aramaic of the Talmud, Raka means empty one, fool, empty-headed.
No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)
See also Luke 16:9-13 and 2 Clement 6.
This corresponds with how the word the Aramaic word KOWBAIN (debt) is used in the Lord's Prayer. In Christ's teachings, especially in his parables, we see a link between sin and debts and the idea of forgiveness of sins as forgiveness of debt.
"But you say, "If a man says to his father or his mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban"-(that is a gift to God)…" (Mark 7:9-13).
This word refers to an offering or a sacrifice. Modern Assyrians call their Holy Communion service the Korban. In this passage Jesus was condemning a doctrine of the scribes and Pharisees that stated is you swore to give money to them, this released you from the obligation of using that money to support your needy elderly parents. Korban is both Hebrew and Aramaic. "KORBAN" meaning "a gift to God" has been found being used in an Aramaic inscription on an ossuary discovered in Israel.
Evidence from Archeology
The Elephantine Papyri
These Aramaic scrolls are from a Jewish colony in southern Egypt. They date to around 400 BC. They contain legal archives and correspondence to the priesthood in Jerusalem. The letters to Jerusalem were not Hebrew but are Aramaic. These ancient archives show that the post-exilic Jewish community in the Holy Land used Aramaic. They were written in Aramaic, which had become the everyday language of the Hebrew people. Jesus was a post-exilic Jew and lived in an era when Aramaic had largely displaced Hebrew as the language of the Jewish people.
The King Uzziah Tablet
King Uzziah is mentioned in Isaiah 6, 2 Chronicles 26. The Tablet is dates to the first century (the time of Jesus) and says in Aramaic "Herein are the bones of Uzziah, King of the Jews. Do not remove." Sometime during the life of Jesus, the bones of Uzziah the King were exhumed for some unknown reason and re-interred. It is only logical that such an important notice would be written in the most commonly used language so that it could be understood by the greatest number of people. (This important artifact is depicted on the cover of this book.)
The Dead Sea Scrolls
"The Dead Sea Scroll Bible" mentions some interesting information about the Dead Sea Scrolls "Song of Solomon" which "features several scribal errors and, although written in Hebrew, contains several Aramaic word forms that reveal Aramaic influence on the scribe" (612).
The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew. Many others are in Aramaic (about 20 percent of them) and a few are in Greek.
Why would a scribal community that viewed Hebrew as a holy language use Aramaic at all unless it was the language of the common people? Why would their scribal errors betray an Aramaic influence unless Aramaic was their first language? Their rules for their community and some of their commentary on Scripture are in Hebrew but much of the popular literature such as the Genesis Apocryphon, Enoch and Tobit are in Aramaic. A Targum, Aramaic translation, of Job was discovered. The Testament of Levi, the New Jerusalem and other Aramaic books were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove Jewish people in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus' public ministry were Aramaic speakers!
Certain Hebrew Primacists say that Joachim Jeremias and Matthew Black, two respected scholars who investigated Aramaic as the language of Jesus, maintained that Jesus spoke Aramaic because they formed their opinions before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, this is untrue, they were aware of the Dead Sea Scrolls and used them in their research. (Both Black and Jeremias constantly cite the Dead Sea Scrolls in their writings. The many Aramaic scrolls found among the Dead Sea Scrolls were particularly helpful to them. Black and Jeremias show familiarity with a very wide range of ancient Jewish writings.) Actually, the Dead Sea Scrolls are very helpful in reconstructing the words of Jesus in Aramaic since several of them are in Aramaic and Maurice Casey has used them for this purpose.
The Bar Kokhba letters
Bar Kokba, whose name is Aramaic for "Son of the Star" was a false Messiah. Many Hebrew Primacists feel that the Bar Kokba letters prove somehow that Jesus spoke only Hebrew, despite the fact that they were written 100 years after the time of Christ and that as many of the Bar Kokhba letters are Aramaic as are Hebrew. Thus we see that Hebrew speakers, such as those among the Dead Sea Scroll community and Bar Kokhba and his circles, also spoke Aramaic. The reason they used Aramaic in addition to Hebrew is because Aramaic was the common language. Bar Kokba's "Sukkot" or "Feast of Tabernacles" letter, in which he requests the items needed to observe the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, is in Aramaic.
In "Bar Kokhba: The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome" Yigael Yadin notes, "It is interesting that the earlier documents are in Aramaic while the later ones are in Hebrew. Possibly the change was made by a special decree of Bar-Kokhba who wanted to restore Hebrew as the official language of the state" (page 181). Yadin reveals what this opposition to Aramaic coming from certain Israelis and from certain so-called Messianic Jews is really all about. Let us look at what Yadin says on page 124 of his book on Bar Kokhba:
The first thing that struck us was that for no apparent reason some of the letters were written in Aramaic and some in Hebrew. Jews at that period were versed in both languages, yet since most of the letters were in Aramaic, possibly Hebrew had just lately been revived by a Bar-Kokhba decree. I remembered that when I showed the letters to Mr. Ben-Gurion, then the Prime Minister, only the Aramaic documents had yet been opened. "Why did they write in Aramaic and not Hebrew?" was his immediate angry reaction, as if the scribes had been members of his staff.
