On Pope Francis’ recent trip to the Mideast, the Israeli prime minister was keen to emphasize the strong ties between Jews and Christians.
According to Reuters, at a public meeting in Jerusalem Benjamin Netanyahu told the pontiff: “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew.”
“Aramaic,” Francis corrected him.
Netanyahu stood his ground.
“He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” the prime minister insisted.
So, who’s right?
They’re both right, Sebastian Brock, emeritus reader in Aramaic at Oxford University, tells the BBC. Judea was a multlingual melting pot. Aramaic was the spoken language of Jesus, but the Nazarene would have known Hebrew, the language of the scriptures that was used by scholars.
Although Judea — today’s West Bank — was occupied by the Romans, the military and legal language of Latin was unlikely to be on the tip of Jesus’ tongue, says Jonathan Katz, stipendiary lecturer in Classics at Oxford.
Greek, however, remained prevalent across a wide area, 300 years after being conquered by Alexander the Great. So Jesus probably reversed the old adage: He had a little Greek and less Latin.
For us, the exchange between the prime minister and the pontiff is entertaining. But for at least one commentator in Israel, it was far from amusing.
“Francis couldn’t take the truth,” Caroline Glick writes in the Jerusalem Post.
Glick sees the argument with Netanyahu as a microcosm of Jewish-Catholic relations.
“Francis is leading the Catholic Church in a distressingly anti-Jewish direction,” she concludes.