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One of the arguments for Aramaic being the original language of the New Testament is the theory that Hebrew was replaced by Old Aramaic as the vernacular language in Judea following the Babylonian captivity. We can be fairly certain that Jesus and his earliest followers spoke Aramaic, but we only have circumstantial evidence that they spoke Hebrew.

Meanwhile, the Greek text of the New Testament and other early Christian writers suggest that Jesus' followers also spoke Greek. However, we read in Papias that Matthew's gospel was translated into Greek. Since Aramaic and Greek are very different languages, we might expect that the first disciples (who were mostly provincial Galileans) would not have been able to acquire the level of Greek needed to produce the Gospels in that language.

The Aramaic Primacy argument seems to hinge on the theory that polyglots were rare in Judea during and shortly after the time of Jesus. If Jesus certainly spoke Aramaic and if his followers also spoke Aramaic and if the New Testament was written by first- or second-generation followers, the language they used must also be Aramaic.

However, the Dead Sea Scrolls argue against that theory because they were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean. Doesn't this show that the population in ancient Judea was almost as multilingual as modern Israel?

Road signs in Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin alphabet at Ben Yehuda Street / Shalom Aleichem Street, Tel Aviv.

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See also: What language did Jesus commonly speak? –  Jon Ericson Apr 26 '13 at 0:27
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3 Answers

Support for Aramaic primacy

We tend to think of the Dead Sea Scrolls as having been left behind by the Qumran community, which was disbanded about 70 CE. However, some letters discovered in these caves date from around 135 CE, the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt. With two exceptions, these were all written in Aramaic. Since they were letters, and not religious documents, this should tell us that the language of everyday use was Aramaic, not Hebrew and certainly not Greek. The two exceptions were written in Greek. One explains, “The letter is written in Greek as we have no one who knows Hebrew [or Aramaic].” In other words, these exceptions existed because the only literate persons with Bar Kokhba at that time were diaspora Jews or non-Jews.

As for the earlier texts, they seem to have included documents gathered from outside the Qumran area, and the LXX does seem to have been influential on the community's thinking. I think that this influence suggests that this community does not reflect the broader Palestinian Jewish use of Greek. The presence among the scrolls of religious documents in Hebrew is not informative, any more than the presence of religious documents in a Catholic church would suggest everyday use of Latin. There are also some Hebrew secular documents among the scrolls, but this need not overturn the view on Aramaic primacy in the broader community, as the Dead Sea community was a highly reactionary sect and therefore might have sought a return to Hebrew usage.

It has been convincingly demonstrated that Matthew's Gospel was based on Mark's Gospel, and contains many passages written in the same, or almost the same, words in the Greek language. It was therefore not originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. This and the fact that the New Testament gospels were all written anonymously, support the scholarly view that all the gospels were written outside Palestine and are therefore not guides to the primacy, or otherwise, of Aramaic. I could go through each of the non-Pauline epistles and explain why they were not written by the apostles to whom they were attributed, and therefore show that there is no reason to attribute multilingual abilities or even literacy to any of the disciples.

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There is a plethora of evidence from the rest of Israel that Mishnaic Hebrew was widely used. For example, 13 of the 26 Bar Cochva letters are written in Hebrew. These are letters dealing with military conquests, not religious matters. –  Frank Luke Oct 23 '13 at 18:00
In respect to the Bark Kokhba letters, I have been relying on books written before all the Bar Kokhba scrolls were uncovered. I did some online research and find that there were indeed some letters written in Hebrew, as well as those in Aramaic and the two in Greek. I was prepared to concede on this one, but found the following, which (as it happens) supports my position: (next comment) –  Dick Harfield Oct 24 '13 at 21:33
(continuation): <<In Yigael Yadin’s book “Bar Kokhba: The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome” Yadin notes, “It is interesting that the earlier documents are in Aramaic while the later ones are in Hebrew. Possibly the change was made by a special decree of Bar-Kokhba who wanted to restore Hebrew as the official language of the state” (page 181).>> –  Dick Harfield Oct 24 '13 at 21:34
I can go with official language, but it was also widely used. Josephus records a pun used by common soldiers on the walls of Jerusalem that only makes sense in Hebrew (the Aramaic equivalents of each phrase in the pun don't sound alike). –  Frank Luke Oct 25 '13 at 21:46
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Conflicts between Dead Sea Scrolls and Aramaic Primacy

