[B-Greek] Re: transcription to Greek from semitic languages

al al at onetel.net.uk
Fri Jun 20 14:30:56 EDT 2003

Dear Schmuel,

As Ken wrote, I brought this topic to the table last year.  Regarding
words borrowed by native Greek speakers from Semitic languages, I
think we are asking the wrong questions if we ask what we should/would
expect to be the case (no pun intended).  What we really need is a
comprehensive treatment of the Aramaic and Hebrew loanwords found in
Greek.  While Muraoka and Hatch/Redpath is a good start, these are
only for the LXX.  To properly address the issue, one needs to
consider the various major corpora in the language environment in

That is to say, if we are interested in Greek language borrowings in
first-century Judaea, there are certain texts we should consult and
certain ones to which we should give less prominence for the task.
While one cannot dispute a certain amount of idiomatic currency
between Alexandria and Italy, it would be naïve to think that both
places and all in between used the same exact linguistic register.

In this regard, you would want to consider different texts for the
different parts of the New Testament.  Not even the "Old Testament in
Greek" is to be used at all times.  It was not the version of choice
throughout the Empire but was used by certain major writers (e.g.,
Matthew, Paul, et al.).

As Ken suggested, the time at which the borrowing occurred would seem
to have something to do with it.  Another, perhaps more important,
matter is that of who is doing the borrowing.  For example, if a Greek
soldier were writing back to his superiors and had to write about why
the Jews always took off one day out of every seven, he might be
inclined to adopt "Shabbat" as a technical term.  He would, however,
have to do this in such a way that his superiors understood the
context of the sentence, and so he might attach a case ending on it --
Sabbatos.  However, if religious folk -- Christian Jews or another
variant of Judaism -- were writing in Greek but wanted to use "Rabbi"
or "Abba" with a significant, religious connotation that is not
readily contained in "didaskalos" or "pater", they would have to carry
the word from Aramaic or Hebrew into Greek; there is no other way.

Consequently, for each loanword, one would have to wade through the
textual data, find where the word occurs first, and try to trace, as
much as possible, the spread of its usage.  It would seem that one can
speak with confidence on the matter only after having done this
groundwork.  [Ere someone say that "Shabbat" was used first by
Christians in Asia Minor or some other place, I would stress that the
above example is purely hypothetical and offered for illustration.]

After all this textual and linguistic work is done, one still must
reckon with problems in the texts themselves.  This is where all the
good work and will in the world could come to nought.  For general
purposes it would probably suffice to work off the generally accepted
hypotheses about a Gospels' provenance.  However, behind every Gospel
is a series of sources whence the author drew and of whose original
provenance/language environment we cannot be sure.  While we may think
the Gospel of Mark was written in Syria, the author/compiler/redactor
might be using works written in any one of several languages and from
any one of several areas.  The commonly used methods of analysis do
not (cannot?) account for one or more polyglots in the chain of
textual tradition who worked from texts that were written in multiple
languages and drawn from multiple locations.  Obviously, this will
throw off our results with the foregoing method, no matter how good
our work is.

Hope this helps,


Albert Lukaszewski
University of Saint Andrews
Saint Andrews, Scotland

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Date: Thu, 19 Jun 2003 09:29:52 -0400
From: Schmuel <schmuel at escape.com>
Subject: [B-Greek] transcription to Greek from semitic languages -
        case    endings, hebraisti
To: "b-greek at franklin.oit.unc.edu" <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Message-ID: < at pop.escape.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
Hi b-greek,

   I have a question about words in Greek that are done as transcription (or, if you prefer,
transliteration) from Hebrew or Aramaic to Greek.  In a sense it is an overall, general translation question, and I will use one Scripture passage as the

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.

Now, would we expect the Greek word "Gabbatha" to have Greek grammatical structure,
in terms of its case ending ?  ie.. Would such or a case ending be expected to be added to
a Greek grammatical form ? Or would we expect the word to simply be brought over
to sound as close as possible to the source language ?
(Yes, this is part of a raging debate about Hebraic or Aramaic origins of certain words
 in the New Testament, and the definition of "hebraisti", my purpose here is
 to understand what we would expect in the Greek, and how "solid" or "flexible"
 our understandings of this are).
All help appreciated...

The topic is fairly interesting on a whole, and some folks conjecture based upon
what is considered "correct" to my question above
    .... so I figured I would ask the experts :-)

Steven Avery
Queens, NY

schmuel at escape.com
Messianic_Apologetic-subscribe at yahoogroups.com


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