Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Syriac? A Critique of the Claims of G. M. Lamsa for the Syriac Peshitta -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 131:524 (Oct 1974)
Article: Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Syriac? A Critique of the Claims of G. M. Lamsa for the Syriac Peshitta
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Syriac?
A Critique of the Claims of G. M. Lamsa for the Syriac Peshitta

Edwin M. Yamauchi

[Edwin M. Yamauchi, Professor of History, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.]

As many laymen may have heard, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with the exception of a few passages in Ezra and in Daniel written in Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Most are probably aware that Jesus spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language which is kindred to Hebrew.

Recent discoveries of inscriptions in Palestine, especially from Qumran and Murabbacat, have shed some valuable light on the use of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic in Palestine in the first and early second century A.D. (Latin was used by the Romans in Palestine.)

The Language of Palestine

Greek

Since the New Testament was written in Greek, one might assume that the early Christians were fluent in Greek. As this has been denied, for example, by G. Lamsa whose arguments we shall examine in detail below, it is necessary to list the evidence for the use of Greek in the Palestine of Jesus’ day.

The evidence from the Greek inscriptions and literary sources indicate, according to Fitzmyer, “that many Palestinian Jews, not only those in Hellenistic towns, but farmers and craftsmen of less obviously Hellenized areas used Greek, at least as a second language.”1 Fragments of the Septuagint found at Qumran suggest that the Essenes were reading the Old Testament in Greek as well as in

Hebrew. More than half of the citations of the Old Testament found in the New Testament are from the Greek Septuagint.

Of the inscriptions found on ossuaries discovered on Mount Olivet and dated before A.D. 70, seven are in Hebrew, eleven in Aramaic, and eleven in Greek. From this evidence of a trilingual “language milieu,” Gundry suggests that some of the sayings of Jesus may have been uttered by Him in Greek.2

Even Gustaf Dalman, the great authority who emphasized the use of Aramaic by Jesus, stressed that when Christ’s words came to be formulated in Greek, as James Barr notes and summarizes: “This was done in a circle which precisely in its knowledge of the then universal language [i.e., Greek] was nevertheless in close contact with Jesus himself and his original disciples.”3 The ̔Ελληνιστῶν of Acts 6:1 were probably Jewish Christians who habitually spoke Greek.

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