What is language? The ability to communicate is still a great scientific and philosophical mystery. Throughout the twentieth century philosophers focused on the question and mystery of human language. Questions about human language still occupy philosophers to this day. Books about linguistics are often placed in the philosophy section in bookstores. (Language sets us apart from the animals. Many scientists are very curious about the origins of language and intensively study communication among animals, such as dolphins, elephants and monkeys, and speculate whether or not the Neanderthals could speak what we would consider a language. The reason why philosophers are so concerned with language is revealed in Mortimer J. Alder's Aristotle for Everyone, "Language plays a large part in human thinking and knowing. The words we use, according to Aristotle, express the ideas we think with." These issues are also explored in Empire of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler.)
In the Holy Bible we see a great emphasis on spoken language. In most creation myths the world is created by violent forces of nature. In the Bible, the Universe is created by God speaking words. What does this mean? Did God utter words and make sounds that created the Universe? If God literally used a language to create the Universe, what language did he speak? Many people have supposed that God is a Hebrew speaker and thinks in the Hebrew language. Did God create the Universe by speaking words in Hebrew? (Did God make sound waves that reverberated as he made the noises?) The idea of God creating the Universe through the Spoken Word is so powerful that in the Aramaic Targum version of the Old Testament, the Word ("Memra") is used as a title of the Divinity. Also, in the New Testament, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is called the Word ("Logos" in Greek and "Miltha" in Aramaic). (However, the focus seems to be on the idea of the mental concept behind the word that is spoken rather than the audible sounds. Both "Memra" and "Miltha" are Aramaic for "word." Miltha simply means a word while Memra can mean a sermon or spoken discourse.)
It seems obvious but we need to note that there is a difference between an alphabet and a language. Of course, throughout most of human history most people could speak a language but not read or write in it. Spoken language must by necessity precede a written language. Hebrew can be written in any alphabet. Hebrew can be written in the Russian and even the Arabic alphabet. So can English. An alphabet is a series of symbols that represent sounds. When the Bible was written it was written in a very different alphabet from that which we know as the 'Hebrew' alphabet today. Spanish and Vietnamese are both written in the same alphabet as English. Knowing the alphabet doesn't mean that one knows the language. Almost all alphabets have the same origin, the Early North Semitic alphabet that is believed to have been developed by Canaanites in the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinaitic alphabet was a phonetic alphabet that used certain Egyptian hieroglyphics for inspiration. The Greek alphabet was based on the Early North Semitic Alphabet and our alphabet, the Roman alphabet, was derived from the Greek. The Arabic alphabet and even many alphabets in use in India were ultimately derived from the Early North Semitic alphabet that used to be known as the Phoenician alphabet. Both Egyptian Hieroglyphics and the earlier wide-spread alphabet, called cuneiform, were tedious and cumbersome. (Egyptian hieroglyphics were not strictly a phonetic alphabet, although it did have symbols for sounds. It is partially a "logographic" system, like Chinese, where symbols represent words, not sounds.) These earlier alphabets were so complicated and difficult that only highly trained scribes could use them. The easier and more effective Early North Semitic alphabet simplified matters greatly. The Hebrews began to use the Early North Semitic alphabet and then centuries later adopted the Square Aramaic alphabet, which they still use today. What we call the "Hebrew" Alphabet is actually the Square Aramaic alphabet. The renown Bible scholar F. F. Bruce describes the transition between the ancient Hebrew alphabet to the Aramaic alphabet in Israel and the Nations;
Aramaic gradually displaced the closely related Hebrew language as the common tongue of the people. In exile Aramaic had served as the common language among an alien population, and even in Palestine it became more and more the speech of ordinary people. When they came to hear the Scriptures read, they needed an interpretation into the language with which they were familiar. Over several centuries these interpretations or 'targums' existed mainly in oral form, but even then a traditional rendering tended to establish itself. It is though that this practice is what is meant when we are told that on day when Ezra's law-book was publicly read, the readers 'read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read'…Hebrew had been written in an alphabet very similar to the Phoenician script, in which the letters took various angular shapes. From about 400 BC onwards it came to be written in the Aramaic alphabet…The 'square' characters in which Hebrew had usually come to be written and printed ever since were originally Aramaic and not Hebrew…The Samaritans did not change their script as the Jews did; the Samaritan alphabet is a development of the paleo-Hebrew script. (p. 113-114)
(In Ezra 4:6, Ezra briefly notes the different Hebrew and Aramaic alphabets.) The Rabbis had many ideas about the significance of the Hebrew letters and the Hebrew language itself. Many of these ideas have been disproved by scientific inquiry (such as in the science of Linguistics) and archeological discoveries. The best way to understand the Old Testament is not though Rabbinic commentary but rather through knowing the land, the archeology and the literature of the ancient Near East.
