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Did Jesus Speak Greek?

Several of my recent posts have elicited comments from multiple participants (same comment, asked in a variety of ways). One of them had to do with the question of the language that Jesus would have spoken with Pontius Pilate during his trial. A number of people have asked “why not Greek”? The logic behind this question/solution is that Pilate as an educated Roman would have been fluent in Greek; and Jesus, living in “Galilee of the Gentiles,” where he probably engaged in a small business (carpentry) would have had to communicate with the non-Jews in his midst, and so probably could speak Greek as well. Moreover, he grew up in Nazareth not far from the urbane city of Sepphoris, and would have acquired Greek language and culture there.

That is a common view among many students of the Bible. And so what’s wrong with it?

As with most interesting questions, this one requires virtually an entire book to answer, so I will give only the short version, which is this: it is true that Pilate almost certainly could speak Greek, and almost certainly as true that Jesus could not.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ptalbot  August 24, 2012

    Bart, thanks so much for this – I had thought it at least probable that Jesus spoke some Greek, but (as a complete amateur on the subject) I’m very happy to accept that current scholarship thinks otherwise. I’m looking forward to checking out the books you reference. One of the reasons I had thought Jesus might have had some Greek was Josephus’s statement about Jesus that “He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles”. Assuming for the moment that this is part of an authentic core of the Testimonium Flavianum, what appeal – or even a means of effective communication – would a monolingual aramaic-speaking apocalyptic Jewish prophet have had for the Gentiles? Could the hellenized Greek-speakers also speak Aramaic?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2012

      My guess is that Josephus though this because he knew that a lot of Jesus’ followrs were in fact not Jews, and that he assumed it had always been that way. But no one knows for sure!

      • Avatar
        robertallen  June 25, 2017

        This raises another question: Did Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, speak Greek and would he have spoken it to Jesus as described in John 3? See “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction,” p. 222, column 2, paragraph 2. One way or the other, if Jesus did not speak Greek, he could not have delivered the Sermon on the Mount in the language of the Gospel of Matthew, and even if he could speak Greek, why would he have done so, as hardly anyone in his audience would have understood it? The only choice is Aramaic,. Was there someone or a sodality of someones taking his words down in the shorthand of the time, assuming there was such a thing and assuming that such transcription could be accomplished with the writing implements of the day? If so, then the Aramaic text would have to have been translated 50 or so years later into Greek–and who knows how accurately. The whole thing seems fishy to me.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 26, 2017

          Yes, no one thinks the Sermon on the Mount would have been delivered in Greek. But it’s implausible it was delivered at all — as you suggest, our only source for it is fifty years later, in Greek. I sometimes tell my students to recall the State of the Union address from *last year* word for word! And fifty years later??

          • Avatar
            robertallen  June 28, 2017

            Thank you. Another question: As you know, in Latin, abstract nouns such as virtus (which by itself means the manly qualities, although ironically the word is feminine) and tempus take their “meaning” not intrinsically as in modern western languages, but rather from the words that surround them, often resulting for clarity in hendiadys.
            Is the same true for Greek and Aramaic? My gut instinct tells me yes, as the general semantic trend throughout the ages seems to be from the general to the specific, but perhaps I am mistaken. Also, do Greek and Aramaic contain the definite and indefinite articles lacking in Latin and is there a way to answer a question with a yes or no, also lacking in Latin?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 28, 2017

            I think context determines meaning in *all* languages, ancient and modern. Words never ever have “inherent” meanings So yes, that is true of Greek and Aramaic as well. Greek and Aramaic have definite articles, but not indefinite. And in Greek yes, there are words for yes and no.

          • Avatar
            robertallen  June 28, 2017

            Why is the reply not showing up after my last comment and your reply. Also how does one add a comment other than clicking on the reply button?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 30, 2017

            I don’t know! I haven’t heard of anyone having this problem. And I’m not sure about your second qeustion. What’s wrong with hitting reply?

          • Avatar
            robertallen  June 30, 2017

            Anent: I don’t know! I haven’t heard of anyone having this problem. And I’m not sure about your second qeustion. What’s wrong with hitting reply?

            1. The reply link does not appear at the bottom of this response, whereas it appears in earlier responses.

            2. Suppose one wants to add a new comment?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 2, 2017

            If you’re still having a problem, send me an email and we’ll look into it. No one else seems to be having it.

