Did Jesus Speak Aramaic?

I‘m still working through the Gospel of Nicodemus, a 4th century account of Jesus death and resurrection that didn’t make the cut for the official New Testament. One characteristic of this account is that it’s significantly more detailed than the official one. Even if the extra details aren’t ‘historical’ I still find them interesting.

Like this one: while on the cross we have this sentence in the Gospel of Nicodemus:

(11.1) And crying out with a loud voice, Jesus said: “Father, Baddach Ephkid Ruel,” which is, interpreted: “Into your hands I place my spirit.”

In other words, it has Jesus saying “Into your hands I place my spirit” specifically in Aramaic.

Which brings up the perennial question: did Jesus speak Aramaic or Greek? Many barrels of scholarly ink have been consumed on this one. But some background information may help:

Historically and originally, Aramaic was the language of the Arameans, a Semitic-speaking people of the region around the Tigris valley. By around 1000 BC, the Arameans had a string of kingdoms in what is now part of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the fringes of southern Mesopotamia. Aramaic rose to prominence under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC), under whose influence Aramaic became a prestige language after being adopted as a lingua franca of the empire, and its use spread throughout Mesopotamia and parts of Asia Minor. At its height, Aramaic was spoken in several variants all over what is today Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Eastern Arabia, Bahrain, Sinai, parts of southeast and south central Turkey, and parts of northwest Iran.

Meanwhile, when Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) conquered the regions from Greece to India (which included Palestine), he made Greek the official language of government and commerce. It remained commonly spoken throughout that region up to the Romans, who found it pragmatic to use Greek for communication with local governments and business, reserving Latin for Roman governance.

So a scholarly consensus is that at the time of Jesus, Aramaic was spoken in the rural regions, and Greek in the more cosmopolitan areas.

So growing up in the backwoods that was Nazareth, Aramaic was almost certainly Jesus’ natal language. Meanwhile, Mark 6:3 refers to Jesus as a TEKTŌN/τέκτων and Matt 13:55 as the son of a TEKTŌN/τέκτων — generally translated as ‘carpenter’ but this word isn’t really that specific — more like ‘craftsman’? Someone skilled at the building trades? Like laying bricks too, maybe? And it’s only natural that Jesus would be both a TEKTŌN/τέκτων and the son of a TEKTŌN/τέκτων since in those days father taught son his trade. Furthermore, about 3 miles from Nazareth was the major city of Sepphoris where Joseph and Jesus could have found more work than in Nazareth. Just to put food on the table, it could have been rather useful to speak some Greek.

Although the question is frequently framed “did Jesus speak Aramaic OR Greek”, as if that’s EITHER/OR, I wonder — why not BOTH/AND? To me it makes sense that an itinerant preacher/Rabbi in first century Palestine would speak BOTH.

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For the postlude I’m continuing my series drawn from Llull’s The Book of the Order of Chivalry (1275) in which he metaphorically links various items of the knight’s equipment to chivalrous virtues. This week we have ‘Perseverance’:

Spurs are given to the knight to signify the perseverance, expertise and zeal with which he professes the honor of his Order. For just as with the spurs the knight pricks his horse so that it hurries and runs as swiftly as it can, so perseverance hastens the things that it is fitting to hasten, and expertise makes one guard against being taken by surprise, and zeal yields the harness and provision that are essential for the honor of Chivalry.