To learn more about the history and evolution of alphabets I highly recommend Peter T. Daniels & William Bright Ed. The Worlds Writing Systems (New York, Oxford University Press, 1996), Andrew Dalby Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More than 400 Languages (Columbia University Press, New York 1998) and Stephen Matthews and Maria Pokinsky The Atlas of Languages: The Origin and Development of Languages throughout the World (Facts on File, In. New York, MY 1996) but see also George L. Campbell Compendium of the World's Languages (Routledge London and New York, 1991), David Crystal The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1987) Bernard Camrie The World's Major Languages (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1987), N. E. Collinge An Encyclopedia of Language (Routledge, London and New York, 1990) Georges Ifran From One to Zero: A Universal History of Numbers (Viking Penguin 1985), Sign, Symbol and Script: An Account of Man's effort to Write by Hans Gensen and Sign, Symbol and Script: An Exhibition of the Origins of Writing and the Alphabet by Martha L. Carter and David Crystal An Encyclopedia of Language and Languages (Blackwell Reference, Oxford, United Kingdom, 1992). In The Journey of Man and Deep Ancestry the National Geographic Society used both DNA and languages to trace the migration of man across the globe in pre-history. (Interestingly, DNA is a language. The Christian geneticist Francis Collins entitled his book on DNA, science and God The Language of God.) Wikipedia has decent articles posted on Semitic languages, Aramaic, Judeo-Aramaic and Aramaic in the Words of Jesus. An excellent book that is written in simple language that explains the true significance of Biblical languages is How Biblical Languages Work by Peter James Silzer and Thomas John Finley and Do It Yourself Hebrew and Greek by Edward W. Goodrick.
Before dealing with such questions we need to study language scientifically. Linguists have carefully studied human language and have carefully categorized, classified and traced the family tree of human languages. A complete listing of all known existing and dead languages (and their lines of descent) is found in the "Ethnologue." Ethnologue is available for free on the internet (www.ethnologue.com ) and it can be purchased in hard copy book form for about $80. The Ethnologue was put together by SIL International, which is the "Summer Institute of Linguistics." SIL was organized to train Bible translators for Wycliffe Bible Translators. The purpose of Wycliffe Bible Translators is to translate the Bible into every language on planet earth. Some of the worlds best linguists in the world work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. (For more information about languages on the internet see the "omniglot" and www.sil.org.) A linguist is someone who studies languages scientifically. They note patterns in languages, their relations to each other and try to identify universal properties of languages and also examine language-learning techniques.
I believe scholarly consensus is important. Scholarly consensus means what most scholars believe to be true. At times the majority opinion is wrong but even the scriptures say there is strength in the multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14). Scholarly consensus is, and has been for almost two thousand years, that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his native language. There is good reason (meaning evidence) why most scholars believe this to be true. I also believe that good scholarship among Evangelical Christians is important. Pastors and Bible teachers should know what they are talking about. The leadership in the church should be taken seriously by academia. If we are spouting out foolishness and untruths it is harming the church and the work of Christ. (One time I was sitting in a large Evangelical church listening to the pastor. I was amazed how uneducated he was. If a man is going to stand behind a pulpit and speak authoritatively the word of God, that man needs to know what he is talking about. This pastor was quoting from an obvious forgery called "The Archko Volume" as if it were authentic.) If we make claims we should be able to back them up with evidence. Especially among the Messianic movement, certain speakers made very outrageous claims that are not supported by evidence. One of the biggest of these false claims is the claim is that all religions are based on worship of the Sun as established by Nimrod. This is untrue and these claims are based on a fraudulent and discredited book from the 1800s entitled "The Two Babylons." As Jesus is the Truth, we should speak the truth. Some of these Messianic speakers demand that their converts acquire a "Hebraic Mindset." What exactly is a "Hebraic Mindset"? What does this mean? It seems to mean, to the people that use it, to be legalistic or to observe certain Jewish cultural practices. Is this what God demands of mankind, rather than repentance and being born again? The prophets of the Old Testament preached against their own people, condemning them for their sins. The Jewish leaders who persecuted Jesus also possessed a "Hebraic mentality" and it kept them spiritually blind. I, personally, do not want to be part of any movement. I want to be in the center of God's will. I would rather possess the mind of Christ than have a "Hebraic mindset."
Knowing a Bible language doesn't make you an expert on the Bible anymore than speaking English makes you an expert on Shakespeare. It doesn't necessarily make someone more "spiritual." Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." It is absurd to assume that someone who grew up speaking Hebrew, or Aramaic for that matter, somehow, just because they speak a Bible language, is somehow more of a spiritual person. We must study and study not just the Bible but the history and literature of the surrounding cultures so we can understand the world of the Bible more clearly. (Many Israelis are very secular and have a moral code more similar to Adam Sandler's "the Zohan" character than to that of Moses or the Hebrew prophets. I have met very friendly and kind Israelis. I have also met rude and obnoxious Israelis. They are people just like everyone else.) Knowing a Bible language does not make someone a virtuous person and it is foolish to assume that someone who speaks a Bible language is therefore a wise or virtuous person.
