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LOY Excursus: Greek Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels
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Date First Published: May 28, 2014
Transliteration3

by Joshua N. Tilton and David N. Bivin

A

lthough the canonical Gospels were composed in Greek, there are indications that they drew from non-Greek sources. This makes sense since Yeshua’s teaching was probably delivered in Hebrew, and according to early church traditions the earliest record of Yeshua’s life was written in Hebrew. One of the clues that the Synoptic Gospels descended from a Hebrew Life of Yeshua is the number of foreign words that were transliterated into Greek from either Hebrew or Aramaic (it is often impossible to distinguish Hebrew from Aramaic in Greek transliteration). Since modern translations of the Bible tend to hide these transliterated words, most readers are not aware of how many transliterated words there are in the Synoptic Gospels.

Below we have collected all the transliterated words in the Synoptic Gospels with the exception of personal names and toponyms.[1] Place names and personal names would greatly increase the number of transliterations in our list, but since such names normally retain their pronunciations when crossing from one language to another, they are less relevant when considering a possible Hebrew or Aramaic Ur-text that stands behind the Synoptic Gospels.[2] We have also excluded loanwords derived from Semitic languages from our list, for, as with place names, loanwords cannot tell us about a possible Semitic Ur-text underlying the Synoptic Gospels.[3]

Many of the Synoptic Gospels’ transliterated words are religious or theological technical terms (e.g., ἀμήν [amen]; ὡσαννά [hosanna]; κορβάν [korban, "dedicated to the Temple"]) and others are proper nouns that have no real equivalent in Greek (e.g., πάσχα [pascha, "Passover lamb"]; σάββατον [sabbaton, "Sabbath"]). Other transliterated words, however, are more difficult to explain since there were equivalents in Greek (e.g., μαμωνᾶς [mamonas, "mammon," "wealth"]; ῥακά [raka, "empty head"]; σίκερα [sikera, "beer"]).

It is remarkable that Mark is the only Synoptic Gospel that contains transliterated words that can only be Aramaic.[4]


Hebrew Words

ἀμήν (amen) = אָמֵן (amen)[5]

Matt. 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5, 16; 8:10; 10:15, 23, 42; 11:11; 13:17; 16:28; 17:20; 18:3, 13, 18, [19]; 19:23, 28; 21:21, 31; 23:36; 24:2, 34, 47; 25:12, 40, 45; 26:13, 21, 34; Mark 3:28; 8:12; 9:1, 41; 10:15, 29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9, 18, 25, 30; [16:20]; Luke 4:24; 12:37; 18:17, 29; 21:32; 23:43

βάτος (batos) =  בַּת (bat, a measure of quantity)[6]

Luke 16:6

ἡλί (heli) =  אֵלִי (eli, “my God”)

Matt. 27:46 (2xx)

λαμά (lama) = לָמָה (lama, “why?”)[7]

Matt. 27:46

σαβαχθανί (sabachthani) = שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaktani, “you rejected me”)[8]

Matt. 27:46

ὡσαννά (hosanna) = הוֹשַׁע‑נָא (hosha-na)[9]

Matt. 21:9 (2xx); Mark 11:9, 10


Hebrew/Aramaic Words[10]

ἀββά (abba) = אַבָּא (Heb./Aram. aba, “father”)

Mark 14:36

γέεννα (geenna) = גֵּי[א] הִנֹּם (Heb. ge hinom, “gehenna,” “hell,” “Hinnom valley”); גֵיהִנָּם (Aram. gehinam, “gehenna,” “hell”)

Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5

ἐφφαθά (ephphatha) = הִפָּתַח (Heb. hipatah, “be opened”); אֶתְפְּתַח or אֶפְתַּח (Aram. etpetah or ephtah, “be opened”)

Mark 7:34

κορβάν (korban) = קָרְבָּן (Heb. korban, “dedicated to the Temple”); קָרְבָּנָא (Aram. korbana, “dedicated to the Temple”)

Mark 7:11

κορβανᾶς (korbanas) =  קָרְבָּן (Heb. korban, “dedicated to the Temple”); קָרְבָּנָא (Aram. korbana, “dedicated to the Temple”)

Matt. 27:6

κόρος (koros) = כֹּר (cor, a measure of quantity); כּוֹרָא (Aram. cora, a measure of quantity)[11]