So, we see that the opposition to Aramaic is not based on critical examination of the evidence but rather is based on nationalistic pride! Ben-Gurion was angry to be exposed to archeological evidence that Jews in the late first and early second century (and obviously earlier) spoke Aramaic. It didn't fit in with his fantasies about the past. We should be careful about letting ethnic pride distort the facts of history. I have heard of Greeks becoming angry when told that Alexander the Great was not Greek (Macedonians apparently were Celtic although they were Hellenizers) or that Alexander engaged in homosexual behavior. Some scholars believe that Queen Nefertiti was not a native Egyptian. This makes certain Egyptians angry. We should look to the evidence and not allow the foolish histrionics of Ben-Gurion and those like these people who idealize instead of investigate the past to impede us on our quest for the facts.
Ossuaries (what are basically tombstones)
Ossuaries are often inscribed in Aramaic. Some are inscribed in Greek and some are in Hebrew. Important Aramaic ossuaries include the ossuary of Caiphas and the controversial "James the Brother of Jesus" ossuary. The Talpiot Ossuaries are also Aramaic and controversial. (Yeshua was a common name and other Jesus son of Joseph ossuaries have been discovered.) Much of the evidence including the evidence from the Aramaic can be viewed in the excellent book by Craig A. Evans entitled Jesus and the Ossuaries: What Jewish Burial Practices Reveal about the Beginning of Christianity. (At the time of Jesus, the bodies of the dead were laid to rest inside of caves that were closed with a large flat round stone that was rolled over to over the opening of the cave. After a period of time, when the body had decayed, a relative would take the bones and place then in a small stone box that was kept in the cave. These boxes that encased the bones were called ossuaries and they often bear inscriptions upon them. Very often these inscriptions found on ossuaries are in Aramaic.)
Business records and legal archives, marriage contracts, divorce decrees and promissory notes.
Business was conducted in Aramaic. Sebastian Brock describes important discovery that gives us important insight into everyday life. Aramaic "was also the language of the delivery man at a village called Beit Qarnayim (otherwise unknown, but evidently near Jerusalem), as we learn from four ostraca belonging to the first half of the first century AD. On these pieces of broken pottery (which served as the equivalent of modern notebooks) he writes down in ink his deliveries of fig cakes, bread and barley, specifying year, day of the week, day of the month, and sometimes even whether it was morning of evening… Another vivid glimpse into everyday life is provided by a note scribbled on an ostracon from Masada, perhaps dating from the time of the First Jewish Revolt (AD 66-73). Someone has left a bill unpaid for far too long and in desperation his creditor, evidently the baker, sends him a note: "I beg you have pity on me and pay me the 5 silver denarii you owe me for the loaves of bread. Have pity, for I haven't got anything." It seems very strange to argue that Aramaic wasn't spoken by Jesus when business records from his lifetime are found that are written in Aramaic. The legal records of a woman named Babatha were found among the Bar Kokhba Scrolls. Many of her documents are in Aramaic. Archeologists have found Aramaic scrolls and inscriptions from the first century that show that Aramaic was the common language of the Jewish people at the time of Christ.
Evidence from ancient authorities
The "Hebrew Only" sect appeals to myth to prove their premise that Jesus only spoke Hebrew. They refer to the Letter of Aristeas which says "the Jews are assumed to speak Aramaic but it is a different kind." This probably refers to the fact that the Jews spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic (the Jewish dialect of Aramaic) or that their Scriptures are in Hebrew. Regardless, "The Letter of Aristeas" is clearly mythological and is not a historical source. (The Letter of Aristeas tells the story of how the Greek translation of the Pentateuch was made in a very fantastical manner. It argues that the Septuagint was divinely inspired in a manner equal to that of the original Hebrew text.) We should look at more reputable historical sources such as the writings of Flavius Josephus.
Josephus lived from 37 to circa 100 AD. He was a contemporary of St. Paul. He wrote about John the Baptist, Jesus, James the brother of Jesus and the fall of Jerusalem. Josephus was a priest and related to the Hasmoneans, a royal family.
In his preface to The War of the Jews he mentions that he originally wrote this book in Aramaic because he felt he was deficient in Greek and he also wrote it in Aramaic for the "barbarians" in Mesopotamia! (Josephus wanted non-Jewish Aramaic-speakers who lived in Babylonia and Assyria to be able to read his books. He specifically states this was part of the reason he originally composed his works in Aramaic before translating and re-writing them in Greek.)
In Antiquities III 10.6 he mentions that the Hebrew used Aramaic:
When a week of weeks has passed over after this sacrifice, (which weeks contain forty and nine days,) on the fiftieth day, which is Pentecost, but is called by the Hebrews Asartha, which signifies Pentecost, they bring to God a loaf, made of wheat flour, of two tenth deals, with leaven; and for sacrifices they bring two lambs.
