The Language of Jesus: Hebrew or Aramaic? (Video)

As a Bible student, you have probably noticed that in some translations in Acts Paul is said to have spoken Hebrew while speaking to the crowd in the Temple and later Jesus is recorded as speaking Hebrew to Paul. However, in other translations the word Aramaic appears. Which version is correct, why the discrepancies and most importantly, which language did Jesus and his disciples speak?
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Rabbinic Quotations on Messiah

Rabbinic Messianic Quotations

Rabbinic Quotations on Messiah (click on link to visit source)Submitted by Jean Gibson on Mon, 05/22/2006

The following quotations are an amazing collection of statements from the Rabbis over the years confirming that the many passages which speak of the Messiah point to Yeshua (Jesus). See Jewish Messianic Texts and The Zohar, Three in One and Exodus Rabbah

RASH MISHLE [10:21]:   Rab Huna counted amongst the seven Names of Messiah also:   haShem Zidkenu [Referring to Jer. 23:6].

 

R. JOSEPH ALBO OF TOLEDO [SEPHER IKKARIM 28:54]:   The Scripture calleth the Names of Messiah also:   L-rd Zidkenu, because He is the Mediator through Whom we shall get the righteousness of the L-rd.

 

R. ELIJAH DE VIDAS:   The meaning of He was wounded for our transgressions bruised for our iniquities is that since Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities must endure and suffer for them himself [on Isa. 53].

 

SANHEDRIN [93B]:   Messiah…What is His name?   The disciples of the school of the Rabbi [Yehudah Hanassi, the author of the Mishnah] said:   Cholaja [the sickly] for it says [Isa. 53:4]:   Surely He hath borne our sicknesses and carried our pains; and we did regard him stricken, smitten of G-d and afflicted.

 

ZOHAR [To Deut. 6:4]:   Hear O Israel:   HaShem our G-d, HaShem is One.   Why is there a need of mentioning the Name of G-d three times in this verse?   The First HaShem is the Father above.   The Second is the Stem of Jesse, the Messiah Who is to come from the family of Jesse through David.   And the Third One is the Way which is below [meaning the Holy Spirit Who shows us the way] and These Three are One   (Zohar quotes from Amsterdam Version).

 

Rabbi Moshe el Sheikh, Chief Rabbi of Safed…

“I will do yet a third thing, and that is, that ‘they shall look unto Me,’ for they shall lift up their eyes unto Me in perfect repentance, when they see Him Whom they pierced, that is Messiah, the Son of Joseph; for our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said that He will take upon himself all the guilt of Israel, and then shall be slain in the war to make an atonement in such manner that it shall be accounted as if Israel had pierced Him for on account of their sin He has died; and therefore, in order that it may be reckoned to them as perfect atonement, they will repent and look to the Blessed One, saying that there is none beside Him to forgive those that mourn on account of Him who died for their sin; this is the meaning of ‘They shall look upon Me….’”

 

G-d will set His own crown upon the head of King Messiah, and clothe Him with honor and majesty…Midrash Tehillim on Ps. 21:3….   Rabbi Hann, in the name of Rabbi Aha, continues the thought…G-d will bestow a portion of His supernatural glory on Messiah….   The Midrash then continues with two designations of Messiah; HaShem, a man of war and HaShem, is our righteousness.

 

[On Isa.9:6:   R. Aben Ezra:]…There are some interpreters who say that “Wonderful, Everlasting Father” are Names of G-d and only “Prince of Peace” is the Name of the Child.   But according to my view, the interpretation is right (which says):   all are the Names of the child.

 

[Midrash Echa (1:51)]:   …What is the Name of King Messiah:   To this answered Rabbi Abba bar Kahana:   HaShemis His Name, for it is written:   “This is the Name whereby He shall be called:   HaShem Kidkenu.”