As you all know, there are Old Testament texts in Dead Sea Scrolls. Based on the researches, these scrolls are considered to be older than 2000 years. Most of Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew. But only some in Aramaic and in Greek.

However through New Testament Bible and testimony of Josephus, it is clear that Aramaic was the spoken language of Jesus and first century Israel. Not Hebrew or Greek.

Old Hebrew was preserved in temple of Jerusalem for religious purposes since it is considered as the holy language of Jews.

Aramaic, the spoken language of first century Israel

Let's start with New Testament.

1) Acts 1:19 - "And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood."

"Akel dama" is Greek transliteration of Aramaic words "Khqel Dama."

We clearly see "Field of Blood" was called "Khqel Dama" by all the inhabitants of Jerusalem in their own language which is Aramaic.

If I translate aramaic words "Khqel Dama" into Hebrew, then "Khqel Dama" will become "Sh'deh Hadam."

Through this, we can read that all inhabitants of Jerusalem spoke in their own language in first century AD which was Aramaic. If Hebrew was used as spoken language in first century Israel, then "Sh'deh Hadam" would have been mentioned along with "Khqel Dama" (a.k.a akel dama in Greek and English NT) in Acts 1:19.

Here is the link to Acts Chapter 1 (Hebrew translation from Greek)


You will see "s'deh Hadam" at the end of Acts 1:19. To match the words, see S'deh (Green color) and Field (Green Color). Hadam (in purple color) and Blood (in purple color).

2) John 19:17 (ESV) - "and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha."

Golgotha is Aramaic, because Aramaic places the definite article at the end of the word, thus the 'tha' at the end of 'Golgotha' is the Aramaic definite article on a feminine noun. Unlike Aramaic, the definite article of Hebrew is in the beginning of the word ("Ha").

If I write Golgotha in Hebrew, then "Golgotha" will become "Ha Gulgoleth."

In John 19:17 of KJV, we see John calling "Golgotha" Hebrew. When he says "Hebrew", he is referring to Aramaic spoken by Hebrews. Aramaic spoken in Judea was known as Judean Aramaic (or Southern Aramaic). Aramaic spoken in Galilee and Syrian regions were known as Northern Aramaic or Suristi by Greeks.

Like Hebrew, we use the definite article ("the") in the beginning of a word in English. For example, we say "the car" in English. We never say "car the."

That is why NIV, ESV, and other bible versions write "Golgotha, Gabbatha, etc." as Aramaic instead of Hebrew.

Notice that Peter was exposed by his Galilean Aramaic speech among people (Matthew 26:73 and Mark 14:70). Judeans used Dead Scrolls Alphabet to write Aramaic while Syrians commonly used Estrangela Alphabet to write Aramaic in first century AD. Although Northern Aramaic and South Aramaic were mutually intelligible just like British English and American English, still Galilean accent of Aramaic would have sounded to the Judean Aramaic somewhat like Cockney sounds to a British aristocrat. That's why Galileans are mocked for their pronunciation of aramaic in talmud.

Here is the link to John 19:17 - http://www.bayithamashiyach.com/John_19.pdf

You will see Ha Gul'goleth and Skull in pink color.

3) Aramaic word Bar

Aramaic word "Bar" means son. But in Hebrew, Ben means son ("Ben"jamin in Old Testament). Just look at the names in our English New Testament Bible.

"Bar"tholomew, "Bar"abbas, "Bar"nabbas, "Bar"sabbas, Simon "Bar" Jonah, "Bar" Jesus, "Bar"timaeus, etc.