In War of the Jews Book IV Chapter 1 Section 5 Josephus mentions a Roman soldier that was an Aramaic speaker from Syria, but not a Jew, sneaking into Jewish household and listening to the Jewish rebels discussing their war-plans. They were, of course, speaking in Aramaic. Josephus specifically notes that this soldier was sent on this mission, because, as he was an Aramaic speaker, he spoke the same language that the Jews did. (Josephus was often used by the Romans to speak to the masses of the Jewish people on their behalf and it is obvious that when he describes himself as doing so, he was speaking to them in Aramaic.)
According to the Talmud, there were silver trumpets in the temple into which people deposited their offerings. The offering trumpets were labeled in Aramaic, which is not surprising since they are dealing with money! When it comes to getting their money the Temple establishment made sure that these ornate offering buckets were inscribed in the plain language, Aramaic. We also have three epistles written by Rabban Gamaliel, the Rabbi who instructed Paul. They were meant for the Jewish community in the Holy Land and are written in Aramaic. Another important ancient document from the times of the apostles called "the roll of the fasts" is also written in Aramaic. The reason these documents were written in Aramaic is because they were intended to instruct the common people of the land of Israel how to properly observe the Jewish religion. Aramaic was used because it was important that these documents were understood by the greatest number of people.
Evidence from the early Church Fathers
The Hebrew Primacists sect's main argument is that the Greek word "Hebraidi" means the language that we in English know as Hebrew and can only mean Hebrew. Look at John 19:17
And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.
To which the Hebrew Primacist says "See it says "Hebrew" that settles it-Jesus spoke Hebrew and not Aramaic. A LAW OF LINGUISTICS: CONTEXT DETERMINES THE MEANING OF A WORD, I.E. HOW A WORD IS USED DETERMINES IT'S MEANING. (Context determines what a word is used not rhymes, acronyms or even etymologies.) In this case Golgotha is an Aramaic word. Also, the language we know as "Hebrew" is never called "Hebrew" in the Old Testament, it is called "Judean" and "Canaanite." (2 Kings 18:26, Isaiah 19:18). The Church Fathers state that Jesus and the Apostles spoke "Hebrew." Did they mean Aramaic or the language we know today as Hebrew? Papias was an early church father that interviewed people who had known the apostles. He wrote his book sometime around 110-140 AD. It has only survived in fragments. Some of his stories seem interesting or plausible, such as stories about Barsabas and that of the daughters of Phillip the Evangelist. On the other hand he describes Judas Iscariot as being so fat he was wider than a chariot and that he couldn't walk through a door and mentions Jesus saying that in the Millennium grapes will call out to people saying "Take me, take me!" These particular stories seem absurd and very different from stories we find in the Gospels in the New Testament. (Certain church fathers did not view Papias as a reliable source.) Papias gives a legend that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in "Hebrew." Hebrew Primacists seize on this as proof that Jesus spoke Hebrew exclusively. Jerome (lived 347-420) knew of and described the "Hebrew" Matthew.
Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria, who use it. In this it is to be noted that wherever the Evangelist, whether on his own account or in the person of our Lord the Saviour quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew…
Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men
In the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which is written in the Chaldee and Syrian [meaning "Aramaic" in contemporary English] language, but in Hebrew characters, and is used by the Nazarenes to this day (I mean the Gospel according to the Apostles, or, as is generally maintained, the Gospel according to Matthew, a copy of which is in the library at Caesarea), we find ... .
Jerome, Against the Pelagians
Chaldean and Syrian are other ways of saying Aramaic. (Aram is an old way of saying Syria. In Daniel 2:4 the Chaldeans, Babylonian magicians and astrologers, are quoted speaking in Aramaic. For this reason Aramaic has been called Chaldee, or "Chaldean," in the past, as we see in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to the Holy Bible. In the King James Bible Aramaic is called "Syriack." Aramaic, Syrian and Syriac are really equivalent terms. Nevertheless, in modern usage Syriac refers to the official dialect of Aramaic used by Aramaic Christians for liturgical purposes. Syriac Aramaic is a very important form of Aramaic and we have many ancient documents in this dialect of Aramaic, including the Bible and numerous biblical commentaries. Modern Aramaic Christians use Syriac during church services but speak a Modern form of Aramaic that didn't directly emerge from Syriac.) Also, in Jerome's "Commentary to the Book of Daniel" he uses the words Aramaic and Hebrew interchangeably almost immediately after differentiating between the two languages!
Jerome, in his commentary on the Book of Daniel, differentiates between Hebrew and Aramaic, but then while in the Aramaic section of the Book of Daniel, consistently calls Aramaic "Hebrew." This proves that the early church fathers did call the language we know as Aramaic "Hebrew" at times and used "Hebrew" and other words for Aramaic interchangeably. This is illustrated by the following quotations from Jerome's commentary on the Book of Daniel the Prophet:
Verse 4. "The Chaldeans replied to the king in Syriac." Up to this point what we have read has been recounted in Hebrew. From this point on until the vision of the third year of King Balthasar [Belshazzar] which Daniel saw in Susa, the account is written in Hebrew characters, to be sure, but in the Chaldee language, which he here calls Syriac.