 

[See also, Midrash Rabbah [999:8), (Ps. 45:6), (Prov. 30:4), (Ps. 2:7), (Sukkah [52a]), (Zohar [part III, fo. 307, Amsterdam edition]), (Ps. 2:12 Leesor’s trans.)…{etc.…also, verses in Tanach may be one or two verses difference depending upon your translation}… [Zohar vol. III]…The Ancient and Holy One is revealed and described as being Three; it is because the Other Lights are Two complete Ones, yet is the Ancient and Holy One described and complete as One, and He is One, positively One; thus are the Other Lights united and glorified in One, because They are One…[Rabbi Simeon further states]…Thus are the Three Lights united in One.   The Spirit which is downward, Who is called the Holy Spirit, the Spirit which is the Middle Pillar, Who is called the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, also called the Spirit below.   The Upper Spirit is hidden in secret; in Him are existing all the Holy Spirits [the Holy Spirit and the Spirit that is the middle pillar], and all that is light.

 

{see also, (Bereshis rabba 2), (R. Simeon on Song of Songs 2:6, Zohar Tanchuma), (R. Tzvi Nassi’s book, The Great Mystery), (Burt Yellin’s book, Messiah, A Rabbinic & Scriptural Viewpoint) (Sukkah 52a; Rabbi Dosa), (Rabbi B’rekhyah:   From the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, S. Driver & A. Neubauer, Hermon Press, New York.

 

Our Rabbis have a tradition that in the week in which Messiah will be born, there will be a bright star in the east, which is the “star of the Messiah.” – Pesikta Sortarta.   (fo. 58c.1).

 

The thought of Torah changing in the “Age to Come” is again made perfectly clear in the rendering of Deuteronomy 17:18, in Sifra.   Here it is stated that the L-rd wrote a copy of Mishna-Torah for Himself, and that He would not be content with the Mishna-Torah of the father.   The question is asked… “Why does He say Mishna-Torah?   Because it is destined to be changed.”

 

“The Torah which a man learns in this world is but vanity compared with the Torah of Messiah” Midrash Qohelet on Eccl. 11:8.

 

And I will put enmity between thee and the WOMAN and between thy seed and her SEED; He shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise His heel.   Gen. 3:15 Leesor’s.

 

It is not written that we may preserve [sic] a son from our father, but SEED from our father.   This is the SEED that is coming from another place.   And Who is this?   This is the King Messiah.

 

Ber. Rabbah (51, ed. Warsh. p. 95a, on Genesis 19:32)…This is that SEED that is coming from another place, and Who is this?   This is the King Messiah.   – Ber.   Rabbah 51,ed.   Wars.   P.95,a, on Gen.   19:23).

 

My Son art Thou; I have indeed this day begotten Thee.   *Do homage to the Son, lest He be angry, and ye be lost on the way; for His wrath is so speedily kindled.   Happy are all they that put their trust in Him.   – Psalm 2:7-12 Leesor’s

 

*[Ps. 2:12, Heb. ‘Bar’ = 202]…Thou art the Son, the faithful shepherd; of Thee it is said, “Kiss the Son.”   {note:   this has been removed in English in many new Jewish Tanach translations, but it is there in the Hebrew!}   Thou art the Governor of the Universe, the Head of Israel, the Lord of ministering angels, the Son of the Highest, the Son of the Holy and Blessed One, yea the very Shechinah.   {note:   The Schechinah is the VERY HOLY SPIRIT OF HA-SHEM!}

 

Our doctors expound the Psalm of the Messiah – (Jarchi (mass) [ref. Ps. 2])

 

Whosoever is not willing to praise This Son, his sins shall be brought before the Holy King.   – Zohar (Dent. fol. 109) [ref. Ps. 2]

 

It is a tradition of the Rabbis that Messiah, The Son of David, Who is to be revealed speedily…the Holy One said unto Him, Ask of Me anything and I will give it thee, for it is said, “I will declare the decree, etc.   Today have I begotten thee.” – Talmud Bab.   (Succah, fol. 52) [ref. Ps. 2]

 

*This is the faithful Shepherd; Of Thee it is said, “Kiss the Son,” Thou art the Prince of the Israelites, the L-rd of the earth…The Son of the Most High, the Son of the Holy G-d …and the gracious Shekinah.   – Zohar (Gen. fol. 88, c. 348) [ref. Ps. 2]

 

They He [My Servant Messiah] will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the Kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains, and like One destined for sickness; and as though the Presence of the Shekinah had been withdrawn from us, they will be despised, and esteemed not.   – Targum Jonathan Isaiah 53:3.