Luke 16:7

μαμωνᾶς (mamonas) = מָמוֹן (Heb. mamon, “mammon,” “wealth”); מָמוֹנָא (Aram. mamona, “mammon,” “wealth”)

Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:9, 11, 13

πάσχα (pascha) = פֶּסַח (Heb. pesah, “Passover lamb”); פַּסְחָא (Aram. pasha, “Passover lamb”)

Matt. 26:2, 17, 18, 19; Mark 14:1, 12 (2xx), 14, 16; Luke 2:41; 22:1, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15

ῥαββί (rabbi) = רַבִּי (Heb./Aram. rabi, “rabbi,” “my master”)

Matt. 23:7, 8; 26:25, 49; Mark 9:5; 11:21; 14:45

ῥαββουνεί (rabbounei) = רַבּוּנִי (Heb. rabuni, “my master”); רַבּוֹנִי (Aram. raboni, “my master”)

Mark 10:51

ῥακά (raka) = רֵיקָה (rekah, “empty head”); רֵיקָא (Aram. reka, “empty head”)

Matt. 5:22

σάββατον (sabbaton) = שַׁבָּת (Heb. shabat, “Sabbath”); שַׁבַּתָּא (Aram. shabata, “Sabbath”)

Matt. 12:1, 2, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12; 24:20; 28:1 (2xx); Mark 1:21; 2:23, 24, 27 (2xx), 28; 3:2, 4; 6:2; 16:1, 2, [9]; Luke 4:16, 31; 6:1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9; 13:10, 14 (2xx), 15, 16; 14:1, 3, 5; 18:12; 23:54, 56; 24:1

σατανᾶς (satanas)[12] = שָׂטָן (Heb. satan, “satan,” “accuser”); סָטָנָא (Aram. satana, “satan,” “accuser”)

Matt. 4:10; 12:26 (2xx); 16:23; Mark 1:13; 3:23 (2xx), 26; 4:15; 8:33; Luke 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:3, 31

σάτον (saton) = סְאָה (Heb. seah, a measure of quantity); סָאתָא (Aram. sata, a measure of quantity)

Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:21

σίκερα (sikera) = שֵׁכָר (Heb. shechar, “fermented drink,” “beer”); שִׁכְרָא (Aram. shichra, “fermented drink,” “beer”)

Luke 1:15


Aramaic Words

ἐλωΐ (eloi) = אֱלָהִי (elahi, “my God”)

Mark 15.34 (2xx)

κούμ (koum) = קוּם (kum, “rise”)[13]

Mark 5:41

λειμά (leima) = לְמָה (lema, “why?”)

Mark 15:34

σαβαχθανεί (sabachthanei) = שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaktani, “you left me”)[14]

Mark 15:34

ταλιθά (talitha) = טַלְיְתָא or טְלִתָא (talyeta or telita, “little lamb/girl”)

Mark 5:41

Transliteration

Greek & Hebrew mosaic inscription from the fourth-century synagogue in Hammat Tiberias, with the words ΑΜΗΝ (amen) and שלום (shalom).