Verse 27. "As for the secret for which the king is asking, neither the wise men nor the magi nor the soothsayers nor the diviners are able to declare it to the king." In place of diviners (haruspices), as we have rendered it, the Hebrew [sic!-Here Jerome calls the Aramaic language "Hebrew"] text has Gazareni [actually the Aramaic word is gazerin.]
which only Symmachus has rendered…
…follows as far as the end of the Song of the Three Youths is not contained in the Hebrew [i.e. the Aramaic. Jerome uses the word "Hebrew" for Aramaic yet again!].
". ..I, Daniel, was much troubled with my thoughts, and my countenance was altered within me; but I preserved the word in my heart." Up to this point the Book of Daniel was written in the Chaldee and Syriac language. All the rest that follows up to the very end of the volume we read in Hebrew.
In his book Demonstration of the Gospel Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275-339) describes the Twelve Apostles as "quite common men, and barbarians [non-Greeks] to boot, with no knowledge of any tongue but Syrian." After Jesus gives the Disciples the Great Commission and to preach his message to all the world, Eusebius has them ask, "But how…can we do it? How, pray, can we preach to the Romans? We are men bred up to use the Syrian tongue only, what language can we speak to the Greeks?" (As is noted above, the "Syrian tongue" is Aramaic, as Aram means "Syrian." See Eusbius Pamphylis Demonstration of the Gospel, in the English translation, DE Book III, chapters 5 and 7, cited Dem. Ev. III. 4.44; 7.10.) This helps us to understand that Eusebius means that Matthew wrote his Gospel originally in Aramaic when he states, "For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue..." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III). Eusebius makes it very clear that the apostles spoke Aramaic only so obviously he refers to Matthew's "native tongue" he means Aramaic and not the language we now know as Hebrew. Eusebius-who is the source of our quote of Papias- was convinced that Jesus and the Apostles spoke only Aramaic! He had information available to him that we no longer possess today! This shows first, that the Greek word "Hebraidi" can indeed mean "Aramaic" and secondly, that the most ancient sources state unequivocally that the apostles spoke only Aramaic.
Evidence from the Targums
The entire Old Testament, with the exception of Ezra and Daniel (which are partially Aramaic already) was translated into Aramaic as the Targums. The Targums were not literal word-for-word translations but were free interpretive paraphrases. The Aramaic Targums are important because they originated from the time of Christ, and their interpretations reflect understandings of the text current with his era. Bible translators often refer to the Targums to clarify where it seems obscure in the original texts. Father Martin McNamara and Bruce Chilton have written extensively on using the Aramaic Targums to deepen our understanding of the New Testament. Martin McNamara's book is Targum and Testament: Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible: A Light on the New Testament.
In Complete Equivalence in Bible Translation by Dr. James D. Price he states, "The Targums are still included in the official Rabbinic Bible." The Targums along with The Tanakh and the Talmud are considered authoritative by Modern Judaism. (The "Tanakh" is an acronym that refers to the Old Testament.) Two theologians have written extensively on the Aramaic Targums and their relevancy for New Testament studies. They are Bruce Chilton and Martin McNamara. Bruce Chilton is the author of A Galilean Rabbi and His Bible and Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography. Reverend Chilton believes that most Jews in Judea and Galilee during the time of Jesus were illiterate and depended upon the oral Aramaic form of the Old Testament for their understanding of Scripture. Jesus does seem to speak of an oral culture in his sermon on the mount where he said; "You have heard it said…but I say unto you…" (Matthew 5:33). (Jesus is saying to the people here that their understanding of the Bible came from an oral tradition. The reason he said "you have heard it said" instead of "you have read it written" is because when he was addressing the multitudes, the majority of the people he was speaking to were illiterate.) In Bible times few people could read. For that few who did, very few of those could own an entire Bible. It was too expensive and without our small print and thin paper a Bible is huge, especially is it is written upon scrolls. It would take at least ten large scrolls to have a complete Bible. Since few people could read or possess a Bible this gave the scribes great power. (Jesus often spoke of the "scribes." For an example see Matthew 23:2. If everyone was a scribe at the time of Jesus there wouldn't have been a distinctive group of people called the "scribes" since everyone would have been a scribe.) The day of easy access to a Bible and widespread literacy was unimaginable to the ancients. I believe Jesus could read and write and knew the Scriptures in Hebrew but most people in the holy land contemporary with him could not. Bart Ehrman in his book Truth and Fiction describes how illiteracy was widespread during the time of Jesus,