4) Other infos on Aramaic words in NT

Let me also pick a female name. Martha.

Martha is one of the sisters of Lazarus in New Testament. Martha lives at Bethany in Judea. The name "Martha" is Aramaic for "Lady" or "Mistress."

Talitha (Mark 5:41) - In Hebrew, "Yaldah" would have been used instead of Aramaic word "Talitha."

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” - In Hebrew, "azabthani" would have been used instead of Aramaic word "sabachthani."

The Testimony of first century Jewish Historian Josephus that supports Aramaic Primacy

Jewish Historian Josephus wrote:

"I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to all sorts of free-men, but to as many of the servants as please to learn them. But they give him the testimony of being a wise man who is fully acquainted with our laws, and is able to interpret their meaning; on which account, as there have been many who have done their endeavors with great patience to obtain this learning, there have yet hardly been so many as two or three that have succeeded therein, who were immediately well rewarded for their pains." - Antiquities of Jews XX, XI

Antiquities of Jews was written at the end of first century AD around 93 AD. Even during that time, we see the extreme rarity of a Jew speaking Greek.

Jewish Wars (Book 1, Preface, Paragraph 1) - "I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians. Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work]."

In Antiquities of Jews Book 3, Josephus points out that Hebrews called Pentecost "Asartha." Asartha is Aramaic, because Aramaic places the definite article "tha" at the end of the word. This is the same thing with the Aramaic word Talitha (Mark 5:41).

If Hebrew was spoken during first century AD, then Josephus would have also written that Hebrews called Pentecost "Ha Atzeret."

So we can confirm that Jews didn't use Hebrew as a spoken language.

But Old Hebrew was preserved by High Priests for religious purposes in Jerusalem.

Peshitta Tanakh is Old Testament written in Aramaic that was used during first century AD. It contains all of Old testament books written in Aramaic since Aramaic was the spoken language.

Other Infos that support Aramaic Primacy

As you all know, Jews are also called Hebrews, because they are the descendants of Abraham the Hebrew (Genesis 14:13, Philippians 3). Even today, Many Iraqi Jews call their Aramaic "Hebrew" ("Ibraith" in Aramaic), because it is the language of Hebrews. We call Deutsch "German", because it is the language of German People.

In Josephus' Jewish Wars, one of the leaders who fought against Romans was Simon Bar Giora. Bar Giora means "Son of a proselyte" in Aramaic.

Also notice the name "Cephas" in our English New Testament Bible.

John 1:42 (ESV) - "He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter)."

Galatians 2:9 (NIV) - "James, Cephas, and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised."

Cephas is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Corinthians 9:5, 1 Corinthians 15:5, etc.

Cephas comes from Aramaic word Kefa (also written as Kaypha) which means stone. Greek word "Petros" (Peter in English) is the translation of Aramaic word "Kefa."

Unlike first century AD, Dead Sea Scrolls contains Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In fact, Most of Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew. Some in Aramaic and Some in Greek.

Through Josephus, we know the extreme rarity of a Jew speaking Greek even at the end of first century AD. Through Khqel Dama (a.k.a akeldama), We know that Aramaic was the language of first century Israel.

I would say that Dead Sea Scrolls was written in second century after 130 AD.

Till 130 AD, Aramaic was the spoken language of Jews.

From 131 AD through the rise of Bar Kokhba and Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD), the beginning process of reverting back to Hebrew occured. Although Aramaic was spoken by Jews from 131 AD to 135 AD, still they were encouraged to bring back Hebrew as their spoken language instead of Aramaic. This is because Hebrew is considered as the holy language of Jews.

After Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD, Jews continued to revert back to Hebrew. By the end of second century AD, Hebrew was a common spoken language among Jews.

Famous Israeli Archaeologist Yigael Yadin who received Ph.D for his researches on Dead Sea Scrolls noticed this shift from Aramaic to Hebrew through his researches. In "Bar Kokhba: The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome" Yigael Yadin notes, "It is interesting that the earlier documents are in Aramaic while the later ones are in Hebrew. Possibly the change was made by a special decree of Bar-Kokhba who wanted to restore Hebrew as the official language of the state" (page 181).

