The question regarding the language spoken by Jesus had been rigorously discussed in the sixteenth century
|November 7, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter seventeen||
The question regarding the language spoken by Jesus had been rigorously discussed in the sixteenth century. Up till that time no one had known what to make of the tradition recorded by Eusebius that the speech of the apostles had been “Syrian” since the distinction between Syrian Hebrew, and “Chaldee” was not understood and all three designations were used indiscriminately. Light was first thrown upon ths question by Joseph Justus Scaliger (l609). In the year 1555, Job. Alb. Widmanstadt, Chancellor of Ferdinand I., had published the Syriac translation of the Bible in fulfilment of the wishes of an old scholar of Bologna, Theseus Ambrosius, who had left him the manuscript as a sacred legacy. He himself and his contemporaries believed that in this they had the Gospel in the mother-tongue of Jesus, until Scaliger, in one of his letters, gave a clear sketch of the Syrian dialects, distinguished Syriac from Chaldee, and further drew a distinction between the Babylonian Chaldee and Jewish Chaldee of the Targums, and in the language of the Targums itself distinguished an earlier from a later stratum. The apostles spoke, according to Scaliger, a Galilaean dialect of Chaldaic, or according to the more correct nomenclature introduced later, following a suggestion of Scaliger’s, a dialect of Aramaic, and, in addition to that, the Syriac of Antioch. Next, Hugo Grotius put in a strong plea for a distinction between Jewish and Antiochian Syriac. Into the confusion caused at that time by the use of the term “Hebrew” some order was introduced by the Leyden Calvinistic professor Claude Saumaise, who, writing in French, emphasised the point that the New Testament, and the Early Fathers, when they speak of Hebrew, mean Syriac, since Hebrew had become completely unknown to the Jews of that period. Brian Walton, the editor of the London polyglot, which was completed in 1657, supposed that the dialect of Onkelos and Jonathan was the language of Jesus, being under the impression that both these Targums were written in the time of Jesus.
The growing knowledge of the distinction between Hebrew and Aramaic did not prevent the Vienna Jesuit Inchofer (l648) from maintaining that Jesus spoke—Latin! The Lord cannot have used any other language upon earth, since this is the language of the saints in heaven. On the Protestant side, Vossius, opposing Richard Simon, endeavoured to establish the thesis that Greek was the language of Jesus, being partly inspired by the apologetic purpose of preventing the authenticity of the discourses and sayings of Jesus from being weakened by supposing them to have been translated from Aramaic into Greek, but also rightly recognising the importance which the Greek language must have assumed at that time in northern Palestine, through which there passed such important trade routes.
This view was brought up again by the Neapolitan legal scholar Dominicus Diodati, in his book De Christo Craece loquente, 1767, who added some interesting material concerning the importance of the Greek language at the period and in the native district of Jesus. But five years later, in 1772, this view was thoroughly refuted by Giambernardo de Rossi, who argued convincingly that among a people so separate and so conservative as the Jews the native language cannot possibly have been wholly driven out. The apostles wrote Greek for the sake of foreign readers. In the year 1792, Johann Adrian Bolten, “first collegiate pastor at the principal church in Altona” (l807), made the first attempt to re-translate the sayings of Jesus into the original tongue.
The certainly original Greek of the Epistles and the Johannine literature was a strong argument against the attempt to recognise no language save Aramaic as known to Jesus and His disciples. Paulus the rationalist, therefore, sought a middle path, and explained that while the Aramaic dialect was indeed the native language of Jesus, Greek had become so generally current among the population of Galilee, and still more of Jerusalem, that the founders of Christianity could use this language when they found it needful to do so. His Catholic contemporary. Hug, came to a similar conclusion.
 Giambern. de Rossi, Dissertazione delta lingua propria di Christo e degli Ebrei nazionali della Palestina da’ Tempi de’ Massabei in disamina del sentimento di w recente scrittore Italiano. Parma, 1772.
 Der Bericht des Matthäus van Jesu dem Messias. (Matthew’s account of Jesus the Messiah.) Altona, 1792. According to Meyer, p. 105 ff., this was a very striking performance.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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