          • Avatar
            robertallen  July 2, 2017

            Anent:: If you’re still having a problem, send me an email and we’ll look into it. No one else seems to be having it.

            This reply of yours above has no reply link beneath it. I’ve noticed the same thing with other posts. In addition, how do I ask you a question which does not pertain to an article? Yours is the only site of this sort I have problems with, perhaps because there seems to be no help menu. Also, Ebay and Amazon which also take payments work with Internet Explorer, I cannot understand why your site does not as well.

            P.S. I have begun “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” and when I have finished this volume, I believe that I will have read all your works save “Jesus Before the Gospels.”

            P.P.S. I am willing to take out a year’s subscription when my month’s subscription runs out, provided my concerns are addressed.

  2. Robertus
    Robertus  August 24, 2012

    Sepphoris is only about 3 miles from Nazareth. I walked that far to kindergarten every day as a 5-year-old. Is it really so unlikely that Jesus may have looked for work there from time to time? Thus, I think it is at least possible that Jesus could have acquired some rudimentary Greek. That said, I’m not suggesting that Jesus spoke Greek with Pilate. I would not be surprised if Jesus had no trial before Pilate, let alone that he was provided with a translator. But, for the sake of discussion, assuming Jesus did have a trial before Pilate, maybe the tradition that he remained silent has a grain of truth to it, condemned to silence by his lack of linguistic training. Later on, such a tradition could have been interpreted theologically with reference to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.

  3. Avatar
    maxhirez  August 24, 2012

    The way Jesus talks about “the Greeks” (to go no where among them, not to feed them before the children, etc.) it doesn’t seem likely that he’d bother to learn their language.

    However I can also see a situation where the Romans so overpowered their supplicants that they didn’t care that the accused couldn’t understand the charges against them. Of course it’s less likely if you go with the fourth Gospel, but the Synoptics seem to indicate that a translator wouldn’t have done much work in that trial. What I always wondered was what the inflection would have been to Jesus’ “So you have said.” Was it “your words, not mine” or “Whatever, dude.” or a meek “If you say so.”? We don’t get enough from the gospels to be sure.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2012

      Yes, I agree it’s ambiguous. Moreover, we have no way of knowing *what* he might have said on the occasion.

  4. Avatar
    donmax  August 25, 2012

    Couldn’t agree more with your assessment of whether or not Jesus spoke Greek or any language other than Aramaic. I once asked Peter Flint why he thought the Septuagint was so important to our understanding of early Christianity. He responded with this question: “How do you suppose Jesus and Pilate communicated during the trial, if not in Greek?” All I could come up with was “Elizabethan English!” To my mind one is as fanciful as the other.

    DCS

  5. Avatar
    jimmo  August 25, 2012

    What is the evidence that Roman governors did not speak the local language? Is this issue specially addressed by Chancey or Hezser?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2012

      I doubt it. Governors, of course, were assigned to different provinces at different times of their lives You can read their own comments in some of the classical authors. I don’t think there’s much evidence to suggest that every time a proconsul, e.g., was offered a new province, he learned the indigenous language as part of his duties.

  6. Avatar
    lbehrendt  August 25, 2012

    Bart, what you’ve described is consistent with Jesus’ trial being conducted in Greek and not Latin, with the translation being between Jesus’ Aramaic and Pilate’s Greek. Greek-Aramaic translators would have been easier to find in first century Jerusalem, and Greek was probably the language Pilate used to communicate with Jewish social elites.

    As for whether Jesus could speak Greek … maybe not. But let’s ask a different question: might Jesus have spent time in Sepphoris? Sepphoris was the site of what was described as a “building boom” during Jesus’ youth and young adulthood. If this is true, some of the labor for this building must have been Jewish. Would all of these Jews have been residents of Sepphoris? Might some of these Jews have “commuted” from surrounding towns? While Jews like Jesus had no money for travel, how much money do you need to take an hour’s walk?

    Nazareth was a poor and insignificant village. In such a place, how much “business” could there have been for a TEKTON like Jesus? We know that Jesus DID leave Nazareth, that he had occasion to travel to the ministry of John the Baptist, and then conducted a traveling ministry of his own. With all that travel, it’s possible that Jesus encountered Greek speakers, and even transacted business with them.

