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Larry Kelsey

Shlama Akhay,

Here's a portion of Section II of Norton's book--
Proof that very few Israelites in the time of Christ understood Greek...

Some have supposed that the language of Palestine in the time of Christ was either wholly, or in part, Greek. Professor A. Neubauer, Reader in Rabbinical Hebrew in Oxford University, published in "Studia Biblica, 1885," an essay "On the dialects spoken in Palestine in the time of Christ." He says that Isaac Voss, who died in 1689, was the first who supposed that "Greek was the only language spoken in Palestine after Alexander," the Great; that Diodati in 1767, closely followed Voss, and sought to prove that "Greek was the mother language of the Jews in the time of Jesus;" that Professor Paulus of Jena, in 1803, held that an Aramaic dialect was then the current language of the Jews in Palestine, but that Jesus and his disciples had no difficulty in using Greek in their public speeches when they found it convenient to do so; that Dr. Alexander Roberts, Professor of Humanity in St. Andrew's University, and a Member of the Company of Revisers of the N. C. {New Covenant <!-- sSmile --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/smile.gif" alt="Smile" title="Smile" /><!-- sSmile --> } Scriptures, published in 1881 contends that "Christ spoke for the most part in Greek, and only now and then in Aramaic," (pp. 39-41). Dr. Roberts published in 1859 a work in which he discussed the question relating to "The language of Palestine in the time of Christ." At page 62, he said that he thought he had "proved that Greek, and not Hebrew, was the common language of religious address in Palestine in the days of Christ and his apostles." He said, at p. 63, "Christ spoke in Greek, and his disciples did the same, when they reported what he said. Their inspiration consisted, not, as some have deemed, in being enabled to give perfect translations, either of discourses delivered, or of documents written in the Aramaic language, but in being led, under infallible guidance, to transfer to paper, for the benefit of all coming ages, those words of the Great Teacher which they had heard from his lips in the Greek tongue." Few at present are of Dr. Roberts' opinion. The question does not affect the inspiration of the Greek text, but it has a very important bearing on the value of the Peshito-Syriac books of the New Covenant.
Professor Neubauer's familiarity with the Jewish writings of that time, enables him to discuss the subject with much fulness and force. He gives the following probabilities as the result of his own examination of the subject:--That in the time of Christ, the Galileans understood their own Syriac dialect only, together with a few current expressions in ancient Hebrew; that in Jerusalem a modernised Hebrew, and a purer Syriac dialect than that of Galilee, were in use among the majority of the Jews; and that the small Jewish-Greek colony there, and a few privileged persons, spoke a Judeo-Greek jargon, (p. 50.) He says that the Syriac dialect of Galilee was "the popular language;" and that it is the language which is called in the New Covenant, "Hebrew," (John v. 2); and is called by Josephus, and in the Apocrypha, the language of the country; that "it was in this dialect that Josephus at first wrote his historical work" on the war; that the Syriac words which are recorded in the Greek New Covenant Scriptures, prove that this was "a distinct dialect in some respects" from the Syriac of the Syrians, and yet was so like it, that "Josephus says the Jews could understand the Syrians," (p. 53.)
Prof. Neubauer has no doubt that the language used by Jesus was the popular Galilean Syriac dialect, and that in the Greek text we have only a Greek translation of the words which he uttered.
He says, "Jesus, as is now generally admitted, addressed himself to his disciples and to his audience in the popular dialect. This appears, not only from the Aramaic words left in the gospels by the Greek translators, but more especially from his last words on the cross, which were spoken under circumstances of exhaustion and pain, when a person would naturally make use of his mother tongue; and from the fact that it is mentioned that he spoke to Paul in Hebrew, Acts xxvi. 14," (pp. 53, 54.) "The Jews so little knew Greek and so much less cared to know it, that Paul, in order to gain a hearing, was obliged to speak to them in their Aramaic dialects." "How could the Medes, Elamites, and Arabians have understood Peter at Pentecost, if he had spoken Greek to the 'men of Judea, and all who dwelt in Jerusalem.'" (p. 54.)
Prof. Neubauer gives many reasons for his "belief that few Jews in Palestine had a substantial knowledge of Greek." One of them is, that no events had occurred which could have made "Greek prominent in Palestine," (p. 62); that no nation ever makes so great a change in its language as to adopt "a totally different" one, unless the conqueror transports the greater part of the inhabitants, and introduces foreign colonists who are far more numerous than the remaining inhabitants; and that the Greeks had never this superiority of numbers in Palestine. (p. 64.) He says that few Greek words occur in the Jewish writings such as the Mishnah, the Targums, and the Talmud of Jerusalem; that "no apocryphal book, as far as our knowledge goes, was composed in Greek by a Palestinian Jew," (p. 65); that "so far as he can judge, all that the Jews in Palestine learned of Greek was at most a few sentences, sufficient to enable them to carry on trade, and to hold intercourse with the lower officials; and that even this minimum certainly ceased after the Maccabean victory over Antiochus Epiphanes; because it was the interest of the Asmonean Princes to keep the Jews aloof from the influence of the neighbouring dialects," (p. 66.)