One of the surviving letters from the time of Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD) is Simon Bar Kokhba's letter to Yehonathan Bar Be'aya in Aramaic.

Some information about a Bar Kokhba coin and Bar Kokhba's letter to Yehonathan Bar Be'aya is available in this link.


"Bar Kokhba" means Son of a star in Aramaic. In this coin (above link), you will read this Aramaic inscription - SHMOWN NSYA YSRAL.

"NSYA" is Aramaic. If I write NSYA (also written as Nasya) in Hebrew, then it will become "Ha Nasi."

The authorship of Dead Sea Scrolls is usually given to Essenes of Qumran.

The Essenes were famous for their continuing use of old, worn materials, as shown by Josephus in Jewish Wars Book 2.

For Example, Essenes replace neither clothes nor footwear until the old set is ripped all over or worn through with age (Jewish Wars Book 2, 126).

Since Essenes had a reputation of using old worn materials, it is "possible" that Essenes held that an ancient parchment, manufactured many years before, was venerable and suited for the recording of their inspired writings. The date of manufacture could be 100 years or more before the date of composition of the contents.

So I would say that it is quite fallacious to say that the date of composition was the same as the date of manufacture. For Example, the information may have been written in mid-second century AD, but the scrolls they used for writing could have been from first century AD or older.

"Christ, after all spoke in the language of His contemporaries. He offered the first sacrifice of the Eucharist in Aramaic, a language understood by all the people who heard Him. The Apostles and Disciples did the same and never in a language other than that of the gathered faithful." - Latin Patriarch Maximus, Vatican.

Below, I am also adding Bishops who believe that New Testament is written in Aramaic.

This is just for the people who are interested in reading about Bishops who support Aramaic Primacy, Aramaic as the language of Jesus, his disciples, and also first century Israel.

Bishops who support Aramaic Primacy (Aramaic NT known as Aramaic Peshitta as the original)

With reference to the originality of the Peshitta text the Church "received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself...which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision." - Mar Eshai Shimun, California, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, April 5, 1957.

"I have no reason to doubt that the Peshitta is superior to that of the Greek. It was handed down to us by the Apostles through the scribes and preserved to us in our very own generation. No other version written in any other language can claim such authenticity and antiquity." - Patriarch Mar Dalin I, China in the 1800's, Assembly of Jerusalem.

"Undoubtedly the Peshitta, written in the Aramaic language of the East, contains the pure and untainted Word of the Messiah." - Mar Yokhanan Dalin III, Portugal in 1980, Assembly of Jerusalem.

"We have in the Aramaic Peshitta the preserved word of Our Lord unchanged from the time of the Apostles." - HH Patriarch Mar Michai, Detroit in 1989, Assembly of Jerusalem.

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You are aware of the astounding amount of archeological research that has been made since on Israel since the Latin Patriarch made that statement in 1962. –  Frank Luke Apr 26 '13 at 3:05
"Through Josephus, we know the extreme rarity of a Jew speaking Greek even at the end of first century AD. We also don't see people speaking Hebrew in first century AD either." Archeology shows us that this statement is flat wrong. Greek and Hebrew were well known in the Land in the first century. Josephus also records that the soldiers defending the walls of Jerusalem made a pun out of incoming that only works in Hebrew (not Aramaic). Josephus several times draws a distinction between what his people speak and Aramaic. –  Frank Luke Apr 26 '13 at 3:08
I haven't yet taken the time to read either answer here, though I do plan to, but at a glance Frank's looks far easier to digest. That doesn't mean it is better, but he will likely get more eyeballs just because of better formatting: you've put such a lot of effort into your answers here which I appreciate, do you have some time to add headings and formatting to help us through them? –  Jack Douglas Apr 26 '13 at 16:59
I realize that this is your original content, but as a generality across Stack Exchange sites we really like to see answers tailored to the exact questions asked. This is the same content dealing with the broader topic that you've posted on your block and on several other answers on both this site and C.SE. I understand that parts of it are directly relevant to this question, but each question is unique and one of the things that makes useful answers is how directly they speak to those unique issues. –  Caleb Apr 26 '13 at 17:40
Could you edit this down to something that directly addresses this question and selectively quotes your other content as relevant backup or links it for further reading? –  Caleb Apr 26 '13 at 17:40
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Dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls is done by a variety of methods. Obviously, any individual scroll can be no older than the youngest component used in that scroll. However, no scholar dates the majority of the scrolls in the second century. In fact, the vast majority of the scrolls, based on the methods below for both material and composition, date from the BC era.

