Is the Gospel Originally in Greek or Hebrew?

Sam Shamoun


The Books collected into the New Testament do not constitute the utterances of Jesus nor of his disciples. Jesus was of Jewish ancestry and so were his disciples. If any of Jesus' utterances were to be found preserved in their original form, they could only be in the Hebrew language.

Same is the case with the utterances of his disciples. But no copy of the New Testament in ancient Hebrew exists in the world. The old copies are all in Greek.


The mistakes in Ghounem's logic begin early. He first assumes that since Jesus and his disciples were of Jewish ancestry their words could only have been recorded in the Hebrew tongue. Yet, it seems to have never dawned on him that Jesus and his disciples were multi-lingual, especially in light of the fact that they had to know some Greek in order to communicate to the foreign officials in power at the time. The Gospel also furnishes an example of where Greeks had come up to Jerusalem to meet with Jesus:

"Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. 'Sir,' they said, 'we would like to see Jesus.' Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'" John 12:20-23

We also read that the Israelites also knew Aramaic due to their foreign relations with kingdoms such as Assyria and Babylon:

"In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah's reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. When the commander stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field, Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to him. The field commander said to them, 'Tell Hezekiah, "This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength-but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man's hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. And if you say to me, 'We are depending on the LORD our God'-isn't he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before this altar?' Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses-if you can put riders on them! How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master's officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the LORD? The LORD himself told me to march against this country and destroy it."' Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, 'Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don't speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.' But the commander replied, 'Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall-who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?' Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, 'Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria!'" Isaiah 39:1-13

Not only did Hezekiah's officials know Aramaic, but the Assyrians also knew Hebrew.

This became especially so during the Babylonian captivity where the language of Israel's captors was primarily Aramaic, forcing them to learn the script of the land. In fact both Daniel 2:4-7:28 and Ezra 4:7-6:1, 7:12-26 are written in the Aramaic script. We also find Aramaic words or place names in Genesis 10:22 and 31:47, 2 Kings 18:26, Isaiah 36:11 as well as Jeremiah 10:11.

Furthermore, during Alexander the Great's campaign to Hellenize the entire extent of his empire many Jews were no longer able to speak Hebrew but spoke Greek instead. This led to the production of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the most famous of which is the Septuagint (LXX).

The second mistake implicit in Ghounem's assumption in saying that Jesus' words could only be written in Hebrew is that this assumes that Christ's teaching was only meant for the Jews. Yet, Jesus' message had universal significance and had to be translated in the language that all the nations spoke at the time, which was Greek not Hebrew.


Christian writers try to cover this Grave Defect by saying that in the times of Jesus the language in general use was Greek as you do. This is impossible for more reasons than one.


Actually, the only impossible thing is Ghounem's reasoning since it is a fact of history, well documented by both historical and archaeological evidence, that the spoken language of that time was the common Greek also known as Koine Greek.


Nations do not easily give up their language. It is for them as valuable an inheritance as any property or other possession. In Eastern Europe, there are people who for three or four hundred years have lived under Russian rule, but their languages remain intact to this day.

France and Spain have ruled over Morocco and Algeria for a long time. Yet the language of these former subjected people is still Arabic. Two thousand years have passed since the time of Jesus. Yet the Jews have not forgotten their language.


First, Ghounem attacks a straw man since no informed Christian claims that the Jews gave up their language. It is admitted by all that Palestinian Jewry spoke Hebrew and Aramaic during the time of Christ. Yet, this does not preclude them speaking Greek as well. So Ghounem commits the fallacy of false dilemma since to him the Jews could not speak both Greek and Hebrew at the same time.

This is even more evident by the examples he cites. For instance, although it is true that Algerians and Moroccons might have retained their Arabic tongue, it is also true that these same people groups also speak either French or Berber respectively.

Secondly, it is simply not true that the Jews have never forgotten their language since at one time Biblical Hebrew had become a forgotten language altogether. In fact, Hebrew was actually rediscovered by Rabbi Elieazar ben-Yehuda, who through the use of the Aramaic script practically created the Modern Hebrew language:

"Hebrew language

Semitic language of the Northern Central (also called Northwestern) group; it is closely related to Phoenician and Moabite, with which it is often placed by scholars in a Canaanite subgroup. Spoken in ancient times in Palestine, Hebrew was supplanted by the western dialect of Aramaic beginning about the 3rd century BC; the language continued to be used as a liturgical and literary language, however. It was revived as a spoken language in the 19th and 20th centuries and is the official language of Israel.

The history of the Hebrew language is usually divided into four major periods: Biblical, or Classical, Hebrew, until about the 3rd century BC, in which most of the Old Testament is written; Mishnaic, or Rabbinic, Hebrew, the language of the Mishna (a collection of Jewish traditions), written about AD 200 (this form of Hebrew was never used among the people as a spoken language); Medieval Hebrew, from about the 6th to the 13th century AD, when many words were borrowed from Greek, Spanish, Arabic, and other languages; and Modern Hebrew, the language of Israel in modern times. Scholars generally agree that the oldest form of Hebrew is that of some of the Old Testament poems, especially the "Song of Deborah" in chapter 5 of Judges. The sources of borrowed words that first appeared during this period include the other Canaanite languages, as well as Akkadian. Hebrew also contains a small number of Sumerian words borrowed from an Akkadian source. Few traces of dialects exist in Biblical Hebrew, bu t scholars believe this to be the result of Masoretic editing of the text. In addition to the Old Testament, a small number of inscriptions in Hebrew of the biblical period are extant; the earliest of these is a short inscription in Phoenician characters dating from the 9th century BC.

