Language. In the NT, we find four languages in the time of Christ:
OLD HEBREW was lost in Babylon, but still read in Christ’s time in the synagogue, yet not well
understood, needing interpretation through the Aramaic paraphrases (Targums).
ARAMAIC was a cognate to Hebrew and therefore easily adopted by the Jews in Babylon and
retained after their return to the land.
GREEK was the language of the civil literature in all countries, strongly opposed by the Pharisees, but
employed by the Jews of the Diaspora (Dispersion), and used in the court of Herod and Pilate.
LATIN was the official language of the Roman government, was not used by the Jews, and not
generally understood by them.
The Jews in the land and of the Eastern Diaspora were called “Hebrews” because they used the Aramaic
and the rest were called “Hellenists” or “Grecians” because they used the Greek language. “Israelite”
referred to a Jew in respect to his religious privileges.
Enlightenment. Christ lived in a highly developed intellectual age. By 333 B.C., Alexander the Great
had diffused Greek civilization with its matchless language, literature, art, philosophy, and science over
the civilized world. Christ’s time was the “golden age” of Roman literature, architectural works, art,
philosophers, political leaders and orators.
The Jews possessed, as the Talmud and the OT show, a great mass of valid technical and general
knowledge, but they lacked the power of logical abstraction. They could frame definitions of objects but
only gave descriptions; neither had they the right conception of law, but meant by law merely the precepts
of a ruler. Consequently, they had no real science and philosophy and very little art; the latter being
discouraged by the Second Commandment. They opposed the spread of Geek culture. Yet, the Jews
were greatly aided by the translation of the OT into Greek, the Septuagint (LXX).
The most popular Greek philosophy of Christ’s time was that of the Epicureans, who were skeptics and
against all religion. They taught the world arose from chance; there is no providence; the soul is mortal;
and pleasure is the ultimate end of life.
The Jewish Talmud contains many gems, some of which Jesus appropriated and spiritualized.