Page images
PDF
EPUB

That the Jews had adopted, in part at least, the language of their masters, is evident from the books of Daniel and Ezra. Full half of the writings of the former, and several chapters of the latter, are written in the Chaldee; not only in matters respecting Gentile kingdoms, but also in those relating to Daniel himself, his companions, and the nation at large. This would not have been the case had the Jews not adopted the Chaldee as their vernacular.

The history of Israel during the continuance of the second Temple may be conveniently divided into three parts—the Persian supremacy, the Grecian rule, and the period of independence.

I. The Persian supremacy, with very few exceptions, was eminently favourable to Jewish nationality and language. The government interfered little in their national concerns. It served its own interest by entrusting the administration of a people, pre-eminently national, to officers of their own race. Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Hanani were among the first who had the rule over their brethren. The chief priests also exercised great authority in the assemblies of the people, but all in subjection to the kings of Persia. Every thing tended to deepen and extend the use of that vernacular which they had learned in their captivity.

II. The expedition of Alexander to the East led to great and mighty changes. The Persian empire was overthrown, and Grecian supremacy established on its ruins. It was, however, long before Syria, and still longer before Palestine, felt the influence of the Greek language, manners, and customs. The Seleucidæ founded Antioch and several other cities. Greeks came and established themselves in the sea-ports and commercial centres. The Government being in the hands of Greek princes, their courts, officials, employés, and all who sought to appear at court, studied the Greek language and imitated their manners. The country at large, however, continued to use (as we shall show hereafter) their own vernacular, the Syriac. The Greek language assumed then the position which the French tongue occupies in our day in many cities of Europe, or the Italian in several maritime places in the Levant. It became the language of fashion, of commerce, and of politics, being studied in some places, and amongst a certain class, along with the language of their country; but to the people in general- to the great body of the inhabitants of Syria and Mesopotamia—the Greek continued an unknown tongue, as the French is to the great body of Englishmen, living in the cities and villages of this country.

With the Jews in Palestine this was more especially the case, that the people in general spoke only the Aramaic. The sturdy exclusiveness of the national character, combined with wonderful tenacity of purpose, tended greatly to the preservation of their language, laws, manners, customs, &c. History often repeats itself; events which took place in former times not unfrequently come round again. Hezekiah's officers ask Rabshakeh to speak unto them in Syriac, which they understood, but not " in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall."* It is evident that the Jews, though speaking Hebrew, were ignorant of, and unable to understand, the Syriac. Now if Jewish idiocrasy, or habit of mind, debarred them from learning a language akin to their own, and spoken by the various nationalities around them, we are certainly justified in believing that their descendants, while speaking Aramaic, did not comprehend Greek, which has nothing in common with that tongue.

* Isa. xxxvi, 11.

III. The time of Israel's independence was preceded by great persecutions and sufferings, which brought both nation and country to the verge of destruction. Antiochus, misnamed Epiphanes, or illustrious, by his wicked cruelties and abominable profanations, drove the nation to take up arms. A struggle then commenced for religion, nationality, and existence—a struggle which was to decide whether Jehovah or Jupiter was to be worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem-whether Israel should continue & chosen and separate people, or be mixed and swallowed up by the nations of the earth. By the help of the God of Israel, by remarkable interpositions of His Providence, the Maccabees fought, conquered, and established the independence of their nation. The whole story of the Maccabees represents a determined struggle against the encroachments of Gentilism, and would be utterly inexplicable unless we remember that they fought to retain their national customs, their national religion, and their national language-privileges dear to all patriotic souls.

When those noble-minded princes achieved the liberation of their country, nothing could be further from the minds of the people than a desire for Greek manners, customs, &c. They had suffered so dreadfully through their tyranny, that every thing bearing the name of Hellenism became odious to them. A mutual dislike and ill-will grew up between the two nations, which in after times occasioned much bloodshed and destruction. Evidences of these sentiments may be seen to this day in the Jewish prayer-book. As to the Greek language, it was undervalued, despised, and deemed unworthy to be compared with Jewish learning and language. The princes and nobility found a knowledge of Greek useful, and even necessary. There were alliances to be formed, friendships to be contracted, embassies to be sent to other nations ; but as in the times before the Captivity, so it was during the second Temple ;they who stood at the head of the nation-princes, nobles, and officerslearned foreign languages and managed foreign affairs; the great body of the nation, however, knew little and cared nothing for Gentile languages. Any one who forms a slight acquaintance with rabbinical Jews will soon find in how little estimation Gentile knowledge is held amongst them. And as it is now-a-days, so it was in the time of our Lord. We have the direct testimony of Josephus on the subject, and as the passage is important on many accounts, I may be permitted to quote it at length.

