Doubtless, there has been minimal response to your question because
members are gearing up for SBL. I also don't have much time for a
lengthy response. Let me just say, however, that there are members of
this list who do believe that Jesus taught in Hebrew. Indeed, the
epigraphical evidence suggests that Judaea was trilingual (Hebrew,
Aramaic and Greek), and there is no reason to suggest that Jesus could
not have known all three. One of the most compelling arguments for
Jesus' knowledge of Hebrew is his use of parables. It has been noted
on this list before that story parables of the type Jesus is recorded
telling ONLY are preserved in Hebrew. We have none in Aramaic, Greek
(apart from the Gospels, of course) or Latin. New Testament
scholarship in the 20th century which attempted to reconstruct Jesus'
parables into Aramaic have overlooked this simple fact.
New Testament scholarship has also barely taken note of the import of
the discoveries of the scrolls found in the Judean wilderness (the
Qumran scrolls, Bar Kochba, etc.) for reconstructing the linguistic
landscape of first century Judaea. Hebrew accounts for over 95% of the
Qumran library, and the Bar Kochba Letters demonstrate that a living,
colloquial Hebrew was in use even into the second century CE. By and
large, NT scholarship maintains the outdated 19th century proposal of
Avraham Geiger that Hebrew was a dead language by the first century CE.
Again, archaeological discoveries from the last century should have
already buried this erroneous notion. Whatever reason NT scholarship
tenaciously holds on to the "Aramaic only" or "Greek only" models, it
does so in the face of mounting archaeological data to the contrary.
Of course, the question you raise is not precisely the question of the
linguistic environment of Jesus, but whether there could have been any
written sources in Hebrew. Jewish and Christian scholars who belong to
the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research have suggested that the
Evangelists used Greek sources, but that some of these were themselves
translations of earlier Hebrew accounts of the life of Jesus. The task
of identifying possible Hebraisms within the Greek of the canonical
Gospels is not a simple task, requiring work in the three languages
prevalent in first century Judaea: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
Nevertheless, we find it important to identify the idiomatic teaching
of Jesus and his place within the rich and tumultuous environment of
first century Judaism.
R. Steven Notley, Ph.D. (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
Professor of Biblical Studies
Nyack College NYC
Member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research (www.js.org)
On Nov 12, 2005, at 1:26 AM, Bob MacDonald wrote:
> With the discovery of a 10th century BCE alphabet as
> reported in the news, is it possible that more notes might
> have been taken during the period of Jesus' ministry than
> the 19th and 20th century emphasis on oral tradition would
> I have come across the name of Tremontant, Le Christ hebreu
> 1986 - also Carmignac, Naissance des evangiles 1984 (cited
> in the Ellul forum 2005 Issue 36). Both did some
> retro-translation from the NT Greek to Hebrew - is this
> worth pursuing? He seems to have a theory similar to Millard
> (Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus) that there were
> earlier written records. What has become of the French
> scholars and how are theories of greater note-taking
> understood within the synoptic problem?
> Bob MacDonald
> Victoria, B.C., Canada
> Synoptic-L homepage: http://NTGateway.com/synoptic-l
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