Languages and Cultures
Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
In any consideration of first century Palestine or the Roman Empire, my primary concern is the cultural context of the era in which the details must be considered. I am concerned that we not impose modern anachronisms of our expectations upon the ancient texts.
Those texts arose in a different time with different characteristics from our modern rationalist, linear literate culture.
I have written numerous articles on related topics. A reader followed up articles he had read with some more questions. I share the discussion with you.
In regard to the foundations of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels, would you mind commenting on the following, as I am unsure of the historical facts regarding these points. We can safely assume that almost all, if not all, of the books of the Christian New Testament were composed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, as none of the books have a record of this staggering event, & even some discuss the "sacrifices" that are being sacrificed in the present tense, suggesting the temple was indeed still intact at the time of their composition.
I don't know why they would have needed to overtly "report" it. Everyone in the whole Empire knew about it. And detailing "history" as moderns use the term does not seem to be the purpose of these texts. These texts do not purport to be a historical compendium.
They are dynamic declarations or interactions (the letters) with the people of the time, and with the pressures and concerns immediately facing them. This sense of urgency is felt in the Gospels, mostly in Mark.
Have you, in fact, actually ascertained how many books of the New Testament actually do refer to current sacrifices? Do the references actually indicate that sacrifices were still going on at the time the book was written?
Before and After
Dates of composition are discussed extensively by authorities in this area. Many suggest that there are in fact evidences in the Gospels, especially that at least parts of the writings were composed after the destruction of the Temple. Notable is the "Little Apocalypse" in the Synoptic gospels, which seems to describe the events of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
I would defer to those whose primary focus has been in that area. But I would caution you to read the Gospels as First Century story forms, not as 21st century history compilations. Investigate how dynamic oral-relational cultures use story form to convey powerful meanings and complex event-references in dramatic story form.
The book of Hebrews further sounds like a message of comfort and encouragement to those who have lost the sacrifices, and now are called upon to refocus on the death of Jesus as the replacement sacrifice, the better sacrifice, than those that used to be offered in the Temple now gone. The focus on the permanence of Christ and "once for all" emphasize that.
In regard to Acts, mention of rites occur, as well as Temple sacrifices, consistent with the time of the story. This indicates the events in Luke's story ended before the fall of Jerusalem. How does that tell us anything about when the book/scroll itself was actually written or finished?
My main concern, as stated in my articles, is perspective on the era. It was not our time, it was not our worldview. It was not our literary style.
Our Questions not Theirs
An important caution for the modern reader of ancient texts is that our questions may not be pertinent questions for the text. The fact that we would like for some reason to place the book before or after the destruction of the Temple is no reason there should be a mention of the event in those writings.
A lack of mention of the event would not be definitive. All that tells us is that the event was not a focus for the theme, purpose or topic of the writer or compiler. The fact that we now wish we knew when the book was written was of no concern to the writer.
The fact that we would like to see evidence does not obligate the Gospel writers to provide it. Virtually all the New Testament letters are to Gentile congregations, uninterested in the events of the Temple or Jerusalem.
Why would Paul or others need to reference the Temple when writing to mostly Gentile believers in congregations out in the Empire about local problems and situations? The books were not written in our time with our concerns and our perspectives with our look-back wanting to know details important to us from our cultural background.
The biblical texts say what they say, no matter what we would like or wish they had commented on. The fact that a particular writing does not comment on a particular event does not tell us the author was unaware of it. It may at best just indicate that he was not focused on that as a goal or purpose in his writing! Or that he assumed everyone already knew it or it was in fact the very context in which he was writing.
Time vs Content
Further, when a text was written, and what content the writing contained, are two separate matters, and do not necessarily impinge upon each other.
The destruction of Jerusalem might indeed have been a catalyst in gathering all these teachings and traditions. The process of gathering and compiling was still going on late in the 1st century, according to the writer of Luke. He refers to this process and states his own goal in that regard. He is apparently writing to a Gentile or Empire-focused audience, not Palestine, since he addresses the book to "God Lover," Theophilos.
