Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hebraisms in the New Testament

John Hobbins has an interesting post today that brings up the issue of Hebraic influence on New Testament Greek. In other words, biblical Greek is not "real" Greek in the sense of Homer or Plato or Herodotus written in Greek by native speakers of Greek. Anyone who's tried to read the Septuagint and then turn to something in classical Greek should be able to detect this. The Septuagint is worse because it's a translation from Hebrew that follows the source text very closely a lot of the time in representing every word and keeping the same word order. The New Testament, on the other hand, was originally written in Greek, but Greek that was heavily influenced by the Jewish background of the writers. The quotes that John gives us from both the Geneva Bible and E.C. Hoskyns are especially good reminders of that reality.

It reminded me of the issue I brought up a little over a month ago about who was better suited to examine issues involving the Jewish background of ideas like messianic expectation before Jesus - New Testament or Hebrew Bible specialists. My conclusion is that it would really require both working together and both being committed to objectively looking at the evidence from the Second Temple Period. However, if I had to pick between them, it seems that a Hebrew Bible specialist might be better equipped to pick up on those Hebraisms in Greek, many of which are rooted in the Septuagint and Hellenistic Jewish thought. Of course, you'll say I'm biased - being a Hebrew Bible specialist and all. But it seems easier to me to start with an understanding of the Hebrew Bible as the basis for Ancient Judaism and move forward than to start with the New Testament and try to work backward to get the background. That's one of the main reasons why I'm pursuing Hebrew Bible. Everything starts there.


  1. This might be an old topic but What do you think about claims that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew and then translated into Greek?

  2. I don't know a whole lot about those claims besides the fact that the scholarly consensus is generally against them. While some parts of the Gospels might reflect an oral Hebrew or Aramaic original, it's unlikely that any of the NT was originally composed in one of those languages.

    It's easier to refute the claim for the entire NT - why is Mark always explaining Aramaic phrases like in Mark 5? Why does the Peshitta (an ancient Aramaic translation of the Bible) give an Aramaic phrase twice sometimes - keeping the phrase and its explanation from the Greek (like in Mark 15:34)?

    On the other hand, the Peshitta doesn't always do that. The parallel phrase of Mark 15:34 in Matthew (27:46) has a phrase translating the Aramaic in the Greek but not in the Peshitta. The Matthew phrase is interesting because it looks to be a quote of Ps. 22:2 but the quote follows the MT version of the verse except for the verb which is Aramaic and used in the Targum for that verse.

    I like the Gospel of Matthew best because of its creative use of texts from the Hebrew Bible (like in Matt 2:15). It seems clear that it was written with a Jewish audience in mind that would understand his allusions and quotations.

    However, the fact that it was written for a Jewish audience doesn't necessarily mean it was written in Aramaic or Hebrew.

    On the other hand, I haven't done enough research to be able to definitively say that it's not at least possible for Matthew to have been originally composed in Semitic language. I'm sure others have done that work. The Greek style of Matthew would have to be analyzed to see if it resembled a translation or if a Semitic Vorlage could be reconstructed. His use of the OT would have to be checked to see if it reflected LXX translations at any points or if it's always unique.

    At any rate, it's an interesting question, but the consensus seems to be that it's unlikely Matthew was composed in a Semitic language.