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Jesus’ Teaching in Aramaic and the Books of the Canon: Mailbag February 24, 2017

There are two interesting questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: one about Jesus’ teaching in Aramaic and the other about which books did not make it into the New Testament.  If you have a question yourself, ask it as a comment and I will add it to the burgeoning list!   QUESTION: Even though Christ taught in Aramaic, was there absolutely nothing written down in Aramaic? Is there much of a language translation problem going from Aramaic to Greek? (Again, it’s mind boggling to consider how many opportunities for error to creep in by accident or design)   RESPONSE: Yes, I’m afraid that’s right: we don’t have any writings from any early Christians in the language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic.  That makes things rather complicated when it comes to deciding what Jesus really said – that is, if we want to have an idea of his exact words.  Let me make two points about that. First, there are some passages in the Gospels where the author will preserve an Aramaic word or phrase on Jesus’ [...]

An Interesting Scribal Change at the Beginning of Mark

Since I’ve started saying something about how scribes altered the Gospel of Mark over the years as they copied it (yesterday I mentioned eight changes made by scribes in just the five verses, Mark 14:27-31) I would like to pursue this theme a bit, and talk about some of the more interesting changes.   In this post I’ll pick just one that occurs right at the beginning of the Gospel.  It’s an interesting change because scribes appear to have made it in order to eliminate a possible contradiction that was originally found in the Gospel – already in verse 2! The first verse of Mark’s Gospel is often understood to be a kind of title for the entire account: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  To that opening statement, most manuscripts add the words “the Son of God.”  I’ll talk about that textual variant in my next post, because it is complicated and interesting too – were those additional words originally found in v. 1 or not?   And why would it matter?  It turns [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:33-04:00February 22nd, 2017|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Gospel Evidence that Jesus Existed

Jesus existed. In yesterday’s post, I began to show how Jesus is the best attested Palestinian Jew of the first century if we look only at external evidence. Josephus is better attested because we have his own writings. I am also not including Paul because I’m talking only about Jews from Palestine; he was from the Diaspora. The Gospel Sources We have four narrative accounts of Jesus’ life and death, written by different people at different times and in different places, based on numerous sources that no longer survive.  Jesus was not invented by Mark.  He was also known to Matthew, Luke, and John, and to the sources which they used (Q, M, L, and the various sources of John). All of this was within the first century. Non-New Testament & Non-Gospel Sources - We Have Many! This is not to mention sources from outside the New Testament that know that Jesus was a historical figure – for example, 1 Clement and the documents that make up the Didache.  Or -- need I say it? [...]

2022-07-31T16:19:24-04:00October 28th, 2016|Bart's Debates, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: January 24, 2016

A day late, here is this (past) week’s Readers Mailbag.   I will be dealing with two questions this time, one on why Mark includes Aramaic words in his accounts of Jesus’ sayings and the other on where someone might find English versions of the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  If you too have a question, simply ask it here as a comment, or send me an email, and I will add it to the list!   QUESTION: Why is Mark sometimes quoting Jesus in Aramaic? I know, that Jesus cry on cross is possibly reference to the psalms, but why is Mark spicing his gospel with Aramaic much more than other gospel authors? Is it sign of a oral/written source used by Mark? RESPONSE: Ah, good question.   It’s true that Mark on occasion does record some of the words of Jesus in Aramaic.   For example, in chapter 5 Jesus is told that a young girl (daughter of Jairus) has died; he goes to her in her room, and taking her by the hand [...]

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 [...]

2021-01-20T01:04:49-05:00August 24th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Questions on Jesus’ Language and on the Crucifixion

QUESTIONS: If Jesus could not speak Latin, he must have communicated with the Romans in Aramaic. Was it common for Romans, at least of a certain class, to speak Aramaic? If not, how could Jesus have communicated with, for example, Pontius Pilate? Perhaps through a translator? Also, are there any sources I can consult regarding my question on the crucifixion? Wikipedia does not address this issue and you yourself have stated that you believe it was a small public ceremony which coincides with what I was taught. So I would appreciate any assistance you can render in this respect.   RESPONSE: OK, two quick questions, and two quick answers. You’re right, Jesus could certainly not speak Latin -- unless you base your views of Jesus on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ; the entire movie is filmed in Aramaic, until we get to the trial before Pilate, where Jesus shifts into completely fluent Latin. What a scream. In any event, it’s clear why the Gospel according to Mel wants Jesus to be able to [...]

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