Gospel commentators consistently point out Luke's use of vocabulary and his versions of the stories common to other Gospels reflect a Greco-Roman context. His Greek, along with that in Hebrews, is commended by New Testament specialists as the "highest" Greek of the New Testament texts.
This characteristic supports his Hellenistic background, either Greek or Hellenistic Jew. The story of the paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof is a common example. I'd suggest looking at this and other stories compared in the Gospels.
I try to focus on the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the era and patterns attested from sources in the broader context of the events. Important in my discussions has been the cultural and linguistic history of the region and you can see in my various articles the authorities I have referenced.
The very earliest HARD WRITTEN COPY of ANY text, Greek OR Aramaic, that we have still extant today is at least 2nd Century. There remains intact NOTHING from the first century.
Don't look at the New Testament texts in isolation. Context, again, is critical.
I'd suggest you look into the Letters of Clement, late 1st Century and early 2nd, written from Rome, letters to the church at Corinth. These provide a comparative reference point in focus, coming on the heels of the texts that later became the canon of the New Testament, and in a similar style. There were perhaps two or three Roman Church elders by the name of Clement.
The Didache is an early discipleship tool (catechism, possibly for the First Century) for new believers that provides a comparative style and content.
In broader context, I am not sure of the point or relevance of your comment. When a particular text dates back to is not related to the primary social and cultural contexts of the era, which is where I have focused. Also I would suggest the simplistic theory of origin compromises an investigation of the possible development of the text in ways that might be different from our modern era.
It seems naïve at best to think of Matthew or Luke just one day sitting down and writing a book, like we think of an independent author writing a book today. It was not that kind of situation. Books were not in focus. (First of all they were scrolls mostly, though "codexes," early versions of books, with pages sewn together on one side, were in use in the Greek world in the 1st century.)
The ordinary citizen did not just go out to a bookstore and buy whatever he wanted. Assumptions about literacy and writing from our situation are unique in human history and invalid for that Roman era.
Writing was only for the very elite. Even fewer actually had a collection. I'd suggest investigating this from specialists who have focused their life and studies on the era. I cite some in my articles.
Greek and Latin
Greek was the only language I have seen any reference to as a "literary" language in that era. Roman authors began using Latin in their formal writings, like annals and histories only toward the end of the 1st century. I'd suggest looking into authorities on this era.
It seems reasonable that the annals of Julius Caesar in the conquest of Gaul, were written in Latin. It is an early example of Latin prose writing in an era when Roman writers commonly wrote in Greek. Caesar is not an "author" as we normally think of the term today, his style being referred to as "unadorned Latin prose" ["Gallic Wars," Wikipedia].
And we do not even know if Caesar himself actually wrote it. He might very well have dictated it orally to a scribe, who then prepared the draft and final product. Even modern writers do it that way!
And on the actual battlefield, Greek was the language used in operations. Julius Caesar's famous phrase "The die is cast," for instance. "The Latin is a translation; Caesar actually spoke this in Greek, as reported by Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 60.2.9:
'He [Caesar] declared in Greek with loud voice to those who were present ‘Let the die be cast’ and led the army across.' ["Julius Caesar," Wikiquote]"
Greek remained the preferred formal medium inteh Roman Empire for centuries. Even as the second century CE advanced, even Latin Emperors and philosophers preferred to write in Greek, even for their own private reflections. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, wrote in Greek, even though his writings were written for his own personal reflection, and not for publication:
"Marcus went to join his legions on the Danube ... and consoled his somewhat melancholy life there by writing a series of reflections which he called simply To Himself. These are now known as his Meditations, and they reveal a mind of great humanity and natural humility, formed in the Stoic tradition, which has long been admired in the Christian world"[Aurelius Marcus, trans Martin Hammond, Meditations (London: Penguin, 2006)], p i;
"He wrote in Greek because in the second century AD Greek was still the language of philosophy, read, written, and spoken with facility by most educated Romans. Marcus' Greek – lively, taut, spare, sometimes crabbed – is both a joy and a challenge to the translator"[Ibid, p viii].
So what do we mean by "wrote" or "authored?" The modern concept of individual production and intellectual rights of private ownership did not exist. These modern concepts are a great shift from the communal dynamics of story and precept in relational societies.
