[b-hebrew] Fw: Aramaic to them?

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Mar 3 14:22:53 EST 2004

On 03/03/2004 11:03, Karl Randolph wrote:

>Dear Peter:
>On second thought, maybe Judah haNasi’s maid 
>is a good story for evidence in this question 
>after all: Judah haNasi himself did not expect 
>that a common person had fluent knowledge of 
>Hebrew. If there were a community of Jews for 
>whom Hebrew was their mother tongue, Judah 
>should have known about it and it would not 
>have been a surprise that a maid from that 
>community would know Hebrew. That Judah was 
>surprised indicates that either Judah was 
>ignorant of Jewish society (which I think is 
>highly improbable) or that this is evidence 
>that such a community did not exist. (If the 
>maid knew Hebrew better than Judah haNasi, the 
>question remains, where did she learn her 
>Hebrew? But there are answers that do not 
>require a living community of Hebrew speakers, 
>such as being herself from an educated home.)
I repeat that it is highly improbable that Judah's maid was more highly 
educated in Hebrew than Judah was himself, and without Judah knowing it. 
In fact I think I would go so far as saying that this is impossible, 
given the status of women at the time, the lowly status of a maid, and 
Judah's probable status at the top of the educational elite.

It would indeed be surprising if there was a Hebrew-speaking community 
which Judah did not know about - but not impossible, if he was living in 
a bit of an ivory tower. But my argument does not depend on that, only 
on that he did now know that his maid was from that community, and might 
have been surprised to learn that especially if the community was not local.

For a modern analogy, it would be surprising but not impossible for a 
modern scholar (in a western country) of ancient Aramaic not to know 
that there exist communities of speakers of modern Aramaic dialects. If 
he happens to discover that his cleaning lady speaks one of these 
dialects, he might be rather surprised, but that does not imply that he 
did not know of the existence of such thes communities.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list