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Original Gospel: Greek or Aramaic?

Discussion in 'Christianity DIR' started by TheSounding, Sep 11, 2015.

  1. TheSounding

    TheSounding village idiot

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    If the lingua franca of the Levant at the time of Jesus was Aramaic then why were the first manuscripts written in Greek?

    Although Greek might have been spoken among the Levantine upper-class since the conquests of Alexander the great, it makes sense to assume that Aramaic remained the cultural language up until the time of Jesus. For example, the Arabization of the Levant did not fully supplant Aramaic as the cultural language for roughly six centuries, and that is considering Arabic and Aramaic are both Semitic languages with common ancestry.

    Also, it seems reasonable that the initial manuscripts were written in Aramaic in order to capture the broader region of the Levant, the most direct channel for dissemination. And it seems unreasonable that first generation disciples, whose native language was Aramaic, would neglect the Levantine Aramaic-speaking regions in favor of Greek-speaking regions of the Roman Empire.

    If anything was written down within the first few decades after Jesus it makes sense that it was written in the language of the common person, so if read aloud in gatherings people could understand it. Greek would naturally follow in the succeeding decades as Roman occupation meant the circulation of soldiers and government officials throughout the Levant and the Empire. But in the beginning was Aramaic.

    What proof is there to suggest one over the other?
     
  2. Nietzsche

    Nietzsche The Last Prussian
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    The over-whelming majority of the initial Apostles were Greek. They were also hoping to reach a wider audience. And Aramaic was not the Lingua Francia in the Levant. It was, depending on location, Greek or Latin. They were trade-languages. If you wanted to do any kind of business it would help tremendously to know atleast a little of both.
     
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  3. Godobeyer

    Godobeyer the word "Islam" means "submission" to God
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    does all Christians agree one this ?

    http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/was-matthews-gospel-first-written-in-aramaic-or-hebrew
     
  4. Godobeyer

    Godobeyer the word "Islam" means "submission" to God
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    I though Jesus (pbuh) origin language are Aramaic and Hebrew , not Greek ?
     
  5. Rival

    Rival Divine Adoratrice of Amun
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    As far as I know Hebrew wasn't widely spoken in first century Palestine.
     
  6. LegionOnomaMoi

    LegionOnomaMoi Veteran Member
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    The lingua franca of the Eastern Roman empire was Greek. This was due largely to Alexander's conquest, as well as the import of Greek slaves as teachers by Romans, the simplification of classical Greek as it spread, the need for a lingua franca in an empire in which some spoke Aramaic, others Coptic, others Latin, others Persian, etc. Aramaic was spoken by small number of people, although it was a native language across 1st century Judaea. Also, Hebrew continued to be spoken (contra earlier positions that it had basically died out and remained merely a language learned to read scriptures), and more importantly continued to be a central language for writing even by those who spoke Aramaic. Finally, Christianity was almost from the start a missionary religion, and even though it appears Jesus himself did little to reach out to Gentiles, Paul and others certainly did such that before the gospels were written Greek Christian texts were circulated among communities of Jews and Gentiles who didn't speak Hebrew and Greek.


    The "Jesus tradition" was certainly (at least largely) Aramaic, and the gospels reflect this. However, they do so in ways that make clear they were written initially in Greek. For example, "son of man" is a Semitism that has no real meaning in Greek, but quickly became a titular. So by the time the NT was translated into middle Aramaic (specifically Syriac), the translators couldn't simply use the Syriac for "son of man" because it would reflect a Semitism absent even by the time of the gospels. Also, there are places where the gospels transliterate Aramaic into Greek and then parenthetically translate the Aramaic. There's also the issue of Paul's letters, which predate the gospels and are in Greek. Not only do we find hints of the Jesus tradition, especially the earliest "passion" narrative, but a glimpse at the early (still really Jewish) Jesus sect and its diversity. Finally, both Paul's letters and the gospels suggest that most early Christians weren't from areas comparatively free of Hellenistic influence but rather areas with a larger gentile presence, including those Jesus seems to have avoided. In order to reach the largest audience, Greek was required, as many Jews didn't know either Hebrew or Aramaic.

    Assuming a traditional Christian perspective in which the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we can still readily see why a physician like Luke, Peter's "interpreter" (according to Papias) John Mark, the former tax collector Matthew who used to work for Caesar, and the Johannine community who wrote down the testimony they state they knew to be true all had very good reasons not to write in Aramaic or even know Aramaic. After all, not all of the NT was written by first generation Christians even according to Christian tradition.

