The Language of Jesus

Aramaic is a language or group of languages belonging to Northwest Semitic, which also includes the Caananite languages such as Hebrew and Phœnician. The Aramaic alphabet was widely adopted for other languages and is ancestral to the Hebrew, Syriac and Arab alphabets.

During its approximately 3100 years of written history, Aramaic has served variously as a language of administration of empires and as a language of divine worship, religious study and as the spoken tongue of a number of Semitic peoples from the Near East.

It is generally agreed by historians that Jesus and his disciples primarily spoke Aramaic (Jewish Palestinian Aramaic), the common language of Judea in the first century AD, most likely a Galilean variety distinguishable from that of Jerusalem. The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee, where Jesus spent most of his time, were Aramaic-speaking communities.

Matthew 27:46

Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Mark 15:34

And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, for what have you forsaken me?”

Overall, both versions appear to be Aramaic rather than Hebrew because of the word “forsaken” which is originally Aramaic. The “pure” Biblical Hebrew counterpart to this word, is seen in the first line of Psalm 22, which the saying appears to quote. But Jesus is not quoting the canonical Hebrew version  attributed in some Jewish interpretations to King David, cited as Jesus’ ancestor in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus, if the Eli. Eli version of Jesus’ outcry is taken; he may be quoting the version given in an Aramaic Tarqum.

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