" And I am 80 bold as to say, now I have so completely perfected the work I proposed to myself to do, that no other person, whether he were a Jew or a foreigner, had he ever so great an inclination to it, could so accurately deliver these accounts to the Greeks as is done in these books. For those of my own nation freely acknowledge that I far exceed them in the learning belonging to the Jews. 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

He says,

9

[ocr errors]

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 freemen, 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 endeavours 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."*

The existence of the Targum, or Chaldee translation of the Bible, is an important evidence that the Jews spoke Chaldee, and not Greek. There are several Targums, but we refer to the best and most ancient of them, which goes by the name of “ Onkelos on the Pentateuch.” Certain writers, indeed, have raised doubts concerning the age, the work, and the person of this Onkelos ; but we only give his name as one generally known; our argument rests on broad and incontestable facts, which even the greatest doubters must admit. The reading of the law is a duty frequently dwelt upon in Holy Writ; one of the first acts, therefore, of the restorer of the Jewish polity (Ezra) was to bring out the book of the law of Moses, and read it to the people.f Now we know that they who returned from the Captivity, especially those who had been born in Chaldea, had brought with them the vernacular which they had learned in Babylon. Later immigrations from the Captivity and the continuous intercourse with those who stayed behind, could not fail to further the use of the Chaldee in Palestine. Nor must it be forgotten that the Cuthites, or Samaritans, whom the king of Assyria settled in the territory of the ten tribes, spoke a mixture of Chaldee. The Tyrians, who seemed to have established commercial relations with the Jews and other neighbouring nations, also helped to forward the development and extension of the same tongue. Now, since the common people had lost, wholly or partially, the knowledge of the Hebrew, in which the books to be read to them were written, it followed very naturally that they must be translated into the language with which they were familiar. Hence originated the Chaldee version, or Targum. Whether this rendering into Chaldee began in the time of Ezra (as Hengstenberg and others think), or a century or two later (as Gesenius and more modern writers hold), we need not stop here to inquire; it is sufficient for our purpose to know that, during the continuance of the second Temple, the Chaldee language was used to make the people understand the law. And it follows clearly that the Jews spoke Aramaic, and not Greek.

The same inference we ought to draw from the fact that the language

[ocr errors]

• Ant. xx. chap. xi. 2. † Neh, viii. 2. I See page 62. $ Neh. xiii. 16.

# There are good reasons for believing that the writer of the Chaldee Targum lived earlier, but we are content to show the validity of our argument even on the latest theory. For those writers who contend that Onkelos lived in the second century cannot help admitting that the rendering of the law into Chaldee was in use long before him. It was done, say they, orally, -by word of month (in the same way as the Mishna, or text of the Talmud, was taught and delivered before it was committed to writing),—and Onkelos collected the different portions, united them into one whole, and published them.

P

of the Mishna and Gemara is the Aramaic. The date usually assigned to the collection or redaction of the former work is the latter half of the second century. But Rabbi Jehudah Hanasee (or the prince), the author of it, it is well known, only collected, digested, and committed to writing the laws which for centuries before had been taught and delivered orally. It existed in the time of our Saviour, and for this oral teaching, or tradition, He severely rebuked the Pharisees. This therefore proves, likewise, that the Jewish nation did not speak Greek, but Aramaic.

And since there is not a book of which it can be affirmed, with certainty, that it was written in Greek by Jews in Palestine, we take it as another evidence that the Greek language had no footing amongst them. Had that tongue been half as prevalent as these writers are pleased to assert, we would, no doubt, have had some of their works in Greek come down to us. There are indeed several Apocryphal books extant in Greek, and among them some go by the name of Maccabees; but the mere existence of a book, in a certain language, does not prove it to have originally been written in that tongue. So we have the book of the Wisdom of Solomon, the Epistle of Jeremiah, the Song of the Three Children, &c., all in Greek ; but no one will so far forget himself as to say that they were originally written by Solomon, Jeremiah, &c., in Greek. Besides, we have the express testimony of Jerome that he had seen the original of the first book of the Maccabees in Hebrew. Their translation into Greek was not for the benefit of the Palestine Jews, but for the sake of the Gentile world. In like manner Josephus tells us that he translated his own books into the Greek tongue for the sake of Greeks and Romans.*

