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Matthew 27: 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" 47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, "This Man is calling for Elijah!"

According to a number of sites, including Wikipedia, the saying "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani", (or in Saint Mark's version "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani"), was originally Aramaic:

אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

However, according to some other sites, including Ask, it is Hebrew.

Regardless of which of the two are right, I don't think it can be denied that the Jews mistook what he said. I used to always take this to mean that he was speaking in a language which they did not understand. However, as far as I know and have learned from our good friend Google, Jews at that time spoke both Hebrew and Aramaic (+ some Greek and perhaps Latin).

How then, did the Jews mistake his meaning?

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Great question. My guess is that, having been beaten, lashed, had a crown of thorns pushed into His head, struck on the head more than once, crucified and left to hang there for a least three hours, with nails in His hands and feet, His speech was less than clear. –  Wikis Oct 24 '13 at 7:39
    
Excellent question. This might receive some answers maybe on the History.SE –  Ovi Oct 24 '13 at 12:44
    
Just a guess here but ELIjah might have had something to do with it. Also, Elijah is invoked fairly regularly in Judaism. It's kind of like how Christians invoke the second coming of Christ. –  crownjewel82 Oct 24 '13 at 13:18
    
I have a couple of interesting answers here, yet they are both so different it is hard to decide which one is the most accurate. I'm just not going to accept either for the moment, and will be looking forward to more answers, that is if anyone else thinks they can add anything to what has been said. –  Byzantine Oct 29 '13 at 14:30
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I think we also need to understand that nobody was at the foot of the cross as we often see. People were far from the cross while the execution was proceeding. –  The Freemason May 9 at 19:25

4 Answers 4

"Eli Eli lama sabachthani?" is Greek transliteration of Aramaic words. If it was Hebrew, then azabthani would have been used instead of Aramaic word "Sabachthani."

Check this link for Hebrew NT of Matthew 27.

http://www.bayithamashiyach.com/Matthew_27.pdf

In Hebrew, "Eli Eli lama sabachthani?" will become "Eliy ‘Eliy lamah `azab’taniy?"

Here is an explanation I found on why people thought Jesus was calling for Elijah.

"Jesus Christ was suffering horrendous pain for about SIX HOURS. He called out for “Eli”, His exhaustion and heavy breathing could have caused Him to add an “ah” on the end. Try talking when you have gone for a long run and you’ll see what I mean. “Eli-ah” sounds a lot like “Eliyah” does it not?" (Source - http://ellhn.e-e-e.gr/books/assets/NewTestament.pdf on Page. 52)

Eliya (also written as Eliyah in English) is Aramaic for "Elijah." (Source - Mark 15:35 of Aramaic Peshitta New Testament)

I also want to point out that the spoken language of first century Israel was Aramaic. Not Hebrew or Greek. This is confirmed by New Testament and Jewish Historian Josephus.

Jewish Historian Josephus states that Jews didn't speak Greek in first century Israel.

Jewish Historian Josephus wrote:

"I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to all sorts of free-men, but to as many of the servants as please to learn them. But they give him the testimony of being a wise man who is fully acquainted with our laws, and is able to interpret their meaning; on which account, as there have been many who have done their endeavors with great patience to obtain this learning, there have yet hardly been so many as two or three that have succeeded therein, who were immediately well rewarded for their pains." - Antiquities of Jews XX, XI

Jewish Wars (Book 1, Preface, Paragraph 1) -

"I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians. Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work]."

Also note the names in English Bible of New Testament - "Bar"tholomew, "Bar"abbas, "Bar"nabbas, "Bar"sabbas, "Bar" Jesus, Simon "Bar" Jonah, "Bar" Timaeus, etc.

Aramaic word Bar means Son. In Hebrew, Ben means Son. For example, Benjamin in Old Testament, and First Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion.

Acts 1:19

"And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood."

"Akel dama" is Greek transliteration of Aramaic words "Khqel Dama." "Khqel Dama" is also written as Hakel Dama in English.

We clearly see "Field of Blood" was called "Khqel Dama" by all the inhabitants of Jerusalem in their own language which is Aramaic.

If I translate aramaic words "Khqel Dama" into Hebrew, then "Khqel Dama" will become "Sh'deh Hadam."

Through this, we can read that all inhabitants of Jerusalem spoke in their own language in first century AD which was Aramaic. If Hebrew was used as spoken language in first century Israel, then "Sh'deh Hadam" would have been mentioned along with "Khqel Dama" (a.k.a akel dama in Greek and English NT) in Acts 1:19.

Here is the link to Acts Chapter 1 (Hebrew translation from Greek)

http://www.bayithamashiyach.com/Acts_1.pdf

You will see "s'deh Hadam" at the end of Acts 1:19. To match the words, see S'deh (Green color) and Field (Green Color). Hadam (in purple color) and Blood (in purple color).

Josephus' Antiquities of Jews 3:32 - Now the Hebrews call this food manna; for the particle man, in our language, is the asking of a question, What is this?

"Man" is Aramaic. In Hebrew, Aramaic word "Man" will become "Mah".

According to Dead Sea Scrolls archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, Aramaic was the language of Jews until Simon bar Kokhba tried to revive Hebrew and make Hebrew as the official language of Jews during Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD). Yigael Yadin noticed the shift from Aramaic to Hebrew during the time of Bar Kokhba revolt (132 - 135 AD). In Yigael Yadin's book "Bar Kokhba: The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome", Yadin notes,

"It is interesting that the earlier documents are written in Aramaic while the later ones are in Hebrew. Possibly the change was made by a special decree of Bar-Kokhba who wanted to restore Hebrew as the official language of the state" (page 181).

