Hebrew New Testament

 

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HEBREW NEW TESTAMENT
 
While it can easily shown that Hebrew was a spoken language in Israel during the time of Y'shua, there are no Hebrew New Testament manuscripts available today that indicate an original Hebrew autograph.  All Hebrew New Testament Bibles have either been translated from Greek or Aramaic texts.  The oldest Hebrew manuscripts, translated into Hebrew from Greek, are dated to the 15th Century.1
 
     Alister McGrath, former Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, asserts that the 1st century Jewish followers of Y'shua were faithful religious Jews therefore also fluent in Hebrew.  They only differed from contemporaries in Judaism because of their acceptance of Y'shua as Messiah.  As Christianity grew throughout the Gentile world, Christians were completely severed from their Jewish roots.
 
     The original Netzari (Nazarene) Jewish based faith fell into rapid decline due to the Jewish-Roman wars (66-135) and the growing anti-Judaism that is best personified by Marcion in the 2nd century.  And with help from the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century the Netzarim (original followers of Y'shua) faded quietly into an underground movement in the fifth century.  Gentile based Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, however, while the Gospel was travelling West in Greek it was also advancing East in Aramaic.
 
     Although Hebrew is known as the kadosh lashon (holy tongue), the language of most of the Tanakh (Old Testament), Aramaic is also used in the Tanakh and was employed for Jewish commentaries and, the Talmud (Oral law) and, numerous Jewish writings, simply because Aramaic was used widely within the Jewish world.
 
     Modern Hebrew script is based on the "square" letter form, known as Ashurit (Assyrian), developed from Aramaic script.  There is little doubt that at a certain point in history, Hebrew was displaced as the everyday spoken language of most Jews, and that its chief successor in the Middle East was the closely related Aramaic
 
     Scholars are divided on the exact dating of that transition, a majority of scholars follow Geiger and Dalman, that Aramaic became a spoken language in the land of Israel as early as by the start of Israel's Hellenistic Period in the 4th century BCE.  And, from that period Hebrew began to function less as a spoken language and more as the holy tongue. Segal, Klausner, and Ben Yehuda are notable exceptions to this viewpoint.  During the latter half of the 20th century, accumulating archaeological evidence and linguistic analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls that view has been challenged.  The Dead Sea Scrolls, uncovered in 1946-1948 near Qumran, revealed a proliferation of ancient Jewish texts in Hebrew, and far less texts in Aramaic. The Qumran scrolls may indicate that Hebrew texts were readily understandable to the average Israeli and that the language had evolved since Biblical times as spoken languages do.
 
     Recent scholarship suggests that archeology which indicates Jews were speaking Aramaic is simply evidence of their multi-lingual society, not necessarily that Aramaic was the primary language spoken in Israel. Clearly Hebrew and Aramaic co-existed within Israel as spoken languages, however most scholars now date the demise of Hebrew as a spoken language to the end of the Roman Period, or about 200 CE.  They suggest that it continued as a literary language down through Byzantine Period from the 4th century CE.  Some Hebrew linguists postulate the survival of Hebrew as a spoken language until the Byzantine Period.
 
     Although the exact roles of Aramaic and Hebrew remain hotly debated, there is also plenty evidence of a trilingual scenario within the land of Israel.  Hebrew functioned as the local mother tongue with powerful ties to Israel's history, origins, and golden age and as the language of Israel's religion.  Aramaic functioned as the international language with the rest of the Mideast predominately spoken in Northern Israel; and eventually Greek functioned as another international language with the eastern areas of the Roman Empire.  Communities of Jews (and non-Jews) immigrated to Judea from other lands and continued to speak both Aramaic and Greek.
 
     Judeo-Aramaic is believed to be used in the Galilee (northern Israel), Greek is believed to have been concentrated within the former colonies and governmental centers, and Hebrew monolingualism continued in the southern villages of Judea.
 
     Clearly the Greek New Testament contains Aramaic place names and quotations, and although the language of such Semitic glosses (and in general the language spoken by Jews in scenes from the New Testament) is usually referred to as "Hebrew"/"Jewish" in the text, this term often applies to Aramaic instead.
 
     Thankfully, since Aramaic and Hebrew are such closely related languages, Hebrew readers are able to read the Aramaic in the Aramaic English New Testament and recognize it according to the strength of their Hebrew vocabulary.
 
1 One of the most vocal advocates for Hebrew New Testament primacy is a Karaite lecturer who rejects Y'shua as Mashiyach but sadly asserts that a 15th century Medieval Shem Tob manuscript is based on a Hebrew original.
 
 

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