Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Aramaic Found in Galilee Cemetery: In competition with Hebrew

Nadene Goldfoot                                                      
Above includes Targum which is the Aramaic translation of the Bible.  The Talmud concludes from Nehemiah 8:8 that the custom of adding an Aramaic translation to the public reading of the bible goes back to Ezra, well-established custom in the 2nd Temple Period.  All Targums are written in a somewhat artificial Aramaic, half-way between biblical Aramaic and the spoken language of Judah.  

The Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology has found in a cemetery in the Galilee some inscriptions both in Greek and Aramaic in the old capital city of Zippori.  Zippori was the 1st capital of the Galilee from the time of the Hasmonean dynasty until the creation of the city of Tiberias in the 1st century CE.  Zippori continued to be important later.  Christians get excited over Aramaic and the Galilee because Jesus ministered around the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum most of his time. He spoke in Aramaic.""Capernaum was a fishing village in the time of the Hasmoneans, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It had a population of about 1,500. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other.  

This find was in the city of Zippori (Sepphoris), described by the first century CE Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, as "the ornament of all Galilee," is located on a hill in the Lower Galilee, midway between the Mediterranean and Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), with abundant spring water and a fertile valley around it.
Zippori is mentioned in many Jewish sources of the first centuries of the common era. Founded in the Hellenistic era, it was named the administrative capital of Galilee by Gabinius, the Roman governor, in the mid-first century BCE. The city did not join the revolt against Rome in 66 CE; it opened its gates to the legions of the Roman Emperor Vespasian and was thus saved. On coins minted in Zippori at that time, the city is named Eirenopolis, "city of peace." Later, its name was changed to Diocaesarea in honor of Zeus and the emperor."  Archaeologist found many beautiful mosaics in Tzippori (another spelling)  that people used to say it might have been a regional catalogue store for the ornate floors that the Romans loved!.                                  
Talmud with section of Mishnah in center surrounded by commentaries from illustrious scholars

 In Jewish tradition, it is best known as the hometown of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi) (135-220 CE) son and successor of Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel II.  He was known as "our holy teacher".   who codified the Mishnah (the first book of the Talmud) here in the late second century CE. Visitors feel close to Jewish history and practice in Tzipori’s synagogue, with its magnificent fifth-century mosaic whose motifs symbolize longed-for redemption. The MIshnah is the legal codification containing the core of the Oral Law.  Yehuda arranged it all logically. Most of his life was spent in the Galilee, first at Bet Shearim and then at Sepphoris.  His household spoke pure Hebrew and gave the language new life.  He was buried in the family tomb at Bet Shearim, which has been excavated. "Judah was supposedly of the royal line of King David, hence, also  the title "Prince."  Nasi was a title of being head of the Sanhedrin (the ruling Jewish Council.). "

Four words have been decoded in Zippori, an ancient capital of the Galilee in Israel.  One word is Greek for Jose.  No, the Spaniards weren't in the Galilee 2,000 years ago.  It was actually a common Jewish  name ."The  name Jose (as translated by the Christian website)  is probably an truncated form of the name Ιωσης (Joses), which in turn comes from the Hebrew name Joseph (in Hebrewיוסף, and transliterated into Greek: Ιωσηφ), but many people insist it's a form of the name Ιησους (Jesus), which in turn comes from the Hebrew name Joshua (in Hebrew: יהושע, and transliterated into Greek: Ιησους), which is obviously a completely different name."   The other 3 words were Aramaic for:
1. The Tiberian
2. Forever
3. rabbi
These were words in a cemetery, like what might be found on a headstone.  The Tiberian had to be the man who was buried and had come from the city of Tiberias.  Tiberias was founded in about 18 CE by Herod Antipas and named in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius. who reigned from 14 to 37 CE.  It was in 19 CE that he expelled the Jews from Rome on account of a fraud perpetrated on a Roman matron sympathetic to Judaism.  4,000 young Jews were sent to Sardinia to fight the brigands.  Israel and Judah were harshly administered under his rule, during which the crucifixion of Jesus happened.

Most likely deceased in the cemetery  was a rabbi, but scholars are unsure precisely what this meant at the time of its inscription. Forever meant that the deceased's burial place will always belong to him.   This is what Motti Aviam of the Kinneret Institute has said about the find.

"The Aramaic script was widely adopted for other languages and is ancestral to both the Arabic and modern Hebrew alphabets. Accordingly, Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity, spoke the Aramaic dialect during his public ministry.  There is sort of a long running battle between the Pope and Netanyahu about what language was used in the 1st century CE in Judah;  Aramaic or Hebrew.  Hebrew was still spoken, but Aramaic was also used.  It was a North-Semitic language known by some as Chaldaic, and still is spoken by a few.