During the early Mishnaic period, some of the guttural consonants of Biblical Hebrew were combined or confused with one another, and many nouns were borrowed from Aramaic. Hebrew also borrowed a number of Greek, Latin, and Persian words.

Use of the spoken language declined from the 9th century until the 18th century. Nevertheless, the medieval language underwent development, however spasmodic, in various directions. The cult of the liturgical poem called a piyyût (itself a Greek word) in the 6th-9th century enriched the written vocabulary by giving fresh meanings to old words and coining new ones, especially in the so-called Kalirian style; and the Spanish-Hebrew poets of the period 900-1250 followed suit. This period saw also the addition of about 2,000 or 3,000 scientific, philological, and philosophical terms; some of these were formed by making new use of old roots, as in the case of geder, "fence," which served also for "definition." Some were based on existing Hebrew words like kammût, "quantity," from kammah, "how much?", and others were adapted from foreign languages, chiefly Greek and Arabic, such as 'aqlîm, "climate," and tib'î, "natural."

Modern Hebrew, based on the biblical language, contains many innovations designed to meet modern needs; it is the only colloquial speech based on a written language. The pronunciation is a modification of that used by the Sephardic (Hispano-Portuguese) Jews rather than that of the Ashkenazic (East European) Jews. The old guttural consonants are not clearly distinguished (except by Oriental Jews) or are lost. The syntax is based on that of the Mishna. Characteristic of Hebrew of all stages is the use of word roots consisting usually of three consonants, to which vowels and other consonants are added to derive words of different parts of speech and meaning. The language is written from right to left in a Semitic script of 22 letters." (,5716,40594+1,00.html)


"... The Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) and the struggle of the Balkan nations for liberation were probably most influential in planting in young Eliezer the idea of the revival of the Jewish people on its ancestral soil. In an unfinished autobiography which he wrote while in the U.S. in 1917-18, he revealed that 'In those days it was as if the heavens had suddenly opened, and a clear, incandescent light flashed before my eyes and a mighty inner voice sounded in my ears "the resurrection of Israel on its ancestral soil." Because of that voice, which has not ceased from that moment on to ring in my ears day and night, all my thoughts and plans which I had for my future life were shaken up. As night visions pale in the face of the light of day, so were my dreams of dedicating my life to the cause of freedom in the Russian nation replaced with a single ideal, manifest in two Hebrew words, 'Yisrael b'artzo' -- Israel in its own land! I was challenged by many, and one argument said that the Jews are not now and could not be in the future a nation -- because they did not possess a common tongue. I tried to argue, as others did, that there are nations such as the Swwiss and the Belgians, who speak more than one language -- but the more I thought of the national revival the more I realized what a tongue can do to unite a people. I realized that just as the Jews could not become a living nation except by returning to their ancient homeland -- so also they could not become a living nation except by returning to the language of their ancestors, speaking it not only in prayer and study but also in all matters of life, young and old alike, at all hours of the day and night -- just like every other nation, each with its tongue. That was the decisive moment in my life, when I saw that the two things without which the Jews could not become a nation are the land and the language!' Eliezer began to actively 'preach' that the Jewish people, like all other peoples, had a historic land and a historic language. What was needed was to actuate a national movement that would restore Israel to its land and to its language… He enrolled in the teachers' seminary of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, to qualify for a teaching post in their agricultural school, Mikveh Israel. There he attended the lectures of the Assyrologist Joseph Halevy who in the periodical Ha-Maggid had advocated the coinage of new Hebrew words as early as the 1860s. As his health deteriorated, Ben-Yehuda entered the Rothschild Hospital in Paris, and there he met the Jerusalem scholar A. M. Lunz who spoke Hebrew to him in the Sephardi pronunciation, and told him that the members of the various Jewish communities in Jerusalem were able to converse with one another only in Sephardi Hebrew. This reinforced Ben-Yehuda's opinion that the Jews could not hope to become a united people in their own land again unless their children revived Hebrew as their spoken tongue. The Hebrew living language must have Sephardi phon etic sounds because that was the pronunciation which served in the transliteration or biblical names in ancient and modern translations of the Bible. In 1880 he published two articles in Hakhav'atzelet in which he advocated that Hebrew rather than the various foreign languages become the language of instruction in the Jewish schools in Eretz Israel. Ben-Yehuda, alone among and unique from all the prophets of Jewish national renaissance, saw the whole picture of the need for a people wedded to a land, speaking its own language. In 1881, he left for Jerusalem… The Ben-Yehuda household thus was the first Hebrew-speaking home established in Jerusalem, and their first son, Ben-Zion (who later became known by his pen-name, Itamar Ben-Avi) was the first modern Hebrew-speaking child. Soon after he and Deborah arrived in Jerusalem, before the end of 1881, Ben-Yehuda, together with Y.M. Fines, D. Yellin, Y. Meyuhas, and A. Mazie founded the society Tekhiyat Israel based on five principles: work on the land and expansion of the country's productive population; revival of spoken Hebrew; creation of a modern Hebrew literature and science in the national spirit; education of the youth in a national and, at the same time, universal humanistic spirit; and active opposition to the halukkah (dole) system… At the same time, he taught in the Jerusalem Alliance school, which post he accepted only after he was permitted to use Hebrew exclusively as the language of instruction in all Jewish subjects. The school was thus the first in which at least some subjects were taught in HebrewIn his class and in his papers he constantly coined new words for everything that had no words since Hebrew was last used. He published a "list of words" in every paper he published, but before long it became obvious that people could not keep collecting these lists -- there was a need for a 'book of words' -- yes, even the word for dictionary did not exist i n the tongue of the prophets. Ben-Yehuda thus was launched on his greatest undertaking: Milon Halashon Ha'ivrit ha'yshana vehakhadasha -- the Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, ancient and modern… Eliezer Ben-Yehuda has been recognized by history -- Jewish and non-Jewish, for his role in the revival of the tongue of the prophetsHis work of the Hebrew was a tool for Zionist success. It is doubtful if the Jews returning from the four corners of the world could have agreed in a national language for their reborn state had Hebrew not been prepared for them ahead of time by Ben-Yehuda..." (See this article for more information)