Another negative evidence which we would adduce is the silence of the fathers of the Church, generally called Apostolic Fathers. It is well known that they were unacquainted with either Hebrew or Aramaic, that their access to the Scriptures was only through a Greek medium. Now the apostolic fathers are those who conversed either with the Apostles themselves or with their immediate disciples ; and was it never mentioned, or hinted to, or even surmised by, those venerable men, that He who spoke as never man spoke was pleased to use their tongue as the vehicle of His heavenly instructions ? How delighted would they have been to know that Christ spoke Greek—that those words of comfort and consolation, or of mercy and grace, as they stand in our Gospels, were the very words which proceeded out of the Saviour's mouth. The silence, therefore, of the apostolic fathers implies that both they and their predecessors believed that the Saviour taught and preached in the Aramaic tongue.

We will, lastly, direct attention to the testimony of a contemporary,one who stood deservedly high with his own people, as well as with other nations,—Flavius Josephus. We will examine and see what he tells us (I.) of the feelings of his brethren, (II.) of his own experience, and (III.) the end and object of his existing works.

I. 1. The feelings of the Jews with reference to the Greek tongue, we have in the quotation given above (page 64), to the effect that they held in little esteem those who were versed in foreign languages.

2. That they valued and esteemed him only as a wise man, who was a

* Preface to Jewish War, 1 and 2.

"*

proficient in Jewish laws. Those laws we know were in Hebrew or Aramaic, and interpreted in the same languages.

3. The natural consequences of such feelings were what we would expect—that there were few people who succeeded in Greek studies, few who could speak that tongue. He tells us that during the siege of Jerusalem, when deserters came out of the city to the Roman Camp, "he was the only man who understood them." This is as much as to say, that the deserters spoke neither Greek nor Latin, but Aramaic.

4. A certain centurion, Gallus, with ten soldiers, crept into a Jewish house, heard the inmates talking at supper, what the people intended to do against the Romans, and in the night cut' their throats. The reason Josephus assigns for their understanding the Jewish conversation is “for both the man himself and those with him were Syrians.”+

5. Josephus speaks of a valley which the Jews in their tongue call the Valley of Thorns, near a certain village called Gabaothsaul, which signifies the Hill of Saul. I

6. Several times he addresses the besieged in Jerusalem, and he tells his Greek readers that he spoke in the Hebrew language, in our language, in their own language, or the Jews cried aloud in their own country language. I

II. What Josephus tells us about himself:

1. "I have 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.” This certainly argues that Greek was not indigenous to Palestine. It further implies that Josephus learned it, not in childhood or youth (as we usually acquire languages current in our country), but in riper years, when it is difficult to acquire the exact pronunciation of a foreign tongue.

2. In the treatise “ Against Apion,” B. i. 9, he says, " Afterwards I got leisure at Rome, and when all my materials were prepared for that work, I made use of some persons to assist me in learning the Greek tongue, and by these means I composed the history of those transactions.” Here is one that claims nobility, as a descendant of the Asamoneans (Maccabees), who acted as general of the Galileans in the war against the Romans, and yet, when he wishes to draw up the history of that war, he is under the necessity of getting persons to help him in learning Greek, and only thus is he enabled to compose his work. How much does this single fact imply! It speaks volumes for the uncommonness of the Greek tongue, even amongst the upper classes of the Jewish nation, as it then existed.

III. What was the intention of Josephus in writing his works in Greek ?

1. We cannot do better than let him speak for himself. He says, "I formed the design of furnishing the subjects of the Roman Empire with a narrative of the facts, by translating into Greek the volumes which I had previously composed in our vernacular language, and transmitted to the inhabitants of Upper Asia."** * Against Apion, i. 9.

† Jewish War, iv. chap. i. 5. | Jewish War, B. v. chap. ii. 1.

Ś Ibid. B. vi, chap. ii. 1. Ibid. B. v. chap. ix. 2.

Ibid. B. v. chap. vi. 3. ** Preface to Jewish Wars, 1.

« PreviousContinue »