What languages did Josephus speak? He lived in the land of Israel during the first century CE. He wrote in Greek (so he obviously knew that), but did he know Hebrew, Aramaic, or Latin?
Language spoken by Jewish Priest Josephus: Aramaic as his first language and Greek as his secondary language
Language known by Jewish Priest Josephus - Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew (used for religious purposes only by Jewish Priests), and "possibly" some Latin.
Josephus' language was Aramaic. Although he spoke Greek as a secondary language, still he couldn't pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness. It is uncertain how much Latin Josephus knew since Josephus had difficulty pronouncing Greek with sufficient exactness. Since Josephus was a Jewish Priest from Judea, he used Old Hebrew for religious purposes. But he didn't know how to use it conversationally due to the fact that Old Hebrew was never used as a spoken language in first century Israel. Aside from Jewish Priests and Chief Scholars at Jerusalem, nobody knew anything about Hebrew. That's why Aramaic Old Testament (known as Peshitta Tanakh) was used in first century Israel. More infos about Peshitta Tanakh is available here - www.pshitta.org
This is just like Hindu religious scholars using Sanskrit in Kerala (South India). They use Sanskrit only for religious purposes. But the spoken language of Kerala is Malayalam and English as secondary language.
First century Jewish Historian and Jewish Priest Josephus wrote –
"I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to all sorts of free-men, but to as many of the servants as please to learn them. But they give him the testimony of being a wise man who is fully acquainted with our laws, and is able to interpret their meaning; on which account, as there have been many who have done their endeavors with great patience to obtain this learning, there have yet hardly been so many as two or three that have succeeded therein, who were immediately well rewarded for their pains." - Antiquities of Jews XX, XI
Jewish Wars (Book 1, Preface, Paragraph 1): "I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians. Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work]."
Notice the fact that he wrote Jewish Wars formerly in the language of his country and sent to Upper Barbarians. We read that Josephus translated into Greek for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans. Josephus wrote Jewish Wars in 2 languages. Josephus states one reason (below) why he translated Jewish Wars from his language into Greek.
Jewish Wars Book 1 Preface, Paragraph 2 - "I thought it therefore an absurd thing to see the truth falsified in affairs of such great consequence, and to take no notice of it; but to suffer those Greeks and Romans that were not in the wars to be ignorant of these things, and to read either flatteries or fictions, while the Parthians, and the Babylonians, and the remotest Arabians, and those of our nation beyond Euphrates, with the Adiabeni, by my means, knew accurately both whence the war begun, what miseries it brought upon us, and after what manner it ended."
Notice the fact that Parthians, Babylonians, remotest Arabians, and those of his nation beyond Euphrates with Adiabeni knew accurately about Jewish Wars through Josephus. This easily concludes that Josephus first wrote Jewish Wars in his tongue "Aramaic" due to the fact that the language of Parthians, Babylonians, etc. during this time period was Aramaic.
In Acts 1:19, Field of Blood was known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem in their own language as Akeldama which is the transliteration of Aramaic words "Khqel Dama."
If I translate aramaic words "Khqel Dama" into Hebrew, then "Khqel Dama" will become "Sh'deh Hadam."
Through this, we can read that all inhabitants of Jerusalem spoke in their own language in first century AD which was Aramaic. If Hebrew was used as spoken language in first century Israel, then "Sh'deh Hadam" would have been mentioned along with "Khqel Dama" (a.k.a akel dama in Greek and English NT) in Acts 1:19.
Here is the link to Acts Chapter 1 (Hebrew translation from Greek)
You will see "s'deh Hadam" at the end of Acts 1:19. To match the words, see S'deh (Green color) and Field (Green Color). Hadam (in purple color) and Blood (in purple color).
There is no indication of a single person speaking Hebrew. If there was any possibility of Hebrew being spoken, then it should have started with Jerusalem (the center city of all Judaism). But let's also focus on the writings of Jewish Priest Josephus from first century AD.
Josephus calls Hebrew "Hebrew tongue" while he calls Aramaic as "our tongue" or "our language" or "the language of our country" or similar phrases like that. Aramaic (also known as Syriac) became the language of Jews during Babylon captivity (after 586 BC).
Old Hebrew was preserved for religious purposes by Jewish Priests at Jerusalem. But it was never used as a spoken language in first century Israel. Here is the below information from Josephus.
Antiquities of Jews Book 1. Chapter 1. Paragraph 1 - "And that the seventh day was a rest, and a release from the labor of such operations; whence it is that we Celebrate a rest from our labors on that day, and call it the Sabbath, which word denotes rest in the Hebrew tongue."