The Gospels reflect this communal composition and ownership. I'd suggest exploration along these lines in the authorities of the era and Gospel interpreters. "Compiler" might be a more accurate word for the time. Most formal Roman "authors" seem to have dictated their texts aloud to scribes. Check it out.
Further, the scribes were commonly Greeks, who also served as the tutors for Roman families. They seem to have educated their "masters" in Greek, to read and write in Greek, and we know Greek was the language of common interaction and of administration for the Roman Empire.
Even if the very first time these events were written down, they were written in Greek, that when they were eventually written in Aramaic, because of the ORAL Aramaic tradition, the written Aramaic was still accurate.
Well, probably, but what does that tell us? Yes, I think the likely widely-circulated oral Aramaic forms of the Torah Targum readings (at least selections) and Jesus' core teachings would have been somewhat of a surety, correction or warranty of the integrity and accuracy of the early written Aramaic versions.
But what implication would you have us conclude from this? We would determine the accuracy by comparing a copy/translation with the original, wouldn't we?
When they are translated into English, we assume the English is accurate too. The transmission from one language to another is not directly related to the reliability of the content. Of course, you can have good translations and bad translations, but that is a different matter from the original language of composition.
A translator does not determine what the orignal text was - he translates what is there. A translator attempts to make sense of the original text in the target language in light of the worldview assumptions of that target language's culture. This can become an exacting task for the translator, who must determine what the original text meant and how it can best be stated so as to elicit the closest understanding possible in the target worldview and culture.
Written and Oral
Why is there any necessary connection between oral Greek, written Greek, oral Aramaic and written Aramaic in determining reliability? I see here a modern reductive rationalist focus on writing as the "real" meaning or the true source. As though the word of God orally presented did not carry the same weight. Illiterate people and cultures have never had trouble hearing God's word.
We don't know of Jesus ever writing down anything, though he seems to have been literate. There seems no reason to question the story that he read from the scroll in the synagogue (it would have been Hebrew, and the discussion in Aramaic). He proclaimed the word of God to the people in the medium they knew.
As the prophets before him had. They did not read it as private, silent meditation in a devotional book. They heard it proclaimed aloud in normal human speech, out in the open public – like the other important things in their life. Check the books of the prophets.
Accuracy would be more related to faithfulness to the original, wouldn't it? And why would we think there was only one oral version? This was real life, it was the real word of God to real, living people. It would be taken up and accepted and propagated by the people as any principle or truth that grabbed their psyche and enriched their lives.
A major problem I still see here is the assumption that the first or the "real" origin is the writing. They were not writing books. They were multilingual people, the writing part was incidental in that culture. Look into the background of the situation. Palestine and especially Galilee was a dynamic and multicultural place.
This is a major theme in the Gospels. The three Synoptic Gospels show that Jesus, while a Messiah of the Jews, was bringing God's universal kingdom. This would account for the emphasis on his encounters with non-Jews in Galilee or neighboring Greek areas. The details of many encounters further seem to represent actual individuals and communities that Jesus could have or would have encountered there.
All authorities from the era attest that the interaction between these disparate groups would have been Greek at the intercultural level of commerce and the formal level of business and government. Aramaic was the vibrant common language, also used in local settings and we see some archaeological attestation to its popular use. I'd suggest you be very cautious about conclusions at the level of literature.
Literature, as the word is used in recent western history, was not a factor in the society or culture overall. Herodotus and Homer were compilers of the traditional myths (stories) of the people that conveyed their history (prehistory or tradition, to distinguish from the use of the term "history" today). Think of them as written down Oral Tradition, in Story Symbol form.
Even Plato's philosophical treatises were written as dramatic dialogue for oral production. Plato used drama and alelgory, in the same style as the classic Greek drama and rhetorical works. They were oral productions performed for groups public or private.
"Mythos" is the Greek word for story. Stories were the manner of preserving and conveying key relational truths, not abstracted facts and linear categories of information. Most of the world's cultures are still this way.
