Languages of the Bible

The Bible was written in the languages of ancient Palestine: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The Old Testament has been transmitted to us primarily in these languages. Written mainly in Hebrew, it was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) before the text became quite stable. Some chapters and verses seem to have been written in Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Dan 2:4-7:28 and perhaps a few other verses) or at least they have been transmitted to us in Aramaic. The manuscripts do not distinguish them from the rest of the text.


Aramaic is a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. Its dialects have been in use since the ninth century BC. The Assyrians made Aramaic the common language of the Near East. Some parts of the Old Testament are written in Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Dan 2:4-7:28 and perhaps a few other verses).

Hebrew in old (Phoenician), Qumran (Aramaic) and modern scripts

Hebrew in the old (Phoenician), square (Aramaic) and modern (print) scripts In exile and under the empire Aramaic letters replaced the old (Phoenician) script for writing Hebrew, first in everyday life and then for copying the Bible.

The presence of some Aramaic words in the NT (e.g..: "talitha cumi", "maranatha" and "golgotha") suggests that Jesus spoke a dialect of Aramaic.


The opening words of Amos in Greek
"uncials" (capitals only) and "miniscules"

Greek uncial and miniscule writingGreek was the language of Alexander's empire and so the language of the East under the Romans. It was the common language of the New Testament writers. An early translation of the Hebrew Bible, the LXX, makes Greek important for Old Testament text criticism.

HebrewHebrew in the old (Phoenician), square (Aramaic) and modern (print) scripts

Was the spoken and written language of ancient Israel. It is close to other Canaanite languages. Other Canaanite dialects are Phoenician, Moabite, Edomite and Ammonite. These "tongues of Canaan" are close to others in the Northwest Semitic branch of the Semitic language family. In particular Ugaritic (Canaanite in culture if not geography, which is similar to Hebrew) and Aramaic (language of some chapters of the OT). After the exile, under imperial rule, Aramaic became the language of the land.




This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos , if you have reached it as a standalone page, to view it in context, go to
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.