Even today, in parts of Europe and America, Jews speak "Yiddish", a corrupt form of ancient Hebrew. If this long lapse of time spent amongst other peoples has not destroyed the Jewish language, then Roman rule in Palestine which had begun only about 50 years before the advent of Jesus was not long enough for a people to forget their language. But there are other important considerations also to be kept in view:

1. Nations which attain to any importance in history do not give up their language, and the Jews were a very important people indeed.


Ghounem makes the false assumption that the Jews could not have possibly given up their language seeing that the Romans only came into power over the land of Israel fifty years before the birth of Christ. This conveniently overlooks the fact that foreign occupation over the Israelites did not begin with the Romans, but in the eighth century when the Assyrians took the ten tribes of Israel from Samaria into captivity. The Jews living in Jerusalem were also taken into captivity by the Babylonians in the sixth century. Foreign occupation of Jerusalem and Israel lasted throughout the reigning empires of Medes-Persia, Macedonia-Greece and Rome.

Throughout this period, the Jews learned to speak both Aramaic and Greek. In fact, Aramaic and Greek translations and commentaries of the Holy Bible were made since some of the Jews that had been scattered throughout these regions could no longer speak Hebrew:

"… There is evidence that the scribes were making oral paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Aramaic vernacular as early as the time of Ezra (Neh. 8:1-8). These paraphrases were not strictly translations, but were actually aids in understanding the archaic language forms of the Torah. The translator or interpreter involved in that work was called methurgeman. The necessity for such helps arose because Hebrew was becoming less and less familiar to the ordinary people as a spoken language. By the close of the last centuries B.C., this gradual process had continued until almost every book in the Old Testament had its oral paraphrase or interpretation (Targum). During the early centuries A.D., these Targums were committed to writing, and an official text came to the fore, since the Hebrew canon, text, and interpretation had become well solidified before the rabbinical scholars Jamnia (c. A.D. 90), and the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine in A.D. 135. The earliest Targums were apparently written in Palestinian Aramaic during the second century A.D.; however, there is evidence of Aramaic Targums from the pre-Christian period. These early official Targums contained the Law and the Prophets, but the Writings were included in unofficial Targums in later times. It is interesting to note that a pre-Christian Targum of Job was written Palestinian Aramaic and discovered in cave XI at Qumran. Cave IV contained a Targum of the Pentateuch. These unofficial Aramaic Targums were superseded by official texts in the second century A.D. The official Palestinian Targums of the Law and Prophets were practically swallowed up by the Babylonian Aramaic Targums of the Law and Prophets during the third century. Targums on the Writings were apparently done on an unofficial basis, and have already been mentioned." (Norm Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible- Revised and Expanded [Moody Press, Chicago 1986], p. 501)


"… Just as the Jews had abandoned their native Hebrew tongue for Aramaic in the Near East, so they abandoned the Aramaic in favor of Greek in such Hellenistic centers as Alexandria, Egypt. During the campaigns of Alexander the Great, the Jews were shown considerable favor. In fact, Alexander was sympathetic towards the Jews as a result of their policies toward him in the siege of Tyre (322 B.C.). He has even reported to have traveled to Jerusalem to do homage to their God. As he conquered new lands, he built new cities, which frequently had Jewish inhabitants, and frequently named them Alexandria.

After his great conquests and sudden death, Alexander's empire was divided into several dynasties: Ptolemaic Egypt, the Seleucid Dynasty in Asia Minor, and Antigonid Macedonia, as well as several minor kingdoms. It was in Ptolemaic Egypt, named after Ptolemy I Soter, son of Lagus, that many Jews resided, in the city of Alexandria. Ptolemy I was governor of Egypt from 323 to 305, when he became king and reigned until his death in 285. He was succeeded by his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.), who followed the Pharaonic practice of marrying his sister, Arsinoe II.

It was during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus that full political and religious rights were granted to the Jews. Egypt also underwent a tremendous cultural and educational program under the patronage of Arsinoe II, spearheaded by the founding of the Museum at Alexandria and the translation of the great works into Greek. It was in that period (c. 250- c. 150 B.C.), that the Hebrew Old Testament was being translated into Greek- the first time it had ever been extensively translated. The leaders of Alexandrian Jewry had a standard Greek version produced, known as the LXX, the Greek word for 'seventy.' It was undoubtedly translated during the third and/or second centuries B.C. and it was purported to have been written as early as the time of Ptolemy II in a Letter of Aristeas to Philocartes (c. 130-100 B.C.)."

