The Custom of Calling The Aramaic “Hebrew”

In the Gospel of John the Aramaic terms ΒηθεσδάΓαββαθᾶΓολγοθᾶῬαββουνί are called “Hebrew.”Aramaic, too, must be meant by the “Hebrew tounge” in which Paul spoke to the people of Jerusalem (Acts 21:40, 22:2), and in which Jesus spoke to Paul (Acts 26:14).

According to Acts 6:1, Ἑλληνισταί and Ἑβραῖοι were the names of the two parts of the Jewish people as divided by language, although Συρισταί would have been the more precise counterpart of Ἑλληνισταί. But if it was possible to characterize Aramaic as “Hebrew,” it is clear that Aramaic was the everyday speech of the Jewish people at this period, in so far, at least, as it was not Greek.

Josephus, indeed showed himself (Ant. X.i.2,  XII. ii. 1) quite capable of distinguishing the language and written character of the “Syrians” from those of the “Hebrews.” And yet between Hebrew and Aramaic words he makes no difference. According to Anti. I. i. 1, 2, σάββατα and Ἀδάμ belong to the Hebrew tounge, but ἀσαρθά as well (Ant. III. x. 6) is a term of the “Hebrews.” The “Hebrew” in which Josephus addresses the people of Jerusalem (Bell. Jud. VI. ii. 1) is even called by him (Bell. Jud. V. ix. 2) ἡ πάτριος γλώσσα, though in the circumstances nothing but Aramaic can be looked for.

That Aramaic had at least a distinct predominance in Judaea may be inferred with certainty from the place-names in Jerusalem and its environs:

  • Ἀκελδαμάχ (חֲקֵל דּמא);
  • Βηθζαθά, Βηζεθά (בֵּית זַיְתָא);
  • Γαββαθᾶ (גַּבַּחְתָּא);
  • Γολγοθᾶ (גָּלְגָּלְתָּא);
  • Ὄπλα, Ὀφλᾶς (עָפְלָא);
  • Σαφείν (צָפִין);
  • Χαφεναθά (כָּפְלָתָא)

 

Note: Adapted from English translation of Gustaf Dalman’s The Words of Jesus (pages 6-7).

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Capernaum (Καπερναουμ) or Capharnaum (Καφαρναουμ)?

The slight different in orthography for “Capernaum” in the Greek text of Matthew
11:23 (and Luke 10:15, Matthew 8:5, Matthew 17:24, Mark 1:21, Mark 2:1, Mark
9:33, Luke 4:23, etc) found in Greek manuscripts is another evidence that can be
cited to prove the Semitic origin of the Gospels.

Matthew 11:23

και συ καπερναουμ η εως του ουρανου υψωθεισα εως αδου καταβιβασθηση οτι ει εν σοδομοις εγενοντο αι δυναμεις αι γενομεναι εν σοι εμειναν αν μεχρι της σημερον

Luke.10.15:

και συ καπερναουμ η εως του ουρανου υψωθεισα εως αδου καταβιβασθηση

The above reading is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts that is termed as
“Byzantine.” But in some manuscripts that is classified as “Alexandrine” (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, etc) the spelling for “Capernaum” is καφαρναουμ.

Anyone familiar with Hebrew/Aramaic language will know that the Hebrew alphabet is
unique in that it has just 22 consonants and no vowels. The letter פ can be transliterated either as π (p) or φ (ph). The orthography for “Capernaum” in Aramaic and Hebrew is כפרנחום – (Kafar) כפר (Nachom) נחום i.e. literally Kafar (village) (prophet?) Nachom (Nahum / consolation?) . Since all the letters for “Capernaum” in Aramaic/Hebrew are consonants, it can either be read as καπερναουμ or καφαρναουμ. There were no Tiberian system of pointing back then to aid the reader.

Jerome who spent two or three years as a hermit in the Syrian desert, at which time he
learned Hebrew and Syriac translated it as “Capharnaum.”