Antiquities of Jews Book 5. Chapter 2. Paragraph 2 - "But the affairs of the Canaanites were at this thee in a flourishing condition, and they expected the Israelites with a great army at the city Bezek, having put the government into the hands of Adonibezek, which name denotes the Lord of Bezek, for Adoni in the Hebrew tongue signifies Lord. "
Antiquities of Jews Book 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 2 - "Now a woman is called in the Hebrew tongue Issa; but the name of this woman was Eve, which signifies the mother of all living."
Antiquities of Jews Book 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1 - "This man was called Adam, which in the Hebrew tongue signifies one that is red, because he was formed out of red earth, compounded together; for of that kind is virgin and true earth."
1) Josephus' Antiquities of Jews 3:32 - Now the Hebrews call this food manna; for the particle man, in our language, is the asking of a question, What is this?
"Man" is Aramaic (Source - Book "Introduction to Syriac" written by Wheeler Thackston - Page 209). In Hebrew, Aramaic word "Man" will become "Mah" (Source -http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/4101.htm).
If Hebrew was used as a spoken language along with Aramaic by both Josephus and first century Israel, then Josephus would have written "our languages" (plural) or "our tongues" (plural) instead of "our language" (singular) or "our tongue" (singular).
2) Antiquities of Jews Book VIII, Chapter 3, Paragraph 9 - “He also placed a partition around the temple, which in our tongue we call Gison, but it is called Thrigeos by the Greeks.”
3) Jewish Wars 1:3 - I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country..."
Notice the fact that only one language represented first century Israel Israel which was Aramaic.
4) Jewish Wars Book 5, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2 - This new-built part of the city was called "Bezetha," in our language, which, if interpreted in the Grecian language, may be called "the New City."
Bezetha is Aramaic, because Aramaic places the definite article ("tha") at the end of the word, thus the 'tha' at the end of 'Bezetha' is the Aramaic definite article on a feminine noun in an emphatic state (Source - Book "Introduction to Syriac" by Wheeler Thackston, Page 44). This is the same thing with the Aramaic words in Bible like Gabbatha (John 19:13) and Talitha (Mark 5:41). The 'tha' at the end of both "Gabbatha" and "Talitha" is the Aramaic definite article on a feminine noun in an emphatic state.
Unlike Aramaic, the definite article of Hebrew ("Ha") is always at the beginning of the word. So if I loan Aramaic word "Bezetha" into Mishnaic Hebrew, then Aramaic word "bezetha" will become "Ha Bezeth" in Mishnaic Hebrew. Let me give you a famous example in Hebrew. HAARETZ newspaper in Israel. ARETZ means land in Hebrew. HAARETZ means "the land."
In first century AD, Jews also called their Aramaic "Hebrew", because that is the language of Hebrews. Jews are also called Hebrews, because they are the descendants of Abraham the Hebrew (Genesis 14:13, Philippians 3).
That is why NIV, ESV, and other bible versions write the words like "Gabbatha" "Golgotha", etc. as Aramaic instead of Hebrew.
John 19:13 (NIV): "When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha)".
Even today, Many Iraqi Jews call their Aramaic "Hebrew" ("Ibraith" in Aramaic), because it is the language of Hebrews. So when Jews said "Hebrew" in first century AD, they are referring to their Hebrew tongue which was Aramaic in first century AD. We call Deutsch "German", because it is the language of German People.
Also note the names in English Bible of New Testament - "Bar"tholomew, "Bar"abbas, "Bar"nabbas, "Bar"sabbas, "Bar" Jesus, Simon "Bar" Jonah, "Bar" Timaeus, etc.
Aramaic word Bar means Son. In Hebrew, Ben means Son ("Ben"jamin and Israeli Prime Minister David "Ben" Gurion). In Josephus' Jewish Wars, one of the top 3 leaders who fought against Romans was Simon Bar Giora. Bar Giora means "Son of a proselyte" in Aramaic.
Till 130 AD, Aramaic was the spoken language of Jews. From 131 AD through the rise of Bar Kokhba and Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD), the beginning process of reverting back to Hebrew occured. Although Aramaic was spoken by Jews from 131 AD to 135 AD, still they were encouraged to bring back Hebrew as their spoken language instead of Aramaic. After 135 AD, Jews continued to revert back to Hebrew. By the end of second century AD, Hebrew was a common spoken language among Jews.
According to Dead Sea Scrolls archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, Aramaic was the spoken language of Jews until Simon Bar Kokhba tried to restore Hebrew as the official language of Jews during Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD). Yigael Yadin noticed the shift from Aramaic to Hebrew during the time of Bar Kokhba revolt. In Book "Bar Kokhba: The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome" Yigael Yadin notes, "It is interesting that the earlier documents are written in Aramaic while the later ones are in Hebrew. Possibly the change was made by a special decree of Bar-Kokhba who wanted to restore Hebrew as the official language of the state" (page 181).
