Languages in Roman-era Judaea: Let’s Stay on the Topic!
Comments to my previous posting illustrate the occasional frustration in blogging: You raise an issue/topic, and commenters then take the discussion into other topics/issues. My previous posting wasn’t about the comparative usage of Hebrew and Aramaic, for example, or about how scribes rendered the Tetragram, but about the usage of Greek alongside Semitic languages and in the Jerusalem church. The point (which I, ah, thought should have been pretty clear) was therefore, that older notions that anything Greek must be secondary/later are dubious. So, to reiterate relevant points and try to steer us back onto the topic:
- The evidence shows Greek being used in Jewish Palestine from at least the 3rd century BCE onward. It was one of the languages of Jewish Palestine of the earliest period of the Jesus-movement.
- Textual evidence (e.g., Acts) posits a Jerusalem church comprised of Jewish believers whose first language was a Semitic one (I think most likely Aramaic, but that’s not the issue) and other Jewish believers whose first language was Greek. So, it appears likely that the Jerusalem church was at least bi-lingual from the earliest moments.
- So far as their scriptures were concerned, Jews appear to have treated copies written in Hebrew or Greek as scriptures, and a basis for exegesis. Earliest Jesus-movement believers seem to have done the same. So, in imagining those early moments of Jewish believers scouring their scriptures to try to understand their experiences (e.g., the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus experiences), we have to allow for rich interchange of those reading Greek and Hebrew versions of those scriptures.
- Nevertheless, whether Greek-speaking or Aramaic-speaking (or Hebrew-speaking), all indications are that these Jewish believers were devout in their allegiance to their ancestral deity and to the exclusivist stance characteristic of second-temple Jewish tradition: i.e., worship due solely to the one God of their tradition. There is no indication that they (or most other Jews of the time), whether in the Jewish homeland or the diaspora, had assimilated to the larger “pagan” religious culture on the question of worshipping the many gods of the time, or in accepting the apotheosis of rulers, etc. So, we can’t readily invoke their use of Greek to assert some sort of accompanying acceptance of these “pagan” notions/practices.