The history behind Netanyahu's and Pope Francis's awkward Jesus moment

If this seems complicated, think about the languages, and the dispute over what Jesus spoke. Indeed, he would have spoken Aramaic, as the Pope said. That’s one of many closely related Semitic languages with deep roots in the past, related to Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopic, and Akkadian (the language of the Babylonians and Assyrians). Hebrew itself, in its written form, uses the original Aramaic script. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are many Aramaic texts from the time of Jesus, so one can get a pretty good idea of what the language of Jesus looked liked.

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Aramaic had a wide currency among Jews at the time of Jesus, and in most gatherings for worship, scriptural readings occurred in Aramaic snippets in translation (called Targumim). It seems likely that Jesus, being a scholarly young man, learned some Hebrew, but that’s conjecture. It’s more likely that Jesus spoke some Greek, as this language dominated the region after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century. Indeed, Alexander brought with him a tidal wave of language and philosophy, including the Platonic notions of body and soul, ideas that Jesus himself would assimilate.

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