    As I see it, the real question is not whether Jesus could speak Greek. The question is how Pilate conducted trials of accused Jewish peasants like Jesus. There’s no way for Pilate to have determined in advance how well an accused Jewish peasant could speak Greek. The only way Pilate could be sure to communicate with a Jewish peasant defendant would have been in translation. On the other hand, Pilate may have had no interest in communicating with accused Jews – he may have simply accepted the (Greek) word of the accusers. Jesus may not have been given the opportunity to speak at all – not in any language.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2012

      Yes, that has been a common view about jesus and sepphoris, especially among members of the Jesus seminar and those who are like-minded. I’ve never found in convincing; it has seemed like a romantic view of what life was like in rural areas of Palestine, and I think there would be a shred of evidence for it if it were in fact the case. But different people can have different views!

  7. Avatar
    Jacobus  August 25, 2012

    Did Paul speak Greek? Gerd Luedemann contrasts Jesus and his rural background against Paul and his urban background (Heresies: The Otherside of Early Christianity, p. 63). I always thought that Paul was probably Aramaic speaking, but could speak both Greek and Hebrew. About Jesus, if He could speak Greek, it would definitely have been crude and limited. In South Africa we have 11 official languages of which English is very view people’s first language, but almost all can speak it. However there are certain parts of the country where Afrikaans and Tswana or Zulu and English or Sotho and Afrikaans predominates. What I find interesting is that it seems that in a multi-lingual country, languages tend to group. I sometimes wonder how languages co-exist. Is there any data about languages that co-existed in the ancient world? Can it be interpreted? (Obviously there is, but how should one approach it?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2012

      Yes, languages probably do group. Most of the educated elite in the empire could speak their national language and Greek. And possibly others. But only the educated elite. And, of course, knowing how to speak a language is not a guarantee that one can compose a book in that language (think of your fellow multi-lingual neighbors in South Africa: could *they* have composedthe letter to the Romans in one of their many languages?) In any event, Paul’s primary language appears to have been Greek.

      • Avatar
        Jacobus  August 28, 2012

        Yes, thinking of ordinary letters in South Africa in English, many of them read more like Mark’s Greek than that of Paul. I do find it very interesting that Paul was probably a Greek Speaker while Jesus Aramaic. It means that very early on there had to be a “language bridge” between Greek and Aramaic. We probably find it in the gospel passages where Aramaic is transcribed and interpreted into Greek. Why does Paul sometimes use Aramaic “Abba” (Father), it is not Hebrew “Av” (sorry for the transcription)? Could he have been bilingual? (In the sense that he didn’t know which was his mother tongue? If he was a Jew, his mother was a Jew, but maybe only ethnically…)

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 28, 2012

          My sense is that some Aramaic words became standard Christian usage even among non-native speakers, just as my local Maranatha Bible Chapel is not made up of Aramaic speaking believers!

          • Avatar
            Jacobus  August 30, 2012

            🙂 It makes sense.

  8. Avatar
    ZachET  August 26, 2012

    I heard James White say that ‘Everyone in that land did, (speak Greek) you had to as that’s what the Roman soldiers where speaking and you better know what they where telling you to do’

    What do you make of that?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 26, 2012

      I think it shows, yet again, how fully ignorant he is about the ancient world in general and the New Testament world in particular. He really would be better served not to pretend he is a scholar.

      • Avatar
        Jerry  August 26, 2012

        Bart,
        Ouch! I have read both you and James White. But being a layperson, I guess I thought he was a scholar. Caveat emptor! Why isn’t he a scholar? How can laypersons tell?

        Thanks
        Jerry

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 27, 2012

          He’s not a scholar because he hasn’t had the training of a scholar or participated in the life of a scholar. On this blog, a while ago, I started a series of posts on The Work of a Professional Scholar. I haven’t finished the series yet (something else came up, then something else, etc), but I think I posted ten different posts describing different aspects about what it means to be a scholar. You may look at those to get an idea. I’ll finish the series soon. But you’re right, as an outsider, it’s very hard to know the difference. But not from the inside. There’s not a scholar of biblical studies teaching at any major research university or top-level liberal arts college in the English-speaking world who would mistake James White for a scholar.