Jewish lower classes there, for the most part-farm workers, probably (notice all his parables about seeds, plants, trees, and harvests), fishermen, and the like. Did these people write accounts of his life? The problem is that ancient historians have come to realize that the vast bulk of the population of Jesus' day was illiterate, able neither to read nor to write. It is difficult to establish literacy levels in antiquity, but the most reliable study, by Columbia University professor William Harris, indicates that at the very best of times in the ancient world (for example, in Athens during the fifth century BC, the time of Socrates and Plato), only 10-15 percent of the population was even functionally literate (able to read and perhaps sign simple documents such as contracts). High literacy rates, such as we now experience in the modern West, were unheard of in antiquity, when it never would have occurred to government (or private) agencies to devote the massive resources required to ensuring that every one could read and write (widespread literacy came about only with the industrial revolution). This means that at the best of times 85-90 percent of a population was illiterate. Those who were able to read and possibly write (the latter requires more extensive training) were the upper classes with the resources and leisure required to educate their children. Literacy rates were much lower in an area such as rural Galilee, where most people were subsistence farmers, fishermen, or artisans, who had no need to learn their letters (106-107)
It may be that even Jewish children knew all the stories of the Bible. They didn't know the Bible from reading it, because few of them could read. They knew the Bible through its oral form and that for them was the Aramaic Targum Bible. We should be cautious about using rabbinical sources such as the Talmud. The Talmud was written over two hundred years after the time of Jesus. The Rabbis that composed it lived as distant from the time of Jesus as we do from the time of George Washington. Legends had time to develop. An example would be the myth that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree and told his father, "I shall not tell a lie. I did it." The Talmud also contains legends and myth. Blindly accepting all rabbinical legends about the first century could cloud our understanding of the Jesus of history. In the January/February 2008 edition of Biblical Archeological Review, Richard Elliot Friedman wrote that the ancient rabbis "did not know more than we do about the Biblical world or about history or about the Bible's authors. They knew less." Certain famous Rabbis of long ago never saw the Holy Land and didn't understand its geography. The old Rabbis didn't have important archeological discoveries we now have. Sciences, such as linguistics, had yet to develop. In certain way, the rabbis understood Hebrew less than we do today because we now have the cuneiform tablets in the Ugarit language. These relics actually help us to understand biblical Hebrew better. Ugarit is very similar to Hebrew and has helped clarify the meaning of certain obscure words and phrases in the Old Testament. (Ancient translations of the Bible, such as the Septuagint, the Targums, the Syriac Peshitta, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Latin Vulgate, often preserve the original reading of the Bible in places where the Rabbis have preserved a scribal error. These ancient texts, must be, and are, consulted by translators of the Bible.) There may be useful information in rabbinical sources but they must be used with extreme caution. The rabbis have a legend that all Jewish boys at the time of Jesus could read and write. This is very unlikely. Saint Jerome, who lived from 342-420, stated, "There doesn't exist any Jewish child who doesn't know by heart the history from Adam to Zerubbabel" What this means is that all Jewish children knew stories of the entire Bible by heart. Jerome did not say that all Jewish children were all scribes who could all read and write. He merely stated that they all knew the stories of the Bible. Most of these boys and girls learned these Bible stories through oral tradition and usually this was through the reciting of the Targum during synagogue services. A better source, one that is contemporary with the time of the Apostles, is Josephus. Describing the Jewish people, Josephus states, "Above all we pride ourselves on the education of our children, and regard as the most essential task in life the observance of our laws and of the pious practices based thereupon, which we have inherited" (Against Apion 1:60). Here again we see that Josephus isn't claiming that every Jewish male could read. He is stating that they teach all their children how to observe Jewish customs. Ancient scrolls are dated by what is called "paleography," which is the study of the changes in scripts throughout history. James Vanderkam and Peter Flint explain how ancient documents, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, are dated in The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus and Christianity. They say, "Few people in antiquity could write, and the few who did most of the writing were trained in the standard accepted ways of forming letters. Not all writers were professional scribes, but many were, so that there was little of the massive variety in writing styles that we see today when so many more people are literate. Moreover, it probably means that changes in scripts took some time to develop; the scribal art favored conservatism over innovation." The reality that very few people could read and write helps scientists accurately date ancient documents. Jewish myths about universal literacy do not accurately reflect the historical reality and the oral culture in which Christianity emerged. We need to employ a healthy skepticism when dealing with certain rabbinical sources. It is best to rely on more ancient evidence such as archeological discoveries and texts such as Josephus and Philo that date to the time of Christ and the Apostles. (However, we shouldn't view even Josephus and Philo as inerrant and infallible. Josephus as a supporter of Rome had his own biases and his own agenda. Philo was a Hellenistic Jew, which was common for Jews in the Roman Empire who lived outside of the Holy Land. Josephus and Philo do reflect the viewpoints, culture and traditions of Jewish people of the New Testament period in a way that rabbinical writings written centuries later do not.)
