LOY Excursus: Greek Transliterations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Hebrew/Aramaic Words in the Synoptic Gospels

& Articles, LOY Excursions 5 Comments

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).

Revised: 30-November-2017[1]

Although the canonical Gospels were composed in Greek, there are indications that they drew from non-Greek sources. This makes sense because Jesus’ teaching was probably delivered in Hebrew,[2] and according to early church traditions the earliest record of Jesus’ life was written in Hebrew.[3] 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.[4] Place names and personal names would greatly increase the number of transliterations in our list,[5] but since such names normally retain their (approximate) pronunciations when crossing from one language to another, they are less relevant when considering a possible Hebrew or Aramaic Ur-text standing behind the Synoptic Gospels.[6] In a separate list we have collected Hellenized words derived from Semitic languages that appear in the Synoptic Gospels. These Hellenized Semitic terms are distinguished from transliterations by the fact that they take the various Greek case endings, indicating that these terms have been more fully assimilated into the Greek language. Although less telling than transliterated terms, a Greek translator of a Hebrew or Aramaic source would naturally gravitate toward these Hellenized Semitic terms when confronted with the corresponding Hebrew or Aramaic equivalents in his or her source text.


Transliterated Words in the Synoptic Gospels

Hebrew Words

ἀμήν (amēn) = אָמֵן (’āmēn, “Amen”)[7]

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; [16:8]; Luke 4:24; 12:37; 18:17, 29; 21:32; 23:43

ἠλί (ēli) = אֵלִי (’ēli, “my God”)

Matt. 27:46 (2xx)

λαμά (lama) = לָמָּה (lāmāh, “why?”)[8]

Matt. 27:46

σαβαχθάνι (sabachthani) = שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaqtani, “you left me”)[9]

Matt. 27:46

ὡσαννά (hōsanna) = הוֹשַׁע נָא (hōsha‘ nā’, “Please save!”)[10]

Matt. 21:9 (2xx), 15; Mark 11:9, 10


Hebrew/Aramaic Words[11]

ἀββά (abba) = אַבָּא (Heb./Aram. ’abā’, “father”)[12]

Mark 14:36

ἐφφαθά (effatha) = הִפָּתַח (Heb. hipātaḥ, “Be opened!”); אֶתְפְּתַח or אֶפְתַּח (Aram. ’etpetaḥ or ’eftaḥ, “Be opened!”)

Mark 7:34

κορβᾶν (korban) = קָרְבָּן (Heb. qorbān, “dedicated to the Temple”); קָרְבָּנָא (Aram. qorbānā’, “dedicated to the Temple”)

Mark 7:11

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

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

ῥαββουνί (rabbouni), var. ῥαββουνεί (rabbounei) = רַבּוּנִי (Heb. rabūni, “my master”); רַבּוֹנִי (Aram. rabōni, “my master”)

Mark 10:51

ῥακά (raka) = רֵיקָה (Heb. rēqāh, “empty head”); רֵיקָא (Aram. rēqā’, “empty head”)

Matt. 5:22


Aramaic Words

ἐλωΐ (elōi) = אֱלָהִי (elāhi, “my God”)

Mark 15:34 (2xx)

κούμ (koum) = קוּם (qūm, “Rise!”)[13]

Mark 5:41

λεμά (lema), var. λειμά (leima) = לְמָה (lemāh, “why?”)

Mark 15:34

σαβαχθάνι (sabachthani), var. σαβαχθάνει (sabachthanei) = שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaqtani, “you left me”)[14]

Mark 15:34

ταλιθά (talitha) = טַלְיְתָא or טְלִתָא (ṭalyetā’ or elitā’, “little lamb/girl”)

Mark 5:41

From the compilation above, we can observe that many of the transliterated words in the Synoptic Gospels are liturgical or cultic terms (e.g., ἀμήν [amēn]; ὡσαννά [hōsanna]; κορβᾶν [korban, “dedicated to the Temple”]), which naturally had no equivalent in Greek. Other terms that tended to be transliterated were titles of address (e.g., ῥαββί [rabbi, “my teacher”]). Another important observation is that all of the transliterated words in Matthew and Luke belong to the exclusively Hebrew or Hebrew/Aramaic categories. Only the Gospel of Mark contains transliterated words that are exclusively Aramaic.[15]

 


Hellenized Semitic Words in the Synoptic Gospels

βάτος (batos, a liquid measure) = בַּת (Heb. bat, a liquid measure); בֵּיתָא (Aram. bētā’, a liquid measure)[16]

