Aramaic

What language did Jesus speak? Was he illiterate?

What language did Jesus speak? Was he illiterate?

THE TWO QUESTIONS above have been raised online in (1) a 2018 article for a Catholic website and (2) several Web posts in the past year or so.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

That first one is easy: Aramaic.

As writer Philip Koslowski stated January 21 on the international Catholic aleteia.org, it was the common language spoken by Jews in the 1st Century Holy Land. There’s virtually no doubt Jesus would have taught in that tongue.

For one thing, the original Greek New Testament carried over numerous Aramaic words, especially in Mark and Matthew. Our Gospels in English are translations from Greek that report sayings Jesus would have uttered in Aramaic -- something the experts continually ponder.

Question #2 is more complex. On literacy, there’s no way to know for sure whether Jesus could read or write Aramaic.

Scholars like England’s Chris Keith and America’s Bart Ehrman think it’s most probable he could not read and write. On the popular level, Reza Aslan asserted this in his heterodox Jesus biography “Zealot,” which was so lauded by the “mainstream” media. (Yes, he’s the Muslim-turned-Christian-turned-Muslim-again that CNN then hired to host a religion series but sacked over his profane tweet assailing President Donald Trump.)

As an aside, note that Random House promoted Aslan’s book as “balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources” instead of “other historical sources.” Such sleight of hand excludes the Gospels -- our earliest and most extensive material -- from the historical materials regarding Jesus.

Whatever Jesus’ skill with written Aramaic, one Bible passage indicates he had some working knowledge of Hebrew, the language of the Jewish Scriptures and used by the religious elite.

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Assyrian Christian hostage thriller: The Associated Press gets this persecution story right

Assyrian Christian hostage thriller: The Associated Press gets this persecution story right

Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with northern Iraq knows there’s several ancient people groups who’ve been there for millennia.

The Kurds descend from the ancient Medes. There were Jews there –- sent to the region by the Chaldean monarch Nebuchadnezzar in the fifth century BC to join earlier deportees -- who lingered there until very recently. And then there are the Assyrians who came to the fore in the ninth century BC.

It’s the ancestors of the latter that concerns this fascinating Associated Press story that recounts the tale of these latter-day Assyrians imprisoned by ISIS and the bishop who raised about $11 million to free them.

It was written by AP’s “international security” correspondent (didn’t know there was such a beat) and it’s a winner.

Start reading how an ancient Christian community took action, after governments around the world refused to help them.

SAARLOUIS, Germany (AP) -- The millions in ransom money came in dollar by dollar, euro by euro from around the world. The donations, raised from church offerings, a Christmas concert, and the diaspora of Assyrian Christians on Facebook, landed in a bank account in Iraq. Its ultimate destination: the Islamic State group.
Deep inside Syria, a bishop worked around the blurred edges of international law to save the lives of more than 200 people — one of the largest groups of hostages yet documented in IS's war in Syria and Iraq. It took more than a year, and videotaped killings of three captives, before all the rest were freed.
Paying ransoms is illegal in the United States and most of the West, and the idea of paying the militants is morally fraught, even for those who saw no alternative.

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Concerning other little-known religious 'genocides' on the edges of the news

Concerning other little-known religious 'genocides' on the edges of the news

Pope Francis infuriated the government of Turkey by using the word “genocide” leading up to April 24, the 100th anniversary of the start of the mass murder of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in what was then the Ottoman Empire. That atrocity, amid the chaos and rivalries of World War One, is often regarded as the forerunner and inspiration for Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

In the April 15 issue of The Christian Century, Baylor University historian Philip Jenkins reports on another 2015 centennial that major media have ignored -- the “Sayfo” (“sword” year) memorialized by Christian Assyrians. Among other events, historians will examine this at the Free University of Berlin June 24-28. During that dying era of the empire with its historic Muslim Caliphate, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Greeks were also killed during the “Pontic” ethnic cleansing.

The hatred toward all three Christian groups a century ago finds unnerving echoes in current attacks by Muslim fanatics in the Mideast and Africa, most recently the video beheadings of Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Assyrians are also  victimized once again, now by ISIS under its purported restoration of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The Assyrians’ story is part of the over-all emptying out of Christianity across the Mideast.

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What language did Jesus speak? The Tablet knows

So, did the pope and Israel’s prime minister have a rancorous exchange in Jerusalem over the topic of Jesus’ mother tongue? One thing is certain: Headline writers had a field day with the “spar”, as Reuters characterized the encounter. Was it a “spat,” as per The Chicago Tribune? Did they “publicly bicker” as per The Age of Melbourne? Did Francis “correct” Netayahu, as Time reported? Or was the National Post  correct in calling it a “quibble”?

Commentators were quick to jump. I’ve seen a fair number of anti-Semitic comments on Facebook, as well as anti-Catholic ones (I move in mixed circles), that denounce Francis or Netanyahu with vigor.

Carolyn Glick of The Jerusalem Post noted the political ramification of the remarks, placing them in the context of what she saw as a failed papal visit that set back Catholic-Jewish relations.

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