Most scholars believe that historical Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, with some Hebrew and Greek, although there is some debate in academia as to what degree. Generally, most scholars believe that the towns of Nazareth and Capernaum, where Jesus lived, were primarily Aramaic-speaking communities, that he was knowledgeable enough in Hebrew to discuss the Hebrew Bible, and that he may have known Koine Greek through commerce as a carpenter in nearby Sepphoris and because Greek was the common language of the eastern part of the Roman Empire.
This article explores Aramaic reconstructions of phrases in the New Testament as attributed to Jesus and New Testament figures.
From the 2nd century BC, Judea had been heavily influenced by the Hellenistic civilization, and Koine Greek rapidly became the international language of the eastern Mediterranean, and so became the language of travelling merchants. It is thus likely that Jesus knew at least market Greek. The New Testament itself, is written in Koine Greek, including many quotations from the Hebrew Bible.
When Jesus is described by the New Testament as quoting from the Hebrew Bible, the quotations that are given most closely correlate with the Septuagint. Most scholars suggest that the New Testament authors most likely used an edition of the Septuagint, rather than translate a Hebrew (or Aramaic) source. However, among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in addition to various Hebrew versions of the Bible that resemble the much later Masoretic text, there are also Hebrew versions that more closely resemble the Greek Septuagint version (in similar fashion to the Samaritan Pentateuch) and some maverick texts.
Because of the influence of Greek in the east of the Mediterranean, even the officials of the Roman Empire did not really use Latin in the region, and so only a few words of Latin would have been known to most Jews, mostly confined to various symbols of Roman rule (such as the 'denarius' coin).
A very small minority believe that most or all of the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. This position, called Aramaic primacy, has been rejected by most scholars. The consensus among scholarship is that the New Testament was composed in the Greek language. However, many consider it probable that there was a Hebrew and/or Aramaic layer beneath the Greek sources to the gospels and maybe parts of Acts.
This verse gives an Aramaic phrase, attributed to Jesus in the resurrection of a girl, with a transliteration into Greek, as ταλιθα κουμ.
A few Greek manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus) of Mark's Gospel have this form of the text, but others (Codex Alexandrinus, the Majority Text and the Vulgate) write κουμι (koumi) instead. The latter became the Textus Receptus, and is the version that appears in the Authorised Version.
The Aramaic is ţlīthā qūm. The word ţlīthā is the feminine form of the word ţlē, meaning "young". Qūm is the Aramaic verb 'to rise, stand, get up'. In the feminine singular imperative, it was originally 'qūmī'. However, there is evidence that in speech the final -ī was dropped so that the imperative did not distinguish between masculine and feminine genders. The older manuscripts, therefore, used a Greek spelling that reflected pronunciation, whereas the addition of an 'ι' was perhaps due to a bookish copyist.
In Aramaic, it could be טליתא קומי or טלתא קומי.
Once again, the Aramaic word is given with an attempted transliteration, only this time the word to be transliterated is more complicated. In Greek, the Aramaic is written εφφαθα. This could be from the Aramaic 'ethpthaħ', the passive imperative of the verb 'pthaħ', 'to open', since the 'th' could assimilate in western Aramaic. The guttural 'ħ' was generally softened in Galilean Aramaic,. The form is closer to Hebrew nif`al הפתח, but because this is recorded by Mark and in another healing section it is possible that this was intended to be colloquial Aramaic and cited according to Mark's literary purposes.
In Aramaic, it could be אתפתח or אפתח.
Abba, an Aramaic Hebrew word (written Αββα in Greek, and 'abbā in Aramaic), is immediately followed by the Greek equivalent (Πατηρ) with no explicit mention of it being a translation. The phrase Abba, Father is repeated in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.
In Aramaic, it could be אבא.
Note, the name Barabbas is a Hellenization of the Aramaic Bar Abba (בר אבא), literally, "Son of the Father".
Raca, or Raka, in the Aramaic of the Talmud means empty one, fool, empty head.
In Aramaic, it could be ריקא or ריקה, which is also its form in Hebrew.
In Aramaic and Hebrew, it could be ממון.
In the New Testament the word Μαμωνᾶς — Mamōnâs — is declined like a Greek word, whereas many of the other Aramaic words are treated as indeclinable foreign words.
Also in Mark 10:51. Hebrew form rabbi used as title of Jesus in Matthew 26:25,49; Mark 9:5, 11:21, 14:45; John 1:49, 4:31, 6:25, 9:2, 11:8.