 

Our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is here speaking of the Messiah.   – R. Mosheh El-Sheikh [ref. Isa. 53:3]

 

The L-rd is the King Messiah; He is also the Angel of the Covenant.   – Kimchi

 

The L-rd is both the Divine Majesty, and the Angel of the Covenant, for the sentence is doubled.   – Aben Ezra

 

The L-rd may be explained of the King Messiah.   – Mashmiah Jeshua, fol. 76

 

For to us a Son is born, to us a Son is given:   and He shall receive the Law upon Him to keep it; and His Name is called from of old, Wonderful, Counselor, ELOHA, The Mighty, Abiding to Eternity, The Messiah, because peace shall be multiplied on us in His days.   – Isaiah 9:6 Targum Jonathan

 

Rabbi Samuel, the son of Nachman, said, “When Esau met Jacob he said unto him, ‘My brother Jacob, let us walk together in this world.’   Jacob replied:   ‘Let my L-rd, I pray thee, pass over before his servant’” (Genesis 3:14).   What is the meaning of, “I pray thee, pass over”?   Jacob said to him:   I have yet to supply the Messiah, of Whom it is said: “Unto us a Child is born.”   – Midrash (Deuteronomy 2:4)

 

But the wise man, R. Abraham Ben Ezra, has interpreted this prophecy of the great wars which shall be in all the world in the days of the Messiah, the Son of Joseph… The Messiah therefore is the Person to be smitten before the scattering of the sheep. – R. Kimchi [ref. Zech. 13:7]

 

While He bore the sins of many and for the transgressors He let (evil) befall Him.   – Isaiah 53:12.b Leesor’s

 

And when Israel is sinful, the Messiah seeks for mercy upon them, as it is written, “By His stripes we were healed, and He carried the sins of many; and made intercession for the transgressors.” – B’reshith Rabbah (pp. 430, 671)

 

…And they will look up toward Me (for every one) Whom they have thrust through, and they will lament for Him as one lamenteth for an Only Son, and weepeth bitterly for the Firstborn. – Zechariah 12:10 Leesor’s.

 

And the heathen will look unto Me to see what I will do to those who have pierced Messiah, the Son of Joseph. – Aben Ezra

 

It must be granted him that says, for Messiah the Son of Joseph that shall be slain as it is written, And they shall look upon Me Whom they have pierced.   – Talmud Bab.   (Succah 52, 1)

 

He will revive us after two days; on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His Presence.   – Hosea 6:2 Leesor’s

 

This passage is applied to the resurrection and to the Messiah by R. Moses Hadarshan in Genesis 22:4.   – Ber Rabbah (Frey)

 

R. Alexander said R. Joshua ben Levi objects to what is written, “And behold one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven; and it is written, “Poor and riding upon an ass”; if they {Israel} are worthy, He {Messiah} comes with the clouds of heaven; but if they are not worthy, He comes poor and riding on an ass. – Talmud Babl. (Sanh., fol. 98, 1)

 

Therefore will the Lord Himself give you a sign; behold this almah/young woman [in LXX trans.   done by 70 Rabbis, it is the Greek word for virgin] shall conceive, and bear a Son and she shall call His Name Immanuel (G-d with us).   – Isaiah 7:14 Leesor’s

 

R. Huni, in the name of R. Ide and R. Joshua, said that this man is the King of Messiah of Whom it is said, Psalm 2:7, “This day have I begotten Thee.” – Talmud Bab

 

Out of thee Bethlehem shall Messiah go forth before me, to exercise dominion over Israel.   Whose Name has been spoken from of old from the day of eternity.   – Micah 5:2 Targum Jonathan

 

Out of thee ( Bethlehem) shall come forth unto me Messiah, the Son of David.   – R. Jarcdhi

 

Behold, I will send my messenger, and He shall clear out the way before me: and suddenly will come to His Temple the L-rd Whom ye seek; and the Messenger of the Covenant Whom ye desire, for behold He is coming saith the L-rd of hosts.   – Malachi 3:1 Leesor’s

 

DAVID FLUSSER, PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS HISTORY AT HEBREW UNIVERSITY, JERUSALEM:   I do not think that many Jews would object if the Messiah – when He came – was the Jew Jesus.