The Hebrew Language belongs on the Canaanite branch of the Semitic language family tree. Hebrew had a parent language which scientists have named "proto-Semitic" (which in turn developed from an earlier language known as "Afro-Asiatic"). This Father language had many children, some of whom have survived until today. Hebrew's surviving brothers and cousins include Arabic, Maltese, Assyrian Aramaic and various languages spoken in Ethiopia (including Amharic and Tigrean), Socotra and south Arabia. Hebrew had many languages in the past that were very closely related to it, including Ugarit. (Other languages such as Akkadian were more distant relatives. For more information see Beyond Babel: A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages by Steven L. McKenzie and John Kaltner.) Moabite and Ammonite are now considered dialects of Hebrew. Hebrew is also considered the same language as Canaanite and Phoenician. (The Phoenicians were Canaanites.) The Carthaginian language, known as Punic, was a form of Canaanite as Hebrew is. The famous general Hannibal was a Canaanite speaker. Hebrew and Aramaic (and Arabic as well) are closely related many words are the same in both languages and they have many cognates. (A cognate is a word that is pronounced very similarly in two different languages and has the same, similar or a related meaning in both languages.) Often linguists use Aramaic, Arabic and Ugaritic to clarify obscure Hebrew words. The Hebrews admitted that the language they spoke was Canaanite. In Old Testament times they called their language "Canaanite" (Isaiah 19:18) or "Judean" (Isaiah 36:11; Nehemiah 13:24) and never "Hebrew." Hebrew is a human language. Like any Human language it is continuously evolving. In the Bible different books of the Bible written in different time periods show the language in transition. We can trace the descent of the Hebrew language. Hebrew evolved from out of the Proto-Semitic language. (Anson Rainey has recently attempted to re-classify Hebrew as a "Transjordanian language" and he tries to argue that Hebrew has stronger linguistic affinities with Aramaic rather than coastal Phoenician. Linguists classify Hebrew as a Canaanite language. Even if Mr. Rainey's ideas were correct, it still remains that Hebrew evolved out of an earlier Semitic language and is clearly related to several other Semitic languages. Hebrew, like all other languages, evolved and its evolution can be traced through the text of the Bible. Mr. Rainey's ideas contradict the Bible which clearly states Hebrew is Canaanite in Isaiah 19:18.) Modern Hebrew is not a direct offspring from biblical Hebrew or other varieties of ancient Hebrew but is an amalgamation of different Hebrew strata plus intrinsic evolution within a living language along with an influence from French, English and Russian. We should also note Genesis 31:47. This is the covenant made between Jacob and Laban when they said, "Yahweh watch between you and thee, when we are absent one from another." Jacob called the name of the place where this covenant was made "Galeed," Hebrew for "Heap of Witness," and Laban called it "Jegar Shadutha," Aramaic for "Heap of Witness." This monument probably served as a boundary between where Aramaic was spoken and where Canaanite dialects were spoken. Jacob here speaks the language of his homeland-the Promised Land and not Aramaic, the language of his ancestors (although he doubtlessly spoke that as well after spending decades in the land of Aram). Notice that these languages ("Hebrew" and Aramaic) were spoken in these regions hundreds of years before the Israelites settled in Canaan under Joshua. Abraham was an Aramaic speaker (Deuteronomy 26:5) who came from Ur of the Chaldees. Hebrew was spoken in Canaan before the Israelites arrived there. The Israelites came to speak the language that was spoken in the land of Canaan before their arrival in that land.
There are three Biblical languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
There are many useful tools for studying Biblical languages. I suggest F.F. Bruce's The Books and the Parchments and How Biblical Languages Work by Peter James Silzer and Thomas John Finley. How do Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek work? In much the same way all human languages work! As Silzer and Finley note, "Despite what you may have heard about Hebrew and Greek, they are really very similar to English. They may seem exotic and strange, but Hebrew and Greek helped people communicate in their day just as English, Spanish, Korean, and other languages help people communicate today. Every language has to deal with the same real-world situations and help people understand what happened, how it happened, and who was involved. This …presents an overview of the "big picture" of the worlds languages-the ways in which languages are similar" (p. 20).