Luke 16:6

βύσσος (būssos, “fine linen”)[17] = בּוּץ (Heb. būtz, “fine linen”);[18] בּוּצָא (Aram. būtzā’, “fine linen”)

Luke 16:19

γέεννα (geenna, “Gehenna”) = גֵּי[א] הִנֹּם (Heb. [] hinom, “Gehenna,” “Hinnom valley”); גֵּיהִנָּם (Aram. gēhinām, “Gehenna,” “Hinnom valley”)[19]

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

καναναῖος (kananaios) = קַנַּאי (Heb. qanai, “zealous”); קַנְאָנָא (Aram. qan’ānā’, “the zealous”)[20]

Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:18

κορβανᾶς (korbanas, “item dedicated to the Jewish Temple”) = קָרְבָּן (Heb. qorbān, “dedicated to the Temple”); קָרְבָּנָא (Aram. qorbānā’, “dedicated to the Temple”)

Matt. 27:6

κόρος (koros, a measure of quantity) = כֹּר (Heb. kor, a measure of quantity);[21] כּוֹרָא/כּוֹר (Aram. kōrā’/kōr, a measure of quantity)[22]

Luke 16:7

μαμωνᾶς (mamōnas, “mammon”) = מָמוֹן (Heb. māmōn, “wealth”); מָמוֹנָא (Aram. māmōnā’, “wealth”)

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

μνᾶ (mna, “mina,” a denomination of coinage)[23] = מָנֶה (Heb. māneh, “mina,” a denomination of coinage); מָנָא (Aram. mānā’, a measure of weight)[24]

Luke 19:13, 16 (2xx), 18 (2xx), 20, 24 (2xx), 25

πάσχα (pascha, “Passover,” “Passover lamb”) = פֶּסַח (Heb. pesaḥ, “Passover,” “Passover lamb”);[25] פִּסְחָא (Aram. pisḥā’, “Passover,” “Passover lamb”), var. פַּסְחָא (pasḥā’)[26]

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

σάββατον (sabbaton, “Sabbath”) = שַׁבָּת (Heb. shabāt, “Sabbath”); שַׁבַּתָּא (Aram. shabatā’, “Sabbath”)

Matt. 12:1, 2, 5 (2xx), 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

σάκκος (sakkos, “sackcloth”)[27] = שַׂק (Heb. saq, “sackcloth”);[28] סַק (Aram. saq, “sackcloth”)

Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13

σατανᾶς (satanas, “Satan”)[29] = שָׂטָן (Heb. sāṭān, “satan,” “accuser”); סָטָנָא (Aram. sāṭānā’, “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, a measure of quantity) = סְאָה (Heb. se’āh, a measure of quantity); סָאתָא (Aram. sā’tā’, a measure of quantity)

Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:21

σίκερα (sikera, “fermented drink,” “beer”)[30] = שֵׁכָר (Heb. shēchār, “fermented drink,” “beer”);[31] שִׁכְרָא (Aram. shichrā’, “fermented drink,” “beer”)

Luke 1:15

συκάμινος (sūkaminos, “mulberry”)[32] = שִׁקְמָה (Heb. shiqmāh, “sycamore”);[33] שִׁיקְמָא (Aram. shiqmā’, “sycamore”)

Luke 17:6

With respect to Hellenized Semitic words, it must first be noted that some of them, especially those attested early on, may have entered the Greek language via Phoenician (Canaanite), through contact with Phoenician traders.[34] Other Hellenized Semitic words, it will be noticed, are phonetically closer to Aramaic than Hebrew (e.g., κορβανᾶς [closer to Aram. קָרְבָּנָא than Heb. קָרְבָּן]; πάσχα [closer to Aram. פַּסְחָא than Heb. פֶּסַח]; σατανᾶς [closer to Aram. סָטָנָא than Heb. שָׂטָן]). Such Hellenized Semitic terms may have entered the Greek lexicon through contacts between Aramaic-speaking local representatives of the Jewish community in the former Persian Empire and Greek-speaking officials of the Ptolemaic and/or Seleucid Empires. A third observation to be made is that in a translated text the mere appearance of Hellenized terms from Aramaic, such as πάσχα, does not indicate from which Semitic language a Greek text might have been translated, since the LXX translators frequently employed Aramaic-derived terms when translating Hebrew texts.[35] The LXX translators naturally preferred to use vocabulary that was already established in their target language, rather than resorting to foreign-sounding transliterations that conveyed no meaning to an exclusively Greek-speaking audience. The same preference would probably have been shared by an ancient translator of a collection of sayings or Hebrew biography of Jesus.