 

We may all feel thankful that the Jewish race was so prolific in great men, that even so late in history, it produced one {Jesus} Who deserves to be compared with Moses, Isaiah and Hillel.   – Rabbi Adolph Moses in Courier-Journal 1885

 

Many ancient rabbinic sources understood Isaiah 53 as referring to the Messiah.   Here are quotations from some of them:

 

Midrash Ruth Rabbah:   Another explanation (of Ruth ii.14): – He is speaking of king Messiah; “Come hither,” draw near to the throne; and “eat of the bread,” that is, the bread of the kingdom; “and dip thy morsel in the vinegar,” this refers to his chastisements, as it is said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.

 

Zohar:   “He was wounded for our transgressions,” etc…There is in the Garden of Eden a palace called the Palace of the Sons of Sickness; this palace the Messiah then enters, and summons every sickness, every pain, and every chastisement of Israel; they all come and rest upon him.   And were it not that he had thus lightened them off Israel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the transgression of the law:   and this is that which is written, “Surely our sicknesses he hath carried.”

 

Rabbi Moses Maimonides:   What is the manner of Messiah’s advent…there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty, where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, “Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place” (Zech. 6:12).   And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he shall appear, without father or mother or family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of dry earth, etc …in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which kings will harken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived. (From the Letter to the South (Yemen), quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 374-5.)

 

Rabbi Mosheh   Kohn Ibn Crispin:   This rabbi described those who interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel as those:   “having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the stubbornness of their own hearts,” and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah… This prophecy was delivered by Isaiah at the divine command for the purpose of making known to us something about the nature of the future Messiah, who is to come and deliver Israel, and his life from the day when he arrives at discretion until his advent as a redeemer, in order that if anyone should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here; if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so. (From his commentary on Isaiah, quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 99-114.)

Eloi, Eloi Lama Sabachthani

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Mark 15:34 records some of the last words of Jesus as he was on the cross.  They have been used to support the claim that Jesus spoke Aramaic and not Hebrew.  “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” These words closely parallel the words in Psalm 22:1 in both the original Hebrew and in the Aramaic Targumim, though His words, as recorded in Mark 15:34 match neither exactly.  Many scholars have glossed over this utterance as Aramaic without even really taking the time to see if it indeed is.

The table below lists Jesus’ phrase according to Mark and Matthew and then gives the text from Psalm 22:1 in the Hebrew original, the Targum (Aramaic) and then the Christian Syriac version (Syriac and Aramaic are basically the same).  Notice that none of the aforementioned texts is exactly the same.  Matthew’s version is exactly the same for the first three words: Eli Eli, lama but then differs with sabachthani.  The Targum of Ps 22:1 has shabachtani like in Mark and Matthew but then differs on the following: Eli Elahi instead of Eli Eli, and metul ma instead of lama.  While these are similar in meaning, it must be conceded that they are significantly different to merit investigation.  The Syriac version is the closest but again, it is not an exact match since lama is written lamna.  It must not be overlooked, however, that the Syriac version was written as a translation to the New Testament and thus cannot be used conclusively to prove one way or the other the exact words of Jesus.  The rest of the table lists the different ways of saying God in Hebrew and Aramaic (Syriac).