    Which, if anything, would be Greek.

    Jesus was crucified by a Roman "governor" whom Rome had sent to gain more direct control after Herod. Jesus is said to have referred to "rendering unto Caesar", encountering a Roman officer, and speaking with Pilate himself. This suggests a significant Roman presence in a world that had already been subject to a long period of Hellenization.
     
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  7. Musing Bassist

    Musing Bassist Well-Known Member

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    Jesus and his inner circle are said to have spoken Aramaic, however Christianity itself was preached all around the Mediterranean where Greek was the lingua franca. Greek had become so entrenched even among the Jewish diaspora that the Hebrew Scriptures had already been translated into Greek (the Septuagint) centuries before Christianity emerged.

    It's no surprise nor problem therefore, that the Christian Scriptures were composed in Koine Greek.
     
    #7 Musing Bassist, Sep 11, 2015
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  8. TheSounding

    TheSounding village idiot

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    I don't know where you got the idea that Aramaic was spoken by small number of people. I've read somewhere that Aramaic was the primary language in first century Judea and various dialects we're spoken from Jerusalem to Edessa. I've also read somewhere that Aramaic was the language spoken by the Jews at the time they resettled in Judea from Babylonia, and that the original oral composition of the Torah was in the Jews' common tongue—Aramaic. It was not in Hebrew.


    And as I said above, the people of Judea spoke Aramaic. When I say people I mean the villagers, the workers in the fields and the craftsman, not the educated. I'm not talking about the upper-class that people like Paul came from, I am talking about the labor class who had no education other than what they learned from religious services. But if the common Jew in first century Judea did not speak Aramaic or Hebrew, what language did he speak?

    It's true that Rome had a strong presence in the Levant in the first century, but at the time of Jesus the Roman empire had governed for just over a half-century, not enough time for the administrative language (Latin) to be adopted by the labor class. With Greek it was different. Greek as an administrative and scholarly language was present in Judea for roughly three centuries prior to Jesus. This does not mean though the labor class spoke Greek as a first language or even at all, as most laborers we're surely uneducated and fiscally incapable of providing themselves with an education. It takes many, many centuries as I pointed out with Arabic for an administrative and scholarly language to be adopted as the common tongue. Prior to the influence of Greek, the people of the Levant were governed with Old Aramaic (replaced by Middle Aramaic around the third century) by the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and the Achaemenid empires.

    It doesn't make sense for the disciples to first evangelize in a language other than what was spoken by the communities around them. In all likelihood it was to the communities around them that they first preached to, not the Greek speaking communities, not the language of scholarship, but of the common man.
     
  9. TheSounding

    TheSounding village idiot

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    Yes, the Hebrew Scriptures had been translated into Greek centuries before Christianity, but it was not because the common Jew spoke Greek. It was the scholarly class that spoke Greek and it was FOR the scholarly class that the Hebrew was translated into Greek. It was for the sake of scholarship. In all likelihood the common Jew did not know Greek. When you are laboring from dawn till dusk in the fields you don't have much time to learn Greek.

    I am saying that it doesn't make sense for the gospel to have not been in Aramaic since it was the language of the common Jew. The one laboring in the fields spoke Aramaic and it was to people like them that the gospel was FIRST preached. When they retired from the fields and made their way into town only to see a crowd gathered around a speaker preaching the gospel, that speaker would not be speaking Greek but rather Aramaic, something which the towns people could understand. Whether it was an oral tradition or written down, the idea that the initial years of evangelizing were conducted in Greek and not Aramaic doesn't make sense.
     
  10. LegionOnomaMoi

    LegionOnomaMoi Veteran Member
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    Classics, Biblical studies, Near-Eastern studies, historical linguistics, etc. In particular collections or studies on extant Aramaic texts, fragments, inscriptions, etc. (e.g.,
    Rüterswörden, U., & Schwiderski, D. (2011). Die alt-und reichsaramäischen Inschriften, Band 1: Konkordanz (Fontes et Subsidia ad Bibliam pertinentes 4). Walter de Gruyter). Most importantly, because people in the Roman empire speaking any Semitic language were a minority compared to those who didn't.


