The Language Of The Bible


psalms in Aramaic

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Bilingual inscription (Greek and Aramaic) by k...

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11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...
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The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, a Semitic language adapted from the ancient Canaanites and Phoenicians, as recent discoveries at Ras Shamra on the coast of Syria have made abundantly clear. There are also certain affinities with the other Semitic languages of ancient Syria, Assyria, Babylonia, and Arabia. During the long period of its growth, the Old Testament reflected a number of developments and semantic changes of its language, as scholars have come to understand. In addition, dialect differences between the north and south of Palestine have noted.

A few portions of certain books of the Old Testament and some words and phrases of the New Testament are recorded in the Aramaic language. The ancient Aramaeans inhabited particularly the region of Syria, but their language with its simplified script, was gradually adopted in everyday life all across the Near East. By the 5th century B.C. it was the lingua franca of the ancient world and therefore used by the Jews. In fact, when the Law was read in the synagogues by the time of Ezra, it was necessary to translate it into Aramaic so that the people might understand (Neh. 8:7-8). The following portions of the Old Testament were composed in Aramaic: Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4-7:28.

Because Aramaic was the language Jesus spoke, traces of Aramaic remain in the New Testament: Talitha Kumi, “maiden, arise” (Mark 5:41) and Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), Paul uses “Abba, father” (Rom. 8:15), and Maranatha, “Our Lord cometh” (I Cor. 16:22). Although the point has been much debated, it is almost certain that all the New Testament books were written in Greek. Essentially the thought life of the Mediterranean world was Graeco-Oriental by the 1st century A.D., which saw the writing of the New Testament.

Rome ruled the world; yet Paul wrote to Rome in Greek, not Latin. The Greek used in the New Testament, however, was the everyday language, called koine’, which means “common.” It had descended from the language used by Alexander the Great and his armies at the time of their conquests more than two centuries earlier. It might be called “post-classic” Greek. New Testament Greek is not uniform throughout, for it varies from the semi-literary style of Luke, which approximates the classical, to the nonliterary style of the Gospel of Mark and Revelation.

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