          • Avatar
            hwl  August 28, 2012

            Bart, in your writings, you often refer to certain biblical interpretations being the view of the “majority of scholars” or the “vast majority of scholars”. If I may make a recommendation, whenever you make this type of reference in your popular books, do add a footnote (as is the convention in Wikipedia articles in assertions entailing appeal to authorities) citing references the reader can check up for themselves. This helps readers sympathetic to your view, to cite a verifiable source in debates and discussions with skeptics. As you recognise, it is difficult for outsiders to know the difference between views of consensus scholarship and those on the peripheral. A layman reading Josh McDowell’s “The New Evidence that demands a verdict” – a wildly popular apologetics book – would view it as “the Bible” on Christian apologetics. To someone who know something about biblical scholarship, the book is packed with misinformation. Similarly for works of like-minded authors such as Gleason Archer and Norman Geisler.

            The real tragedy is that in the areas of biblical interpretation, source criticism and historical studies of purported events described in the Bible, the voices of conservative evangelical apologists are far louder and numerous than those of reputable scholars. Church congregations are taught week in and week out the conservative or traditional viewpoints, and never exposed to two centuries of critical scholarship. Some of your evangelical critics refer to you as a “radical biblical scholar” when the reality is in most cases, you are merely presenting consensus views of scholarship. To most lay evangelicals, it does appear this way because you tell your readers things so radically different from what their pastors and their favored authors of popular Bible commentaries and Bible study guides have been telling them. Also there are so many evangelical seminaries in America, churning graduates many of whom will become leaders in their Christian community and are most eager to evangelise rest of the world. Sometimes I feel sorry for the thoughtful and devout members of conservative evangelical churches, who are short-changed by church leadership. Despite their confident claim to the contrary, I find a lot of conservative evangelical leaders are less interested in “finding the truth wherever it leads”, rather are wielded to traditional religious positions they are emotionally comfortable with.

            There is another difficulty outsiders face in evaluating claims made by evangelical apologists: some apologists are indeed reputable and well-recognised scholars authoring many articles in top journals, but their field of scholarship is in theology or philosophy. Most lay Christians don’t recognise the big differences between biblical scholarship and theological scholarship. I think some conservative evangelical views, when presented as theology, do qualify as reputable scholarship in theological journals. But the same views become peripheral and marginal when presented in academic biblical journals. The problem is that a good deal of theology are “closed-systems”.

            Can you provide the dates of your posts on The Work of a Professional Scholar?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 28, 2012

            Thanks for your suggestion. I wonder if it would make any difference, though? My sense is that evangelical Christians would just assume that I happen to be listing those godless liberal scholars who happen to agree with me, as opposed to those stellar experts on all things ancient, like Josh McDowell. 🙂
            On my postings: the search function works extremely well. If you still have trouble with it, let me know.

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  April 27, 2014

        Speaking of James White, have you ever found out why he was making references to the Quran and bringing the Quran up in your debate with him? It was about whether or not the Bible misquoted Jesus, and had nothing to do anything pertaining to the Quran or Islam in general.

  9. Avatar
    hwl  August 26, 2012

    (not sure what happened to my earlier post)
    Would the inhabitants of the Hellenistic urban region of the Decapolis have spoken primarily in Greek? The synoptic authors refer to Jesus taking his ministry to this region.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 27, 2012

      Great question. I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure Jesus spent much time there, but if he did, it seems unlikely he learned a foregin language for the occasion (i.e. if they didn’t speak Aramaic). (I visited Poland once and tried to speak Polish while there. The first night I went to a hotel and told the young woman behind the desk (as I realized later), something like: “Hello. I am America. I am here to sleep with you tonight.”) (My point: being someplace doesn’t mean speaking the language!)

      • Avatar
        hwl  August 28, 2012

        I can imagine the expression on the woman’s face (she must be delighted).

  10. Avatar
    James Dowden  August 27, 2012

    Totally playing the devil’s advocate (and I have yet to read Chancey; it will at least be interesting to see quite how much (or how little) evidence there is):

    1) How does the picture you paint of an unhellenized Galilee square with Matthew Richey’s conclusions in his recent article “The Use of Greek at Qumran: Manuscript and Epigraphic Evidence for a Marginalized Language” (in Dead Sea Discoveries 19.2), specifically that:

    “Manuscript and epigraphic survivals demonstrate that the Covenanters’ use of Greek can be characterized as primarily occurring in the context of day-to-day economic transactions, business, and trade. The evidence suggests that, like the Bar Kokhba rebels, the Covenanters attempted to “purify” their discourse and way of life, but economic realities nevertheless encouraged periodic communication in the Greek language.”

    Was Galilee and its tradesmen peculiarly backward, even compared to the Judean desert? Or is Richey simply wrong?

