Continued from last week…
Back to the theme of the tininess of the Holy Land. Remember that the entire area is not much bigger than New Jersey if you count the farthest extent. Remember too that much of it is uninhabitable because of desert areas and the whole thing was divided into much smaller mini-countries. You had Galilee, Samaria and Judea all ruled by petty kings from the Herod family and you had the Decapolis. Smack dab in the middle of all these Semitic mini-countries you had ten cities that were thoroughly Greek. Decapolis means “ten cities” Gerasa (Jerash) in Jordan Scythopolis (Beth-Shean) in Israel, the only city west of the Jordan River Hippos (Al Huson) on the Golan Heights) Gadara (Umm Qais) in Jordan famous for the Gadarene demoniac, Pella in Jordan where the first Christians fled when warned of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem by the Christian prophets. This happened around 65 AD. Then you have Philadelphia, modern day Amman, the capital of Jordan, Capitolias, now called Beit Ras in Jordan, Raphana also in Jordan and Canatha (Qanawat) in Syria as well as Damascus, the capital of modern Syria.
These towns were either established by or taken over by Greek-speaking immigrants as a means of Hellenization (Greek-ification) by Alexander the Great and his successors. It’s important to understand this. It means that Jesus probably spoke Greek fairly well. He was exposed to Greek culture and language. He seems to have preached in the Decapolis, and I bet he did so in Greek. It is likely that the sayings of Jesus were being written down by his followers while He was still preaching and ministering and they seemed to have done so in Greek.
In the first three Gospels, the same Greek words are used to tell the same stories and sermons, so the source from which these sayings and stories were taken was probably written down in Greek. There were three common languages spoken in the Holy Land at the time of Christ: Aramaic, a Semitic language that seems to have been Jesus’ first language (He says “Eloi, Eloi lamah sabacthani?” which seems to be Galilean accented Aramaic); then there was Greek, the language of commerce and government; then there was Latin, the first language of a very few, like Pilate and the Herods. Some of the Herods grew up in Rome in the house of the emperor on the Palatine hill and their Latin would have been excellent. Most “Romans” didn’t speak Latin. The language of the army was probably Greek. It’s what everybody spoke back then, just like everybody speaks English these days. I think most Dutch and Swedes speak better English than I do.
The Holy Land was never a mono-lingual, mono-ethnic country. Joshua failed to drive all the Canaanites out of the land in 1300 BC, the Maccabees failed to drive all the Greeks out of the land in 100 BC and Herod was a Latin-speaking Hellenized Arab. The Holy Land at the time of Christ was a multilingual multiethnic crass money-making hodgepodge just like it is today. Get thoughts of Bible pageants with people wearing bath robes and towels on their heads out of your mind.
You will be overwhelmed by the traffic, the chaos, the crowding and the commercialism. You will be chased by peddlers shouting “ONE DOLLAR! ONE DOLLAR! ONE DOLLAR!” just like you would have been chased by peddlers at the time Christ shouting “one shekel, one shekel, one shekel,” or “one denarius, one denarius, one denarius!” My point is this: The Holy Land is just the same in our times as it was at the time of Christ. Forget the Bible pageants you see at Christmas with people wearing towels on their heads. Forget starry-eyed visionaries. God so loved the world. The real world. The world I would rather escape. The world collides with itself in Jerusalem. It always has. It always will. God loves the world. This is why Jerusalem is so absolutely Holy.
To be continued...