Before we discuss Aramaic I want to include the definition of Aramaic from the book Y'shua: The Jewish Way to Say Jesus by Moishe Rosen, the founder of the "Jews for Jesus" organization:
Aramaic: A language closely related to Hebrew, Aramaic was spoken in the ancient Near East from as early as the ninth century B.C. Portions of Daniel (2:4-7:28) and Ezra (4:8-6:18, 7:12-26) as well as a verse of Jeremiah (10:11) and two words of Genesis (31:47) are in Aramaic. By the time of Jesus, it was the daily language of Jews living in Judea. The paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Targums are in Aramaic. Jesus Himself would likely have spoken in Aramaic. Dialects of the language survive to this day in the Middle East. (page 119-120)
In the ancient world Aramaic was the dominate language of commerce and diplomacy. In 2 Kings 18:23 the Israeli negotiators say to the Assyrian ambassador, "Speak, I pray thee, to they servants in the Aramaic language; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall." The Judean negotiator did not want to commoners standing nearby to overhear the negotiations and lose heart over to prospects of war. The Assyrian envoy was speaking in Hebrew, the Israelites wanted to negotiate in Aramaic. So we see that educated Judeans understood Aramaic but most of the common people could only speak Hebrew. This was reversed by the time of Jesus. In both the Old and New Testaments we find what is known as Aramaisms, expressions which are idiomatic in Aramaic but alien to both Hebrew and Greek. Aramaisms are even found in the Song of Deborah in the Book of Judges. (The Hebrew of Deborah has an Aramaic influence and it sings praises of a non-Israelite Arab woman, Joel the Kenite. The Kenite Arabs knew and worshiped Yahweh, or Jehovah, centuries before the Hebrews did.) The reason why Deborah's Hebrew has an Aramaic influence is probably because she lived among the northern tribes who were close neighbors to the Aramaic tribes residing near Damascus. Damascus was an Aramaic city. The Israelites considered the Aramaic people to be near kinsmen. Moses required the Israelites to recite every year "A Wandering Aramean was my Father" (Deuteronomy 26:5). The Aramean mentioned here probably refers to Abraham and the Patriarchs. When I was in Syria I came upon a shrine in the wilderness outside of Damascus which the locals insisted was a dwelling place of the prophet Elijah. I didn't believe it until I checked it out in my Bible (1 Kings 19:15). Jewish people who know about their cultural heritage consider Aramaic a Jewish language. Was Hebrew displaced by Aramaic? Not completely. For the commoner Aramaic became their primary spoken language. Aramaic came to be spoken during the Babylonian Captivity, as evidenced by Daniel and came into greater use during the return from exile. Hebrew continued to be spoken as can be seen in the fact that later books such as Malachi are in Hebrew. However, some of these later books have more Aramaisms, meaning more of an Aramaic influence in their Hebrew. More and more people began speaking Aramaic rather than Hebrew but Hebrew seemingly never completely died out.
An Example of the Similarity Between Hebrew and Aramaic
The single Aramaic verse in the Book of Jeremiah (10:11) is a brief denunciation of idolatry, a prophecy of doom against false gods, addressed to Gentile nations, and inserted in the midst of an address to Israel. It runs; "Thus shall ye say unto them (i.e. to the nations mentioned in verse 10): the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, these shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens." It will conveniently illustrate the similarity of Aramaic to Hebrew if we give parallel transliterations of the Aramaic text of this verse and of a Hebrew translation, together with the English rendering word for word:
Aramaic Hebrew English
Kidnah koh Thus
Temerun tomeru ye-shall-say
Lehom lahem to-them
Elahayya Ha-elohim the-gods
Di asher that
Shemayya Ha-shamayim the-heavens
We-arqa we-ha-aretz and-the-earth
La lo not
Abadu abedu have-made
Yebadu yobedu shall-perish
Me-ara me-Ha-aretz from-the-earth
u-min-techoth u-mit-tachath and-from-under
shemayya Ha-shamayim the-heavens
elleh elleh these
(From F.F. Bruce's "The Books and the Parchments: Some Chapters on the Transmission of the Bible.") Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic are all very similar. An example can be given in the work for "peace" in all three language: Hebrew, "Shalom," Aramaic, "Shalama," Arabic, "Salam." In Arabic an assembly is called a "knessa," which is the word used for a church. In Hebrew the National Assembly is called the "Knesset." The Hebrew word for "no" is "lo" and the Arabic word is "la." Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic are all closely related languages.
I have received the most angry and bitter hostility about the mere existence of the Aramaic language and people from self-professed experts on Judaism. (These people apparently consider Aramaic "lishana ha-satan," meaning the language of Satan.) I simply cannot understand this because even a person with a cursory knowledge of Judaism knows that Aramaic is an important Jewish language. The most complete Aramaic dictionary is the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon and it has been assembled by the Hebrew Union College of the Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati (see http://cal1.cn.huc.edu/). The reason the Jewish people need an Aramaic lexicon is they need it to study the Talmud, the Kabbalah and other Jewish writings written in Aramaic. An example of how pervasive Aramaic is in Judaism is the fact that the Jewish Rite of Passage is called in Aramaic the Bar Mitzvah. (If it was in Hebrew it would be "Ben Berith" or "B'nai Mitzvah" or "Mitzoat.")