This word is correctly labeled as Hebrew in John 20:16. In Hebrew, it is רבוני.
1 Corinthians 16:22
In Aramaic (מרנא תא) it means Lord, come! or Our Lord, come!
This phrase, shouted by Jesus from the cross, is given to us in these two versions. The Matthean version of the phrase is transliterated in Greek as ηλει ηλει λεμα σαβαχθανει. The Markan version is similar, but begins ελωι ελωι (elōi rather than ēlei). Matthew is citing a probably Hebrew version, Mark a probable Aramaic version.
The lines seems to be quoting the first line of Psalm 22. However, he is not quoting the canonical Hebrew version (êlî êlî lâmâ `azabtânî), but is using an Hebraic midrash (Matthew) or Aramaic translation of it (Mark).
In the following verse, in both accounts, some who hear Jesus' cry imagine that he is calling for help from Elijah (Eliyyâ). This is perhaps to underline the incomprehension of the bystanders about what is happening.
Almost all ancient Greek manuscripts show signs of trying to normalise this text. For instance, the peculiar Codex Bezae renders both versions with ηλι ηλι λαμα ζαφθανι (ēli ēli lama zaphthani). The Alexandrian, Western and Caesarean textual families all reflect harmonization of the texts between Matthew and Mark. Only the Byzantine textual tradition preserves a distinction.
The Aramaic/mishnaic Hebrew word švaqtanî is based on the verb švaq, 'to allow, to permit, to forgive, and to forsake', with the perfect tense ending -t (2nd person singular: 'you'), and the object suffix -anî (1st person singular: 'me').
This phrase is treated in more depth at Last sayings of Jesus.
In Aramaic, it could be אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני. In Hebrew אלי אלי למ שבקתני
The quotation uses them as an example of extremely minor details. In the Greek original translated as English jot and tittle is found iota and keraia. Iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet (ι), but since only capitals were used at the time the Greek New Testament was written (Ι), it probably represents the Aramaic yodh (י) which is the smallest letter of the Aramaic alphabet. Keraia is a hook or serif, possibly accents in Greek but more likely hooks on Aramaic letters, (ב) versus (כ), or additional marks such as crowns (as Vulgate apex) found in Jewish Bibles. The standard reference for NT Greek is A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, Bauer, Gingrich, Danker, et al. (commonly known as the Bauer lexicon. Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon for keraia is here: See also the article on the antithesis of the Law.
In Aramaic (קרבנא) it refers to the treasury in the Temple in Jerusalem, derived from the Hebrew Corban (קרבן), found in Mark 7:11 and the Septuagint (in Greek transliteration), meaning religious gift.
The Greek κορβανᾶς is declined as a Greek noun.
This word entered Jewish Greek from Hebrew שכר, and like many cases in the Greek translation of Hebrew Bible, it adopted a more Aramaic sounding form (שכרא). It means barley beer, from the Akkadian shikaru.
According to the Bauer lexicon, see references at end, this word is derived from Aramaic [sic](הושע נא) from Hebrew (הושיעה נא). But actually הושע is the correct form of the Hebrew imperative. הושיעה is a special long form that was sometimes quoted from the Hebrew Bible.
Personal names in the New Testament come from a number of languages, Hebrew and Greek are most common. However, there are a good few Aramaic names as well. The most prominent feature in Aramaic names is 'bar' (Greek transliteration βαρ, Aramaic bar), meaning 'son of', a common patronym prefix. Its Hebrew equivalent, 'ben', is conspicuous by its absence. Some examples are:
Jesus surnames the brothers James and John to reflect their impetuosity. The Greek rendition of their name is Βοανηργες (Boanērges).
There has been much speculation about this name. Given the Greek translation that comes with it ('Sons of Thunder'), it seems that the first element of the name is 'bnê', 'sons of' (the plural of 'bar'), Aramaic (בני). This is represented by βοανη (boanê), giving two vowels in the first syllable where one would be sufficient. It could be inferred from this that the Greek transliteration may not be a good one. The second part of the name is often reckoned to be 'rğaš' ('tumult') Aramaic (רניש), or 'rğaz' ('anger') Aramaic (רנז). Maurice Casey, however, argues that it is a simple misreading of the word for thunder, 'r`am' (due to the similarity of s to the final m). This is supported by one Syriac translation of the name as 'bnay ra`mâ'. The Peshitta reads 'bnay rğešy' which would fit with a later composition for it, based on a Byzantine reading of the original Greek.
