Table of Contents of Discovering the Language of Jesus

Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew
Aramaic or Hebrew  A Road Map


1 A Brief History of Hebrew

Biblical Hebrew
Intertestamental Hebrew
Mishnaic Hebrew
Bar Kochba

2 Where Does Aramaic Fit In?

Transliterated Names and Words in the New Testament

3 The New Testament Evidence

4 Is Hebrew Really Aramaic?

Nehemiah and Ezra
Semitic Words in the New Testament
The Letter of Aristeas
Fragments of Papias



5 Words Stated to be Hebrew by the New Testament Writers

Sabbatha and Pascha

6 Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachtani


7 Hebrew Words Spoken by Jesus in the Galilee

Hebrew Words Spoken by Jesus in the Galilee

It is especially noteworthy that not only did Jesus speak Hebrew in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish nation, but also in the area of the Sea of Galilee. Some scholars maintain that though the Jews may have spoken Hebrew in Jerusalem, that certainly was not the case in the Galilee. Dr. Safrai summarizes the claim: “There is an oft-repeated claim in scholarly literature that a high percentage of the Galilean population was religiously uneducated, and that the people consequently knew and used less Hebrew. Literary sources, however, provide no indication that this claim is correct.” (Safrai 1991b) Again, if Jesus was using Hebrew words to communicate, that (obviously) means that those he was speaking to spoke Hebrew as well. One passage that the pro-Aramaic camp will turn to is a passage in the Babylonian Talmud suggesting that the Jews in the Galilee did not retain their knowledge of Hebrew.

R. Jehudah said in the name of Rabh: The children of Judæa who paid strict attention to the words of their masters and propounded many questions retained all they learned. The Galileans, however, who did not pay strict attention to the language of their masters, and did not question them, did not retain anything. The Judæans learned from one master, hence they remembered what they learned; but the Galileans had many teachers and in consequence they did not retain anything.
Rabhina said: The Judæans taught every tract they had themselves mastered to others; hence they retained their knowledge; because teaching others improves one’s own learning; the Galileans, however, did not do this and in consequence their knowledge forsook them. (Babylonian Talmud, Erubin Chpt 5 Emphasis mine)

Some scholars have concluded that this indicates that Galileans were speaking Aramaic since they did not pay strict attention to the language of their masters. However, the text says nothing about whether it was Hebrew or Aramaic. Simply because the Babylonian Talmud was written in Aramaic – after the time of Jesus – does not lead us to the conclusion that the Galileans were speaking Aramaic, it may possibly indicate that they had a different dialect, just as American English is different in the north and south, though it is still the same language. Dr. Safrai explains,

While this saying is sometimes considered to be evidence for the dominance of Aramaic over Hebrew in the Galilee because some of the examples discussed are in Aramaic, it actually only refers to the Judeans’ feeling that Galileans mispronounced the guttural letters het and ‘ayin and dropped the weak letters ‘alef and hey. This in no way reflects on the cultural status of Galilee, nor does it show that the use of Hebrew was less common there than in Judea or Jerusalem. (Safrai: 1991a)
Though we cannot step back in time to listen to what people were speaking in the Galilee region, we can observe the transliterated words recorded in the Gospels that Jesus spoke to people in that area. The following verses, therefore, were selected because they contain transliterated words of Jesus spoken in the Galilee area. Our goal is to analyze words that have commonly been classified as Aramaic, which upon greater inspection, are shown to be either equally or exclusively Hebrew. Furthermore the words below are found in the pages of the Mishna, which was written in Hebrew at or around the time of Jesus.

Talitha Kumi Mark 5:41
Ephphatha Mark 7:34
Mammon Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:9,11,13
Korban Mark 7:11
Raca Matthew 5:22

8 Other Hebrew Words in the New Testament

9 Conclusion: Jesus Spoke Hebrew as His Primary Language

Appendix: Sign on the Cross of Jesus