Larry Kelsey

Part 2 of Section II--Proof that very few Israelites in the time of Christ understood Greek--

Professor Neubauer thinks that those Hebrews who lived in cities occupied chiefly by Greeks, "may have acquired a fair knowledge of conversational Greek, but not to such an extent as to enable them to speak it in public," (p.67.) He says that even those Jews of Egypt and Asia Minor who spoke Greek, maintained a connection with the mother-land by going to Jerusalem for feast-days; and that "we may infer that they all still spoke, more or less, their native Hebrew dialect, because no mention is made of interpreters being required for them either in the temple or outside of it," (pp. 62, 63.)
The Greek translation of the Old-Covenant Hebrew Scriptures, called the Septuagint, which was made in Egypt, existed in the time of Christ; but Prof. Neubauer says, "we may boldly state that this Greek translation of the Bible was unknown in Palestine, except to men of the schools, and perhaps a few of the Hellenistic Jews. It is said in the Talmud that when the Greek translation of the Seventy appeared, there came darkness upon the earth, and that the day was as unfortunate for Israel, as that on which the golden calf was made," (p. 67.)
The fact that the Jews at Jerusalem who spoke Greek are called Hellenists, that is, Grecians, in Acts vi. 1, and ix. 29, shows that their Greek speech made them a peculiar class quite distinct from the rest of the people.
In Antioch of Syria, though it was a celebrated Greek city, Syriac, as well as Greek, continued to be spoken. Professor Neubauer says, "Antioch and other Syrian towns would not give up Syriac." (pp. 63, 70.)
He says also, "Had Greek been generally spoken and taught, why should the Talmud record a general exception, in favour of Gamaliel; and later, in the second century....in favour of the family of Judah the saint, the redactor of the Mishnah," a decision that they "should be allowed to learn Greek, because they had to conduct negotiations with the government," (p. 67.)
The Greek Scriptures record some of the exact words used by Jesus. Many of these are words which were used only in Syriac dialects. This fact is often referred to as proof that Christ spoke in Syriac. Bishop Walton, in the 13th of his Prolegomena, sec. 19, says, "There are many purely Syriac words left in the Greek N. T., which cannot be explained without a knowledge of Syriac; as raca, Matt. v. 22; momuno, riches, vi. 24; Bar-de-yauno, son of a dove, xvi. 17; Kurbono, offering, Mark vii. 11; shebakthoni, thou has forsaken me, ('left' or 'spared' are preferred by several of the forum members <!-- sSmile --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/smile.gif" alt="Smile" title="Smile" /><!-- sSmile --> ), Matt. xxvii. 46; Benai-Regesh, sons of thunder, ('commotion' or 'tumult' are favored by some, so take no offense <!-- sBig Grin --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/happy.gif" alt="Big Grin" title="Happy" /><!-- sBig Grin --> ), Mark iii. 17; Talitho kumi, Damsel, arise, Mark v. 41; Khekal-demo, the field of blood, Acts i. 19. Many others occur in Acts v. 1; ix. 36; John i. 47; I Cor. xvi. 22,--{Moran etho, our Lord has come}; and elsewhere. Indeed Jesus, the name of our Lord, is Syriac for Savior; the name Messiah is also Syriac, meaning Anointed....The writers of the New Covenant first made known the heavenly words to the Jews, and to other surrounding populations, in this their native tongue, and afterwards wrote in the Greek language, but in doing so retain everywhere a flavour of Syriac."

Larry Kelsey

Part 3 of Section II-- Proof that very few Israelites in the time of Christ understood Greek...