    2) How does the picture of limited travel square with obligations for Temple sacrifices under Jewish Law (e.g. Luke 2:24, cf. Leviticus 12:8)? Yes, the Samaritans managed to substitute Mount Gerizim for Zion, presumably at least partially for convenience; but as I understand it, no-one argues that Jesus was anything other than Jewish. Was the Law in practice widely neglected in Galilee?

    3) In any event, clearly some sort of continuum existed between the good Greek of an educated elite and total ignorance of Greek. For instance, the Book of Revelation could scarcely be held to be written in anything resembling educated Greek, but it is Greek nonetheless, the sort of Greek one could well envisage an educated elite exchanging a few smiles about. The elite vs everyone else distinction seems rather oversimplistic. Or is this a case for Galilee being somehow exceptionally backward again in its social structure?

    4) A point has risen in the comment thread above about Paul’s languages. As far as I know, his citations of the Hebrew Bible are overwhelmingly from the LXX or a similar Greek text, inasmuch as they are distinct and free of paraphrase. Do we have any evidence for his speaking a Semitic language other than Acts 21:40, 22:2?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 29, 2012

      Thanks for all these. I’m afraid that the answers and issues are far too complex for a quick reply here. but yes, I would differentiate the literate Qumraners from the majority of Jews in Palestine; myunderstanding is that most Jews did not participate in Temple sacrifice; even the author of Revelation was far more highly educated that 97% of the people in Palestine; and no, I don’t think Paul could speak a semitic language (i.e., Acts is probalby not to be trusted on this point.

  11. Avatar
    fred  August 29, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman,
    In his recent book, The Triumph of Christianty, Rodney Stark proposes that Jesus was probably educated and may have been from a well-to-do family. If educated, he would have been literate, and very possibly could speak Greek.

    Stark’s position is based first on the frequent references to Jesus as “rabbi” – which implies a education in the law. If indeed he debated the law with other rabbis and scribes, he would be ill equipped to engage them were he not educated. Stark suggests that an education may have required financial support from his family. Suportting further this affluence theory, he points out that Jesus’ four brothers sometimes travelled with him (why weren’t they earning a living?) Also, 2 Cor 8:9 suggests Jesus may have abandoned the privilege into which he was born. In addition, Jesus was said to associate with some wealthy individuals, like Zacchaeus and Jairus. Jesus spoke of giving away one’s wealth – he may have been saying “do as I have done.”

    Anyway, that’s his position, and some highlights from his case. It’s at odds with yours, so I’m curious what you think of this proposal.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 29, 2012

      Yes, I think this is completely implausible. Stark is always fascinating, but hte problem is that he is not a scholar of antiquity (he is a sociologist), and so makes mistakes like this with disheartening regularity. Being a “rabbi” in teh first century was not what it was in later rabbinic times. And 2 Cor. 8:9 is not talking about Jesus being a rich fellow; the parallel is Phil. 2:6-11.

  12. Avatar
    jasha  August 31, 2012

    Dr Ehrman,

    You probably know this, but Jesus and Pilate spoke in both Aramaic as well as Latin in “The Passion of the Christ”. If I remember correctly, Pilate started off speaking in Aramaic and only switched to Latin when Jesus did first. Pilate would have lived in Judea for ten years or so – do you think it out of the question that he would have picked up the local language during this time?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 1, 2012

      I don’t remember that. I thought their entire conversation was Latin. But I haven’t seen teh movie for a while.

  13. Avatar
    hwl  September 6, 2012

    In “Marginal Jew: Vol1” published in 1991, John Meier – known for his meticulous scholarship – says we cannot be absolute sure of the language commonly used by ordinary Jews in Palestine. He also says scholars are divided on whether Jesus regularly spoke Greek (R.O.P. Taylor, A.W Argyle), Aramaic (Joseph Fitzmyer) or Hebrew (Harris Birkeland). My understanding is that pretty much all scholars nowadays agree on Aramaic. Has the scholarly consensus on the question of the languages Jesus could speak, changed significantly in the past 2 decades?
    Is scholarship now largely persuaded by Mark Chancey’s thesis that Jesus most certainly could not speak Greek?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 7, 2012

      I had forgotten that Meier wrote that. Yes, I’d say the majority of scholars today think Jesus spoke in Aramaic. I don’t know what most think about Jesus and Greek — it might be a more even split.

