Jews in Judea Didn't Speak Aramaic, They Spoke Judeo-Aramaic

Netanyahu and Pope Francis were both right.


I don't know why this should even be a debate, but ridiculous articles like this don't help.

Apart from when Pope Francis stopped to pray at the wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, perhaps the most provocative moment in his whirlwind tour of the Holy Land happened during his interview with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” said Netanyahu firmly. The Pope looked unhappy, correcting the prime minister.  “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew.”

If this seems complicated, think about the languages, and the dispute over what Jesus spoke. Indeed, he would have spoken Aramaic, as the Pope said.

I can't vouch for what language he spoke, but Jews of the period used Judeo-Aramaic dialects.

These dialects had the same resemblance to what people think of as Aramaic as Yiddish does to German. The common language of the Jews in Judea was a hybrid of Aramaic and Hebrew... written using Hebrew script.

So Netanyahu and Pope Francis were both right.

Additionally there were plenty of Greek loanwords mixed in. And bits and pieces of other languages as well.

The educated also knew Hebrew. Those who were not, might not. The same situation obtained in Jewish life across much of history afterward as recently as a century ago where the average Jew might know Yiddish, but not Hebrew.

Much of this depended on location, rural vs cosmopolitan. Jews in more cosmopolitan areas knew a cross section of languages, some of which would have also been slangy.

The article goes on to conflate Philistines and Palestinians and to make plenty of other howlers.

Many Israelis today don’t like to think of this tiny region between the Mediterranean and Jordan as ever having been called Palestine, though the original word (peleshet) occurs at least 250 times in the Hebrew scriptures. This complex geographical area was certainly called Palestine (in Greek) at least as early as the fifth century B.C.E., when Herodotus used that term.  By the second century before Christ, the Romans widely called the region Palestine, probably in an attempt to undermine the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and neighboring states.

Region would be the key point. To the Greeks and the Romans, the Philistines were much more significant than the Jews. Herodotus, who was notoriously sloppy when it came to history, was reasonably typical of the period where accuracy on issues involving foreigners didn't particularly matter.

But to suggest that the Greek or Roman name for the region somehow replaced Judea and Israel is foolish. That was a handy shorthand for foreign powers.

American Indians weren't actually Indians. Turkeys don't come Turkey. People visiting foreign shores often mislabel things. It doesn't mean that those labels are accurate or binding.

Not until the Jewish state was restored in 1948 did the term Israel come back into active play, with native Arabs from the region demoted to “Palestinians.”

Actually the label Palestinians was used for both Jews and Arabs. But the Arabs did not really decide that they wanted to be Palestinians until later. Some Arab leaders denounced the name as a foreign intrusion.

Jews never wanted to be called Palestinians. Arab Christians have reopened the debate as to whether they are Arabs at all.

It’s also worth recalling that Arabic and Hebrew, like Aramaic, are Semitic languages, closely allied in syntax, vocabularies, and grammar.

Arabic and Hebrew are somewhat closer than Aramaic and Hebrew. Incidentally about the only people who still use Aramaic are Jews and Middle Eastern Christians. However what Jews use is still Judeo-Aramaic, though many don't realize this.

Jews and Arabs reach back, via philology as well as place of origin, to the same gene pool.

We all do, ultimately. I'm just not sure that it matters. It sounds profound, but means very little.