Kaddish: The Kaddish is an ancient Jewish prayer that was prayed at the close of synagogue services at the time of Jesus. Jesus apparently loved this pray because it influenced his "Our Father" prayer. (Like the Lord's Prayer, which it pre-dates, it opens by praising the Name of God and beseeching Him to let his Kingdom come.) The Kaddish is an Aramaic prayer. During the Middle Ages, Rabbis began the tradition of praying the Kaddish, a prayer praising and extolling the Lord, in times of sadness, grief and death. It is now prayed at funerals and after funerals and is now known as the "mourners Kaddish." When Jesus was a child the Kaddish was a benediction prayer. Later it became a mourner's prayer. It is not a prayer for the dead.
Talmud: Two long commentaries on the Torah were written, one in Babylonia and the other in the Holy Land. The Babylonian Talmud became authoritative for modern Rabbinic Judaism. The Talmud written in the Holy Land was called the Palestinian Talmud but is now known as the Jerusalem Talmud. (This is actually incorrect because the Jerusalem Targum was composed in Galilee.) About one hundred years ago, certain Christian Bible scholars would use the Aramaic of the Jerusalem Talmud to attempt to reconstruct the words of Jesus in Aramaic. They did this because, until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other archeological discoveries, the "Palestinian" Talmud was our oldest witness to the form of Aramaic spoken in Galilee and Israel. The Talmud consists of the Mishna, a codification of the oral Law written in Hebrew and the Gemara, which is a running commentary and discussion on the Mishna. Gemara is an Aramaic word that means "completion" or "study." While the Mishna is written in Hebrew, most of the Gemara is written in Aramaic. (The Jews who rejected the authority of the Talmud were called Karaite Jews. They were Sadducees and most of them lived in Egypt. Jesus was not a Karaite Jew. Real Karaite Jews are Jews from that speak Arabic.)
Here is a partial listing of Aramaic vocabulary found in the Talmud.
Tannaim "teachers" from the Aramaic word tena meaning to repeat
Baraitot from an Aramaic word that means "standing outside"
Amoraim "expounders" or "spokesmen" from the Aramaic word "amar" which literally means "to say."
Saboraim "reasoners" from the Aramaic, sebar, "to reason."
Sipra, Aramaic for "the book"
Melikta, Aramaic for "measure" or "form"
Sirata, Aramaic for "the Song"
Kaspa, Aramaic for "the money."
(For more information see Craig A. Evans Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts 1992)
Portions of the Tosefta: The Tosefta is a supplement to the Talmud. Most of the Tosefta is written in Hebrew but certain parts are in Aramaic.
The Targums: The Targums are Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament. Jewish tradition and modern scholarly opinion hold that Ezra began the tradition of rendering the Old Testament into Aramaic. This was an oral tradition.
The Kaballah (or more specifically the Zohar) The Kaballah is the Jewish occult tradition. The Kaballah is now popular among New Agers. The Kabalah includes magic, astrology, reincarnation and sexual ritualism. Parts of the Kaballah are ancient but the main text was either compiled or composed in Aramaic in Spain late in the Medieval period.
The Scribal notes to the Masoretic text of the Old Testament: Aramaic terminology is still used in the learning of Hebrew. The Masorites were Middle Eastern rabbinic scribes who produced the "definitive" version of the Hebrew (and Aramaic) text of the Old Testament. The two important Aramaic terms used by the Masorites is Qere, Aramaic for "to be read" and Kithib, Aramaic for "what is written." There are other important Aramaic terms such as Milra, an Aramaic word meaning "from below" meaning "below the last syllable" and Milel an Aramaic word meaning "from above" that is next to the last syllable. These two phrases denote the placement of vowel symbols. (We don't really know how Biblical Hebrew was originally pronounced. A group of scribes called the Masorites invented some vowel symbols to make pronunciation of the text of the Old Testament easier. They did this about 600 years after the time of Jesus. These vowel symbols are not divinely inspired. The Masorites may have made mistakes. Scholars now believe that the Masorites were speaking Aramaic as their native tongue. Actually we know that the Massorites were Aramaic speakers because the scribal notes to the Masoretic text are in Aramaic. Scholars now believe that the Masorites' Aramaic influenced the way they pronounced Hebrew. Thus, the Masoretic text is not necessarily completely authoritative. The Hebrew text without the Masoretic vowel points and other scribal apparatuses is what is viewed as authoritative. People need to realize that Modern Hebrew is a distinct language from biblical or even 'rabbinic' Hebrew. Modern Hebrew has been strongly influenced by English, French and Russian, and even to an extent by Arabic. There is a society in Israel that tries to establish what is 'proper' Hebrew. But today, as it was in Bible times, it is the masses of the people and how they speak it that actually defines the rules. This is why, in the Scriptures, Hebrew doesn't follow its rules. The evolution of the language, or how it was being spoken on the streets, was impacting how it was being written, even in the Scriptures.) The Masorites were fallible human beings. What they wrote, their vowel markings and their commentary, is not necessarily authoritative. For this reason, modern Bible translators now consult the Septuagint, the Targums, the Syriac Peshitta, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Latin Vulgate, all of which were translated from Hebrew texts much more ancient than the Masoritic text. The Hexapla was a very important version of the Old Testament scriptures but it only exists now in a Syriac Aramaic translation. (The Hexapla had six columns. The first column was the Hebrew text in Hebrew script. The second column was the Hebrew text written in Greek letters. Column three was the translation of Aquila and column four was a translation made by the Jewish Christian Symmachus. The fifth and sixth columns were translations of the Old Testament used by the early church, the Septuagint and the Theodotion versions (see www.hexapla.org).