The Letter of Aristeas relates that the librarian at Alexandria persuaded Ptolemy to translate the Torah into Greek for use by Alexandrian Jews. As a result six translators were selected from each of the twelve tribes, and the translation was completed in just seventy-two days. The details of this story are undoubtedly fictitious, but th letter does relate the authentic fact that the LXX was translated for the use of Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria." (Ibid., pp. 503-504)

Finally, Ghounem again attacks a straw man since no one suggests that Palestinian Jews had to give up their language entirely. Rather, many of them did speak Hebrew along with Aramaic and Greek. It was the Jews of the Dispersion who could no longer read or speak Hebrew.


2. The religion of the Jews was recorded in Hebrew and for this reason particularly it was impossible for them to give up their language.


This is incorrect. Although the scriptures were written in Hebrew, parts of it were written in Aramaic. Furthermore, as was noted, these same scriptures were then translated into Aramaic and Greek precisely because many Jews could no longer read Hebrew.


3. In the scale of civilization and refinement, the Jews did not regard themselves as inferior to the Romans, rather they felt Superior and this must have made them proud of their language and reluctant to give it up.


Again, straw man since no informed Christian says that Palestinian Jews gave up their language, but that these Jews also knew Greek and Aramaic. Secondly, Ghounem's conclusion does not necessarily follow from his premise. The Jews could have felt superior by retaining their mother tongue while still speaking Greek. The two do not even correlate.


4. The Jews entertained hopes for the return of their political power; nations which fear the future become pessimistic and therefore tend to lose pride in their language. But the Jews in the time of Jesus were awaiting the advent of their King who was to re-establish Jewish rule. Looking forward to such a future, they could not have been so negligent in protecting their language.


The straw man grows ever bigger. They could have retained their language while learning another one at the same time. There is no problem here except the one imagined in Ghounem's mind.


5. Jewish authors of that time wrote in their own language or in some corrupt form of it. If their language had changed, we should have had books of the time written in a language other than Hebrew.


Wrong! Jewish authors wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek as we shall shortly demonstrate.


6. The oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are in Greek. But in the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire had not become divided into two halves. The center of the Empire was still Rome. The Roman and Greek languages are very difficult. If Roman influence had at all penetrated Jewish life, it should have resulted in the assimilation of Latin (and not Greek) words into the

Hebrew language. Yet the oldest manuscripts of the Gospels are all in Greek. This proves that the Gospels were written down at a time when the Roman Empire had become divided and its eastern possession had become part of the Greek Empire, so that the Greek language had begun to exert its influence on Christianity and its literature.


We have already demonstrated the fallacy that Greek was not the spoken language during the time of Christ, but was only in usage after the Roman Empire had been divided. We produce additional evidence for the extensive usage of Greek by the Jews in their writings, especially the OT text, both before and during the time of Christ. The following is taken from Glenn Miller's excellent paper on the Septuagint text:

"1. Qumran. This community considered itself to be the true remnant of Israel, and was thusly even more 'pure' than the Pharisees of the day. This community is associated with those documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are dated in three periods: Archaic (250-150 bc), Hasmonean (150-30 BC), and Herodian (30 bc-70 ad).

These Dead Sea Scrolls show usage of LXX, Samaritan, and various proto-MT textual traditions. One of the standard TC works today is Emmanual Tov of Hebrew University [OT:TCHB]. Only 60% of the texts found there agree with the MT (OT:TCHB:115). That's leaves 40% that vary. Let me show this from some of his material.

'Before the Qumran discoveries S [symbol for Samaritan text] was thought to be an ancient text, whose nature could not be determined more precisely beyond its popular character. However, since the discovery in Qumran of texts which are exceedingly close to S, this situation has changed...The best preserved pre-Samaritan text is 4QpaleoExod(m) of which large sections of 44 columns from Exodus 6 to 37 have been preserved...The main feature characterizing these texts is the appearance of harmonizing additions within Exodus and Numbers taken from Deuteronomy...This feature links these texts exclusively with S.' [OT:TCHB:97-99. He also lists 4Q158 and 4Qtest (=4Q175) as following S.]

The LXX is a Greek translation, of course, so we would not expect to see it among the DSS. However, it DOES show up in fragments there(!), and since it was translated from a Palestinian Hebrew original, we also find some documents that are related to that original.

Also, it must be remembered that the LXX and MT are not as widely divergent as is commonly supposed:

'The Hebrew text presupposed by the LXX basically represents a tradition which is either close to that of MT or can easily be explained as a descendant or a source of it. In several individual instances, however, the LXX represents a text that comes close to other sources, viz., certain Hebrew scrolls from Qumran and the Sam. Pent.' [Tov, in HI:TCULXX:188]

He points out that 'Several scrolls often coincide with details in the LXX, either with the central manuscript group or with a specific group of its manuscripts' [HI:TCULLXX:188] and he gives examples of 4QJer(b), 4QJer(d,17), 4Qdeut(q), 4Qsam(a), 4QLev(d), 4Qexod(b) [pp.191-195].

Let me be clear about one thing, though. I am NOT suggesting that the Hebrew Text underlying the LXX was itself a major substrate in the DSS; merely, that the various textual traditions at Qumran had knowledge of this strain of text. It is at best a minor aspect of the DSS, as it is a minority piece of the NT quotations (as seen in the previous discussion).