In Book "A Roadmap to the Heavens: An Anthropological Study of Hegemony among Priests, Sages, and Laymen (Judaism and Jewish Life)" by Sigalit Ben-Zion (Page 155), Yadin remarked: "it seems that this change came as a result of the order that was given by Bar Kokhba, who wanted to revive the Hebrew language and make it the official language of the state."

According to Book "Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World" written by Kimberly B. Stratton (p. 232), Yadin suggests that Bar Kokhba was trying to revive Hebrew by decree as part of his messianic ideology.

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Very convincing answer. However I noticed that you dealt mostly with trying to prove that Aramaic was the actual spoken language. While that is great, and I appreciated that, could you try to explain a little more on the actual question? I see you said "Here is an explanation I found"... Where did you find it? It is nice if you add references for everything you quote. –  Byzantine Nov 13 '13 at 0:26
    
Sure. I am going to add a link. –  konwayk Nov 13 '13 at 19:50

If the narrative is followed from verse 35, one will note that the Roman soldiers were present throughout, they “sitting down they watched him”. Note not all but “some of them that stood there…said, this man calleth for Elias”. Spoken by a Roman soldiers that did not know Aramaic.

Matthew 27:35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there;

27:46…And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

27:54..Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

The comment came from the ones that "took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar", a non-Jew!

Luke 23:36 "And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar"

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Would the centurions have known of Elijah (or expected him to come)? –  Ryan Frame Oct 24 '13 at 13:55
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Romans were aware of many belief systems, this was a big event. They likely knew enough to make an uninformed comment. –  Rick Oct 24 '13 at 13:58
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Only "some" thought he was calling for Elijah--not all. –  Narnian Oct 24 '13 at 18:11
    
@Narnian, Yes that makes sense to me –  Rick Oct 24 '13 at 18:41
    
How do we know that the one who "took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar" was a Roman soldier? –  warren Oct 30 '13 at 20:00

An alternative, and somewhat simpler, explanation is that many of those present knew very well that Jesus was quoting the opening line of the 22nd Psalm; but through their willful blindness, determined to avoid seeing that Psalm's fulfillment manifested in the tableau in front of them, they allowed Satan to fill their heads with a suitably distracting (though somewhat illogical) interpretation of why Jesus was quoting it.

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As already mentioned, there were Romans who were present at the Crucifixion, so its possible that the phrase "Some of those who stood there..." in v. 47 is referring to the Romans. Also, it could refer to Hellenized Jews. These are the Jews who lived outside of Palestine in other parts of the Roman Empire. They usually did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic. Instead, they spoke Greek. But most still visited Palestine for the Pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and The Festival of Tabernacles) as required by the Law of Moses (Torah).

So the phrase "Some of those who stood there" in verse 47 who misunderstood what Jesus was saying is probably referring to the Romans and the Hellenized Jews who were present and not the Palestinian Jews who lived in Palestine at the time and spoke both Aramaic and Hebrew.

Although some may deny the existence of Hellenized Jews in the ancient world (I only know of one person!), their existence is affirmed in the New Testament in Acts 2 (all the Jews in Pentecost heard the Apostles in their own languages, meaning they didn't all speak Hebrew and Aramaic) and in Acts 6 (where there is a dispute between the Hellenized Jews and the Palestinian Jews). The Septuagint (A Greek translation of the Old Testament) was translated a few hundred years before Christ because most of the Jews outside of Palestine no longer spoke Hebrew. This ancient translation also serves to indicate the existence of Hellenized Jews well before the time of Christ.

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Jews didn't speak either Greek or Hebrew in first century Israel. In Judea, Hebrew was only preserved for religious purposes by Jewish Priests. Since nobody "spoke" Hebrew, they used Aramaic Old Testament known as Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh. Jews outside Palestine spoke Aramaic as their language. There were no Hellenized Jews - check Josephus' Antiquities of Jews XX XI and Jewish Wars Book 1 Preface Paragraph 1. –  konwayk Oct 30 '13 at 15:50
    
@konwayk Generally when Josephus refers to Jews he is not referring to Hellenized Jews. As a priest, he saw these Jews as having been assimilated and giving up their Jewish heritage. Its an example of the No True Scotsman fallacy. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, however, there IS such a thing as Hellenistic Jews and it started at the time of Nehemiah/Ezra. Hellenistic Jews not speaking Hebrew/Aramaic was the reason for the Septuagint translation a couple hundred years before Christ. I would therefore appreciate removing the down vote from my answer as reputation is still important to me. –  ByronArn Oct 30 '13 at 15:58
    
Jews didn't use Septuagint. They used Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh (Aramaic Old Testament). In Antiquities of Jews XX XI, Josephus states that he knew Greek more than any Jews in first century. But he still couldn't speak Greek with sufficient exactness due to the fact that he was so accustomed to speaking his own tongue. You should ask a question "Were there Hellenized Jews in first century AD?" and I will answer it. I cannot explain everything here. –  konwayk Oct 30 '13 at 16:03
    
I already know there were Hellenized Jews in the first Century, so why should I ask it? The book of Acts in the Bible records a dispute between the Palestinian Jews and the Hellenized Jews within the early church (Acts 6). If the Jews didn't use the Septuagint, why would 72 rabbis have translated it? The gentiles didn't consider the Hebrew Scriptures to have been of value. As mentioned before, Josephus didn't consider Hellenistic Jews to be true Jews, so you have to filter his comments in that regard. –  ByronArn Oct 30 '13 at 16:08
    
There were no Hellenized Jews in first century AD. Talmud claims 72 rabbis translated from Hebrew into Greek for Septuagint. But Talmud is filled with absurd informations. You should ask if there are any tamperings in Greek NT manuscripts. I will show you that there were no Hellenistic Jews in first century Israel. –  konwayk Oct 30 '13 at 16:13

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