[b-hebrew] Fw: Aramaic to them?

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Mar 2 22:50:10 EST 2004


Judah haNasi’s maid is not a good example to 
this discussion—she worked in an environment 
where Hebrew was spoken, namely Judah haNasi’s 
house and school: if she had a head on her 
shoulders and any amount of linguistic 
ability, she could have picked up Hebrew from 
her surroundings. Just because she was a maid 
does not mean that she wasn’t smart nor able 
to learn Hebrew.

As far as how soon Hebrew was used only among 
the elites after the Galut Babel, I would 
hesitate to say. Among the returnees were 
people who had seen Solomon’s temple before 
being taken captive—how many of them still 
spoke only Hebrew? Probably more than a few. 
Aramaic was at that time a language that most 
were expected to know, but for what percentage 
was it their primary language? When did 
Aramaic become the primary language of the 
majority? I suspect it was well before the 
time of the Maccabbees. The evidence I have 
seen indicates that a fluent knowledge of 
Hebrew was pretty much the realm of the elites 
by the first century, and for the common 
people, Aramaic was their primary language.

Notice, nowhere do I claim that Hebrew was not 
spoken fluently by at least a minority elite, 
just that the evidence pointing to a possible 
majority of the people speaking Hebrew as 
their primary language is weak at best.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Peter Kirk <peterkirk at qaya.org>

> Thanks for the clarification. Well, this probably describes well the 
> situation of Hebrew among Jews in the mediaeval and early modern 
> periods, in fact probably right up to the late 19th century. But how far 
> back does this situation go? The older opinion that it dates right back 
> to the Babylonian exile seems to have been discredited by the DSS 
> evidence that Hebrew was a living language during the period that the 
> DSS were written. The evidence from Judah haNasi's maid suggests that 
> this was not yet true even c. 200 CE; the maid was hardly one of an 
> academic or religious elite! No, it seems clear that at least until this 
> time there was some community using Hebrew as an everyday language, 
> probably as a mother tongue; it was not just a language learned by 
> specialists, so the pattern you have noted does not apply. Judah 
> haNasi's surprise may be because he had the same misconception as you, 
> that in that time the language was only spoken by specialists like 
> himself. The debate must be on how large this mother tongue community 
> was at various times, and where it was situated geographically and socially.
> -- 
> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/

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