  14. Avatar
    EdwardAlan  September 28, 2012

    I think the question that should be asked is; did the ancients believe Jesus could speak Greek? If so, what evidence is there to the positive & what evidence is there to the negative? Not that there isn’t any negative evidence, I just do not know of any. So I will list what I do know & anyone who has any to the contrary feel free to present it.

    In the Recognitions of Clement 5.9, it states that while speaking in a non-native tongue Jesus used the Aramaic word “mammon” instead of the Greek word for “riches”.

    Rec. 5.9 “Wherefore also the true Prophet, when He was present with us, and saw some rich men negligent with respect to the worship of God, thus unfolded the truth of this matter: ‘No one,’ said He, ‘can serve two masters; ye cannot serve God and mammon; calling riches, in the language of His country, mammon.

    The other side of the coin would be, Clement did not write the Recognitions & someone else fabricated them under his name. If this be so, then what purpose would it be for this unknown author to fabricate the above citation other than to legitimize his work? The legitimation being the author knew it was well believed in his time Jesus spoke Greek.

    Is there any logical reason Jesus would use a native word while speaking in a non-native language? Anyone who has spent any time around non-native people have witnessed their use of native words when speaking in a non-native tongue. Especially when referring to another native persons name, place, etc, and/or because they are not quite fluent in the non-native language they are speaking, as in those who are uneducated as Jesus & his apostles.

    The above example given of Jesus using a native word while speaking in a non-native language, & the author of the Recognitions explanation of the word, would also explain why in the N.T. you have a number of verses that include an “interpretation” by the author because the speaker he is quoting used a native word instead of a non-native word.

  15. Avatar
    FrankofBoulder  January 22, 2014

    The stories in the gospels about Pilate’s chat with Jesus aren’t credible. Jesus’ disciples weren’t witnesses to Pilate’s meeting with Jesus. So, how would the gospel writers have gotten any information about such a meeting? Jesus’ followers wouldn’t have had any information about Pilate’s encounter with Jesus. They wouldn’t even have known whether such an encounter occurred. So, it’s pointless to wonder about what language Pilate and Jesus spoke to each other.

    The gospels’ accounts (all of which are different) of Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus are just story-telling — myths and legends that were fabricated later. No one could have had a clue about what happened to Jesus between the time of his arrest and his crucifixion. His followers simply filled in the details with their imaginations. I’m surprised that some scholars take all this so seriously, as if Pilate’s questioning of Jesus is a fact. I think some scholars must be rather gullible to accept these kinds of tall tales in the gospels.

  16. Avatar
    SHameed01  April 24, 2014

    Is there proof that Peshitta Aramaic New Testament manuscripts are translations of an earlier Greek text?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 24, 2014

      Linguists are confident about this one….

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  April 25, 2014

        is there a really good book on the subject that you can recommend?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2014

          Sorry — on what subject?

          • Avatar
            SHameed01  April 25, 2014

            the subject of greek primacy and how all the aramaic new testament manuscripts are translations of the earlier Greek manuscripts….also if the New Testament books were writtein in Greek why did the early Church fathers would believe certain New Testament books were written in what they called “Hebrew”?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

            Did they? Whom are you thinking of, and what did they say exactly?

  17. Avatar
    SHameed01  April 28, 2014

    /Did they? Whom are you thinking of, and what did they say exactly?/

    For some reason I wasn’t able to respond back to your comment, so I am making this separate post. So to answer your question/s, here are a list of quotations from church fathers from this pdf file link: aramaicnt.com/Research/Peshitta%20History.pdf (Note: capitalization emphasis are mine)‎:

    “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews IN THEIR OWN DIALECT while Peter and Paul were
    preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and
    interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the
    companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord,
    who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”
    – Irenaeus (d. by 200)

    “Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned
    by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of
    Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he COMPOSED IT IN THE HEBREW LANGUAGE and published it for the converts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, “The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you,saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.””
    – Origen at Alexandria (185-232)

