Hebrew in the 1st Century


Some have believed from as early as the fourth century C.E. that Aramaic was the common language of the first century Jews in Jerusalem. However, this belief is in conflict with the historical, archeological and Biblical evidence. The Greek word for Chaldean, which is the language we also call Aramaic, is (Khal-dai-on), as seen in Acts 7:4. The Greek word for Hebrew is (Heb-ra-i-kos), which was used in the following Scriptures.

Luke 23:38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew (), THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

John 5:2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew (), tongue Bethesda, having five porches.

John 19:13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew (), Gabbatha.

John 19:17 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew (), Golgotha:

John 19:20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew (), and Greek, and Latin.

John 20:16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

The translators of this particular passage left out the word, Hebrew (), though I don’t know why. The Greek text should have been rendered, “and said to Him in Hebrew, Rabboni . . .”

Acts 21:40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew (), tongue, saying,

Acts 22:2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew (), tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)

Acts 26:14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew (), tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Revelation 9:11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew (), tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.

Revelation 16:16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew (), tongue Armageddon.

Some, including Thayer, try to make He-bra-i-sti mean Aramaic, which is incorrect. As already noted, the word for Aramaic appears in the book of Acts, chapter seven, verse four and is a completely different word.

The belief that the Jews spoke Aramaic in the first century is based largely on the belief that the Jews continued to speak the Chaldean language after their release from the Babylonian captivity. However, there has never been a time upon release from captivity that the Jews didn’t return to their native Hebrew even to this very day. The Jews were in captivity for 400 years under the Egyptians, and they never stopped speaking the Hebrew language. If the argument for Aramaic was applied in the same way to this situation, we would have to assume that Mo-sheh wrote the original To-rah, the first five books of the Bible, in the Egyptian language because the argument is that the Jews continued speaking the language of their captors. Further, if the Jews did, in fact, keep the Aramaic language once they were released from captivity, it would stand to reason that all the Books of the Tanakh following their release from Babylon, which are Zach., Hag., Mal., Neh., Ezra, and Ester, would have been written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. In other words, the Biblical text written during the Babylonian captivity was written in Aramaic, yet none of the later books were written in Aramaic.

Psalm 22:1 says, “ . . . My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” In Hebrew this passage reads, “ (e-li e-li la-mah a-zav-ta-ni).” (Y’-shu-a) [Jesus] spoke these words from the cross. In Matthew 27:46 it reads, “ (ei-lee ei-lee leh-mah sah-bakh-tah-nee).” In Mark 15:34 it reads, “ (ei-low-ee ei-low-ee leh-mah sah-bakh-tah-nee).” The first two words, ei-lee ei-lee, in Matthew are actually transliterated from Hebrew rather than Aramaic, while the rest of the sentence is transliterated from Aramaic. The entire sentence in Mark is transliterated from Aramaic. What is interesting in this passage, is the fact that the Jews standing around Yeshua didn’t understand these simple, Aramaic words. If Aramaic was the language of the people in the first century, there should have been no problem understanding these words. However, Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts of this event, both, state that some of the Jews that stood there thought that Y’-shu-a was crying out to Elijah. One man was so upset at this that he filled a sponge with vinegar and tried to force some into the mouth of the Lord. The others told him to let it go saying, “let us see whether Elias will come to save Him.” The people that did this were Jews not Roman soldiers. The Romans wouldn’t have spoken Hebrew or Aramaic and wouldn’t have understood what was being said. Even if they had spoken the language, they wouldn’t have cared about or been upset by Yeshua’s words. These were Jews who were familiar with the verse in the book of Psalms but who obviously didn’t understand the Aramaic language when they heard it. So the Biblical account of the language of the Jews is clearly Hebrew not Aramaic.

Much Luv and Shalom,

Robert Allon