The Dead Sea Scroll Finds and the Language of Jesus -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 07:1 (Winter 1978)
Article: The Dead Sea Scroll Finds and the Language of Jesus
Author: Anonymous

The Dead Sea Scroll Finds and the Language of Jesus

What language or languages did Jesus speak? The scholarly debate which has been raging for over a century can be briefly summarized by dividing the protagonists into two major schools of thought:

Hebrew advocates — these scholars believe that Jesus spoke the language which the Israelites had spoken for centuries and which the Old Testament Scriptures were written in. They also maintain that Hebrew was probably the language most used for literary purposes during this period.

Aramaic proponents — Aramaic was the language of the Aramaeans, a people from Aram in north Syria. It was in use in the early centuries of the first millennium B.C. for religious and state purposes in Syria. It gained in usage and eventually became the official language of the Persian Empire (539-332 B.C.). Although Greek later displaced it as the official language of the Near East, Aramaic continued in use as the common speech of the people. Scholars who hold the view that Aramaic was Jesus’ language say that this was the only language used by the masses at that time and therefore it had to be the language of Jesus and His disciples.

The Archaeological Evidence

The truth of the matter is that there is abundant evidence that both Hebrew and Aramaic were in use in the early decades of the Christian era. While Aramaic was the common language of the entire Near East, Hebrew continued as a living language in Palestine at least up to the defeat of Bar-Kochba (A.D. 135). Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek words are found on ossuaries of the first Christian century.

Murrabba’at yielded manuscripts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (see. p. 7), and of a bundle of 15 letters bound together in a cave at Nahal Hever, nine were found to be composed in Aramaic, four in Hebrew and two in defective Greek (see p. 8). They were all authorized by “Simon Bar Kosiba” (Bar-Kochba), but written and signed by different scribes, each apparently using the language most familiar to him, or, presumably, to the recipient. Since this can only mean that Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek were all spoken languages during Jesus’ time, Jesus could have used any one of, or all three of, those languages. It will be necessary, therefore, to discover from the gospels what languages Jesus used and the ways He used them. First, however, a context will be provided by examining the ways other speech communities divide the functions of languages when more than one are used at the same time.

The Functions of Languages

Rabbinic literature, the synoptic gospels and the Nahal Hever letters prove the simultaneous usage of both Hebrew and Aramaic beyond rea...

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