Every December during Christmas time, Christian families around the world prepare for one of the largest religious holidays in the Christian tradition. While many of these traditions have an old world flair, including masses presented in Latin or songs sung in languages of familial heritage, have you ever considered what language would have actually been spoken in Bethlehem during the Biblical time of Jesus’s birth?
While there are few written records of the time indicating exactly what language Jesus or his disciples would have spoken, it is agreed upon by many Biblical and historical scholars that Jesus most likely would have spoken Aramaic.
Aramaic is actually one of the oldest written languages on records, a variation of Phoenician with records dating back as far as 10 BC. Consisting of 23 letters, with most corresponding to Hebrew and Phoenician letters, it is the language in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. This alphabet is the progenitor to almost all modern Middle Eastern alphabets and writing systems. Like most Semitic languages, vowels are generally not indicated by specific letters, but rather through a mix of context and dialectical symbols.
Although the ancient variation of the language is no longer in common usage, it is still regarded as a sacred language, and its modern variant is still a common mother tongue in the Middle East. In addition to its cultural and theological importance, it is also one of the languages that has helped shape the modern languages spoken by almost 20% of the world’s population.