Sunday, April 11, 2004

Jim Davila in PaleoJudaica points out a really interesting article on the languages of first-century Palestine. The article, by Seth Sanders, Mystically Correct, criticizes the use of Aramaic as the lingua franca in first century Palestine in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." He says:

The problem is the pretense of purity: the presentation of the languages of Palestine as Aramaic, on the one hand, and Latin, on the other.

What's behind this? Why does the movie represent a linguistically hybrid reality "in" one language -- and why Aramaic? Christological Aramaic is an old theological project. Dating at least as far back as Johann Albrecht von Widmanstadt's 1555 translation of the Syriac New Testament into Latin, the tradition claims that Aramaic (not Hebrew or Greek) is the key not merely to Jesus' cultural background, but to his ipsissima verba, and thus an unmediated experience of him. The attempt to paint the "Semitic" background of the New Testament as exclusively Aramaic, and Hebrew as a moribund, strictly liturgical language, corresponds to a theological polemic against Judaism as a "dead" religion serving the "letter of the law," not its living spirit.


A longer version of the article, complete with notes, is available at The Word's Self-Portrait in Blood: The Languages of Ancient Palestine and the Linguistic Ideology of the Passion.

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