What’s the deal?

A few days ago, Chip Hardy (DailyHebrew) linked to an article by NT Wright discussing the KJV and the protestant theological basis behind translation of the Bible into vernaculars along with the issues that arise. In that article, Wright oddly states, “Jesus’ first followers were in any case already almost certainly bilingual. Their mother tongue was Aramaic (a language which developed from the classical Hebrew of the scriptures, a few hundred years earlier)” (emphasis mine).


This was followed yesterday by an article on NPR concerning Karen Stern of Brooklyn College and Jewish Aramaic tomb graffiti (circulated by Jack Sasson circulated via Agade). The article begins as follows:

Aramaic is the lingua franca of the ancient Middle East, the
linguistic root of modern day Hebrew and Arabic. (Emphasis Mine)

“Once you understand Aramaic,” says Karen Stern, “you can read
anything. You can read Hebrew, you can read Phoenician. I always call
it the little black dress of Semitic languages.”

Again, I say, “What?”

Apparently, Classical Hebrew developed into Aramaic which then morphed back into Modern Hebrew and Arabic.









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5 Comments on “What’s the deal?”

  1. Mike Aubrey Says:

    Wright’s statement is relatively easy to be viewed as a simply slip (I hope), but Karen Stern…well…that’s just…something…I’m without words.

  2. Carl Says:

    Hmmm… I am thankful that one need not dispose of all things Wright because of an obvious linguistic flub! It’s not his first, by the way: in the first few pages of his book Paul, he refers to the tsedakat elohim (rather than tsidkat elohim)! Horrors!

    Still, it looks like the world could use a bit more of an education on Aramaic and its place in the scheme of things! I wonder if Kaufman got the shivers when these things went to press?

  3. Carl Says:

    Although nicknaming Aramaic the “little black dress of the Semitic languages” is pretty sexy…

  4. Peter Bekins Says:

    As I commented on Chip’s original facebook post, I have a hunch that NT Wright may have been more precise, but that an editor “corrected” it to make it more readable. I can also forgive a non-specialist journalist for confusing the effects of language contact with genetic relationship. Stern’s suggestion, or at least implication, that Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic are mutually intelligible (even for a scholar if not a native speaker) is quite odd though.

  5. anummabrooke Says:

    Adding on to Pete’s comment, I recall that “science journalism” is full of similar examples: for some reason, it is considered appropriate in some (many?) journalistic circles to make changes to material that nonetheless appears as direct quotes within quote marks.

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