Jesus actually quoted from the Aramaic Targum when he was in agonizing pain and approaching death upon the cross. He was repeating the oral form of scripture he had learned as a child in synagogue. It is most likely that at such a time as that he would be speaking his first language. Those that argue that Jews at the time of Jesus spoke only Hebrew state that they were fluent in Hebrew yet would discuss and interpret the Scriptures in Aramaic, which according to the "Hebrew Primacists," was a language few could understand. I find it hard to believe that people would discuss their literature in a language they didn't speak. Where is the logic in that? This is like saying, we are all native English speakers but we are going to translate and discuss Milton in French! And we are going to do this merely to discuss Milton. That is absurd! The more logical explanation is that the Jews needed translations of their Scriptures in Aramaic because few still spoke Hebrew fluently. The Targums were believed to have been an oral tradition that was passed down and not written until centuries after the time of Jesus. Now we have Targumim found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. And Paul quotes from the Targums too. What Hebrew primacists are doing is attempting to dismiss the authority of the Sacred Scriptures. If everyone is speaking Hebrew as their mother tongue-then who is speaking Aramaic? Why would they speak Aramaic and when? For a monastery library where Hebrew is seen as the holy language and the language of education-there are a lot of documents in a language Hebrew Primacists say wasn't spoken-1/5 of the scrolls are in Aramaic! (Perhaps an equivalent example could be a monastery library in Europe in the Middle Ages. Almost all books then were written in Latin, a language few could understand. The "vulgar," or common, languages were rarely written until the time of Dante. One fifth of the books in Aramaic in a library where Hebrew was viewed as the sacred language is a huge number and shows that the people spoke Aramaic as their common language.) The Apostles had Aramaic names and Jesus gave out Aramaic nicknames-why, if he wasn't an Aramaic speaker? If Jesus spoke Hebrew as his first language then when and why would he use Aramaic at all? I frankly cannot understand that irrational hostility against Aramaic coming from Hebrew Primacists. It seems to me that Hebrew was spoken in some circles but for most of the common people it was an acquired language. Although the Targum represented a traditional oral understanding of the Bible at the time of Jesus, and most copies of the Targum were written centuries after the time of Jesus, we do have written Targums that date to the time of Jesus. Mainstream Christian Jews do not carry this irrational hostility towards the Aramaic language. The Messianic organization "Jews for Jesus" recognizes the importance of the Targumim and have often referenced them in their publications.
A note about scholarly consensus
The vast majority of Bible scholars believe Jesus spoke Aramaic because this fact is born out by the evidence-which is cumulative. We should take mainstream and not extremist positions. The "Jesus spoke only Hebrew" position is an extremist position and cannot withstand scrutiny. Certain people believe that Jesus spoke Hebrew because Hebrew is viewed by them as the language of God. Jesus is God Incarnate and he spoke Aramaic so, Aramaic could also be viewed as the language of God! (Daniel mentions the finger of God writing on the wall of the palace in Babylonia in the Aramaic language. Also, in the Talmud there is a story of God speaking out in Aramaic from the Holy of Holies. This was during the High Priesthood of John Hyrcanus. See. J. Sot. 24b.) As Jesus proclaimed his Gospel in Aramaic, Aramaic is also the language of the Kingdom of God. According to Deuteronomy 26:5, Abraham and the Patriarchs were Aramaic speaking. In the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 38b) the Rabbis teach that God spoke Aramaic to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden-and that Aramaic was the language of Adam! If Jesus actually spoke Aramaic, then to attack, disparage and insult his language is to attack and insult Jesus Christ himself.
I attended a seminar given by certain Messianics in which Mel Gibson was mocked for depicting Aramaic rather than Hebrew as the language of Jesus. (The host scoffed at Mel Gibson saying, "What does "Mad Max" know?") Mel Gibson in using Aramaic in his film on the Passion of the Christ showed that he seriously studied the most ancient sources and this use of Aramaic was an informed decision that reflects scholarly consensus. This scholarly consensus is based on data from the New Testament, ancient sources and archeological discoveries.
Joachim Jeremias stated in his New Testament Theology, "the mother-tongue of Jesus was a Galilean version of western Aramaic. We find the nearest linguistic analogies to the sayings of Jesus in the popular Aramaic passages of the Palestinian Talmud and Midrashim which have their home in Galilee…In addition to the sentences and words preserved in the original Aramaic [in the New Testament], there are many passages in which an underlying Aramaic wording can be disclosed. This includes expressions which are idiomatic in Aramaic but alien to both Hebrew and Greek (Aramaisms), and translation mistakes which show up when recourse is had to Aramaic."
Maurice Casey in Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel says, "The Gospel of Mark is written in Greek, though Jesus spoke Aramaic…It follows that the change in language from Aramaic to Greek was part of a cultural shift from a Jewish to a Gentile environment. If therefore we wish to recover the Jesus of history, we must see whether we can reconstruct his sayings, and the earliest accounts of his doings, in their original Aramaic. This should help us to understand him within his own cultural background."
Joseph A. Fitzmyer in The Semitic Background of the New Testament says, "As for the language that Jesus would have used, the evidence seems to point mainly to Aramaic...Jesus used Hebrew on occasion…the consensus of opinion at the moment seems to support Aramaic as the language commonly used by Jesus and his immediate disciples in Palestine."
In Our Translated Gospels Charles Cutler Torrey concluded, "The material of our Four Gospels is all Palestinian in which it was originally written is Aramaic, then the principle language of the land; with the exception of the first two chapters of Luke which were composed in Hebrew."
Gustaf Dalman in The Words of Jesus: Considered in the Light of Post-Biblical Jewish Writings and the Aramaic Language states that , "From all these considerations must be drawn the conclusion that Jesus grew up speaking the Aramaic tongue, and that He would be obliged to speak Aramaic to His disciples and to the people in order to be understood."
