The language of Jesus – what did Jesus speak?
Many know Jesus as a Hebrew. After all, legend has it that he was born in Bethlehem, and then grew up in Nazareth and other regions of Israel, such as Galilea and Judea, where he was active until his death.
But only very few know what language Jesus spoke. Why, some of you will wonder, is that so very important? Well, wouldn’t it be interesting, exciting, and informative, to learn what language he actually preached in and used to speak the Gospel?
Answering this question requires a bit of an excursion. Though Jesus said many new things in the Gospel (New Testament), some was still based on the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the holy scripture of Judaism.
The Old Testament in turn comprises many individual books, including the Talmud.
The Talmud is one of the most important scriptures of Judaism and has some Aramaic influences. It has two parts: the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Gemara is mostly written in Aramaic.
(Picture: Illustration of Jesus, Chora church, an old Byzantine church in Istanbul, Turkey)
“The most important texts on Jewish law were developed in schools teaching in Aramaic. Later, when the region that is now Iraq, became the centre of Judaism, Jews spoke Aramaic. It was the language of the Jewish laws. Even now, as Jewish laws are written in Hebrew, Aramaic terms and quotes are still in use. These texts cannot be understood if you do not know any Aramaic,” says Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsh, rabbi at the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. (cf. https://kurzelinks.de/buwn)
Some of the books of Daniel, Ezra, and Nechemia from the Bible were written in Aramaic. Even the Jewish wedding contract, the Ketubah was – at least in Orthodox circles – written in Aramaic. The Aramaic language had long become part of Judaism.
Jesus spoke Aramaic
Let us return to the initial question: What language did Jesus speak? Many historians agree that Jesus spoke multiple languages, including Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
Most historians can document that Jesus taught his Disciples the “Lord’s Prayer”. Jesus originally did so in Aramaic. From this, we can conclude that Jesus thought and dreamed in Aramaic as well. (Learn more about the Lord’s Prayer and the sound of Aramaic here)
Aramaic as an official and trade language
Aramaic has been documented back to the second century B.C. In addition to Chinese and Greek, it is the oldest language of the world still in use. Around 1000 B.C., it started displacing the languages then known in Babylonia, Assyria, Syria, and Palestine. The oldest documentations of the language are inscriptions from North Syria, dating to the 10th century B.C. Aramaic became the trade and diplomats’ language of the Middle East in the early 8th century B.C. already. Three centuries later, around 500 B.C., Achaemenid King Darius I. declared it the official language of the Persian Empire. In Jesus’ day, Aramaic was the common language throughout the Middle East, which made it his mother tongue and the language he preached in.
What many may not know: The Aramaic language is highly endangered! The Christian ethnic group that speaks Aramaic is very small. The flight from wars, persecution and reprisals in the Middle East caused several waves of emigration from their home countries and major upheavals in the Aramaic-speaking community. The serious consequences: only a fraction of the community still speaks Aramaic today.
Our vision: We want to operate bilingual day care centers (German-Aramaic) nationwide. We are deeply convinced that in this way we can promote the Aramaic language from an early age.
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