Kol Nidre: During Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the central prayer of repentance is the Kol Nidre prayer. During Yom Kippur, Jews repent of their sins, break with the past and have a new beginning. "Kol Nidre" means "all vows." All past vows are broken and put aside for a fresh start. This prayer is very important and was composed in Aramaic, which was viewed as the common people's language.
Chad Gadyo: a popular Passover song for children. It is sung in Aramaic. Apparently, Aramaic was the spoken language of Jews in Europe until the development of such Jewish languages as Yiddish (a Germanic language) and Ladino (a Romance language). Jews still consider Aramaic a "Jewish language."
In Israel, to this day, Jewish people from Iraq and Iran still speak Aramaic. Many Jewish people discuss the Talmud, the Kaballah, or the Targums in Aramaic. Aramaic is offered in public schools in Israel and used to be a required course. The best research on the languages spoken in the Holy Land at the time of the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah includes Maurice Casey's Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel (see especially page 73-90) and Gustav Dalman's Words of Jesus. Additional information on Jewish Aramaic can also be found in The Aramaic Language Among the Jews by Richard Gottheil and William Bacher.
A note about Greek: Did Jesus speak Greek? The answer is we don't know. I believe that Jesus may have spoken some basic Greek and used it on rare occasion. When Greeks sought out Jesus they asked Phillip to introduce them to Jesus. Phillip is a Greek name. This and the fact that the Greeks went through Phillip to meet with Jesus indicates the Phillip was bilingual, speaking both Aramaic and Greek (John 12:20-23). Let's give the Greeks their due. Certain Messianics demonize both the Greeks and Western Civilization. Granted, there are various problems that existed in ancient Greek culture. Take, for instance, Plato. In his "Republic" he condemned poetry and art and promoted a demented dystopia, where infanticide would be common, where human beings would be bred like animals and their infants would be taken from their parents at birth and children would never know who their parents were, as the "ideal society." Aristotle brought some sanity to some of Plato's more disgusting, evil and bizarre ideas. But whether I like them or not, Plato, Aristotle and the pre-Socratic philosophers shaped the modern world. Hundreds of years before Jesus, Eratosthenes not only taught that the earth was round, he correctly measured its circumference. In the same era, Aristarchus of Samos discovered that the earth was orbiting the sun! Like any culture the Greeks had their weaknesses. Homosexuality may have been fairly common in Greek society but it was also common in ancient Israel as well, as the Bible clearly states (1 Kings 14:24). The Greeks brought progress. Michael Rood, a "Messianic" speaker, often says we need to "leave our modern western Greco-Roman pagan mentality" behind. I don't believe everything in Western Civilization and the Greco-Roman civilizations is innately evil, as Mr. Rood suggests. Do we really want to go back and live exactly that way the Hebrews did at the time of Moses? They owned slaves, had multiple wives and had limited medical knowledge. I prefer the idea of modern plumbing and toilets over the ancient Hebrew custom of defecating in an open field (Deuteronomy 23:13-14). Is it true that the Law of Moses represents God's perfect and eternal will? According to the Law of Moses, a slave owner had the right to beat his slaves to death (Exodus 21:20-21). The Gospel of John says, "The Law came through Moses but Grace and Truth came through Jesus the Messiah" (John 1:7). Jesus the Messiah, not the Mosaic Law-Code, is the perfect expression of God's will. Jesus, as He is God Incarnate, had the power to change the Law, particularly, the Law of Divorce. Jesus says Moses gave this Law due to the hardness of the Israelites hearts "but from the beginning this was not so" (Mark 10:5-6, Matthew 19:11-12, Luke 16:18). The Syriac Peshitta is an Aramaic version of the New Testament. However, it is obviously a translation from the Greek. Unless we have an exciting new archeological discovery, whatever original Aramaic texts of portions of the New Testament that may have existed are now lost. The Syriac Peshitta is an important tool and perhaps can help us to reconstruct the words of Jesus back into Aramaic but the Greek New Testament is the authority. (Even the Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew the early church fathers consulted is now lost.) Paul, Peter and Jude, the Brother of Jesus, went and preached to the Greeks. Paul preached in Greek, the others might have used interpreters. The epistles of Paul were doubtlessly written in Greek. So, we have Scriptures that we, as Christians, hold to be the inspired word of God that were written originally in the Greek language. These Messianic speakers would do good to stop railing against Babylonia and Greece and sit down and learn about these ancient cultures. This may help them become more well-rounded people and help them to understand the Bible better because Babylonia and Greece were part of the Biblical world. Most of what they say about Babylon is not true. For example, Semiramis was an Assyrian queen who lived during the period of the Kings of Israel and Judah. There is no evidence that she was married to Nimrod. She couldn't possibly have been married to Nimrod because she lived hundreds of years after Nimrod had died. There is no evidence that Shem, the son of Noah, executed Nimrod. The story of Semiramis being married to Nimrod and Nimrod later being executed by Shem first appears in the mid-1800s AD. There are no such stories in Apocryphal writings, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the rabbis or any other ancient authority. There are many other such baseless claims made by self-professed Messianics about Babylon and many other issues. I have been to Babylon and have gone to several museums and have examined archeological artifacts from Assyria, Babylon and Ur of the Chaldees. I have studied several books about Mesopotamia and the Bible. I believe my approach is better than regurgitating fraudulent, poorly researched and discredited theories from the nineteenth century after Christ.
