[B-Greek] How many languages in Acts 21-22?

George F Somsel gfsomsel at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 18 14:21:49 EDT 2010

In War 6.96 it is not evident beyond cavil that by ἑβραί̈ζων hEBRAIZWN it 
intends Hebrew rather than the currently used dialect of Aramaic.  In War 
5.268-274 it is questionable that Josephus understood Hebrew.  The call at the 
launching of a stone which is translated into Greek as ὁ υἱὸς ἔρχεται hO 
hUIOS ERXETAI could only be attributable to being originally stated in Hebrew 
rather than Aramaic.  This raises the question regarding why Josephus would 
translate it into Greek as "son" rather than "stone."  It would appear that he 
actually had no understanding of Hebrew or he would have translated it as ὁ 
λίθος ἔρεχεται hO LIQOS ERXETAI.  In order to assume that Josephus understood 
Hebrew we would need to assume that, when he translated the phrase, he was being 
too cute by half since he fails to explain the "inside joke" to his Greek 
readers.  Moreover, Josephus tips us off to the thought that he didn't 
understand Hebrew when he states τῇ πατρίῳ γλώσσῃ βοῶντες THi PATRIWi 
GLWSSHi BOWNTES.  He notably does not use the term ἑβραϊστί hEBRAISTI which 
supposedly references Hebrew in War 6.96.

… search for truth, hear truth, 
learn truth, love truth, speak the truth, hold the truth, 
defend the truth till death.

- Jan Hus

From: Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com>
To: B Greek <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wed, August 18, 2010 9:52:19 AM
Subject: [B-Greek] How many languages in Acts 21-22?

The following deals with sociolinguistics of Greek in Jerusalem,
at least relating to a vocab item illustrating EBRAISTI
and SYRISTI. I don't remember the full sequence being discussed
on the list.

In Acts 21:30-22:23 we have
a. 30-31 a near riot in the temple, presumably with speech
b. 33-34 a first enquiry, presumably including Paul and the Romans,
c. 37      a Greek conversation, as a surprise to the Roman chiliarch
d. 40-22:2      a Ebraisti speech, presumably in a different language
                  than when they were dealing with him as a mob.
e. 22:24 now the chiliarch wants to know what was being said in the

'C' would point to 'a' and 'b' not being in Greek. Many/(most?) Romans
soldiers, after all, in the Eastern provinces would be able to speak
Then in 'd', the very mention of the language and of getting quieter
would seem to point to the language being different from the language
of 'a' and 'b' above.
'E' then implies that communication during the speech was not as
clear as in 'a' and 'b'.

Can this Ebraisti in this context be anything else than Hebrew?

Counting the languages in the passage:
'a-b' Aramaic,
'c' Greek,
'd' Hebrew.
'e' Unspecified, perhaps Greek, as things become more official
within the Roman legal process.

Comments? Problems?
If there is no problem with the above, there may be a problem in
BDAG and most common discussions on the situation.

(Josephus War 5.268-274 records warning speech based on a
Hebrew wordplay and a special Hebrew speech by Josephus,
who distinguished Aramaic and Hebrew in his writings, in 6:96.
I mention these not to displace any language but to include the
third language that seems to disappear in NT discussions outside
circles comfortable with Mishnaic Hebrew.)

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life
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