If there was a way that I could configure this computer to prevent me
from typing certain words unless I confirmed about six times that I
really wanted to use them, then two of those words would be "original"
and "originality." Inevitably, when I use those words in the context
of literary comparisons, I get into trouble. The following response
from Jack Kilmon regarding my remarks to Frank McCoy about Gth 20 and
"parallels" in Mk is a perfect example.
My take on GoT 20 and the Markan parallel is that the Markan parallel
more "original" and actually redacted down in GoT.
I did not mean to imply that both Mark and the Gth compiler shared a
common written source and that the version of either Thomas or Mark is
closest to that "original." Instead, I meant to argue that Thomas and
Mark each had access to what were probably oral traditions about Jesus
and that the construction of the similtude in Gth more closely
approximates the oral form than does the version in Mk. It is a widely
accepted principle that narratives and sayings associated with Jesus
that circulated in the oral tradition tended toward being shorter
rather than longer, and so, when one sees two written versions of what
appears to be the same saying, the one that is shortest probably is
closer to the oral version (assuming of course, that there was only
one oral version. It is possible that there may have been more than
Your persistent argument that there is evidence of Aramaic linguistic
artifacts behind the written versions of the Jesus logia, is, as you
well know, not universally accepted. Since I do not know Aramaic, I
certainly have no business debating the merits of your hypotheses. I
will observe, however, that it is not necessary to identify any
"Aramaic Original" behind the sayings of Jesus in order to recover
what is closest to Jesus' actual utterances.
While it is very likely that Jesus spoke Aramaic, there remains the
very real possibility that he also spoke Greek. One must not ignore
the tremendous Hellenistic cultural influence that had existed for
generations in the western Mediterranean basin (e.g., Palestine).
Jesus lived in that cultural environment, and if we are to accept the
accounts of the canonical gospels he seemed to travel through portions
of it regularly and to discourse with its residents. If so, it seems
likely that he would have had to have some competency in Greek. This
does nothing to prove that he knew Greek, but the observation is
sufficient to leave open that possibility.
One of the arguments made by those who postulate an "Aramaic Jesus,"
is that the region where he lived was a cultural and linguistic
archipelago. In this enclave, Aramaic remained as the dominant
language and the traditions of the Judean religion were paramount. If
I understand correctly, this means that the enclave must have
successfully resisted the Hellenistic cultural influences that
engulfed virtually all of the remainder of the western Mediterranean
and that the linguistic and religious heritage of the enclave remained
Again, the merits of that hypothesis is not something I can comment on
directly, but I can relate something from my own experience that may
be analogous to the "enclave phenomenon" that seems to be a
foundational part of the "Aramaic Jesus" argument. I grew up on the
Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana. It seems to me that
there are a few intriguing parallels between the acculturation process
that occurred in Palestine and in the Mission Valley, where the
reservation was located. In both cases, the indigenous populations
were inundated by new languages. In Palestine, it was Greek. In
Montana, it was English. American culture was introduced into this
area by the Jesuits and by commercial representatives of the Hudson
Bay Company beginning around the middle of the 19th century. By the
time I was born, roughly one hundred years later, virtually all
Indians spoke English, but a large number of continued to speak Salish
as well. The native language was spoken primarily in homes, at
cultural gatherings, in the tribal government and in the context of
religious practices. However, in the course of day to day activities,
English was the routine language.
The analogy between the two is this: In both cases (Palestine and
Montana), we can observe that the cultural traditions of the two
indigenous populations were subjected to overwhelming outside
influences. In the latter case, it is known for certain that, while
the language of the native population continued to be used and the
traditional religious practices were still followed (in spite of the
most vigorous efforts of missionaries), the Native Americans regularly
used the language of the culture that had surrounded them. It seems to
me therefore very likely that the situation in Palestine was similar.
Certain enclaves in the region, perhaps including where Jesus lived,
also managed to retain and keep alive their language and religious
traditions, but as a matter of survival, they also used the Greek
language. If that is true, then Jesus may have been as fluent in Greek
as he was in Aramaic.
This of course does virtually nothing to deny the argument that an
Aramaic original lies behind the Jesus logia. But it does, to a
degree, reaffirm the possibility that Jesus *did* speak Greek and that
therefore it is not essential that reconstruction of an Aramaic
Original to his sayings is the only certain means by which his
"authentic words" can be recovered.
Humble Maine Woodsman