"Go all over the world. Proclaim the Good News to all creation" (Mark 16:15-18), Jesus is said to have told His disciples. This after leaving them and promising to transmit to them the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of God arrived on Earth - which is celebrated at Pentecost - the twelve apostles were able to witness publicly to Jesus in different languages in Jerusalem. But what language did they speak with Christ?
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Born into a Jewish family in Galilee (northern Israel), Jesus was raised Jewish. A religion based on the writings of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament for Christians), written in Hebrew. As Jean Sellier explains in Une histoire des langues et des peuples qui les parle (La Découverte), this language belongs to the Semitic group, which dates from the second half of the third millennium BC.
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Spoken by the Hebrews of the region of Canaan (including Israel, Palestine, western Jordan, Lebanon and western Syria), it was in use until the exile in Babylon of the Jewish elite of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah (586-538 BC). The Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II made Judea a vassal province of his empire. This was until the capture of Babylon by the Persians, who allowed the Jews ("members of the tribe of Judah") to return to their homeland.
At the time of Jesus, the Jews definitively adopted Aramaic, another Semitic language born at the dawn of the Iron Age - whose name originally refers to a desert people of present-day Syria, according to the Treasury of the French Language. In Palestine at the time, Aramaic was spoken. The Gospels show this. Written in Greek (which became the written language from the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great in 334 BC), these biblical stories quote Christ in his language. In the account of the Passion, narrated in the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" 27:46). In other words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as Jesus cried out from his cross. Similarly, "talitha koum" ("little girl, get up!") he once said to Jairus' daughter before giving her back life.
Jesus gives life to Jairus' daughter and says "talitha koum" to her. Illustration from 1906. www.bridgemanimages.com/Bridgeman Images
Because Christ wanted to be understood by the crowds who came to listen to him, his teachings were given in Aramaic, spoken by a significant number of peoples of the Middle East. However, since Hebrew survived in the liturgy, he also spoke that language. He was seen reading and commenting on the text of the book of Isaiah (Luke 4:16-17) in the synagogue of Nazareth.
Today, Aramaic is a language still used in the liturgies of several Christian communities in the Middle East, such as the Chaldeans, Syriac Miaphysites, Syriac Catholics and Maronites.