Table 3 Eloi, Eloi Lama Sabaktani

Mark 15:34 ᾿Ελωΐ, ᾿Ελωΐ λαμὰ σαβαχθανι Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani
Matthew 27:46 ἠλι ἠλι, λαμὰ σαβαχθανί Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani
Psalm 22:1 Hebrew (original) אלי אלי למה עזבתני Eli eli lama azavtani
Psalm 22:1 Aramaic (Targum Psalms) אלי׳אלהי מטול מה שבקתני Eli elahi metul ma shabaktani
Syriac (Aramaic) Mark 15:34 ܐܠܗܝ ܐܠܗܝ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢܝ Elahi elahi, lamna shabaktani
Syriac (Aramaic) Matthew 27:46 ܐܠܝ ܐܠܝ ܠܡܢܐ ܫܒܩܬܢܝ Eli eli, lamna shabaktani
Hebrew God אלהים /אלוה / אל Elohim / Eloah / El
Aramaic God אלה / אל Elah / El
Hebrew/Aramaic My God אלי Eli
Hebrew (only) My God אלהי elohai
Aramaic (only) My God אלהי Elahi
Septuagint Judges 5:5 my God Ελωι Eloi

Eloi

We have some interesting evidence in the New Testament given that the original words of Jesus have been recorded by two of his disciples – Matthew and Mark (according to early church tradition, Mark received his Gospel from the testimony of Peter).  It is interesting to note that Matthew’s version is slightly different from Mark’s.  Matthew records, in 27:46 that Jesus said Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (resembling Psalm 22:1 in Hebrew eli, eli lama azavtani) while Mark’s account says Eloi Eloi.  I believe that we can safely assume that Jesus did not say it one way for Matthew and another for the writer of Mark while on the cross.  Matthew’s version – Eli Eli is what we would expect in Hebrew or even in Aramaic.  Eloi, however, is a mystery. Which way he said it has to do with the issue of transliteration and will be answered in the course of our search.

We know what Eloi means, due to the convenient translation in the text, that is my God.  The question of course, is whether it is Hebrew or Aramaic.  The truth is, as such, it is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic.  While it is close to the Hebrew form of אלהים elohim, it falls short.  Its form is not found even once in the Hebrew Bible and since elohim is such a common word, not finding it there forces us to conclude that it is not Hebrew. However, it is not Aramaic either.  If Eloi were Aramaic, as is assumed, then why don’t we see at least one example of its use in the OT since in both Daniel 4:5, and 6:22, which were plainly written in Aramaic, the words “my God” are not Eloi but אלהי elahi.  The form spoken by Jesus as recorded in Mark is conspicuously absent!  Furthermore, the Targumim translate my God as elahi just as the Aramaic does from the time of Daniel.  Targum Psalm 22:1, has אלי אלהי eli elahi (Targum Psalms). Moreover, the Syriac (Aramaic) version of the New Testament (written about 200 AD) actually translates the Greek text of Mark 15:34 (my God) ὁ Θεός μου  (ho Theos mou) as elahi and not Eloi!  Apparently the Aramaic speakers didn’t consider it to be Aramaic either since they wrote Elahi.  Considering that this text was written after the time of Jesus just further serves to demonstrate that Eloi is not Aramaic.

If Eloi is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic, then what is it?  There are three ways to say God in Hebrew:אלהים  Elohim (2605 times) only in Hebrew, used most often to refer to the God of Israel,  אל El (242 times), both Hebrew and Aramaic, more often used of foreign gods, though nevertheless, used in reference to the true God of Israel, and אלוה Eloah (56 times) used only in Hebrew texts (primarily in Job).  All of them have a general meaning of mighty one – really just a title, which can theoretically, be applied to any one who “is mighty”. [1] Elohim, unlike el and Eloah, is the plural form meaning gods.  Whenever used of the one true God of Israel, however, the verb related to it is always singular. [2] To say my God with el simply requires that one add the letter yud to the end of the word.  Thus, El becomes Eli.  To add my to plural masculine nouns like Elohim, however, basically requires adding the vowel a and dropping the mem (mem makes a masculine noun plural).  Elohim therefore, becomes Elohai.  To make the first person possessive of Eloah is similar, though, unfortunately, the first person singular my is not found in the pages of the Bible.  There is, however, one passage in Habbakuk 1:11 which does have the possessive pronoun suffix his אלהו – Eloho.  Thus, according to the conventions of Hebrew grammar, the way to say my God would be Elohi.  (Gallagher, personal correspondence)   Aramaic has two ways to say God, El, which is exactly the same as the Hebrew counterpart and the other way is אלה Elah. To say my God is Eli and Elahi similar to the Hebrew forms.