Matthew Black in An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts says, "Jesus must have conversed in the Galilean dialect of Aramaic, and His teaching was probably almost entirely in Aramaic."
According to Biblical archeologist John Romer in Testament: The Bible and History, "Recent linguistic analysis of all four gospels, however, has tied them not to these grand cities of the Empire, but to the verbal culture of Palestine itself. The construction of their Greek texts, the shading and coloring of the writing strongly suggest that much of them had been translated from Palestinian Aramaic, Jesus' own language."
The New Covenant: Newly Translated from the Greek and Informed by Semitic Sources by Willis Barnstone contains the following interesting quote,
…he [Jesus] spoke to his followers and other wayfarers in Aramaic, and except for a few phrases scattered throughout the Gospels, none of his Aramaic sayings have survived. I have wondered for some time how this could be, and wondered even more that Christian scholars have never joined in my wonder. If you believe in the divinity of Jesus, would you not wish to have preserved the actual Aramaic sayings themselves? Were they lost, still to be found in a cave somewhere in Israel?…For some years now. I have asked these questions whenever I have met a New Testament scholar, and I have met only blankness. Yet surely this puzzle matters. Aramaic and Greek are very different languages, and the nuances of spirituality and wisdom do not translate readily from one into the other. Any sayings of Jesus, open or hidden, need to be regarded in this context…
In Language, Power and Identity in Ancient Palestine, Seth Swartz states,
From 300 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., Hebrew was no longer commonly spoken, having been replaced by Aramaic. Hebrew, however, remained important because it was still the language of the Jerusalem temple and of the Pentateuch. In part because of consistent imperial patronage, these institutions gradually became the central symbols of Jewish corporate identity in the three or four centuries after their respective foundation (c. 500 B.C.E.) and compilation (c.400 B.C.E.). By the third century B.C.E., Hebrew began to be used on coins and the like in a way which may have been intended to evoke these symbols, and thus Jewish identity. But the temple and the Torah also became real repositories of power, so that there developed around both of them closely related classes of curators. These men used Hebrew to distinguish themselves from the rest of the population, and since curatorship of the Torah was in theory open to all males, mastery of Hebrew was also a path to prestige, and study of it was widespread in certain circles. In this second stage then, Hebrew, no longer commonly spoken, became a commodity, consciously manipulated by the leaders of the Jews to evoke the Jews' distinctness from their neighbours, and the leaders' own distinctness from their social inferiors.
According to Seth Swartz, Aramaic was the language of the common Jew but Hebrew was used by the elite. Mr. Swartz also states, "In sum, the evidence from Palestine in the sixth to the third centuries B.C.E. is consistent with the view that the Jews, like almost all other national and tribal groups in the Levant and Mesopotamia, generally came to adopt Aramaic as their normal means of communication. The contrary view is based on a simplistic reading of the evidence, characterized by insensitivity to its content and context, and correspondingly to the social and political functions of languages in pre-modern societies." When someone makes sensational or extreme claims, such as the claim that Jesus did not speak Aramaic, our first demand is to examine the evidence. What kind of argument is this person making? Can the argument withstand scrutiny? We should also ask questions. Who is making the claim? What institution is he affiliated with? What kind of accreditation does the institution have? Has this theory been peer reviewed? What do other authorities and experts say? Are there arguments or is there evidence that contradicts this theory? What are the motivations or biases of this individual maing these claims? The reason most Bible scholars believe Jesus spoke Aramaic is because that is what the Bible says and there is also other extra-biblical information that indicates that this is true. We should be wary of extremism.
I have heard Zephaniah 3:9 used to say that we all must learn to speak Hebrew in order to be acceptable to God. This scripture reads, "For I will restore to the people a pure language" (literally the Hebrew says a "pure lip" this means pure speech or conversation and is not necessarily referring to a specific language) "that they all may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one accord." Jesus spoke about the same thing when he said "From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). It is unreasonable to require all believers to learn Hebrew, or Aramaic for that matter. (Although, it would be good to take steps to preserve Aramaic as a spoken language.) This passage in Zephaniah actually refers to God giving his people a new heart-a truth Jesus and other prophets of the Old Testament refer to. (At any rate, Hebrew isn't a "pure language." Modern Hebrew especially has strong Russian, English and Arabic influences. Hebrew, like all languages, evolved. This evolution of the language can be seen in the Old Testament. Even in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, we see the influence of other languages on Hebrew. This includes not only Aramaic, but also Greek and Persian words are found in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Words we think of as "Hebrew" such as Sanhedrin and Synagogue are Greek words that found their way into Hebrew. Ancient Israel's pagan neighbors, the Edomites, Moabites, and Phoenicians all spoke Hebrew. The idea that speaking a particular language makes a person holier or more pleasing to God is illogical.) To understand God you need to come with him with childlike faith and simplicity. Learning a language will not get you into heaven and may not even please God. In ancient times there were and today there are many Hebrew speakers who are terrible sinners and don't know God. (According to this faction of Messianics it is only Hebrew speakers that are capable of understanding and pleasing God. Certain of these Hebrew Primacists people also believe that only those with Jewish blood will go to Heaven.) Hannibal and the Carthaginians spoke a form of Hebrew as did many of the ancient Israelites who worshiped Baal and the Ashtorah. Nicodemus knew Hebrew, Aramaic and the Scriptures and Jewish tradition. Jesus wasn't impressed with all of this. Jesus was concerned about his soul-because Nicodemas was lost. Jesus told him "For a man to enter into the Kingdom of God he must be born again." (The Gospel of John Chapter Three. It seems to me on the basis of the later actions of Nicodemas, that he did receive Jesus and was born-again.) This faction of Messiancis are requiring people to become full proselytes to Judaism and come to speak Hebrew in order to be acceptable to God. We must preach the simplicity of the Gospel. These "Hebrew-Only" people are harming the body of Christ and confusing the Gospel message. (It is hard to consider Hebrew a "pure" language. It evolved out of previous Semitic language and continued to evolve throughout the biblical period. Even today Modern Hebrew is significantly different from Biblical Hebrew and is continuing to evolve.) It is good to learn Biblical languages but it isn't required in order to go to heaven. As Paul the Apostle said, "Knowledge puffs up but love edifies."