    Ah. We seem to have a misunderstanding rather than a disagreement. I was referring to the languages of the peoples behind the NT texts and their audiences, not simply Judaea.


    Time was that Hebrew during this time was thought to be what Latin was to the Roman Catholic church: a dead language that was merely studied. Turns out inscriptions and other evidence reveal it was still a live and spoken language. But it is true that Aramaic was far more widely spoken as a native language.


    Many of them, yes. But 1) there were various dialects of "Middle Aramaic" and a large gentile population (not to mention occupation), as well as other native languages. The entire point (and definition!) of a lingua franca is the language used by non-native as well as native speakers as a means of communication when too many linguistic communities who need to communicate speak different native languages. Aramaic died out as a lingua franca before the Roman empire existed, and was far more restricted in its extent when it had that status (also, this was an early period of Aramaic, pre-dating Jesus by centuries).

    Isn't the important question what the common individual Christians sought to reach spoke? We have letters Paul wrote to Rome, Corinth, etc., that predate Mark. Why would a missionary religious movement deliberately restrict itself to a region that, according to its own tradition, was particularly unreceptive to Jesus' teachings (Jesus' family thought him mad, the "A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home" line, etc.)?

    And the Greek empire had ruled for far longer, such that a story to legitimize the authenticity of the LXX (whence comes the name) arose before Jesus was born, leaders of the Jewish revolt like Josephus spoke and wrote in Greek, and certain Jewish texts are known to us only in Greek. Recall that Latin wasn't the lingua franca here, and that official Roman documents, graffiti, etc., were in Greek.


    True. But a lingua franca is all about secondary languages. Otherwise it isn't a lingua franca.

    This is perhaps overly simplistic. For example, the reason English is half a romance language isn't just due to the Norman conquest. It's because of the conquest and the subsequent retreat of French nobility from England. Before that, the nobles spoke (Old) French and the peasants spoke (Late Old) English. Bilinguals could handle the necessary interactions. But once this strict split started to breakdown, we see an enormous increase in romance vocabulary as well as the emergence of Middle English. Arabic became a dominant spoken and written language extremely quickly.
    In this situation, we're dealing with a community that had been exiled and even after the Persian conquest many Jews remained in the diaspora. The "postal service" (interestingly enough, even in Jesus' day there were standard sizes of "paper" one bought for letters) and most of the scribal community used Greek, and in order to deal with interactions with non-Semitic peoples (whether Greek-speaking Greeks or Romans or other conquered peoples) Greek was necessary. This doesn't mean Jesus spoke Greek (certainly not as a first language), but again we aren't talking about even the native languages of the authors of NT texts. Rather, the issue is what language they wrote in.

    Prior to the influence of Greek, the people of the Levant were governed with Old Aramaic (replaced by Middle Aramaic around the third century) by the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and the Achaemenid empires.

    In most areas in Judaea and clearly in most areas in which evangelists like Paul preached, Greek was either spoken widely as a primarily secondary language while Aramaic was the primary, or another language was primary, or Greek was primary. Or, looking at it from a more Christian perspective, one might say that Jesus already covered the communities around him, and so the early Christians already formed the community of Aramaic speaking residents of the communities you refer to, and as evangelists they went elsewhere.
     
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  11. LegionOnomaMoi

    LegionOnomaMoi Veteran Member
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    You're saying that the "scholarly [Jewish] class" couldn't read Hebrew?

    The common individual couldn't read either. Which means that it doesn't matter so much what was spoken but what could be read to a community by one who was able to read.

    Or to learn to read.

    Think of it this way. The "oral torah" existed before Jesus, but wasn't written down in the form of the Mishnah until c. 200 CE. That's the norm: a wide separation between oral history and its literary composition. However, sociopolitical factors as well as the missionary nature of early Christianity created an anomaly. If the early Christians were concerned with preaching to those in their nearby communities who spoke Aramaic, they wouldn't have written the gospels. And, in fact, the gospels were written only when it became necessary to provide what was cross-culturally regarded as an untrustworthy medium (compared to the preferred medium: oral transmission). Hence even in the 2nd century we have Papias (a first and second century Christian) telling us he preferred to hear from the disciples of the disciples rather than read (and, fyi, he wrote in Greek). Aramaic was fine for orality. For a missionary religion expanding outside of rural Judaea, it was wholly unsuitable.
     