Thus in either Hebrew or Aramaic, we should see one of four forms: Elohai or Elohi (only Hebrew), Eli (both Hebrew and Aramaic) or Elahi (only Aramaic).  There are no other possibilities and Eloi is simply not one of the options.  In order to discover which language Jesus spoke, we will limit our discussion to Mark’s Eloi since Eli could be either Hebrew or Aramaic.  We will essentially address two questions:

  1. What happened to the letter he in the middle of the word (equivalent to the letter H)?
  2. Are there any occurrences of Eloi in the Septuagint?

Without Eli we have limited our focus to three candidates for the mysterious Eloi, the two Hebrew words Elohai, Elohi and the Aramaic Elahi.  We don’t have the actual Hebrew or Aramaic word written in the Hebrew/Aramaic [3] script but the Greek transliteration, which can sometimes be tricky.  Some languages don’t have the rough breathing sound that the letter H makes.  English, for example, can make the sound at the beginning and middle of words but not at the end (this seems normal to us; however, Hebrew can do all three!).  Greek is able to produce the H sound at the beginning of words, but not in the middle or end. [4] So, how would one transliterate any of the three from either Hebrew or Aramaic to Greek?  There is, in fact, no way to transliterate the words other than by transliterating them without the rough breathing sound, which would yield three different options: Eloai, Eloi and Elai.

To prove the theory, we will select words which we know have the letter ה (letter H) in the middle and then compare them to the Greek transliterations (in the Septuagint) where, if the theory is correct, there should be the absence of a rough breathing mark (like the letter H).  For example, Abraham in the Septuagint is Αβραάμ (Abraam).

Table 4 Loss of the ה(H) Sound in Greek

Verse Hebrew Bible Transliteration of Hebrew Septuagint Transliteration of Greek
Genesis 17:5 אברהם Abraham Αβραάμ Abraam
Exodus 4:14 אהרן Aharon Ααρων Aaron
Judges 3:15 אהוד Ehud Αωδ Aod
I Sam 1:1 אליהוא Elihu Ηλιου Eliu
II Sam 8:16 יהושׁפט Jehoshaphat Ιωσαφατ Josaphat
I Kings 16:1 יהוא Jehu Ιου You
II Kings 23:34 יהויקים Jehoiakim Ιωακιμ Yoakim

Notice from the table that the Hebrew words lose the H in the Greek (and English transliteration).  As expected, the Greek version cannot reproduce the H and so it was left out in the transliteration.  Therefore, the word Eloi is not necessarily Aramaic simply based on the lack of the letter H. However it is too early to conclude that it is Hebrew.  Clearly, the Hebrew letter he or H was lost due to transliteration, but was the original Hebrew or Aramaic?  The loss of the letter he in the Greek transliteration leaves us with the following three possibilities: Eloai, Eloi, and Elai.

Clearly Eloi fits perfectly what Mark recorded and fortunately we have an example of this in the Septuagint.  Judges 5:5 “The mountains gushed before the LORD, this Sinai before the LORD God of Israel” κυρίου Ελωι, τοῦτο Σινα ἀπὸ προσώπου κυρίου θεοῦ Ισραηλ (kuriou Eloi touto Sina apo prosopou kuriou theou Israel).  Notice that they translated the word LORD (YHWH in Hebrew) into Greek as kuriou (Lord) and then added the word Eloi (my God), which is not in the Hebrew text.  There are two things that must not be missed here.  First of all, the mysterious word in Mark is attested in the Septuagint with exactly the same spelling.  Secondly, the Septuagint was translated into Greek from Hebrew and not Aramaic.  Thus when looking at Mark 15:34 we have solid evidence of how Elohi was transliterated from Hebrew (not Aramaic!) in to Greek.  If Mark had been transliterating from Aramaic, he would probably not have written Eloi ᾿Ελωΐ [5] with the letter omega (ω) since the Aramaic is distinctly elahi and would have better transliterated it as ᾿Ελaΐ with the letter alpha.