"2. Philo. As an Alexandrian Jew, he even ascribed the highest level of divine inspiration to the LXX (the Pentateuch only), and called the translators prophets! (Life of Moses, II.38-40):

'But this, they say, did not happen at all in the case of this translation of the law, but that, in every case, exactly corresponding Greek words were employed to translate literally the appropriate Chaldaic words, being adapted with exceeding propriety to the matters which were to be explained; (39) for just as I suppose the things which are proved in geometry and logic do not admit any variety of explanation, but the proposition which was set forth from the beginning remains unaltered, in like manner I conceive did these men find words precisely and literally corresponding to the things, which words were alone, or in the greatest possible degree, destined to explain with clearness and force the matters which it was desired to reveal. (40) And there is a very evident proof of this; for if Chaldaeans were to learn the Greek language, and if Greeks were to learn Chaldaean, and if each were to meet with those scriptures in both languages, namely, the Chaldaic and the translated version, they would admire and reverence them both as sisters, or rather as one and the same both in their facts and in their language; considering these translators not mere interpreters but hierophants and prophets to whom it had been granted it their honest and guileless minds to go along with the most pure spirit of Moses.

'Philo (ca. 25 bc-ad 40) makes the translation an act of divine inspiration, and the translators prophets: although they worked separately they produced a single text that was literally identical throughout.' [WTOT:51]

3. Josephus. Josephus, like Philo, writes in Greek, but is a Palestinian Jew and not Alexandrian. He uses the LXX at places as well.

'Josephus claims to have based his account on the Hebrew text of the sacred writings (Ant. I, 5). This claim appears to hold good for the Hexateuch. In the later books of the bible, however, he has clearly consulted the Septuagint.' [HI:IIW:112-113].

Josephus also used other Greek translations than the LXX, most notably the proto-Lucian texts [WTOT:60, n.38].

He also praises the pagan king, who received the Greek translation of the Pentateuch (Ant 1.10-13):

'I found, therefore, that the second of the Ptolemies was a king who was extraordinarily diligent in what concerned learning and the collection of books; that he was also peculiarly ambitious to procure a translation of our law, and of the constitution of our government therein contained, into the Greek tongue. (11) Now Eleazar, the high priest, one not inferior to any other of that dignity among us, did not envy the forenamed king the participation of that advantage, which otherwise he would for certain have denied him, but that he knew the custom of our nation was, to hinder nothing of what we esteemed ourselves from being communicated to others. (12) Accordingly, I thought it became me both to imitate the generosity of our high priest, and to suppose there might even now be many lovers of learning like the king; for he did not obtain all our writings at that time; but those who were sent to Alexandria as interpreters, gave him only the books of the law, (13) while there were a vast number of other matters in our sacred books.'


"'The fact that Josephus was himself writing in Greek would make it seem likely that his chief textual source was the LXX, especially since he cited it as a precedent for presenting the history of the Jews to a non-Jewish audience (Ant 1. Proem 3 §10-12) and since he devoted so much space paraphrasing the account of the translation given in Let. Aris. (Ant 12.2.1-15 §11-118), hardly what one would expect in a work which is essentially a political and military rather than a cultural and religious history of the Jews. And yet, the very fact that he paraphrased the Bible in Greek would seem to indicate that he hoped to improve on that rendering, since there would hardly be much point otherwise in a new version. Hence it is not surprising that where the style of the LXX is more polished, as in the Additions to Esther or in 1 Esdras, he adheres more closely to its text. And yet, to have ignored the LXX, in view of the tremendous regard in which that version was held, would have been looked upon as an attempt to hide something. Nevertheless, even when Josephus agrees with the LXX, this is not necessarily an indication that he had the LXX text before him, since he may have incorporated an exegetical tradition which had been known earlier to the translators of the LXX. Finally, the biblical texts found at Qumran indicate that the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek texts were not so great as had been previously thought.'

4. Writers of the Pseudepigraphical and Apocryphal works. Here we have a vast amount of literature, from 300 bc to 300 ad, from Palestine and beyond, written in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic (or 'other'!), by all types and stripes of theological persuasion. We can scarcely even sample this, but let's look at some of it.

As would be expected, the Greek-language and/or Egpytian-provenanced pieces demonstrate high LXX usage, but such usage is NOT confined to these texts. Below is a list of partial citations/allusions in the Pseudepigrapha to passages in the LXX. (The Apocrypha, of course, is PART of the LXX.)

