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

yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Wed Aug 18 21:42:53 EDT 2010

Great question, and, pace Jeffrey, has nothing to do with historicity but everything to do with socio-linguistic plausibility. [The historicity question is really off limits for this list, I think.] Even Pervo's account implies that the account is solidly plausible.

> 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.
The experience of trilingual code switching is endemic to places like, for example, Haiti, where educated people regularly switch between Hatian Creole, French and English. French is used for formal communication (though retreating), English for educated discourse and dealing with many foreigners, UN solidier, etc., and Creole for most other communication. A riot, for example, would likely be conducted in Creole, and UN or American soldier intervention in English, and diplomatic speech (especially a written report to a superior) among socially stratified Haitians in French.

> 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
>               speech
> '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
> Aramaic.
> 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.

I have considered BDAG to be deficient on this point, given the evidence for distinguishing HEBRAISTI and SYRISTI in Josephus, mentioned below.
> (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.)
The presence of "Mishnaic" Hebrew in the scrolls, shards and shreds in Qumran as well as the Hebrew Copper Scroll, of the Bar Kokbah letters and inscriptions in Eretz Israel has led the editors of basic tools like the article "Hebrew" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (F.L. Cross, 3rd edition, Oxford 1997) and Miguel Perez Fernandez, An Introductory Grammar of Rabbinic Hebrew (Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill 1997) and Israeli scholars to take it for granted that Hebrew was a spoken language of Israel during the entire Roman period.

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