Aramaic is closer to Hebrew than the other Semitic languages and has influenced Hebrew considerably.  It came on the scene as an international language like English has been.  Commerce from the period of the late Assyrian and Persian kingdoms of the 6th century BCE was the reason it was used as evidenced by the many inscriptions that have been found in Asia Minor, Egypt, India and in other places where it was never native.  Aramaic was for many centuries the Palestinian vernacular, and biblical readings were translated into Aramaic in the synagogues for the benefit of  congregants who did not understand Hebrew, as we find English today.  It was the literary tongue and was the language of  the Zohar and of later kabbalistic poetry.

Ancient Aramaic was used on inscriptions of the 1st millennium BCE and in the Elephantine papyri and used at times in the Bible such as Daniel .2::4-7:28:   Ezra 4:8-6:18:  7:12-26:  Jeremiah. 10:11.

Then Western Aramaic was the language of the Palestinian Talmud, the aggadic Midrashim, Targum Jonathan, and the Samaritan translation of the Pentateuch.

Eastern Aramaic includes Syriac and the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud.

New Aramaic is still spoken by the Nestorian Christians in the Kurdish districts of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Persia (Iran) and Russia and also by Jews who have settled in Israel from these regions.

The city of Zippori must have been named for Zipporah, wife of Moses and daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian.  When Zipporah traveled to Egypt with Moses, she saved her son's life by circumcising him as told in Exodus 4:24-6.  Later, she returned to her father with her 2 sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  Then she rejoined Moses at Mount Sinai, told in Exodus 18:1.

As for the ancient city of Zippori, it had many ritual baths discovered in the excavation.  Roman culture was also evident in the findings such as the design of the town with paved streets, colonnaded main roads, theater and bathhouses.  There were many inscriptions found in the cemeteries which attests to the strong Jewish presence and the city's social elite in this late Roman period.
An interesting point about Hebrew is that it was being used in Israel before the Israelite conquest. This could be documented by the fact that Abraham of the 2nd  millennium BCE had entered Canaan with his wife, Sarah and others, and they most likely spoke Hebrew. They lived there until the drought that drove their family,  now with Jacob as the head of 70 into Egypt.   It was one of the Semitic languages used, the others being Moabite and Phoenician, which were all part of the Canaanite branch of Semitic languages.  The 1st Hebrew spoken was then a pre-exilic Biblical Hebrew.  After the exile, Biblical Hebrew continued to be used for over 500 years, but started to falter because of the influence of Aramaic when from 539 BCE to 331BCE was the language of officialdom  and was being spoken by many Jews.  The emergence of mishnaic Hebrew as a new colloquial language from about 200 BCE  caused the uncertainty in Hebrew usage also.  Mishnaic Hebrew was not from biblical Hebrew but probably from some pre-exilic colloquial dialect and had become a literary language through the tannaim in the 1st century CE.  It's spoken use then declined after the wars of 66 to 70 CE and again in 132-135 when Aluf Bar Kokhba made his stand against the Romans.  It was a more sober, simple and brief language than biblical Hebrew and better suited for precise expression.

Prayers during the Tannaitic Period combined Biblical Hebrew vocabulary with Mishnaic Hebrew grammar.  Almost all later styles mixed the 2 dialects.  After 200, even the Jews of Judah and Israel  almost stopped using Hebrew and wrote in Aramaic and Greek.  In about 500, a literary revival began which led to the use of Hebrew again in its written form throughout the Middle Ages.

Today Ashkenazim speak Hebrew differently from the Sephardim and Mizrahim.  Ashkenazis disregard nearly all the gutturals and all the emphatics of Hebrew.  For instance, a kametz is pronounced as an a by the Sephardi but as an o by the Ashkenazi and o by the Yemenite.  A Holam is prounounced as an o by the Sephardi but as an au, oi, etc by Ashkenazi and the Yemenite prounce it as an e or ei.   The Israel pronunciation has the vowel sounds of the Sephardi Hebrew but the consonants of the Ashkenazim except for tav.  The fact is that the Yemenite pronunciation of Hebrew has continued the Babylonian tradition whereas the Ashkenazi and Sephardi pronunciations reflect the Tiberian and  Palestinian pronunciation respectively.   Jews were taken to Babylonia in 597 and 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar as slaves, so it's a much older form of Hebrew.
Update: 2/4/16 about Abraham (in red). 
Resource:, "Israel Insights"  Israel:  Archaeologists Uncover Inscriptions in Jesus' Language.
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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