Aramaic: Was it a written language?

Issachar

New Member
United States, English
Hi, During the time that the New Testament was being written, I know that Jesus and his apostles spoke Aramaic, but was Aramaic a written language? If not, what language did the Aramaic speaking people write?

Thanks,

Issachar
 
  • Issachar

    New Member
    United States, English
    Thank you. I have been curious about the origin of the notion that the New Testament was originally written in Greek, when most of the followers of Jesus spoke Aramaic. The link you gave me was very helpful.

    Thanks again,

    Issachar
     

    scriptum

    Senior Member
    Israel / Hebrew, Russian
    I have been curious about the origin of the notion that the New Testament was originally written in Greek
    Three languages were both spoken and written in Palestine at the time of Jesus: Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. Which of them could have been the original lananguage of the New Testament is still subject to endless debate.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The variety of Aramaic spoken by Jews in that time was derived from so called "Imperial Aramaic". This was the common administrative language of the Babylonian Empire and kept as the lingua franca for the western part of the Persian empire after the Persian conquest of Babylon. It stayed in use as a lingua franca besides greek until the region became Islamic and Arabic replaced Greek and Aramaic.

    Hebrew was a purly lithurgical language at the time of Jesus. Every day communication, written and spoken, was in Aramaic (and to a lesser extend Greek). A variant of the alphabet for Imperial Aramaic also replaced Hebrew letters for writing both, Aramaic and Hebrew. This variant of the Aramaic alphabet is still in use to write modern Hebrew. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_letter shows the development.

    Modern Arabic script is derived from the Nabatean version of Aramaic script possible also influenced by Syriac, another Aramaic script. Phoenician, Paleo-Hebrew, and the various Aramaic scripts may look very different but the difference is exclusively in letter shape. They all have the same 22 consonants with the same phonetic meaning and the same sequence.

    The reason why the New Testament was written in Greek is obviously to reach out as far as possible. There were large Jewish communities in Anatolia for whom Greek was the natual every day language. Paul had a hellenistic background, he was from Tarsos. That he should have writte his letters in Greek seems natual. The Gospels were written much later (late 1st, early 2nd centuries). At that time Christianity had already the ambition to reach beyond the Jewish communities. And Greek was the common language for the eastern (richer and more populous) part of the Roman Empire.
     

    scriptum

    Senior Member
    Israel / Hebrew, Russian
    Hebrew was a purely lithurgical language at the time of Jesus.
    Such was the most widespread opinion up until the 1960-s. However, the discovery of Bar Kochba letters showed beyond doubt that Hebrew was spoken as late as the second century CE.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thank you. I have been curious about the origin of the notion that the New Testament was originally written in Greek, when most of the followers of Jesus spoke Aramaic.
    As far as I know, most scholars believe that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. However, no Aramaic manuscript has survived from the early history of Christianity. In other words, there is no definitive evidence. The earliest available manuscripts are in Greek.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Such was the most widespread opinion up until the 1960-s. However, the discovery of Bar Kochba letters showed beyond doubt that Hebrew was spoken as late as the second century CE.
    You are right purely is to strong, I should have said "mostly lithurgical"? Do you agree to this: At least some profane use of Hebrew survived for almost 3 more centuries after the times of Jesus. But Aramaic and to a lesser extend Greek we the predominant profane languages.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    As far as I know, most scholars believe that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. However, no Aramaic manuscript has survived from the early history of Christianity. In other words, there is no definitive evidence. The earliest available manuscripts are in Greek.
    I guess when you say "New Testament" you really mean the Gospels?
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    You are probably right that I should have meant that! I'd never thought about it before, but I guess it's plausible that St. Paul's letters, for instance, were written originally in Greek. Is this the reason for your question?
     

    scriptum

    Senior Member
    Israel / Hebrew, Russian
    You are right only is to strong, would you agree to "mostly lithurgical"? The fact that four Hebrew letters in the name of Bar Kochba were found while there is manifold evidence of the use of Aramaic does little to suggest that the use of Hebrew was very wide spread in every day life.
    The bar Kochba letters prove that there were places in Palestine where people spoke Hebrew. Nobody seems to know how many H. speakers there were. No doubt Aramaic was much more widespread than Hebrew as a written language - but then Aramaic was the lingua franca of all the Middle East, while the use of Hebrew was limited to Palestine. Was the use of H. mostly liturgical? I am afraid nobody knows that for sure...
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    You are probably right that I should have meant that! I'd never thought about it before, but I guess it's plausible that St. Paul's letters, for instance, were written originally in Greek. Is this the reason for your question?
    Because of what you said: There is little reason to believe that Paul's letters had originally been written in Aramaic.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The bar Kochba letters prove that there were places in Palestine where people spoke Hebrew. Nobody seems to know how many H. speakers there were. No doubt Aramaic was much more widespread than Hebrew as a written language - but then Aramaic was the lingua franca of all the Middle East, while the use of Hebrew was limited to Palestine. Was the use of H. mostly liturgical? I am afraid nobody knows that for sure...
    I can agree with that. We know the predominance of Aramaic only as a written language.
     
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