Jesus is the Son of David, but the title called Himself most often was the Son of Man. Jesus is the Son of all Mankind and the savior of humanity. (Matthew's Gospel mentions gentiles in Jesus' family tree.) Jesus says when he comes in power and glory to judge the world he doesn't judge the people on if they kept Kosher, or if they observed the Sabbath, or if they spoke Hebrew or were "Torah observant"-the concern is did they show love and compassion to "the least of these my brethren" (Matthew 25). The Lord requires mercy-not sacrifice. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 says, you can have all knowledge-even perfect knowledge of Hebrew-but if you don't have love-it is NOTHING! The Hebrew and Aramaic roots of our faith are important –but nothing should be allowed to complicate the simple message of Salvation preach by Jesus and the Apostles. The reason that the majority of Bible scholars believe that Jesus spoke in Aramaic is because this is what is indicated by the evidence and the Bible clearly and repeatedly states this to be true. When scholars state that Jesus spoke Aramaic they are simply stating fact and are not trying to displace or disparage Hebrew. As Hebrew is the original language of over 95% of the Old Testament it's importance is firmly established. Those who deny that Christ spoke the language that the Bible even quotes him speaking believe that the Holy Bible is erroneous and not a faithful record of the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah.
John 3:16 states that God loved the world so much he sent Jesus. God loves all Mankind. In the Great Commission Jesus told his disciples to take his message of love to "all the world" (Mark 16:15-16). Christians should love everyone. (Loving people does not require condoning sin.) It is right for Christians to condemn incitement of hatred of Jews, persecution of Christians and violence that is coming from the Moslem world. However, we are to love the Arab people. Christians need to realize that there were Arab people around before the time of Abraham. A genealogy of Arabs is found in Genesis 10:25-31 that lists Arab families who were before the time of Abraham. One pre-Abrahamic Arabic tribe, the Kenites, was the most faithful ally of the Israelites. Not all of the Arab descendants of Abraham were descended from Ishmael. After Sarah died, Abraham sired six Arab tribes through an Arab woman named Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4). Abraham didn't sin in re-marrying after Sarah passed away and fathering Arab tribes through Keturah. He was fulfilling God's promise that he would become the father of many nations. These Arabic tribes were not cursed. Ishmael was not a Moslem. Islam didn't exist as a religion until over one thousand years after the time of Ishmael. In the Bible, God doesn't curse Ishmael, He blesses Ishmael (Genesis 17:20). Many Christians believe that Arabs are a cursed people because they are all descended from Ishmael. The Bible does not teach that Arabs are cursed and it does not teach that all Arabs are descended from Ishmael. It troubles me to see Christians interpret the Bible to justify hatred of Arab people. We shouldn't hate anyone. Besides that, most Moslems are non-Arabs. We must differentiate between the Islamic religion and the Arab people. God saw fit to include two chapters in the Bible that were written by Arabs. Proverbs 30 was written by Agur son of Jakeh and Proverbs 31 was written by King Lemuel. Both of these men were Arabs. How can we despise a race of people the Holy Spirit came upon to inspire to write part of the Bible? According to the New Testament, Arabs were among the first people to hear the Gospel (Acts 2:11). There is still a significant minority of Arab Christians in certain Arab countries but due to the rise of Islamic fanaticism and the influence of Petrol-dollars they are facing severe hardships. I have heard many, many sermons about Abraham "getting ahead of God" and begetting Arabs by Hagar, which is presented as bringing great trouble upon the world. Arabs hear these sermons and understand the preachers to be saying, "I hate you and wish you were never born!" They are hearing the pastor correctly because that is exactly what is being preached. Arab people have shown me great kindness in my life. God loves all men and women on planet earth and even has a concern for animal and plant life on this planet. We should too. Jesus is the Son of Man. This means he is the Son of all Mankind and that he died on the cross for every human being who has ever live and has yet to live (including unborn babies). This is the Good News.