 


Click here to return to “The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction” main page.

 

Transliteration

Greek and Hebrew mosaic from the fourth-century synagogue in Hammat Tiberias, with the words ΑΜΗΝ (amēn) and שָׁלוֹם (shālōm).


  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] On the language(s) of Jesus, see Shmuel Safrai, “Spoken Languages in the Time of Jesus”; Randall Buth, “Language Use in the First Century: Spoken Hebrew in a Trilingual Society in the Time of Jesus,” Journal of Translation and Textlinguistics 5.4 (1992): 298-312; Steven E. Fassberg, “Which Semitic Language Did Jesus and Other Contemporary Jews Speak?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 74 (2012): 263-280.
  • [3] See Papias’ testimony in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.16; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1. See also Randall Buth and Chad Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’?” (JS2, 66-109).
  • [4] 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,” Journal of Biblical Literature 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 catalogue of the transliterated words in the Gospels with an attempt 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.
  • [5] Two epithets that are treated as names in Greek, but which may have been descriptions in Hebrew or Aramaic, include:
    βοανηργές (boanērges) = בְּנֵי רַעַם (Heb. benē ra‘am, “sons of thunder”); בְּנֵי רַעַשׁ (Heb. benē ra‘ash, “sons of an earthquake”); בְּנֵי רְגָשָׁא (Aram. benē regāshā’, “sons of noise”)

    Mark 3:17

    Ἰσκαριώθ (Iskariōth) = אִישׁ קְרִיּוֹת (Heb. ’ish qeriyōt, “man [from the town] of Kriyot”)?

    Mark 3:19; 14:10; Luke 6:16 (The Hellenized form Ἰσκαριώτης appears in Matt. 10:4; 26:14; Luke 22:3; John 6:71; 12:4; 13:2, 26; 14:22.)

    On βοανηργές, see our discussion in Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L27-28; on Ἰσκαριώθ, see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L41.