Where does the Bible ever speak of Hebrew as being the native language of God? Paul speaks of tongues of men and of angels. Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek are tongues of men. God condescended to man and spoke to mankind in human languages. What language did Adam and Eve speak in the Garden of Eden? Rabbinic tradition says it was Aramaic but I believe this is impossible. Adam and Eve must have spoken a language from which the Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages descended. God is "ineffably sublime." That means God cannot be perfectly described in any human language. As the Scriptures say,
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord,
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thought than your thoughts," Isaiah 55:8-9
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man,
The things which God has prepared for those
Who love Him. (1Corinthians 2:9)
Until we reach a higher plane of existence we won't be able to fully "describe" what God is. Paul himself says that now "we see as if through a glass darkly." (We do know certain things about God because He has revealed them to us.) Paul reminds us that things of the Spirit are "spiritually discerned" and revealed by the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:14-17). It needs to be remembered that Israel is a secular nation and most Evangelicals know the Old Testament much better than the majority of observant Jews. Speaking Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic as a native language doesn't mean you are regenerated or have insight into the Bible. Paul says of the Jews, "even to his day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:15-16). With the Holy Spirit, which the unregenerate do not have, we can understand the Bible more fully and accurately. Also, there are different ways to communicate besides written languages. There is non-verbal communication. (In a book entitled "I Can Read You Like A Book" it teaches readers how to read non-verbal messages.) A touch, even a glance, can sometimes communicate much more than words can. Jesus Christ came to the common man and spoke in the common language. But he showed his uncommon love in freely choosing to sacrifice himself for all mankind. With his death on the cross and his resurrection Jesus transcends all languages and cultures. Instead of focusing on our differences sometimes I think we need to focus on how all people are the same. When I came back from Iraq I worked in a hospital with severely wounded soldiers who have come back from Iraq, missing arms and legs and severely disfigured. I worked in the burn ward with burn survivors of Islamic road-side bombs in Iraq. One veteran was a young man named Mike. He was severely wounded by an IED. Both of his hands were gone. His nose, lips and ears had been burnt off as had all of his hair. He had third and fourth degree burns over all of his body. He told me he still loved God and believed in God and knew God was good. After I left with visiting with him, I saw a wife with an infant and very pregnant, spoon-feeding what was left of her husband, who had just returned from Iraq. He was wearing a neck brace and was in a wheel chair and was missing his legs and an arm. When I came off of army duty, I began teaching. I took a job working with children with severe physical and mental disabilities. This included children who were severely and profoundly retarded. I had to feed children and change diapers of children who were over six years old. Some of these children I took care of had degenerative conditions and were slowly dieing. One of the children I took care of was the child of a single mother. This single mother had to watch as her daughter slowly lost all of her abilities, on her journey to an early death. First she lost the ability to speak, then to walk, and then the ability to feed herself. There is no cure for her disease. I watched as her only other child, a younger daughter, was beginning to show the early stages of the disease. I took care of a tiny nine-year old child who was always in pain. He would constantly cry out in pain. His only satisfaction was when he was fed but this was quickly followed by terrible agony when the food settled in his stomach. There are so many people hurting in this world and instead of showing the compassion Jesus showed to such people, people who claim to follow Jesus Christ spend so much time arguing about irrelevant things such as genealogies (Titus 3:9). We are all faced with death and all of us are in need of redemption, the promise of eternal life we have in God's Messiah. It is time for us to focus on the things that are really important. After what I saw and experienced in Iraq during the war these controversies about Hebrew seem to be petty to me. The reason this is important is that these "Hebrew Only" people with their re-writing history and their throwing out of the New Testament (as evidenced to their irrational hostility to a Bible language-Aramaic, the language of Jesus), these false "Messianics" are preaching a new and different Jesus and a new and different "gospel"-which isn't good news at all! (Galatians 1:6-7).