  12. TheSounding

    TheSounding village idiot

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    No. I'm saying that the scholarly class could read Hebrew but for the sake of scholarship they translated it into Greek.

    I agree with you that most people could not read. I read a figure that only 10% or so could read. That is not in question. What is in question is whether or not the community at large would understand Greek when it was read to them. If the common man could not speak Greek it doesn't matter if it was read to him, he would not understand it. I am saying that the common man of the time in that region spoke Aramaic, and it was for the common man that the gospel was spread.

    Like I said above, a dude comes out of the field into town and he hears a preacher speaking Greek. He doesn't know what the heck he is saying and so he moves along. Another dude comes out of the field into town and he hears her preacher speaking Aramaic. He knows what the heck he is saying and so he listens. The whole point of what I am saying is not that Greek was not practical at large but that it was impractical at home, in the fields. I would argue the man in the fields knew the gospel before it was preached in Rome, Athens or even Tarsus, that is because he was in the presence of nascent Christianity.
     
  13. LegionOnomaMoi

    LegionOnomaMoi Veteran Member
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    Why would they, and in particular if this were the reason, why the namesake (LXX)?

    To simplify things and keep within the bounds of the Christian DIR, consider the capacity of a literate individual to read Greek (the lingua franca) but speak Aramaic: supposing you are correct about Aramaic and the early Christians, this doesn't negate the incredibly valuable ability to read Greek, and reading Greek doesn't mean rendering the "gospel" (good news) into Greek.

    1) Most converts after Jesus was crucified were not Jewish.
    2) It's possible to parse a text in X language but read it out loud in Y language.

    And the region that spoke Aramaic predates the NT. Paul shows this.
     
  14. TheSounding

    TheSounding village idiot

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    I would assume the Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek for the same reason that scholars nowadays publish their works in English, so they can connect with other scholars and collaborate.

     
  15. TheSounding

    TheSounding village idiot

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    Good point. With this thread I want to explore certain theories, like Q, which support/discredit the idea of an Aramaic original as opposed to Greek. I do think the gospel was first written in Greek and later in Aramaic, however, considering Semitic culture and its practice of oral tradition I think there is a real possibility of an oral Aramaic gospel which predates the written Greek gospels. I don't know too much about this but I've read about some theories. I was hoping that someone here could offer some scholarly insights into this topic. I've read the consensus among scholars is that the gospels were originally in Greek and not Aramaic. I accept this for the most part, though I doubt whether or not there is some bias to Greek being that most are western scholars.
     
  16. LegionOnomaMoi

    LegionOnomaMoi Veteran Member
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    They don't. I actually have a somewhat unique background here, as I have a background in linguistics, classics, history, etc., but my field is in physics and neuroscience. In the sciences, you're right: scholars use English. Why? Because it's the lingua franca: most scientists are familiar with English even though it isn't their native language, and the dynamics of scientific discourse aren't the same as in classics, biblical studies, etc. (where you MUST learn several other languages). As in antiquity, English here is used not because most scientists are native speakers but because it is the most widely known language and the best language to use to ensure that one's publication reaches the widest audience.

    Because other scholars don't speak their language. Just as other would-be Christians didn't speak Aramaic.
     
  17. Nietzsche

    Nietzsche The Last Prussian
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    Jesus's native tongue was undoubtedly Aramaic, and given how he could quote the Hebrew scriptures, he also likely knew Hebrew. But during his wanderings around the Levant, it is most likely that he would've largely used Greek and in some cases Latin, simply because they were the most common languages. Not the most common native languages, but the most common languages everyone was likely to know. Think of it like going to Singapore. Everyone there speaks a Malayasian language...but they also have at least minimal proficiency in English, because of the importance English has in our era. In the time(and area) of the Nazarene, that language would be Greek & Latin.
     
  18. Nietzsche

    Nietzsche The Last Prussian
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    Can I just say how nice it is to have someone to type up everything I want to say, but am far too lazy to do so? While at the same time delivering it in a much superior form because I start getting frustrated and then it devolves into a ramble on how sad it is that stuff like this isn't ****ing common knowledge..
     
  19. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    May I ask why this is in the Christianity DIR?
     
  20. TheSounding

    TheSounding village idiot

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    I don't know. I guess some idiot didn't read how DIR is supposed to work. Can we get an admin on this?
     
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