In Book "A Roadmap to the Heavens: An Anthropological Study of Hegemony among Priests, Sages, and Laymen (Judaism and Jewish Life)" by Sigalit Ben-Zion (Page 155), Yadin remarked: "it seems that this change came as a result of the order that was given by Bar Kokhba, who wanted to revive the Hebrew language and make it the official language of the state."
Many People ask why Josephus does mention this below.
Josephus in Antiquities 10 1.2 says this: "When Rabshakeh had made this speech in the Hebrew tongue, for he was skillful in that language, Eliakim was afraid lest the multitude that heard him should be disturbed; so he desired him to speak in the Syrian tongue."
Josephus was writing about 2 Kings Chapter 18. You may ask why is it that Josephus calling Aramaic "Syrian tongue" instead of saying "our own tongue or our own language."
Josephus was writing about the time period of first temple of Jerusalem when Old Hebrew was the language of Jews in Judea. Aramaic (a.k.a Syriac) wasn't the language of Jews during First temple period (till 587/586 BC). Only some Jewish scholars in Judea knew Aramaic during this time period. Aramaic became the language of Jews during Babylonian Captivity (only after the destruction of first temple in 587/586 BC).
It must also be noted that early manuscripts of New Testament are found in Greek (For Example, Codex Vaticanus) and in Aramaic (For Example, Syriac Manuscript no. 14,470). But earliest Hebrew NT manuscripts only date to 13th century AD. I also thought I should post this information (below).
AS you know, Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh is Aramaic Old Testament used in first century AD (source -http://www.pshitta.org/english/intro.php).
YA (Yodh Alap) is Aramaic form of Hebrew "YH" in Old Testament. In Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh, YA is written as MarYA (Master YA in English) for respect.
Here are some examples. I will put Hebrew on the left, Aramaic in the middle, and English on the right.
YH (Hebrew) - YA (Aramaic) - English
Yehochanan - Yochanan - John
Yehonathan - Yonathan - Jonathan
Yehoseph - Yoseph - Joseph
Yehoyachim - Yoyakim - Joachim
If Josephus' language was Hebrew, then his name would have been Yehosephus instead of Aramaic "Yosephus." And the name "Yehosephus" would have become "Jehosephus" in English instead of "Josephus."
When Bar Kokhba revived Hebrew, the names also "started" to convert from Aramaic to Hebrew during Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD). From this point onwards, Hebrew "YH" was used instead of Aramaic "YA."
For Example, Yoseph Bar Yoseph in Aramaic became Yehoseph Ben Yehoseph in Hebrew during Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD).
Here is the link where you can see Yehoseph Ben Yehoseph in Bar Kokhba letters.
In 1961, Yigael Yadin mentions that out of 15 Bar Kokhba letters from Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD) found at Nahal Hever, 9 of them are in Aramaic, 4 in Hebrew, and 2 in Greek [Source - The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Sep., 1961)].
You may ask what about Letter of Aristeas.
The author of the Letter of Aristeas writes "The Jews are supposed to use Syrian [Aramaic] language, but this is not so, for it is another form [of language]."
The letter's author alleges to be a courtier of Ptolemy II Philadelphus reigned from 281-246 BCE (Check this link for easy access - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_of_Aristeas).
Letter of Aristeas points out that the Jews are supposed "to use" Syrian language and "not speak."
Letter of Aristeas is actually referring to Syrian Script (Estrangela script) due to the fact that Aramaic was the spoken language of Jews during that period. But Jews didn't use Estrangela script in Judea and in Idumea. Notice the fact that letter of Aristeas is mentioning about "using." "Not speaking."
Even in first century AD, Aramaic in Judea and in Idumea was written in Dead Sea Scrolls Script (the script in Dead Sead Sea Scrolls and Bar Kokhba letters) while Lebanon, Syria, and Galilee used Estrangela script (Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh).
During Maccabean period (167 BC-), we read that the spoken language of Jews was Aramaic (Caphenatha in 1 Maccabees 12:37 of Septuagint). Not Hebrew. "tha" in Caphenatha is Aramaic definite article on a feminine noun in an emphatic state. According to Book "City of Jerusalem" by Colonel C. R Conder (Pg. 100), Caphenatha is Aramaic word for a "heap."
Also notice the fact that there are no Hebrew versions of Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees. Only Greek version (Septuagint) and Aramaic version (Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh in Codex Ambrosianus). If I loan Aramaic word (in Septuagint) "caphenatha" into Hebrew, then it will become "Ha Caphenah" or "Ha Caphenath."