The Messianic movement is a positive development. Many people are drawn to a more authentic form of Christianity and are attracted to "restorationist" movements. The desire to understand Christ's identity as a Jew, his cultural background and the Biblical festivals he observed are good things. There are also good Jewish Christian organizations such as "Jews for Jesus," Sid Roth's ministry, the ministry of the late Zola Levitt and many other good ministries. However, there are people who are within the Messianic movement that threaten to undermine it. It is not uncommon to see Christians leave a church, join a Messianic congregation and then, shortly thereafter renounced Yeshua (Jesus) as a false messiah and become full converts to Judaism. This happens often. There are many people try to pass themselves off as "Messianics" (but are in reality cultists) who deny the deity of Jesus and the authority of the New Testament. An example of problems developing is a new teaching coming from a well-known TV preacher that Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah. According to a very prominent televangelist, the Jewish people do not need Jesus since they are saved by virtue of being Jewish-which is the total opposite of what the New Testament teaches (Matthew 3:9). This televangelist has taught that Jewish people don't need to repent of their sins because they saved due to their being born into a Jewish family. This teaching states that we are saved according to our genetic makeup, whether we have Jewish DNA. The Bible, on the other hand, says God is not a respecter of persons and that all human beings are saved the same way; that is through an inward spiritual conversion (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25). The Bible teaches that it doesn't matter who your earthly father is, it is knowing the Heavenly Father that will get you into Heaven. (Certain problems that have emerged in the Messianic movement are explored in Stan Telchin's "Messianic Judaism in Not Christianity: A Loving Call to Unity." Stan Telchin is a Christian Jew and the book features a foreword by Moishe Rosen, the founder of the "Jews for Jesus" organization. An example of some of the problems Stan Telchin has dealt with was when a so-called Messianic "rabbi" tried to call off a marriage between two born-again Christians who loved each other and were happy together because the woman was Jewish and her fiancé was not and the "rabbi" didn't want her "polluting her blood" with a gentile. In an extreme case, I knew of one Messianic individual who would lose bladder control when coming into the presence of a Jewish person. Christians should be very concerned about the rise of Anti-Semitism and work to combat it. I have seen Anti-Semitism in Europe and was horrified by the incitement of hatred against Jewish people I have seen in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism is evil but viewing Jews as some type of master race is foolish. I have known of a Messianic woman who married a man simply because he was Jewish with disastrous results. I have often heard it taught that all Jews, even those who have had no religious upbringing or instruction, can supernaturally understand the Bible and spiritual things in a superior way than non-Jews, simply because they are Jewish. I have equivalent training as some Jewish people. I have studied Hebrew and lived in Israel. I am fully capable of understanding and teaching as any Jewish person. I think it is illogical to assume that your racial or ethnic origin enables you to understand the Bible better than other people. I knew of a Jewish man who was thrust into a position of leadership due to the fact he was Jewish. Since he was idolized he became very prideful. His spiritual growth was stunted due to the idolization given to him due to his Jewish identity. He became a very divisive figure and ended up hurting many people and harming many fellowships. I have often seen certain "Jewish Christians" teach error because they had no education and yet the people were all listening with rapt attention merely because the speaker was a Jew. And they were accepting the error unquestionably simply because the speaker was Jewish.)
James the Just, the Brother of Jesus said this, "Pure
religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:26-27). In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, "When the Son of Man comes in power and glory and all the holy angels with him then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:31). Mother Teresa of Calcutta communicated the Gospel more effectively than any preacher or evangelist through her acts of mercy and compassion to the destitute and dieing in impoverished regions in India. In the famous "love chapter" of Paul found in 1 Corinthians, Paul says, "Though I speak with the tongues of men [such as Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek] and angels and have not love, I am nothing. If I have all knowledge and I have no love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge [such as knowledge about Jewish customs and traditions]; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." The New Testament is about the compassion of the Christ. Christianity is fundamentally about love. The language that all people everywhere understand is that of love.