Radiocarbon Dating

Even though a piece of linen from the caves gave a date range of 167 BC to AD 233, tests on the scrolls themselves gave different results. These tests give a date range for the material used. It can only give a range because the isotope tested for absorption and release fluctuates during the year. The test must be calibrated. The results in the column are given with a 95% accuracy. That is, the odds are 95% that the scroll was made in that date range. Some of the ranges are quite large, spanning centuries.

Paleographic (Handwriting) Dating

By examining the handwriting of the scrolls (which is the same as time of composition), dates were given between 225 BC and AD 50. These dates were determine by size, shape, and style of the text. That is, over the centuries, certain letters were done differently. While the chart at the link shows the major changes over time, it leaves out some of the minor changes (for example, it leaves out the crowns variant that was popular during part of the Aramaic Square period). Radiocarbon dating of these same fragments estimated the dates of the material used between 385 BC and AD 85.

Conditions of the Find

Even though there are a few dissenting voices as to the identity of the authors (as to what group they belonged to), almost all scholars recognize that the scrolls were written by the Essenes. The scrolls were found in caves and earthenware jars and some of them had been damaged by the Roman armies the Essenes fled from (a lance strike slashed one of the scrolls). This flight took place ca. AD 68. Qumran was abandoned after that. As word of the approaching armies came, the scrolls were placed in earthen jars and hidden in the caves. This was all done around the time of AD 68.

Contents of the Scrolls

That the scrolls were written by the Essenes is the conclusion of the majority of scholars. Handwriting analysis of the scrolls from the caves and other documents found at the Qumran settlement itself show that the places are linked.

Jesus refers to a document known only from Qumran (War Between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness commonly known as War Scroll) when he taught "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light" (John 12:36). Mainly from references within the text of the scroll itself, scholars date War Scroll ranging from the second century BC to the early decades of the first century AD. The range depends on if the weapons and tactics described are Roman (dating 65 BC to AD ~5) or Seleucid (second century BC).

Some of the scrolls contain material that helps in dating them. For example, 4QMMT contains a list of differences and agreements between the Essenes and both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. One section even takes the form of a letter. This scroll is in Hebrew and respectfully addresses an individual with warnings to remember the "blessings and curses" that befell the Israelite kings. The recipient is almost certainly a Hasmonean King as they were the last native dynasty to rule over the Land. It was established as fully autonomous by Simon Maccabeus ca. 140 BC (though the dynasty had been ruling under the allowance of foreign kings since the mid 160s) and lasted with various levels of autonomy until the Herodian Dynasty (a family of Edomites) finally took control in 37 BC.

A section of this scroll may even be from the founder of the community, The Teacher of Righteousness, to the Wicked Priest (hypothesized to be the Hasmonean Jonathan Apphus). Jonathan Apphus ruled as High Priest beginning in 153 BC.


Remarkable amounts of evidence from various methods date the scrolls as composed between 225 BC and AD 50 (though material composed after AD 30 is copies of prior material, no new material [such as Pesher] is composed after that). The destruction of the community in AD 68 or shortly after also gives an upper bound to the scrolls composition.

As the scrolls are written in the first century and before in Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew (the majority), yes, they show that all those languages were known among the people of Israel.

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