Honoring the Text
Look further into the setting. This is my concern, that we honor the integrity of the texts, which entails the setting out of which they arose and to which they spoke. There is a whole human relational dynamic of community underlying this. And it was multicultural, multilingual.
If the disciples were referred to in Acts as "unschooled fishermen", and their native language was Aramaic as far as writing was concerned, how could they write in Greek to the standard we observe.
Indications are that they were bilingual. And the variety of Greek skill found in the New Testament texts attests to a range of education and literacy, though an "author" did not have to be literate himself, in the modern sense. The process of getting something on to a scroll does not have to match the modern concept and procedure of authorship. That era had its own processes.
It is commonly acknowledged that Matthew is the most Jewish or Aramaic of the Gospels. That, in itself, does not tell us anything definitive. There are extensive discussions on this among scholars who have spent their lives studying this topic and theme.
Note again that my focus has been the multi-cultural and multi-lingual character of the region and the era. This provides context and perspectives for any details we may discover or infer.
Each writing (scroll or “book”) of the New Testament collection needs to be considered on its own, each with its own integrity and internal characteristics and similarity of content or perspective with other New Testament writings, or likewise the differences.
Most of the New Testament documents were written to Hellenistic groups whom we would not expect to know Aramaic. Like all the Pauline letters, they were written to and for non-Aramaic-speaking areas.
Apparently at least two of the Gospels, Luke and John, use good, idiomatic Greek. The Fourth Gospel speaks primarily to a Jewish community, since the main running theme is the expulsion of the followers of Jesus from the synagogue by those Jews who do not follow Jesus.
This was obviously a Jewish Greek setting. I defer here to authorities who have spent their lives studying these texts and their cultural contexts.
Synagogue, not Temple
Note also an overlooked factor. The Temple was not even the primary focus for most Hellenistic Jews, according to the New Testament and secular sources of the era. You note the annual Passover was the primary international focus, with visitors from all over the Empire. But Passover was not directly related to the Temple.
The Passover was a broad communal event over more than a month. (Note there are large numbers of international Jews still there at Pentecost, 50 days later.) They spent most of their lives in the Greco-Roman world and apparently focused their study and worship life around the home and the synagogue. And for centuries there had been a second Temple in Upper Egypt.
You might want to look into those dynamics.
We should be careful not to read into this more than it is saying. Step back and look at the situation in Acts 4:13. Note who is saying this.
This is not an educational testing board that is evaluating the educational standards of these individuals. This is equivalent to sophisticated urban elites looking down their noses and referring to "Those Hillbillies" or "Those hicks" from other parts.
How did they know who these guys were? It's not like these followers of Jesus were famous at the highest levels! They were probably judging by their accents, noted as Galilean. One whole strong theme all through this is the rabble-rousing Galileans that always cause trouble when they come south.
So these Judean authorities are putting them down, not evaluating their education! "How can these country bumpkins have such an impact?" This sparse, off hand comment tells us nothing about whether or not they could write, or speak, Greek.
From Thought to Script
As far as the "writing" goes, as I mentioned above, it is too easy to impose a modern idea of authorship or composition on these works and their writers. Why did these particular fisher followers of Jesus have to even be the ones who physically "wrote" the books attributed to them? How do you know what methods were used to get the Greek words to animal skin?
Couldn't they have told their stories, in whatever language, maybe Aramaic, and someone wrote their words in Greek? Have you ever seen sessions of multi-lingual dictation or composition? I have participated in group work sessions or public meetings in 3 or more languages, which resulted in minutes and reports in two or more languages! I have been the scribe for not a few of these!
Few monolingual, monocultural North Americans can envision such, but this would be the context and pattern we would expect for the era. In practical reality, these "authors" did not have to be educated in good Greek, or even fluent in writing skills in even rough Greek.
A scribe could have done the final editing or composing. We don't know. The focus is on the message, and its effect, not on the single hand that wrote the symbols on the skin. And this was received, honored, transmitted and preserved by the early church. What we know is we have a set of consistent, highly reliable texts, confirmed and affirmed by historical support and textual analysis.
We don't need to impose our modern concepts of method upon these ancient holy texts, as though what our society knows and expects is the only way it could be.