1.1 Chron 29.2 in Joseph and Asenath 2c

2.1 Sam 13.17 in Joseph and Asenath 24z

3.2 Sam 4.6 in Joseph and Asenath 10g

4.Dan 4.13 in Joseph and Asenath 10e

5.Dan 4.33a-34 in Joseph and Asenath 10b

6.Dan 4.33a-b in Joseph and Asenath 10h2

7.Dan 4.34 in Joseph and Asenath 12a

8.Dan 7.15 in Joseph and Asenath 12y

9.Deut 32.21 in 3 (Greek Apoc) of Baruch (Gk) 16.3

10.Deut 32.30 in Apocalypse of Daniel 4.14

11.Esther 3.17 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 2.2

12.Ex 12.40 in Demetrius Frag 2.16,18

13.Ex 13.9 in Aristobulus Frag 2.8

14.Ex 17.16 in Joseph and Asenath 8d2

15.Ex 2.15-18 in Artapanus Frag 3.27.19

16.Ex 20.11 in Aristobulus Frag 5.12

17.Ex 22.27 in Joseph and Asenath 10v

18.Ex 3.20 in Aristobulus Frag 2.8

19.Ex 9.3 in Aristobulus Frag 2.8

20.Gen 1.2 in Joseph and Asenath 12d, 12e

21.Gen 1.3-24 in Aristobulus Frag 4.3

22.Gen 1.6 in Joseph and Asenath 12h

23.Gen 10.1 in Apocalypse of Adam 4.9

24.Gen 10.1f in Joseph and Asenath 2q

25.Gen 14.19 in Joseph and Asenath 8f

26.Gen 2.8 in Testament of Abraham A 11.1

27.Gen 22.17 in Greek Apoc. of Ezra 3.10

28.Gen 25.1-4 in Demetrius Frag 3.1

29.Gen 3.23 in Joseph and Asenath 16.n

30.Gen 30.37 in Greek Apoc. of Ezra 1.3

31.Gen 39.19 in Joseph and Asenath 23r

32.Gen 42.19 in Joseph and Asenath 26e

33.Gen 42.33 in Joseph and Asenath 26e

34.Gen 44.7 in Joseph and Asenath 23u

35.Gen 46.27 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 12.64

36.Gen 49.24 in Joseph and Asenath 8w

37.Gen 5.4 in Apocalypse of Adam 1.1

38.Gen 50.22b-26 in Joseph and Asenath 29i

39.I Kings 4.29-34 in Testament of Solomon 3.5

40.Is 1.13 in Joseph and Asenath 14c

41.Is 14.12 in Greek Apoc. of Ezra 4.28

42.Is 26.19 in Apocryphon of Ezekiel Frag 1

43.Is 40.12 in Greek Apoc. of Ezra 7.5

44.Is 47.8 in Joseph and Asenath 11k2

45.Is 52.13 in Ascension of Isaiah 4.21

46.Is 58.11 in Joseph and Asenath 24x

47.Is 66.1 in Joseph and Asenath 22r

48.Is 8.20 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 12.69

49.Is 9.5 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 12.10

50.Jer 38 in Joseph and Asenath 12f

51.Job 38.38 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 4.16

52.Job 9.18 in Joseph and Asenath 12x

53.Jonah 1.17 in Testament of Zebulun 4.4

54.Judges 7.16 in Joseph and Asenath 24z

55.Mal 1.1 in Lives of the Prophets 16.2

56.Micah 1.8 in 2 (Syriac) Apocalypse of Baruch 10.8

57.Numbers 12.8 in Greek Apoc. of Ezra 6.6

58.Numbers 16.48 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 6.6

59.Prov 11.31 in Apocalypse of Daniel 11.11

60.Prov 24.21 in Syriac Menander 9

61.Prov 8.27 in 2 (Slavonic Apocalypse) of Enoch 25.4

62.Ps 100.3 in Odes of Solomon 7.12

63.Ps 102.1 in i 12y

64.Ps 103.2 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 3.3; 12.16

65.Ps 103.24 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 4.7

66.Ps 103.25 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 12.24

67.Ps 103.25-26 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 3.11

68.Ps 104.21 in 2 (Slavonic Apocalypse) of Enoch 104.21

69.Ps 106.34 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 12.61

70.Ps 113.12 in Joseph and Asenath 2f

71.Ps 120.8 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 13.12

72.Ps 129.3f in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 11.11

73.Ps 143.4 in i 12y

74.Ps 144.18 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 6.3

75.Ps 144.3 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 4.25

76.Ps 146.4 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 4.19

77.Ps 146.5 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 4.1


79.Ps 18.2 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 4.5

80.Ps 20.4 in Odes of Solomon 9.8

81.Ps 36.4 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 13.9

82.Ps 41.2 in History of Joseph C Verso 6

83.Ps 50.21 in Apocalypse of Daniel 14.12

84.Ps 50.3 in Odes of Solomon 7.10

85.Ps 61.3 in Joseph and Asenath 12y

86.Ps 67.18 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 4.15

87.Ps 73.15 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 12.78

88.Ps 77.24 in Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers 12.75

89.Ps 88.10 in Joseph and Asenath 12x

90.Ps 9.37 in Joseph and Asenath 19d

91.Ps 95.11 in Joseph and Asenath 8f2

92.Zech 5.1-3 in Lives of the Prophets 3.5

93.Zech 13.6 in Ladder of Jacob 7.30

94.Zech 2.15 in Joseph and Asenath 15l

"Many of these pieces are anonymous (or pseudonymous), but some of these are individual writers from Diaspora Jewry. There are also other Diaspora Jewish writers NOT listed above that bear on this question. Consider some specific writers:

1. Artapanus (between 250-100bc). 'His narrative is in many cases dependent on the LXX, even in vocabulary, indicating clearly the author's respect for these Jewish scriptures.' [NT:JMD:128]

2. Egyptian Ezekiel (2nd century BC). 'Reading the narrative of the Exodus in the LXX, Ezekiel saw the potential to present its dramatic storyline in the form of a Greek tragedy...In most of the fragments the influence of the LXX is easily observed...Ezekiel's was a Judaism fully committed to the Jews' communal text (the Septuagint), their communal story, their national hero and their ancestral customs.' [NT:JMD:133-134, 138]

3. The Letter of Aristeas (of course) is the source of the story of the miraculous translation of the LXX to begin with!

4. Aristobulus, arguing that the famous philosophers were actually dependent on Moses(!), advances a rather strange story: 'how were Homer and Plato able to gain enlightenment from Moses' Hebrew text? He counters (12.1) with the thesis of an early Greek translation--before the version sponsored by Demetrius of Phalerum, before even 'the Persian conquest' (341 or 525 bce)' [NT:JMD:151] Ariistobulus (c. 170bc) actually refers to Prov 8.22f, probably in translation [so Hengel, T:JH01:163].