  • [6] See the discussion in Buth and Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’?” (JS2, 99, esp. n. 96).
  • [7] On the use of ἀμήν in the Synoptic Gospels, see Robert Lindsey, “‘Verily’ or ‘Amen’—What Did Jesus Say?
  • [8] Λαμά could also reflect the Aramaic word לְמָה (lemāh, “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)” (JS2, 394-421).
  • [9] Σαβαχθάνι could also reflect the Aramaic word שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaqtani, “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 Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross” (JS2, 416-421).
  • [10] 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; Buth, “The Riddle of Jesus’ Cry from the Cross” (JS2, 407-408).
  • [11] Taken on their own, the transliterations in this category could represent either Hebrew or Aramaic, since identical or similar forms occur in both languages.
  • [12] On אַבָּא as a Mishnaic Hebrew word, see James Barr, “’Abbā Isn’t Daddy,” Journal of Theological Studies 39.1 (1988): 28-47, esp. 30-32. For examples of אַבָּא as a Hebrew word, see m. Peah 2:4, 6; m. Shab. 1:9; m. Eruv. 6:2; m. Betz. 2:6; m. Ket. 2:10; 12:3; 13:5; m. Ned. 5:6; 9:5; 11:4, 11 (2xx); m. Git. 7:6 (2xx); 9:2; m. Naz. 4:7; m. Kid. 3:6; m. Bab. Bat. 9:3; m. Sanh. 3:2; 4:5; m. Shevu. 6:1; 7:7 (3xx); m. Edu. 3:10; 5:7; m. Zev. 9:3; m. Men. 13:9; m. Tam. 3:8; m. Yad. 3:1.
  • [13] Κούμ could also represent the Hebrew word קוּם (qūm, “Rise!”); however, since it appears in an Aramaic sentence, we count this transliteration as unequivocally Aramaic.
  • [14] Σαβαχθάνι could also reflect the Hebrew word שְׁבַקְתַּנִי (shevaqtani, “you left me”); however, since it appears in an Aramaic sentence in Mark 15:34, we count this transliteration as exclusively Aramaic.
  • [15] 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, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000), 89; and David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [16] The term βάτος appears almost exclusively in Jewish writings: 2 Esd. 7:22 (2xx); Jos., Ant. 8:57 (2xx), 80. Note that Josephus gives an explanation of βάτος for his readers (ὁ δὲ βάτος δύναται ξέστας ἑβδομήκοντα δύο) in Ant. 8:57. In T. Jud. 9:8 we find the transliteration βεθ (beth).
  • [17] The term βύσσος is attested in the works of classical authors, so it was fully assimilated into Greek at an early date. See BDAG, 185.
  • [18] In LXX βύσσος occurs 40xx, usually as the translation of שֵׁשׁ (shēsh, “linen”), but twice as the translation of בּוּץ (2 Chr. 2:13; 3:14).
  • [19] While technically a toponym, the term “Gehenna” had also come to represent a complex of eschatological concepts. We have therefore included this term in our list. Many translations render γέεννα as “hell,” but since the popular conception of hell for modern readers has so many connotations that were not associated with the term “Gehenna” in ancient Jewish literature and the New Testament, we have avoided using “hell” as the equivalent of Gehenna.
  • [20] Opposite Καναναῖος (Matt. 10:4; Mark 3:18), Luke has τὸν καλούμενον ζηλωτὴν (“the one called Zealot”; Luke 6:15; cf. Acts 1:13). The Aramaic form קַנְאָנָא is closer to Καναναῖος than the Hebrew קַנַּאי. See our discussion in Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L39.
  • [21] Κόρος appears in LXX 14xx, where it represents כֹּר‎ 8xx (3 Kgdms. 2:46 [2xx] = 3 Kgdms. 5:2 [2xx]; 3 Kgdms. 5:25; 2 Chr. 2:9 [2xx]; 27:5) and represents חֹמֶר‎ 3xx (Lev. 27:16; Num. 11:32; Ezek. 45:13). Κόρος also occurs once 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 Eupolemus gives a Greek equivalent for the Hebrew measure (ὁ δὲ κόρος ἐστὶν ἀρταβῶν ἕξ).
  • [22] In LXX κόρος is used to translate the Aramaic כּוֹר in 2 Esd. 7:22 (= Ezra 7:22).
  • [23] See BDAG, 654. The Semitic loanword μνᾶ was established in classical Greek.
  • [24] The noun μνᾶ occurs 12xx in LXX, almost always as the equivalent of מָנֶה where there is an underlying Hebrew text. See Hatch-Redpath, 2:931.
  • [25] The term πάσχα occurs 43xx in LXX, always as the equivalent of פֶּסַח wherever there is an underlying Hebrew text. See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1103.
  • [26] The form פַּסְחָא is a hypothesized Alexandrian pronunciation. See Buth and Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’?” (JS2, 87).
  • [27] See BDAG, 910. The term σάκκος was well established in classical Greek.
  • [28] The noun σάκκος occurs 62xx in LXX, always as the equivalent of שַׂק wherever there is an underlying Hebrew text. See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1257.
  • [29] We have included σατανᾶς (“satan”) in our list, regarding it as a title rather than as a personal name. See our discussion in Return of the Twelve, Comment to L14.
  • [30] Since in LXX σίκερα occurs exclusively in this form, some scholars consider it to be indeclinable, and hence a transliteration rather than a Hellenized Semitic word. See Moulton-Howard, 153. On the other hand, LSJ (1598) cites an example of σίκερα in Pseudo-Galen De affectuum renibus insidentium diognotione (19:693), which is declined.
  • [31] The term σίκερα occurs 15xx in LXX (Lev. 10:9; Num. 6:3 [2xx]; 28:7; Deut. 14:26; 29:5; Judg. 13:4, 7, 14; Isa. 5:11, 22; 24:9; 28:7 [2xx]; 29:9), always as the equivalent of the Hebrew term שֵׁכָר. See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1266.
  • [32] The term συκάμινος was employed by classical authors (e.g., Aristotle, Theophrasus), but scholars have suggested that the word is of Semitic derivation. See Thackeray, 36; Moulton-Howard, 153.
  • [33] The noun συκάμινος occurs 6xx in LXX, always as the equivalent of שִׁקְמָה (3 Kgdms. 10:27; 1 Chr. 27:28; 2 Chr. 1:15; 9:27; Ps. 77[78]:47; Isa. 9:9).
  • [34] See Thackeray, 34.
  • [35] On the use of the Aramaic-derived πάσχα in LXX to represent the Hebrew term פֶּסַח in MT, see Buth and Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’?” (JS2, 87-88).