See Matthew 11:23 in the Latin Vulgate

et tu Capharnaum numquid usque in caelum exaltaberis usque in infernum descendes quia si in Sodomis factae fuissent virtutes quae factae sunt in te forte mansissent usque in hunc diem

and Latin Vulgate version of Luke 10:15

et tu Capharnaum usque in caelum exaltata usque ad infernum demergeris

Capharnaum (Καφαρναοὺμ) is mentioned by Josephus in his “War of the Jews, Book 3, chapter 10, section 8.

Παρατείνει δὲ τὴν Γεννησὰρ ὁμώνυμος χώρα θαυμαστὴ φύσιν τε καὶ κάλλος: οὔτε γὰρ αὐτή τι φυτὸν ἀρνεῖται διὰ τὴν πιότητα, καὶ πᾶν πεφυτεύκασιν οἱ νεμόμενοι, τοῦ δ᾽ ἀέρος τὸ εὔκρατονἁρμόζει καὶ τοῖς διαφόροις. καρύαι μέν γε φυτῶν τὸ χειμεριώτατονἄπειροι τεθήλασιν ἔνθα φοίνικες, οἳ καύματι τρέφονται, συκαῖ δὲ καὶ ἐλαῖαι πλησίον τούτων, αἷς μαλθακώτερος ἀὴρ ἀποδέδεικται. φιλοτιμίαν ἄν τις εἴποι τῆς φύσεως βιασαμένης εἰς ἓν συναγαγεῖν τὰ μάχιμα καὶ τῶν ὡρῶν ἀγαθὴν ἔριν ἑκάστης ὥσπερ ἀντιποιουμένης τοῦ χωρίου: καὶ γὰρ οὐ μόνον τρέφει παρὰ δόξαν τὰς διαφόρους ὀπώρας ἀλλὰ καὶ διαφυλάσσει. τὰ μέν γε βασιλικώτατασταφυλήν τε καὶ σῦκον δέκα μησὶν ἀδιαλείπτως χορηγεῖ, τοὺς δὲ λοιποὺς καρποὺς δι᾽ ἔτους ὅλου περιγηράσκοντας ἑαυτοῖς: πρὸς γὰρ τῇ τῶν ἀέρων εὐκρασίᾳ καὶ πηγῇ διάρδεται γονιμωτάτῃ, Καφαρναοὺμ αὐτὴν οἱ ἐπιχώριοι καλοῦσιν. ταύτην φλέβα τινὲς τοῦ Νείλου ἔδοξαν, ἐπεὶ γεννᾷ τῷ κατὰ τὴν Ἀλεξανδρέων λίμνην κορακίνῳ παραπλήσιον. μῆκος δὲ τοῦ χωρίου παρατείνει κατὰ τὸν αἰγιαλὸν τῆς ὁμωνύμου λίμνης ἐπὶ σταδίους τριάκοντα, καὶ εὖρος εἴκοσι. ταῦτα μὲν οὕτως φύσεως ἔχει.

The country also that lies over against this lake hath the same name of Gennesareth; its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty; its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there; for the temper of the air is so well mixed, that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts,  which require the coldest air, flourish there in vast plenty; there are palm trees also, which grow best in hot air; fig trees also and olives grow near them, which yet require an air that is more temperate. One may call this place the ambition of nature, where it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together; it is a happy contention of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country; for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruit beyond men’s expectation, but preserves them a great while; it supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually, during ten months of the year ( 8 ) and the rest of the fruits as they become ripe together through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is also watered from a most fertile fountain. The people of the country call it Capharnaum. Some have thought it to be a vein of the Nile, because it produces the Coracin fish as well as that lake does which is near to Alexandria. The length of this country extends itself along the banks of this lake that bears the same name for thirty furlongs, and is in breadth twenty, And this is the nature of that place.