  • [1] While some studies give partial lists of transliterated words in the Gospels or the New Testament (e.g., Jehoshua M. Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language in the Last Days of the Second Temple,” JBL 79 [1960]: 40; Pinchas Lapide, “Hidden Hebrew in the Gospels,” Immanuel 2 [1973]: 28; Jan Joosten, “Aramaic or Hebrew behind the Greek Gospels?” Analecta Bruxellensia 9 [2004]: 90-91), a complete list of transliterated words in the Synoptic Gospels is difficult to find. Bauer collected all the transliterated words in the New Testament, but did not indicate their language of origin or specify the number of occurrences as does the list below (Walter Bauer, “An Introduction to the Lexicon of the Greek New Testament,” BDAG, xxii). For a recent attempt to catalogue the transliterated words in the Gospels and to determine their language of origin, see Guido Baltes, Herbraisches Evangelium und Synoptische Uberlieferung: Untersuchungen Zum Hebraischen Hintergrund Der Evangelien (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2011),110-121.
  • [2] See the discussion in Randall Buth and Chad Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’?” in The Language Environment of First-century Judaea: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels 2 (JCP 26; ed. Randall Buth and R. Steven Notley; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 99 esp. n. 96.
  • [3] Such loanwords include: σάκκος (Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13), μνᾶ (9xx in Luke 19:13, 16, 18, 20, 24) and βύσσος (Luke 16:19). These terms have been excluded from our list since they are clearly loanwords found in the writings of classical Greek authors, and not transliterations. (The authors wish to thank Guido Baltes for the references to these loanwords in the Gospels.)
  • [4] On this phenomenon, see Jehoshua Grintz, “Hebrew as the Spoken and Written Language,” 33 n. 3; Randall Buth, “Aramaic Language,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background (ed. Craig Evans and Stanley Porter; Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity, 2000), 89; and “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [5] On the use of amen in the Synoptic Gospels, see Robert Lindsey, “‘Verily’ or ‘Amen’—What Did Jesus Say?
  • [6] Although βάτος is sometimes considered a loanword, it appears almost exclusively in Jewish writings: LXX (2 Esdr. 7:22); Jos. (Ant. 8:57 [2xx], 80). Note that Josephus gives an explanation of βάτος for his Greek-speaking readers [ὁ δὲ βάτος δύναται ξέστας ἑβδομήκοντα δύο] in Ant. 8:57. In T. Jud. 9:8 we find the transliteration βεθ.
  • [7] Λαμά could also reflect the Aramaic word לְמָה (lema, “why?”), however since it appears in a Hebrew sentence, we count this transliteration as exclusively Hebrew. On the Hebrew sentence in Matt. 27:46, see Randall Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross: The Meaning of ηλι ηλι λαμα σαβαχθανι (Matthew 27:46) and the Literary Function of ελωι ελωι λειμα σαβαχθανι (Mark 15:34),” in The Language Environment of First-century Judaea: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels 2 (JCP 26; ed. Randall Buth and R. Steven Notley; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 394-421.
  • [8] Σαβαχθανί could also reflect the Aramaic word שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaktani, “you left me”); however, since it appears in a Hebrew sentence, we count this transliteration as exclusively Hebrew. On the Hebrew sentence in Matt. 27:46, see Randall Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross,” 416-421.
  • [9] Scholars have shown that this form represents a Hebrew, not an Aramaic, exclamation. See Menahem Kister, “Lexicographical Problems Early and Late,” Scripta Hierosolymitana 37 (1998): 244-263, esp. 259-261; idem, “Words and Formulae in the Gospels in the Light of Hebrew and Aramaic Sources,” in The Sermon on the Mount and its Jewish Setting (Cahiers de la Revue Biblique 60; ed. Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer; Paris: J. Gabalda, 2005‬), 115-147, esp. 120-122; Randall Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross,” 407-408.
  • [10] Taken on their own, the transliterations in this category could represent either Hebrew or Aramaic, since identical or similar forms occur in both languages.
  • [11] Κόρος appears in LXX 13xx where it transliterates כֹּר‎ 9xx and represents חֹמֶר‎ 3xx. Κόρος also occurs 1x in T. Jud. 9:8 and 4xx in a fragment of Eupolemus (preserved in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 9.33 who quoted from Alexander Polyhistor, On the Jews. In this fragment Eupolemos gives a Greek equivalent for the Hebrew measure [ὁ δὲ κόρος ἐστὶν ἀρταβῶν ἕξ]). Sometimes κόρος is considered a loanword in Greek, however since it occurs only in Jewish literature it seems more likely that κόρος is a transliteration of a Semitic word.

    The authors wish to express their gratitude to Guido Baltes for providing references to כּוֹרָא in rabbinic literature (y. Pea. 8.2.2 [20d]; y. Bab. Metz. 5.1 [10c]; Ruth Rab. 5:12 on Ruth 3:3 [ed. Wilna 10a]). Baltes noted that the Aramaic word is rare and may be a loanword from Hebrew.

  • [12] We have included σατανᾶς (“satan”) in our list, regarding it as a title rather than a personal name.
  • [13] Κούμ could also represent the Hebrew word קוּם (kum); however, since it appears in an Aramaic sentence, we count this transliteration as unequivocally Aramaic.
  • [14] Σαβαχθανεί could also reflect the Hebrew word שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaktani, “you rejected me”); however, since it appears in an Aramaic sentence in Mark 15:34, we count this transliteration as exclusively Aramaic.
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