5. Pseudo-Phocylides, writes around 1st century bc., and attributes his work to the 6th century Greek poet. He writes a poem, in which 'Some verses in the poem are derived directly from the LXX, either in concept or in vocabulary' [NT:JMD:338].

6. There are two writers in Palestine in our period, who write in Greek: The Anonymous Samaritan, often called pseudo-Eupolemus (ca 200-100 bc), and the Jewish historian Eupolemus (1 century bc). Hengel discusses their usage of the LXX [NT:JH01:88-95], and summaries on p.102: 'The use of the LXX in the anonymous Samaritan and in Eupolemus, together with the discovery of LXX fragments in Qumran and in the caves used in the Bar Kochba revolt, shows that the Greek translation of the Old Testament also came to be highly prized in Palestine from the second century BC to the second century AD--in contrast to the sharp criticism of later Rabbis.'" (

Glenn Miller produces further evidence that the Greek Septuagint (LXX) as well as other Greek translations were even used by Jews before the time of Christ:

"The LXX was cited as scripture by Diaspora Jewry consistently in pre-Christian times, was used in synagogues through the 6th century AD, and was used at Qumran in pre-Christian times similarly. Although it was consistently corrected and refined through its heyday (not without major protest from Diaspora Jewry), this was paralleled by Jewish efforts to define/determine the most precise Hebrew text. The disowning of the LXX was never "official", although it was highly disparaged in the later Rabbinical writings.

1. First of all, we have to note that a Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh/OT will be as necessary to Diaspora Jews as an Aramaic translation (i.e., the Targums) will be to most of the Palestinian Jews at the time of Jesus. The Aramaic translations were used alongside of the Hebrew texts in Palestinian synagogues. [WTOT:53]. Compare Schiffman [FTT:89]:

'We cannot be certain of the language of prayer in Hellenistic synagogues. In all probability, at least the greatest part of the worship service was conducted in koine Greek, the dialect of the Hellenistic world. Evidence points to the use of psalms as part of the service, clearly in imitation of the Temple ritual. As for the reading of the Torah, it is virtually certain that Greek Bible texts, of which the Septuagint is an example, were in use. It is not known for sure, though, whether the formal Torah reading was conducted in Greek or took place from the Hebrew text with the Greek, much like the later Aramaic targums, serving as a translation.'

2. The non-coordinated nature of Diaspora worship would have given rise to multiple Greek versions-BEFORE the LXX was created. So, in the Letter of Aristeas (314), the author complains about the quality of "earlier inadequate versions of the Law".

3. Something must have prompted an action-point. Either the Alexandrian ruler wanted an 'authorized version' of the Torah, local communities wanted a 'Jerusalem-sanctioned' version, someone needed to deal with intra-Judaism quibbles, or Jerusalem wanted to exercise some religious control or guidance over Diaspora Jewry. For any (or all) of the reasons, the LXX version of the Pentateuch was created from a Palestinian Hebrew text in the middle of the 3rd century b.c."


"The Talmud has this fascinating passage (Megilla 9a,b) in which we read (Soncino):


'R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAYS THAT BOOKS [OF THE SCRIPTURE] ALSO ARE PERMITTED TO BE WRITTEN ONLY IN GREEK. R. Abbahu said in the name of R. Johanan: The halachah follows R. Simeon b. Gamaliel. R. Johanan further said: What is the reason of R. Simeon b. Gamaliel? Scripture says, God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; [this means] that the words of Japheth shall be in the tents of Shem. But why not say [the words of] Gomer and Magog? - R. Hiyya b. Abba replied: The real reason is because it is written, Let God enlarge [yaft] Japheth: implying, let the chief beauty [yafyuth] of Japheth be in the tents of Shem.

Bar-Ilan gives this explanation of this passage [HI:MIKRA:32]:

'The languages commonly written in the land of Israel were: 'Old' and 'Square' Hebrew, Aramaic, GREEK, Nabatean, Syriac, Tadmorite and Mandaic. It was forbidden to write the Tora in any language but Hebrew in the 'Assyrian' (square) script, although there were Sages who permitted the Tora, and even tefillin and mezuzot to be written in Greek, which were nevertheless considered holy (M. Megilla 1:8; B.T. Megilla 9a).'

"This fact that the Greek translations of the Torah were 'holy' is even more significant when contrasted with the Aramaic translations (targums), which were NOT accorded Scriptural status..."

The preceding citations conclusively prove that Greek was used quite extensively by the Jews in both their writings and in translations of the OT text. Furthermore, the early Church fathers up until the third century wrote primarily in Greek. Hence, Ghounem's arguments hold no weight.