In these passages, 'Cephas' is given as the nickname of the apostle better known as Simon Peter. The Greek word is transliterated Κηφᾶς (Kēphâs).
The apostle's given name appears to be Simon, and he is given the Aramaic nickname, kêfâ, meaning 'rock'. The final sigma (s) is added in Greek to make the name masculine rather than feminine. That the meaning of the name was more important than the name itself is evidenced by the universal acceptance of the Greek translation, Πέτρος (Petros). It is not known why Paul uses the Aramaic name rather than the Greek name for Simon Peter when he writes to the churches in Galatia and Corinth. He may have been writing at a time before Cephas came to be popularly known as Peter. According to some Church Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius, there were two people named Cephas: one was Apostle Simon Peter, and the other was one of Jesus' Seventy Apostles. Clement goes further to say it was Cephas of the Seventy who was condemned by Paul in Galatians 2 for not eating with the Gentiles.
In Aramaic, it could be כיפא.
Thomas (Θωμᾶς) is listed among the disciples of Jesus in all four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. However, it is only in John's Gospel that more information is given. In three places (John 11:16, 20:24 and 21:2) he is given the name Didymus (Δίδυμος), the Greek word for a twin. In fact, "the Twin" is not just a surname, it is a translation of "Thomas". The Greek Θωμᾶς — Thōmâs — comes from the Aramaic tômâ, "twin". Therefore, rather than two personal names, Thomas Didymus, there is a single nickname, the Twin. Christian tradition gives him the personal name Judas, and he was perhaps named Thomas to distinguish him from others of the same name.
In Aramaic, it could be תאומא.
The disciple's name is given both in Aramaic (Ταβειθα) and Greek (Δορκας). The Aramaic name is a transliteration of Ţvîthâ the female form of טביא (Ţavyâ). Both names mean 'gazelle'.
In Aramaic, it could be טביתא.
The place where Jesus takes his disciples to pray before his arrest is given the Greek transliteration Γεθσημανει (Gethsēmani). It represents the Aramaic 'Gath-Šmânê', meaning 'the oil press' or 'oil vat' (referring to olive oil).
In Aramaic, it could be גת שמני or גיא ש.
This is clearly Aramaic rather than Hebrew. 'Gûlgaltâ' is the Aramaic for 'skull'. The name appears in all of the gospels except Luke, which calls the place simply Kranion 'the Skull', with no Aramaic. The name 'Calvary' is taken from the Latin Vulgate translation, Calvaria.
In Aramaic, it could be גלגלתא.
The place name appears to be Aramaic. According to Josephus, War, V.ii.1, #51, the word Gabath means high place, or elevated place, so perhaps a raised flat area near the temple. The final "א" could then represent the emphatic state of the noun.
In Aramaic, it could be גבהתא.
The place of Judas Iscariot's death is clearly named Field of Blood in Greek. However, the manuscript tradition gives a number of different spellings of the Aramaic. The Majority Text reads Ακελδαμα ([H]akeldama); other manuscript versions give Αχελδαμα ([H]acheldama), Ακελδαιμα ([H]akeldaima), Ακελδαμακ ([H]akeldamak) and Ακελδαμαχ ([H]akeldamach). Despite these variant spellings the Aramaic is most probably 'ħqêl dmâ', 'field of blood'. While the seemingly gratuitous Greek sound of "kh" [χ] at the end of the word is difficult to explain, the Septuagint similarly adds this sound to the end of the Semitic name Ben Sira to form the Greek name for the Book of "Sirakh" (Latin: Sirach). The sound may be a dialectic feature of either the Greek speakers or the original Semitic language speakers.
In Aramaic, it could be חקל דמא.
Bethesda was originally the name of a pool in Jerusalem, on the path of the Beth Zeta Valley, and is also known as the Sheep Pool. It is associated with healing. In John 5, Jesus was reported healing a man at the pool.
According to Syriac-English Dictionary by Louis Costaz and A Compendious Syriac Dictionary by J. Payne Smith, the word hesdo in Syriac (or hesda in older Aramaic) has two opposite meanings: 'grace' and 'disgrace'. Hence, Bethesda was both a house of disgrace, as many invalids gathered there, and a house of grace, as they were granted healing.