From an objective point of view, does "unschooled" mean "illiterate?" Probably not, since it seems that the Jews were among the most literate people overall in a basically illiterate Empire. But what did it mean to be able to read and/or write? Not what it does today. The memory was not stunted, but rather was trained and prodigious. Literacy was a support for Orality, an extension of Orality.
These men had not gone through the elite channels to become formal authorities, and certainly would never "qualify" to be Sadducee, a social and ethnic class of elite aristocrats. Only a few may have been formally Pharisees, in terms of official "schooling," a sort of apprenticeship.
This does not tell us whether they were able to read or write, since that is not what they were talking about. Even Paul used a secretary when he "wrote" his letters to the churches (though on one or more instances, he specifically added an epilogue or greeting in his own hand. Look into the practices and procedures of the era for more dynamics on this.
What evidence is there to suggest that certain New Testament books were penned by authors OTHER THAN who they are attributed to? Obviously apart from what is written in the letters themselves.
I have not focused much on authorship, which, from a modern historical and scientific point of view, would be mostly speculation. My concern is to honor the integrity of the writings and the social situation in which they developed.
And once we think we know an author, what does that tell us about the content of the texts? The content may give us clues about the author, but the content is the reference point.
This is all complicated further by the fact that these modern discussions about "authorship" ignore the communal aspect of texts. I'd suggest looking into the cultural and social dynamic in ancient societies. The same group dynamic is still the norm among most peoples and societies of the modern world.
They were not developed in or for our era, but arose out of that dynamic context and were directed to people of that era. Our speculation is secondary to what the texts actually say. We can try to understand the social situation of that era, but cannot assume the situation is like ours today.
Your question assumes a process of authorship that we are now familiar with in the recent western culture of books. That one person sits down and works out his text, maybe with reference to sources he quotes or references. He might have an editor but "authorship" is considered a proprietary role and the product is his "property."
You don't find that to be the dynamic in the first century, from anything I have found. The whole worldview and concept of knowledge was different and I suggest you probe that aspect of the culture of that era. The communal, relational concept prevailed. This is still the prevailing worldview in relational, communal cultures today.
Such cultures are commonly called Concrete-Relational or Oral-Relational. They make up the majority of the world's cultures today, though the linear analytical focus and worldview of western materialism and science is growing.
In line with my attempt to refocus us on the situation at the time, and to avoid imposing foreign expectations from our time and culture, I would suggest we make a distinction between what is actually claimed in any of the writings and what some later persons claimed. We also have only the testimonies that have survived. We don't know what other discussions or attestations might have been made.
We do know for a fact that hundreds if not thousands of ancient texts were destroyed in fires or other processes, so we have an incomplete picture. I find it important to distinguish who our source or authority is, and very critically, to be careful what the texts actually claim.
These texts must be understood in their own era, and not as though the texts were written in our society with the literate linear logic of the modern rationalist world. It was a different world, and its products are not obligated to meet our expectations or answer our questions.
The suggestions of who wrote certain books arises out of tradition. My concern has been the internal testimony of the writings themselves, and an attempt to see them in their own context, not assuming a world like ours today.
In summary, the important questions and factors here are:
1. First of all, who "attributed" a certain scroll to a certain person as writer? We have one authority, quoted by 2 or 3 other contemporary commentators. Look into that. It appears that for many texts of the New Testament, they did not focus on who wrote, or compiled, the final scrolls that were available. That is our concern, not theirs. So it becomes speculation, which may be somewhat idle and pedantic, but can become downright malicious.
2. Moderns focus on their systems and their analysis and their bits of information. Traditional relational cultures (the majority of today's human cultures and worldviews) did and still do focus on the interaction, purpose and intent, the relational moral concerns, not mental abstract concerns. (In contrast, contemporary western postmoderns,or postliterates, have a more relational, dynamic and communcal mindset than the asbstract, linear rationalism of the modern worldview.)
3. Assumptions will largely determine what conclusions you come to, especially if you are unaware or uncritical of your assumptions. It was not a literate world, so we need to be careful about applying analysis or factors appropriate to a literate world to texts arising out of that situation.
