Did Jesus Speak Greek?

didjesusspeakDid Jesus speak Greek?

In a recent posting about the languages used in Eretz Israel at the time of Jesus: Did Jesus speak Greek, it is argued that Greek was much more in use in the first century AD than usually argued, and that the possibility that Jesus knew some Greek should be reconsidered. His conclusion to the question posed in the headline is: “Can we know for sure that Jesus spoke Greek? No. Is it reasonable to assume that he could speak Greek and did upon occasion? Yes, I believe so. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the variations in the Gospels among the sayings of Jesus reflect that fact that he said more or less the same things in Aramaic, Hebrew, and/or Greek.”

See then the more and even better argued article by G. Scott Gleaves, with the same title: Did Jesus speak Greek?, to be found here. His conclusion runs thus: “The “growing mass of evidence” has now become a convincing witness to the wide use of Greek in Palestine even among the members of the inner circle of disciples who followed Jesus.”

Then there is a book out by the very same author dealing with this question:

G. Scott Gleaves, Did Jesus Speak Greek?: The Emerging Evidence of Greek Dominance in First-Century Palestine. Pickwick Publications, 2015.  240 pp. (Also available in Kindle version)

G. Scott Gleaves is the Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Ministry of the V. P. Black College of Biblical Studies and Kearley Graduate School of Theology at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama.

The linguistic situation of first-century Judaea

In a posting on his Blog on Sept 7, Larry Hurtado posted some comments that I would like to quote in extenso here:

On Linguistic and Textual Complexity in First-Century Christianity

September 7, 2015

In responding to an excellent paper at the British New Testament Conference held here (3-5 September), I recalled the need to take account of the linguistic situation of first-century Judaea.  We are accustomed to refer to the everyday use of Aramaic as the principal native language of the time, but we should also note that, especially in urban centres such as Jerusalem, we’re really dealing with a rather heavily bi-lingual setting.  It is evident that Greek was (and for a long time had been) used quite a good deal, and that for many Jews Greek was their first language.  This is reflected in the portrayal of the Jerusalem church in Acts of the Apostles, with a strong contingent of Greek-speaking Jews alongside the Aramaic-speaking Jews making up the church.

These Greek-speaking Jews had likely relocated to Jerusalem from their birthplaces in various Diaspora locations, where they had grown up with Greek as their primary language.  The now-famous Theodotus Inscription reflects this.  It is a dedicatory inscription for a synagogue established in first-century Jerusalem for Greek-speaking Jews from the Diaspora.

Similarly, especially in light of the biblical manuscript finds in the Judaean desert (e.g., Qumran), we now know that the text of biblical (“Old Testament”) writings was more diverse than some earlier generations of scholars realized.  The familiar form of the Hebrew text (the “Masoretic” text) is attested, but so are other variant-forms, including Hebrew texts that seem to form the basis for some of the distinctive features of the Greek translation (sometimes referred to as the “Septuagint”).

All this means that earlier suppositions that a term or concept derived from Greek must reflect a secondary, later, perhaps Gentile circle of early Christianity are now shown to be simplistic.  If the earliest circle of Jerusalem-based believers included both Greek-speaking and Aramaic-speaking people engaged in active cooperation and fellowship, then the development of earliest beliefs, and the activity of earliest scriptural exegesis among the young Jesus-movement could well have drawn in terms and concepts from both languages . . . from the outset.  Moreover, the influences could well have gone in both directions, for we should not presume that in the Jerusalem church of that day Greek-speaking Jews deferred to Aramaic-speakers.  Instead, there was likely a very lively sharing of insights and discoveries.

And, given the textual diversity of that time as well, we should not imagine that their textual resources were confined to what we know as the Masoretic and Septuagint forms.  There was diversity in the text of the Hebrew biblical writings, and also some diversity in the text of the Greek translation of these writings. And any/all forms were likely regarded as “scripture,” giving a wealth of textual resources on which to draw as earliest Jesus-followers sought to understand their experiences and sought to frame ways to articulate and justify their beliefs.


He follows up this post with a few comments on Sept 11: click here.

The Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting

The Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (JJMJS), is freely available online from Oct 20. JJMJS is a new interdisciplinary peer-reviewed online journal, published in cooperation with Eisenbrauns.

The purpose of the Journal is stated thus by the editors:

The purpose of the journal is, then,  to publish research on any topic that directly addresses or has implications for the understanding of Judaism and the Jesus movement from the first to the seventh century. We welcome the submission of studies within any of the following fields: Christian origins, New Testament studies, early Jewish studies including Philo and Josephus, the Dead Sea scrolls, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, rabbinic studies, patristics, history of ancient Christianity, reception history, and archaeology. Since methodological diversity is an important factor in interdisciplinary research, we encourage authors to apply any type of methodology that is effective for the task at hand, including but not limited to literary, rhetorical, linguistic, socio-historical, intellectual-historical, social-scientific, and archaeological approaches.

The editors are: Prof. Torleif Elgvin (NLA University College, Oslo), Prof. Paula Fredriksen (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Dr. Anders Runesson (McMaster University) and Dr. Alexei Sivertsev (DePaul University).
The first issue is available by going here.

Jews or Judeans?

For some time there has been a discussion in scholarly circles and journals about how to translate the Greek term ioudaios/ioudaioi. Tradionally it has been translated Jew/Jews, but in some recent studies the translation Judean/-s have been suggested as more appropriate.

Now Adele Reinhartz has published a strong support for the traditional rendering. I think this should be read by many; she may very well have delivered some very strong arguments for keeping the traditional rendering, at least in most cases.

Her conclusion runs thus:

“Those who propose to turn all ioudaioi into Judeans claim that Judeans is both a more precise and a more ethical translation. I argue the opposite. The term Jew is more precise because it signals the complex type of identity that the ancient sources associate with the Greek term ioudaios and also because it allows Judean to retain its primary meaning as a geographical designation, so useful when discussing, say, the inhabitants or topography of Judea. The term is more ethical because it acknowledges the Jewish connection to this period of history and these ancient texts, and also because it opens up the possibility, indeed the necessity, of confronting the role of the New Testament in the history of anti-Semitism.

Let us restore Judean to its primary geographical meaning, as pertaining to the region of Judea and its residents. Political designations such as the Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, or the Popular Front of Judea would also be appropriate, as per one authoritative source (see Monty Python’s Life of Brian). Let us not make the mistake of defining Jews only in religious terms. Let us rather understand the term Jew as a complex identity marker that encompasses ethnic, political, cultural, genealogical, religious and other elements in proportions that vary among eras, regions of the world, and individuals. Let us not rupture the vital connection — the persistence of identity — between ancient and modern Jews. And let those who nevertheless elect to (mis)use Judean to translate all occurrences of ioudaios justify their usage beyond merely footnoting others who have done so.”

Jesus-era house found in Nazareth

Several news papers report on a supposed Jesus-era house having been digged out in Nazareth.

Israeli archaeologists said Monday that they have uncovered remains of the first dwelling in the northern city of Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of JesusThe find sheds a new light on what Nazareth might have been like in Jesus’ time, said the archaeologists, indicating that it was probably a small hamlet with about 50 houses populated by poor Jews.

You can see the ha’aretz version here: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1136599.html . I have not yet seen any more scientific reports presented on the internet, but I may have missed something.