It must be noted that Septuagint was also translated from Aramaic (a.k.a Syriac). Aside from Judith and books of Maccabees, let me also take the Book of Job.
Book "Targum and Testament Revisited: Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible" by Martin McNamara, Page 96 - In Septuagint manuscripts (Manuscripts- Aleph, A, B, and C), there is an epilogue in Book of Job which is introduced with the words: "houtos hermeneutai ek tes syriakes bibliou."
This means - "this was translated from the Syriac book."
Scholar William Norton provided this information (below) in his 1889 book “A translation, in English daily used, of the Peshito-Syriac text, and of the received Greek text, of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John: with an introduction on the Peshito-Syriac text, and the revised Greek text of 1881 (1889).”
Page ix-x (Introduction) – “Josephus is a very important witness in proof of the extent to which Syriac was known and used in the first century. He took part in the war against the Romans which led to the destruction of Jerusalem, A. D. 70. He was taken captive by them, and was well acquainted with all the events connected with the war. He wrote a history of it in Syriac; and states how great a multitude of people, living in different nations, from near the Caspian Sea to the bounds of Arabia, could read and understand what he had written in Syriac. He afterwards wrote the same history in Greek, that those who spoke Greek, and those of the Romans, and of any other nation who knew Greek, but did not know Syriac, might read it also.
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Josephus was able to read and write in several languages.
Also, parables in the Talmud and Mishnah are always in Hebrew. Even when the Talmudic text around them is Aramaic, the parable will be in Hebrew. Parables were sermon illustrations meant to be delivered to the common person.
Specifically from Josephus on his language, we read:
Josephus in Antiquities 10 1.2 says this: "When Rabshakeh had made this speech in the Hebrew tongue, for he was skillful in that language, Eliakim was afraid lest the multitude that heard him should be disturbed; so he desired him to speak in the Syrian tongue." This is an event from the Old Testament, but Josephus uses the same words to describe the language spoken by Rabshakeh as he does to describe his own language and that of his fellow Jews. He does not say that now they speak the Syrian tongue.
Josephus (War 5 6.3) points out that Jewish soldiers used a play on words that only makes sense in Hebrew. In 6.3, whenever a stone was on its way (being thrown from ballistea), the watchmen would shout "in their native language, 'The Son Cometh!'" While translators are confused by the Greek text, the answer makes sense in Hebrew. Whiston, the translator, admits how the words could be confused in Hebrew but not Aramaic. The watchmen would have shouted, in Hebrew, Ha-even ba’ah ("the stone is coming!"). However, because of urgency, the words would be clipped to ben ba ("son comes!").* They reduced the syllables due to time constraints. This pun is known in Hebrew and even appears in the NT (Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8) "God is able from these avanim [stones] to raise up banim [sons] to Abraham."
This wordplay is unambiguously Hebrew. In Aramaic, the phrase would be kefa ate ("the stone is coming") or the more literary avna ata. Neither sounds like bara ate ("the son is coming"). Another option for Aramaic would be to use the word aven, which is related to the Hebrew. However, aven would change the gender of the verb and still not work to make a pun on "son," bar.
*Similar to how modern soldiers reduce "Enemy fire incoming" to simply "Incoming!"
In Wars 5 9.2, Josephus tells how after he was captured, he was sent as an envoy to negotiate his people's surrender. "And being sensible that exhortations are frequently more effectual than arms, [Titus] persuaded them to surrender the city, now in a manner already taken, and thereby to save themselves, and sent Josephus to speak to them in their own language; for he imagined they might yield to the persuasion of a countryman of their own."
As Josephus just established through the use of the pun that the soldiers were speaking Hebrew, it stands to logical reason, that he too spoke Hebrew.
It should also be noted that Josephus refers to biblical words many times and explains what they mean in the Hebrew/Jewish tongue/language (i.e. Contra 2.2, Anti 1 1.1,2 (2x); Anti 5 2.2). At times, he explains these biblical words by saying "in our own tongue/language" (i.e. Wars 6 10.1, Antiquities 7 1.3). (There are many other examples of the above.) Logically, Josephus is drawing a connection between the language spoken by Jews in the Tanakh period and the common language spoken among his people of that time.
Josephus knew Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (which he must have learned when he was in the service of the the Roman Emperor Vespasian, if not earlier). A quick look on JSTOR turns up this article for reference.
In Tessa Rajak's book "Josephus" (Appendix 1), she considers whether Aramaic or Hebrew was his primary language. She concludes that, while we cannot know with certainty, the evidence implies that he was equally capable in both languages.
According to Wikipedia (although there is no reliable ciation), Josephus spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.