4. I'd suggest you look into this cultural dynamic for perspectives on who wrote the Gospels. As you consider the letters and tracts of the New Testament, keep in mind that the practices of the day also indicate that dedicatory statements were made by attributing authorship. I suggest referencing those who specialize in this study.
5. What is meant by "authorship"? "Authorship" as we think of it was not the prevailing focus. In a situation where about 10% of the people overall were literate, very few could be expected to reference anything in writing. Writings were honored and preserved and special individuals and groups were given responsibility for caring for these extremely expensive and precious items. They were read aloud in public gatherings, as Paul's letters also indicate his were.
6. It was not a book-oriented culture such as the western world has known only very recently in its long history. The context is critical to meaning.
As the prophets proclaimed: "This is what Yahweh SAYS." Not "what he told me to write." It was not a "writing" culture; it was a "speaking" culture. Though there are one or two instances where writing is mentioned, a messenger proclaims the oral word of God to the person or people to whom it is directed.
You state that Caesarea was an important Jewish centre. If this is the case, then is it a huge leap to suggest that when writing about the Jewish religion, Jews from Jerusalem would write to Jews in Caesarea in the Jewish language of Aramaic? In the same way that the 'political' language was Greek, why not the 'religious' language as Aramaic?
Let's clarify the context here. There were Jews living in this Roman city (named after Julius Caesar, of course) before the fall of Jerusalem. In this sense the city was an important Jewish center. It was a seaport, for one thing. Caesarea became a leading Jewish center later in the Roman era, after the destruction of Jerusalem, as I understand the situation. Check out the history and social composition from authorities on that era. Caesarea was a Greco-Roman town in the 1st century, but became an important Jewish center in the late 1st century and 2nd century.
But how does that tell you anything definitive about the Aramaic or Greek? Are you referring to any specific letters or other documents? None come to mind. "What if" does not help us much, does it?
A Common (Koine) Tongue
If anything, I would expect Greek to continue to be the language, as this was a Roman town, and the leaders of the Jews were fluent in Greek (if they dealt at all with the Roman authorities). Why would Jews in wherever not write in Greek to other Jews, since they had no common language.
Remember all the Jews in the Seleucid-Persian Empire? They were descendants of the original Exile, who never went back to Judea. More people stayed in the Persian (Babylonian) Empire than returned in the Return and Restoration. These people were under Greek rule, like Palestine and the Mediterranean shores. Greek was the contact language between these area. So Jews in the east and Jews in Judea would have naturally used Greek as the medium of exchange.
Back to your speculation, it may be that all the later leaders and scholars in Caesarea were Palestinians or Judean in origin. Do you now that? Lacking and evidence to weigh into the balance, the pattern of Greek usage in Roman contexts would prevail.
Perhaps they did write to each other in Aramaic. We don't have examples, though, do we? But if so, how does that inform us as to the original form of the documents that became the New Testament?
But educated levels of exchange appear to have favored Greek language, not any regional or tribal language, not even Latin. This had been the case for centuries, and Rome just followed and encouraged the policy. Greek was the language that unified the Empire.
Further, it was not the Caesarean Jewish leaders that wrote the Gospels and the letters to the new Messianic congregations.
We simply have no evidence I am aware of to indicate the formal level of Aramaic or the preferred language of the Caesarean Jewish scholars and leaders after the destruction of the Temple. We do know that the AD 90 conference of Jamnia (Jabneh), a meeting of rabbinical laeaders, commissioned a new Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, apparently to correct some passages they thought were being misused by messianic followers of Jesus.
We know that the "Targums" were the gradual collection of Aramaic "glosses" or explanations of the Hebrew textual readings in the synagogues. This was apparently already going on in Jesus' day. We assume his discussion/proclamation in the synagogue, for instance, would have been in Aramaic, after reading either the Hebrew passage or its Aramaic gloss/translation for the oral presentation.
I don't see any reason to think the Jewish scholars or leaders in Caesarea would have used Aramaic. But I'm not sure why that question comes up in the context here. What exactly would that lead us to conclude about the broader questions of the era? How would that help us in determining the original question of the language used in the New Testament documents?
