Toward the end of his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority this weekend, Pope Francis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the language Jesus spoke.
“Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu told Francis according to quotes reported by Reuters.
“He was speaking Aramaic,” the pope replied with a smile, according to the Associated Press.
“He spoke Aramaic, and he also knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu corrected.
Israeli linguistics professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann told Reuters that both Netanyahu and the pope had a point.
“Jesus was a native Aramaic speaker,” Zuckermann said. “But he would have also known Hebrew because there were extant religious writings in Hebrew.”
Zuckermann added that Hebrew during the time of Jesus was spoken by the lower classes, “the kind of people he ministered to.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica states that “Jesus and the Apostles are believed to have spoken Aramaic,” a language that is closely related to Hebrew, Syriac and Phoenician.
The entry on Aramaic in the Eerdmans Bible Dictionary by William B. Eerdmans and edited by Allen C. Myers (and cited by Wikipedia) reads in part: “It is generally agreed that Aramaic was the common language of Palestine in the first century A.D. Jesus and his disciples spoke the Galilean dialect, which was distinguished from that of Jerusalem.”
Palestinian officials often assert that Jesus was a Palestinian, and in advance of the pope’s visit, the Palestinian Authority commissioned artwork portraying Jesus as Palestinian.
Palestinian Media Watch, a Jerusalem-based research organization that tracks incitement in the Palestinian media reported that one of the works is a remake of Raphael’s The Deposition, (1507), “which shows the dead Jesus being carried to his tomb. In the Palestinian version, Jesus’ legs have been replaced by a photo of the wounded legs of a Palestinian, being carried away by a man as an Israeli soldier looks on.”