7. Phrases such as the following which are preserved in the Gospels in their original form are all Hebrew phrases:

  1. "Hossana" - Matthew 21:9 (b) "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani" - Matthew 27:46 (c) "Rabbi" - John 3:2 (d) "Talitha cumi" - Mark 5:41


Again, who denies that Jesus spoke in Aramaic? So, Ghounem needs to continuously attack a straw man. Furthermore, when we read these passages in context something very interesting emerges:

"About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, [4] lama sabachthani?'-which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" Matthew 27:46

"He took her by the hand and said to her, 'Talitha koum!' (which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, get up!')." Mark 5:41

The fact that the writers need to translate the Aramaic indicates that they were not writing in Hebrew or Aramaic. This also indicates that the authors were writing to Gentiles and/or Jews who did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic. Further evidence for this comes from the Gospel of John:

"Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, 'What do you want?' They said, 'Rabbi' (which means Teacher), 'where are you staying?'" John 1:38

"The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah' (that is, the Christ)." John 1:41

Had John been writing to Jews or in Hebrew there would have been no need for him to translate the meanings of these Hebrew words. Again,

"The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" John 4:9

This verse strongly argues for the fact that John was writing to Gentiles who did not know about the feud between the Jews and the Samaritans.

"Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter…" John 10:22

Again, had John been writing to the Jews he would not need to qualify the fact that Hanukkah (i.e. the Feast of Dedication) fell in the winter.

The preceding factors affirm that the writers were not writing in Hebrew, but in Greek in order to communicate the Gospel to the Gentiles who knew no Hebrew or Aramaic.


From the Acts, it appears that even after the crucifixion Jews spoke Hebrew:

"And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were

all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we, every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? Parthians and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia,and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and in strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." (Acts 2:3-13)

It is evident that at this time the language spoken in Palestine was Hebrew. Speaking any other language was extraordinary. Among the names mentioned is Rome, which means that the Roman language was not spoken in Palestine and whoever spoke it seemed a stranger.


Let us highlight the parts that Ghounem conveniently overlooked, this time from the NIV translation instead of the archaic King James:

"They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak IN OTHER TONGUES AS THE SPIRIT ENABLED THEM. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE. Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them IN HIS OWN NATIVE LANGUAGE? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews AND CONVERTS TO JUDAISM); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God IN OUR OWN TONGUES!' Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?' Some, however, made fun of them and said, 'They have had too much wine.'"

The passage is highlighting the fact that the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit to miraculously speak in the native language of all the Jews who had come to celebrate Pentecost. This included the language spoken by the converts to Judaism as well. If anything, this affirms that the Jews spoke other languages besides Hebrew, precisely the point Ghounem has been trying to deny!

Furthermore, Ghounem is attempting to show through the use of this passage that the spoken language in Palestine was Hebrew, a fact which no informed Christian denies. Yet, the fact remains that the Jews would also have had to know Greek in order to communicate to the officials as well as to interact with neighboring towns and villages. The proof that Greek was also spoken in Palestine and Jerusalem comes from the Gospels themselves:

"Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, LATIN and GREEK." John 19:19-20

Finally, this once more assumes that the Gospels were written only for the Jews living in Palestine and therefore had to be written in Hebrew. Yet, the fact is that the Gospel was to the Jews first, and also to the Gentiles. (Romans 1:16) Hence, the Gospel needed to be written in the language that all men knew at the time, which of course was Koine Greek not Hebrew.


We are not concerned here with the merits of the narrative but we only wish to point out that this passage from the Acts proves conclusively that even after the crucifixion the language of the Jews was Hebrew. Those who knew other languages were exceptions. When some of the disciples spoke these other languages - among them Latin. Some people thought they were drunk and talking nonsense. If the country as a whole used Roman or Greek. no such reaction would be possible.


On the contrary, the passage proves no such thing. What it proves is that the Jews were astonished that the Galilean Apostles could speak IN ALL THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGES, something miraculous since languages all across the Roman Empire were being represented that day.

This also proves that the Gospel is the universal language of God to man, uniting all nations together through the message of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.


It is clear, therefore, that the language which Jesus and his disciples spoke was Hebrew, not Latin or Greek. So copies of the New Testament written down in Latin or Greek must have been written down long after the time of Jesus, at a time when Christianity had begun to penetrate into Roman territory and Roman imperialist power had become divided into the Italian and Greek Parts. Books of this kind, composed 100 or 200 years after Jesus by unknown authors and attributed by them to Jesus and his disciples, can be of little use to any believer today. It was necessary, therefore, that we should have had another book sent to us from heaven, free from these defects and one which readers could regard with certainty as the very Word of God. The Holy Qur'an.


The only thing that is clear is Ghounem's misrepresentation of historical and biblical facts. First, it is totally untrue that Jesus and his disciples would have only spoken Hebrew. Second, we have citations of the NT from the early Church Fathers as well MSS portions from the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second century, debunking Ghounem's statement that the gospels were compiled 100 to 200 years after Jesus. Third, the Quran itself testifies that the Holy Bible is the uncorrupt word of God. Fourth, early Islamic tradition affirms the conservative Christian position on the authorship of certain NT books, such as Ibn Ishaq affirming that John wrote the fourth Gospel.

Finally, if Ghounem complains that Jesus' words should have been written in his mother tongue, then he needs to toss out the Quran. The reason for this is due to the fact that the Quran is written in seventh century Quraysh dialect of Arabic, a language never spoken by any prophet, including the Lord Jesus and his disciples. If Ghounem claims that Allah revealed Jesus' Hebrew words to Muhammad in Qurayshi Arabic, then the same God is also able to reveal and inspire Jesus' words in Koine Greek to the authors of the Holy Bible.

In conclusion, we have seen that nothing Ghounem has presented thus far holds any weight in light of the facts of history and the word of God, namely the Holy Bible.

Responses to Mohamed Ghounem
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