The Pentecost just made me wonder what languages were common in first century Jerusalem. The miracle of Pentecost was that the apostles were preaching in many languages, and this would assume that there were people speaking different languages in the city.

I know that the languages spoken by the inhabitants were Aramaic, Greek, and maybe Hebrew, but that is certainly not many, and it would not seem extraordinary if someone knew these three languages.

Can it be ascertained with at least some level of probability what other languages were spoken there? I guess one method would be to see what regions were actively trading with that province, given that Jerusalem was a major trading hub.

What I could put together was the following:

  • Aramaic and Hebrew, by the different classes of native inhabitants
  • Greek by educated natives and by foreigners, probably also by most of the Roman troops, but was it a mother tongue of most foreigners, or only used as a common language to speak to others?
  • Latin, spoken by the upper class Romans

What other languages has a high likelihood of turning up in first century (or more specifically, between roughly AD 30 and 40) Jerusalem?

2 Answers 2


Visitors from other lands

You have listed the most common languages spoken in Jerusalem already -- Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and even some Latin -- but the passage in Acts that you refer to answers your question:
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there were Jews living all over the place in the ancient world, even before the diaspora after the two wars with the Romans in the first century (CE).

  • An example previously given in the Gospels is Simon the Cyrene (He's from what is now Libya, Cyrenacia), and is one who helped Jesus carry the cross to Golgotha (per the Bible).
  • Consider also that Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul) was a Jew from somewhere other than Israel/Palestine/Judea -- Tarsus is in Cilicia which is now part of Turkey. (IIRC, he was what is called "a Hellenic Jew" but that's a different topic).

Acts 2 (5-13)

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.”

Short answer: they were visitors, merchants, diplomats, pilgrims, or a combination of all of the above. Thus people from all over were present but may not have lived in Jerusalem permanently. For example, a Parthian or a Mede would speak a tongue related to Persian (Middle Persian, thank you @T.E.D.); some of the others a Greek dialect (there were multiple dialects, so you'd expect those in Cappadocia or Pontus to speak regional dialects), Egyptian, etc. Those from Elam spoke a tongue not thought to be related to the commonly spoken languages mentioned:

Elamite is traditionally thought to be a language isolate, and completely unrelated to the neighbouring Semitic, Sumerian (also an isolate), and the later Indo-European Iranian languages that came to dominate the region. It was written in a cuneiform adapted from the Semitic Akkadian script of Assyria and Babylonia, although the very earliest documents were written in the quite different "Linear Elamite" script.

See also: Jews in the Graeco Roman World by Martin Goodman.
(@John Dee has pointed out that the most common Greek dialect in the Holy Land at the time was Koine Greek)

Picture source: https://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/maps/art/jewish.gif

  • I wasn't interested in Elam in particular, but as an example. Your answer listed people from many locations. But the Question was very specific mentioning Languages in his question. In order to answer the question, your answer should list the Languages spoken, not the nation of origin. The list from Acts is a good start, but what language did each of those different peoples speak?
    – justCal
    Jun 5, 2017 at 16:33
  • @KorvinStarmast - Looks like Middle Persian then. Although Greek and Parthian were the official languages, and Aramaic was spoken there as it was thoroughout the Semitic world as a "lingua-franca"
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 5, 2017 at 17:58
  • 1
    Indeed, but the problem is that the list in Acts 2 is mostly about regions, not languages.
    – vsz
    Jun 5, 2017 at 18:06
  • 1
    @user2448131 If you read the passage in Acts, it is obvious that the languages of the people from the foreign lands was those foreign languages. Sort of like you or me expecting someone from Russia to speak Russian, or someone from Japan speaking Japanese. Jun 5, 2017 at 19:19
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    @KorvinStarmast : And someone from Switzerland to speak Switz, someone from Argentina to speak Argentinese, someone from Egypt to speak Egyptian, and someone from Canada to speak Canadian.
    – vsz
    Jun 6, 2017 at 4:11

The following languages were commonly spoken in 1st century Jerusalem:

  1. Hebrew
  2. Aramaic-(the language that Jesus spoke)
  3. Greek
  4. Latin

(Other neighboring languages, such as, Egyptian, Phoenician and Syriac, may have also been spoken in 1st Jerusalem, though the above four languages were the most common).

Interestingly, the Greek language was fairly widespread in 1st century Jerusalem-(certainly amongst the literate and educated classes, as well as in some parts of civilian life within the city).

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