What Did Jesus Know about Rome?

Jesus healing the centurion’s servant. Paolo Veronese, 16th century (Wikimedia Commons).

An interesting short essay in which a historian conjectures just how much Jesus of Nazareth would have known about the Roman Empire, in which he lived. The assumption is that he spoke Greek as a second language; otherwise, how did he communicate with Pontius Pilate, not to mention the centurion of the miracle?

3 thoughts on “What Did Jesus Know about Rome?

  1. If Aramaic was pretty much the *lingua franca* of the Semetic world at that time, why wouldn’t some of the Roman soldiers not have learned it, or at least had some knowledge of the language? Similarly, as the US in Afghanistan nowadays have some soldiers who are able to speak the language, why wouldn’t the same thing have a happened then?

    Alternatively, since some of those Roman soldiers were probably mercenaries from the area, they could’ve acted as translators for the centurions, who, apparently were Roman officers.

    I don’t think that Yeshua, being a devote Jew, would’ve learned Greek because the Greeks being Pagans would have been considered an “enemy” to the god of a devote Jew living in Israel at the time. Yes, Saul of Tarsus spoke Greek, but then he was a Jew who was raised in Greece and that was probably his native language. But he also would’ve learned Aramaic, again, because it was a commonly spoken tongue in the area he was travelling, and probably Latin as well, since that was the language of the conquerors.

  2. Good question. The counter-argument was that a basic knowledge of Greek was necessary to communicate with anyone outside your own small ethnic group, so people tended to learn a little. That the New Testament was written in Greek may be indicative.

  3. There’s an excellent, evidence-based scholarly work on just the question whether Jews from Galilee (like Jesus) spoke Greek during the first century CE, and the answer is, Yes, they did. J. N. Sevenster, _Do You Know Greek? How Much Greek Could the First Jewish Christians Have Known?” (Supplements to “Novum Testamentum,” vol. 19), Leiden: Brill, 1968.

    “The killing of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact in not murder, but laudable assassination.” — W. Freeman Twaddell

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