In summary, we see that there is no way to actually write the Hebrew Elohai, Elohi, or the Aramaic Elahi except by dropping the letter he.  Of the three, Elohi fits perfectly and is attested once in the Septuagint – ᾿Ελωΐ Eloi – the exact same spelling and meaning as what is in Mark 15:34.  Furthermore, if Mark had been transliterating Aramaic, it most likely would have appeared as Elai and not Eloi. Our findings may explain the difference between Matthew and Mark since Matthew records Eli, Eli – which has the same meaning but does not present any problems of transliteration. Perhaps knowing this, we might conclude that Matthew simply wrote Eli Eli and not Eloi knowing that Greek letters could not reproduce the word Elohi and since Eli, Eli is how the Hebrew text of Psalm 22:1 reads. And it would seem that Mark opted to write the specific literal words, even though they could not be written exactly in Greek.

Lama

Lama למה, meaning why, is an extremely common word and is used least 145 times in the Hebrew OT in almost every book. It is seen in every phase in Hebrew – from proto Hebrew to Standard Biblical Hebrew to Late Biblical Hebrew and numerous times in the Mishnah.  So, we should not be surprised to see it here in Jesus’ day as well.  The root letters lamed, mem and he are also found in Aramaic, though it should be noted that the vocalization (the vowels) are slightly different than what is recorded in Mark 15:34.  The Aramaic word is lema. [6] It is possible that Mark was transliterating the Aramaic lema as λαμα (lama) – although we cannot be dogmatic about the issue, he could have more accurately written it with the Greek letter epsilon (λεμα) if that were the case. [7] However, as the historical sources indicate, it would seem that Mark was simply writing in Hebrew. Moreover, the word lama does not appear in the (Aramaic) Targum of Psalm 22:1.  Even though lema exists in Aramaic, the translators of this Targum used two words metul ma, also meaning why.  Thus, not only does the Hebrew lama fit better than the Aramaic lema but even the Targum doesn’t use the word.  Only the Hebrew text has the word that Jesus used while enduring our sins on the cross.

Shabachtani

Shabachtani[8] שׁבקתני appears to be a word of Aramaic origin.  It means to leave, leave alone, entrust, bequeath, divorce, permit, forgive, abandon and forsake.  It is used a total of five times in the Old Testament, all of which are found in the Aramaic portions of Daniel and Ezra.  However, given that there was a limited amount of Aramaic influence exerted on the Hebrew language after the return from the Babylonian captivity, we later see the root shabak [9] שׁבק attested in Jewish writings such as the Jerusalem Talmud, which is where the Mishna is found.

Of the seven occurrences of shabak in the Mishnah, four are clearly couched in Hebrew prose.  A passage from the Jerusalem Talmud (31:5:1), is an especially good example of the words surrounding shabak. The text contains certain grammatical structures and vocabulary which occur only in Hebrew and not Aramaic.  A few examples are the use of the letter ה he found at the beginning of words which means the (Aramaic has א – aleph at the end of words).  Also the word שׁ Shay, that, (used only Hebrew) versus די di [10] (used only in Aramaic).  Thus the word shabak, which Jesus spoke on the cross, we find situated in the midst of Mishnaic Hebrew words and grammar, and therefore, we can safely conclude that while this was originally a loan word from Aramaic, by Jesus’ day, it had become common place in the Hebrew language.  We should actually expect there to be some loan words in the language.

