[b-hebrew] Hebrew as a Spoken Language vs. Aramaic

Yishmor yishmor at heplist.com
Fri Oct 26 10:12:39 EDT 2007

A few (I don't mention Shim`own Bar Kokba', for example) and abbreviated 
list of examples that support Hebrew being the common spoken tongue in 
the first century.

*=== Via the Rabbinic Talmudiym*
--- Gamliy'el vs Yeshuwa`
During the Great Jewish Revolt, Yowchanan ben Zakaiy makes a bargain 
with the Romans to betray the Har haBayit/Beyt haMiqdash. In exchange, 
Yowchanan had the Sanhedrin moved to Yavneh and he was given authority. 
Ten years later, Gamliy'el ben Shim`own ben Gamliy'el succeeded 
Yowchanan and led the academy at Yavneh as nasiy'.

With this background, we read in Berakhot 27b-28a of the Babylonian 
Talmud about how Rabban Gamliy'el humiliates Rabban Yeshuwa` over 
Yeshuwa`'s position on whether evening prayers are required or optional.

 From this incident (which lead to the overthrow of Gamliy'el and the 
full change of the Pharisee to what would become modern Rabbinism) we 
can see that *Gamliy'el spoke Hebrew* while some others spoke Aramaic.
We can see this in that:
   a) the words of Gamliy'el are rendered in Hebrew while the words of 
others are given in Aramaic;
   b) spectators of this exchange demand that Huzpit (the 
//*translator*//) to stop (*translating* the words of Gamliy'el).

--- Tracate Sotah 49b says:
   In the land of Israel, why the Aramaic tongue?
   *Either the Holy Tongue* [ie: Hebrew]
   or the Greek tongue.

--- Tracate Sotah 7:2, 30a:
   Four languages are of value: Greek for song,
   Latin for war, Aramaic for dirges, and
   *Hebrew for speaking*.

--- b Sota 33a; b Shabbat 12b:
   Whoever makes personal requests [in prayer]
   in Aramaic, the ministering angels pay no
   attention, since angels do not
   understand Aramaic.
Such a demand would require all who prayed (including all common folk) 
to understand Hebrew if they want to make a /personal/ request.

--- Erubin 53a and b, Soncino edition, vol. 5
Noting the difference in pronunciation between Galilean Hebrew and 
Judean Hebrew:
   The Judaeans [...] were exact in their language [...]
   but the Galileans [...] were not exact in their language
   [...] A certain Galilean once went about inquiring,
   "Who has amar?"
   "Foolish Galilean," they said to him, "do you mean
   an 'ass' for riding (hamar), "wine" to drink (hamar),
   'wool' for clothing (amar), or a 'lamb' for killing (amar)?"

*=== Via Josephus*
Josephus makes a very clear distinction between Hebrew and Aramaic, 
making it clear that when he refers to Hebrew, he is speaking of the 
everyday language of the Jews distinct from the "peculiar Syrian" 
(Aramaic) writing even though they may sound and look similar.

*=== Via Kenneth Kitchen*
Kenneth Kitchen observed that "some 'Aramaisms' are actually Hebraisms 
in Aramaic."

*=== Via the Christian Texts*
Aramaic is not mentioned in the Christian new testament (unless you are 
reading an English translation of the Greek words for Hebrew), however 
references to the Hebrew language are made several times.
   a) On the title of Yeshuwa`'s cross -- John 19:20
   b) to descriptions of places names -- John 5:2; 19:13, 17; Rev. 9:11; 
   c) Paul addressing people in the Hebrew tongue -- Acts 21:40; 22:2
   d) Yeshuwa` calling out to Paul, on the Damascus road -- Acts 26:14

*=== Moses Segal*
Moses Segal, Hebrew lexicographer, winner of the Isra'el Prize for 
Jewish Studies, and co-translator of the Talmud concluded purely on 
linguistic analysis:
   In earlier Mishnaic [rabbinic] literature no distinction is
   drawn between Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew.
   The two idioms are known as Leshon Hagadesh, the
   Holy Tongue, as contrasted with other languages …
   *What was the language of ordinary life* of educated
   native Jews in Jerusalem and Judaea in the period
   from 400BCE to 150CE?  The evidence presented
   by Mishnaic Hebrew and its literature leaves no
   doubt that *that language was Mishnaic Hebrew*.

*=== Via the Dead Sea Scrolls*
About 80% of the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew. Greek and 
Aramaic make up most of the remainder. If one says that Hebrew remained 
a religious language and so the DSS don't count because they are 
religious text, you would be ignoring the many non-religious texts 
contained in the DSS that are written in Hebrew.

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list