    “About that time, Pantaenus (second century), a man highly distinguished for his learning, had charge of the
    school of the faithful in Alexandria. A school of sacred learning, which continues to our day, was established there in ancient times, and as we have been informed, was managed by men of great ability and zeal for divine things. Among these it is reported that Pantaenus was at that time especially conspicuous, as he had been educated in the philosophical system of those called Stoics. They say that he displayed such zeal for the divine Word, that he was appointed as a herald of the Gospel of Christ to the nations in the East, and was sent as far as India. For indeed there were still many evangelists of the Word who sought earnestly to use their inspired zeal, after the examples of the apostles, for the increase and building up of the Divine Word. Pantaenus was one of these, and is said to have gone to India. It is reported that among persons there who knew of Christ, he found the Gospel according to Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left with them the writing of Matthew IN THE HEBREW LANGUAGE, which they had preserved till that time. After many good deeds, Pantaenus finally became the head of the school at Alexandria, and expounded the treasures of divine doctrine both orally and in writing.”
    – Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, Book V, CHAPTER 10

    “For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel TO WRITING HIS NAME, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.” – Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, Book III, CHAPTER 24

    “Since, in the beginning of this work, we promised to give, when needful, the words of the ancient presbyters and
    writers of the Church, in which they have declared those traditions which came down to them concerning the
    canonical books, and since Irenaeus was one of them, we will now give his words and, first, what he says of the
    sacred Gospels: Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE” – Eusebius of
    Caesarea, Church History, Book V, CHAPTER 8

    “For as Paul had addressed the Hebrews IN THE LANGUAGE OF HIS COUNTRY; some say that the evangelist Luke, others that Clement, translated the epistle.” – Eusebius (4th Cent.); Eccl. Hist. 3:38:2-3

    “He (Paul) being a Hebrew WROTE IN HEBREW, that is, his own tongue and most fluently while things which were eloquently written in Hebrew were more eloquently TURNED INTO GREEK.”
    – Jerome (4th Cent.); Lives of Illustrious Men, Book V

    “To sum up briefly, he has given in the Hypotyposes abridged accounts of all canonical Scripture, not omitting the
    disputed books, — I refer to Jude and the other Catholic epistles, and Barnabas and the so-called Apocalypse of
    Peter. He says that the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and that it was written to the Hebrews IN THE HEBREW LANGUAGES but that Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. But he says that the words, Paul the Apostle, were probably not prefixed, because, in sending it to the Hebrews, who were prejudiced and suspicious of him, he wisely did not wish to repel them at the very beginning by giving his name.”
    – Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, Book VI, CHAPTER 14

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      So Matthew and the book of Hebrews. Yes, that’s right. But the earliest reference is Irenaeus — a full hundred years after the fact — and then it gtoes up to Jerome at the end of the fourth century. They simply didn’t know. There’s no way that either one could have been written in Hebrew (or even Aramaic), as modern linguistic analyses have shown.

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  April 28, 2014

        From the same online source, there is a quote from Papias:

        “And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he
        remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him…..Matthew put together the oracles IN THE HEBREW LANGUAGE, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” – Fragments of Papias (60-130CE) VI.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

          Yes indeed. In several of my publications I explain why Papias almost certainly is not referring to “our” Matthew, but to something else.

          • Avatar
            SHameed01  April 30, 2014

            Where can I find these publications? Or are you alluding to one of your books?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2014

            Sorry — I don’t know which publications you’re referring to.

  18. Avatar
    SHameed01  May 1, 2014

    /Yes indeed. In several of my publications I explain why Papias almost certainly is not referring to “our” Matthew, but to something else./

    Yes Professor, and I was wondering if you could tell me what specific publications are those and where can I access them?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2014

      One place is Jesus Interrupted, pp. 107-10.

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  May 2, 2014

        Thank you very much! I know you have a blog article titled “Did Jesus Speak Greek?”, I was wondering if you plan on writing a book on the topic? OR a book on the topic of Greek primacy?

  19. Avatar
    Malik  January 15, 2018

    Does Jesus quote from the LXX? If so, isn’t that evidence enough that Jesus could (at the very least) read Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 16, 2018

      No, Jesus did not speak Greek.

      • Avatar
        alanpaul71  January 27, 2019

        Hi Bart- Does the fact that a presumably culturally Jewish linguistically Aramaic man like the apostle Andrew was given a Greek name, suggest that Greek influence and presumably the language was widespread?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 28, 2019

          It’s a great question. I’ve never been completely sure how to answer it, in part because I’m not sure where he was actually from. (There were a couple of cities in Galilee that were heavily Hellenized, particularly Sepphoris and Tiberias)

          • Avatar
            alanpaul71  January 29, 2019

            Thanks Bart for the reply. New to the blog and wading through lots of stuff. Absolutely love what you’re doing!

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