Consider for example, if you live in France and you hear someone say that he intends to do “le jogging” you should not conclude that he is actually speaking English!  Likewise, consider the dramatic influence French had on English – we use without any thought words such as pork and beef not knowing that these words are not originally English.  This does not lead us to the conclusion that Americans are speaking French, though it does imply that there was some French influence upon the English language.  In fact, pork and beef have become so common that we are often surprised to learn that they are French.  Nevertheless, though pork and beef are clearly French, the way they are spelled (vs. porc and boeuf) shows that they have been completely assimilated into the English language. [11] And so it is with Shabaktani – the word seems to have come originally from Aramaic but was completely assimilated into (Mishnaic) Hebrew as attested by its usage in the writings of the Mishnah, which as pointed out already, was the final stage of ancient Hebrew before its demise around 200 AD [12].  Also, the ending of the word “ta+ni” is exactly what we would expect in Biblical Hebrew [13] viz. shabakta=you forsook +ni=me.


[1] Jesus makes reference to this word in John 10:34 of the leaders and judges of Israel.

[2] A beautiful example of the Trinity in the Old Testament (first occurring in Genesis 1:26).

[3] Both Hebrew and Aramaic were written in what was known as Aramaic script just like how English is written using Latin letters.

[4] My lovely wife, Anna, pointed this out to me!

[5] Mark includes the breathing marks and accents making it even clearer that it is to be pronounced Elo-i demonstrating that the Hebrew letter he has been dropped.

[6] The e is written with a shewa which is a very short sound.

[7] Some manuscripts do contain the variants λεμα lema, λιμα lima, –  see The Robinson/Pierpont Byzantine Greek New Testament.  However, the Textus Receptus and the Vulgate have λαμμα lamma or λαμα lama respectively.

[8] The Aramaic word is actually Shabachtani – Greek does not have the “sh” sound which is why the NT text has transliterated it as Sabachtani.

[9] The last root letter is like the letter K as in kite.  Again this is a matter of transliteration.

[10] The other uses are: זאת zot, בן ben, אני ani, את et – these words are specifically Hebrew.  The Aramaic counterpart is different enough so that we can conclude that these words are Hebrew and not Aramaic.  Ben and bar (in a later chapter), however, are often interchangeable.

[11] Perhaps even more surprising is discovering that the word sack is in fact a Hebrew word – it is found 17 times in the Old Testament.  It has been so completely assimilated that few people ever give it a second thought.  It is indeed English, but was originally (and still is!) Hebrew.

[12] Hebrew essentially died as a spoken language but was still in use in Jewish life up until the establishment of Modern Hebrew.

[13] The form, though, is the same in Aramaic.


Discovering the Language of Jesus

language of jesus

Discovering the Language of Jesus Complete Package (Book, DVD, MP3, e-book) 20% off
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For the last 150 years, both popular and academic views have asserted that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his primary language of communication since supposedly Hebrew died out after the children of Israel were taken into Babylonian captivity. This view, however, is not based on the testimony of the Old Testament, the New Testament, historical sources, or Jesus’ actual words. Just which language did Jesus and his disciples speak?

As a Bible student, you have probably noticed that in some translations in Acts Paul is said to have spoken Hebrew while speaking to the crowd in the Temple and later Jesus is recorded as speaking Hebrew to Paul. However, in other translations the word Aramaic appears. Which version is correct, why the discrepancies and most importantly, which language did Jesus and his disciples speak?


 

 Pastor and teacher Douglas Hamp takes you on a journey through history, Scripture and linguistics to solve the puzzle. By Discovering the Language of Jesus, you will gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ words and culture and will be fully convinced that every detail in God’s Word is accurate, reliable and worthy of your trust.”

Calvary Chapel Magazine Book Review Fall 2005

A persuasive book that presents compelling evidence that Hebrew, not Aramaic, was the primary language of Jesus and the disciples. In light of the inerrancy of the Scriptures, this is an issue that every Bible student should consider.”

Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa

I am convinced that the language of Jesus and the apostles was indeed Hebrew rather than Aramaic.”

Brian Brodersen, Associate Pastor Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa

A mind-changing book. The serious Bible student, wanting to teach accurately, should weigh Doug Hamp’s evidence, rather than parroting tradition.”

Carl Westerlund, Th.M, Director Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa School of Ministry and Graduate School

…this is a great work that challenges many incorrect assumptions about the use of Hebrew in the time of Yeshua. Definitely check it out.”

Albert Cerussi, Congregational Coleader of Ben David Messianic Congregation