There is little indication that I am aware of on how exactly Aramaic was used. It seems an artificial distinction to say Greek was political (though it was the language of administration, as well as commerce and inter-ethnic communication) and Aramaic was used for religious purposes.
This sounds like a modern attempt to categorize everything into neat little analytical boxes required for the modern rationalist linear thinking, which is alien to the dynamic situation.
In fact, it seems to me we have little evidence of any interaction at the level you are addressing in this question. There may be some authority, though, who has addressed that, but I have not seen anything on it. In the sense you use the term, it appears the "religious" language was Hebrew, not Aramaic.
The ancient texts were still copied, conveyed and read in Hebrew, though most people could not understand Hebrew as a dynamic language. The Hebrew text was considered the origin or authority; the Aramaic interpretation was the point of learning. For the majority of Jews, living in Greek areas of the world, they would apparently not commonly learn Aramaic, but would use the Greek Bible (the Hebrew Scriptures of the time, the individual scrolls referred to jointly as the Septuagint).
One thing is clear, there were many more Jews with Greek as a native language than Aramaic. More Jews lived outside Judea and Galilee than lived in those Palestinian territories. A majority had remained in the Chaldean Empire when the restoration occurred under Ezra and Nehemiah.
A large colony of Judeans had moved to Egypt at the time of the Chaldean devastation and first exile. Most remained there. Another great number migrated to Alexandria at the invitation of King Ptolemy. Alexandria had a large, prominent Jewish population Jews at the time of Jesus. This is where the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek.
Another large colony had moved an masse centuries before to Upper Egypt and had built a Temple at Elephantine near Thebes. This continued in the early Christian era if I recall correctly. They may have used Egyptian, being that far inland, but likely in the three centuries of Greek rule.
Even if it was not their mother tongue, with Thebes being one of the royal centers of the Pharaohs, these Jews in Elephantine likely also were fluent in Greek, which remained the language of the Ptolemy dynasty even as they accepted the religious deity role of the Pharaoh. These Theban Jews did not likely speak Aramaic, at any rate, since they moved there before Aramaic became the language of the Exile Judeans in Babylon and after.
Hebrew Usage in the First Century
How to Learn a Language and a Culture
How Words Develop Multiple Meanings: How Word Meanings are Negotiated
Jesus and the Hebrew Language
Josephus and Aramaic Primacy: The Language and Literacy Culture of First Century AD
Orality: Articles on Concepts and Characteristics of Orality and Literacy
Jesus' Knowledge of Greek: The Role of Language and Motif in the Fourth Gospel Narratives
The Language Jesus Used
More Oral than We Knew: The Oral Nature of the Gospels
A New Testament Window into First Century Jewish Literature
The Oral Greek Character of Paul's Writings
Orality and the Post-Literate West
Orality in Christian Mission
Orality, Literacy and the Bible
Primacy and Possibility: Problems Facing Aramaic Primacy Claims
(Cultural Settings for Greek and Aramaic as Literary Languages in the First Century)
Stories and Storytelling: Reclaiming our Oral Heritage
Storytelling for Learning and Teaching
That Abominable Greek?
Thoughts on Aramaic Primacy: Was the New Testament first Written in Aramaic?
What Was Koine Greek?
When Paul Studied with Gamaliel
View Orality and Post-Literate Culture, my Power Point Presentation on this topic
View Oral and Literate — Contrast of Oral and Literate Perspectives
Related on the Internet:
Antiquities of the Jews 20,11.2
The Didache – Roberts Translation
Exile — Jewish Virtual Library
"Gallic Wars," Wikipedia
The Greek History of the Middle East from 330 BCE. Brief Historical Background To The New Testament
Hellenistic Influences on the Hasmoneans (Macabees)
Immortal Stories From Orality To Literacy
"[Quotes of] Julius Caesar," Wikiquote
The "Little Apocalypse" in the Gospels
Originally written as a reply to an email query July 07, 2011
Developed over some months into an article
Last developed September 2011
Final article posted 2 October 2011
Last revised 19 February 2013
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.