In Life of Josephus, section 72, Κεφαρνωκὸν is found :

Ταῦτα δ᾽ ὡς ἐπυθόμην ἐγὼ πέμπω δισχιλίους ὁπλίτας καὶ στρατηγὸν αὐτῶν Ἱερεμίαν, οἳ δὴ καὶ χάρακα θέντες ἀπὸ σταδίουτῆς Ἰουλιάδος πλησίον τοῦ Ἰορδάνου ποταμοῦ πλέον ἀκροβολισμῶνοὐδὲν ἔπραξαν, μέχρι τρισχιλίους στρατιώτας αὐτὸς ἀναλαβὼνἧκον πρὸς αὐτούς. κατὰ δὲ τὴν ἐπιοῦσαν ἡμέραν ἔν τινι φάραγγι καθίσας λόχον οὐκ ἄπωθεν αὐτῶν τοῦ χάρακος προεκαλούμηντοὺς βασιλικοὺς εἰς μάχην, παραινέσας τοῖς μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ στρατιώταιςστρέψαι τὰ νῶτα, μέχρις ἂν ἐπισπάσωνται τοὺς πολεμίους προελθεῖν: ὅπερ καὶ ἐγένετο. Σύλλας γὰρ εἰκάσας ταῖς ἀληθείαις τοὺς ἡμετέρους φεύγειν προελθὼν ἐπιδιώκειν οἷός τε ἦν, κατὰ νώτου δ᾽ αὐτὸν λαμβάνουσιν οἱ ἐκ τῆς ἐνέδρας καὶ σφόδρα πάντας ἐθορύβησαν. ἐγὼ δ᾽ εὐθὺς ὀξείᾳ χρησάμενος ὑποστροφῇ μετὰ τῆς δυνάμεως ὑπήντησα τοῖς βασιλικοῖς καὶ εἰς φυγὴν ἔτρεψα. κἂν κατώρθωτό μοι κατὰ τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην ἡ πρᾶξις μὴ ἐμποδὼν γενομένου δαίμονός τινος: ὁ γὰρ ἵππος, ἐφ᾽ ᾧ τὴν μάχην ἐποιούμην, εἰς τελματώδη τόπον ἐμπεσὼν συγκατήνεγκέ με ἐπὶ τοὔδαφος. θραύσεως δὲ τῶν ἄρθρων γενομένης ἐπὶ τὸν ταρσὸν τῆς χειρὸς ἐκομίσθην εἰς κώμην Κεφαρνωκὸν λεγομένην. οἱ δὲ ταῦτ᾽ ἀκούσαντεςκαὶ δεδοικότες, μή τι χεῖρον ἔπαθον, τῆς μὲν ἐπὶ πλέον διώξεως ἀπέσχοντο, ὑπέστρεφον δὲ περὶ ἐμὲ λίαν ἀγωνιῶντες. μεταπεμψάμενος οὖν ἰατροὺς καὶ θεραπευθεὶς τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην αὐτοῦ κατέμεινα πυρέξας, δόξαν τε τοῖς ἰατροῖς τῆς νυκτὸς εἰς Ταριχέας μετεκομίσθην.

As soon as I had gotten intelligence of this, I sent two thousand armed men, and a captain over them, whose name was Jeremiah, who raised a bank a furlong off Julias, near to the river Jordan, and did no more than skirmish with the enemy; till I took three thousand soldiers myself, and came to them. But on the next day, when I had laid an ambush in a certain valley, not far from the banks, I provoked those that belonged to the king to come to a battle, and gave orders to my own soldiers to turn their backs upon them, until they should have drawn the enemy away from their camp, and brought them out into the field, which was done accordingly; for Sylla, supposing that our party did really run away, was ready to pursue them, when our soldiers that lay in ambush took them on their backs, and put them all into great disorder. I also immediately made a sudden turn with my own forces, and met those of the king’s party, and put them to flight. And I had performed great things that day, if a certain fate had not been my hinderance; for the horse on which I rode, and upon whose back I fought, fell into a quagmire, and threw me on the ground, and I was bruised on my wrist, and carried into a village named Cepharnome, or Capernaum. When my soldiers heard of this, they were afraid I had been worse hurt than I was; and so they did not go on with their pursuit any further, but returned in very great concern for me. I therefore sent for the physicians, and while I was under their hands, I continued feverish that day; and as the physicians directed, I was that night removed to Taricheee.

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