Prof. Neubauer says, with reference to 1 Cor. xvi. 22, written to Greeks, "Is not the watchword, Moran etho, {our Lord has come}, which passed to Greek-speaking populations, a sufficient proof that the speech of the first Christians was Aramaic," (p. 54.) A still more decisive proof that it was so, occurs in a remark made by Luke. He, guided by God's Spirit, said that the word Akeldama, (in the Peshito Khekal-demo), the field of blood, was part of the language commonly used in Jerusalem. There is no such word as Khekal, field, in Ancient Hebrew. The only languages in which Castle, in his Lexicon of the six related languages:--- Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Samaritan, Aethiopic, and Arabic, says it occurs, are Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic. It does not occur in Gesenius's Lexicon of ancient Hebrew. When therefore Luke says--"And it became known to all the dwellers in Jerusalem, insomuch that in their language that field is called Akel-dama, that is, the field of blood," (Acts i. 19), we have infallible proof that the Syriac language was the language of Jerusalem.
Josephus is a witness of very great importance on this subject also. He was so perfectly familiar with the state of things in Palestine, in the first century, and took such care to give correct information, that his testimony has great weight. At the end of his "Antiquities, (written in Greek,) he said, "I am bold to say that no other person, whether a Jew, or of another race, would have been able, had he wished, to produce this work for Greeks, so accurately; for I am admitted by my own countrymen to excel them far in the learning of our country, and I have applied myself with diligence to obtain a knowledge of Greek literature......For among us those are not esteemed who learn the languages of many nations;.......but testimony for wisdom is given to those only who understand well our laws, and are able to explain the meaning of the sacred writings. For this reason, out of the many who have toiled at this endeavour, scarcely some two or three have succeeded well." This testimony of the most learned and reliable of unconverted Jews, is proof how few Jews had much knowledge of the Greek language.
Another proof of this, is what he relates of the time when he was a captive in the Roman army on the outside of Jerusalem. In defending himself against Apion (Book I.), he says that he presented his Greek history of the Jewish war "to the chief commanders Vespasian and Titus, and to many Romans who were in the war," and that these all bore testimony to his truthfulness. They all therefore knew Greek, and would have understood what those Jews who came out of the city, and surrendered themselves, said, if these could have spoken only a few words of Greek. But Josephus says,--"The things told by those who surrendered themselves, only I understood." It is impossible therefore that the Jews of Palestine and Jerusalem could have understood either the Redeemer or his apostles, if they had spoken to them in Greek, or in any other language but that which Josephus calls the language of his own country at that time--a dialect of the widely spread Syriac language.
The conclusion to which such a concurrence of evidence leads is that Syriac was unquestionably the language commonly spoken in Palestine in the time of Christ, and that very few Jews had a good knowledge of Greek.
This conclusion leads almost of necessity to another; namely, that there must have been some provision in writing, made by the apostles for the use of that large body of Christians who knew no language well but Syriac. Whatever was revealed as the will of God, whether written at first in Syriac or in Greek, was to be taught, not to the Jews only, nor to the Gentiles only, but to all disciples every where; that all might know it, and all be guided by it. Peter, writing to Hebrews, said (2 Epistle i. 15), "Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance." This could only be done by writing. The apostles knew well, and must have remembered as Peter did, that what they had taught by voice would soon be unknown to most, unless the disciples were well supplied with it in writing. They must all, of necessity, have had Peter's desire. They must have wished to make provision that what they taught by revelation to some one church might be known to all churches, not only while they lived, but after they were dead. Paul, who was willing to be made a curse, with view to the salvation of the Hebrews, must have desired that what was revealed to him for the guidance of Greeks, should be known also to Hebrews; and that it was known to Hebrews in his life time, appears from the remark of Peter, who laboured chiefly among Hebrews, and who, when writing to Hebrews, speaks of "all" Paul's letters as well-known writings. In his 2 Epistle iii. 16, he says of Paul, "As also in all his letters, speaking of them in these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which those who are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures to their own destruction." His words imply that all Paul's letters had been extensively read by Hebrew Christians, and that they were treated with the same supreme regard as "the other Scriptures." They cannot have been read by more than a few of the Hebrews in Greek; it seems almost certain that there must have been some Syriac translation. Such considerations as these prepare us to receive readily whatever proof may exist, that Greek was not the only language in which the apostles left written records of God's will.
Tremellius, a Christian Jew, who was a Professor in the University of Heidelberg, and who published, in 1569, an edition of the New Covenant Peshito, contended that unless God loved foreigners more than Jews he must have provided these, as well as the Greeks, with the inspired writings in their own tongue. He said that it seemed to be "wholly in accord with truth, that at the very beginning of the Church of Christ, the Syriac version was made either by the Apostles themselves, or by their disciples; unless indeed we prefer to suspect that, in writing, they intended to have regard for foreigners
only
; and to have either no regard, or certainly very little, for those of their own nation," (Gutbier's Peshito, p. 29.) We know that the apostles, instead of showing less regard for the Jews than for the Gentiles, always went to the Jews first, and showed a surpassing regard for their welfare. It seems to be extremely probable that Paul himself took care that most of his epistles should be written in Syriac as well as in Greek, so as to inform his own countrymen everywhere of whatever was revealed to him for the guidance of all Christians throughout the world.