Galilean dialect
EraSecond Temple period
Aramaic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3
The Galilee region

The Galilean dialect was the form of Jewish Aramaic spoken by people in Galilee during the late Second Temple period, for example at the time of Jesus and the disciples, as distinct from a Judean dialect spoken in Jerusalem.[1][2]

The Aramaic of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, gives various examples of Aramaic phrases. The New Testament notes that the pronunciation of Peter gave him away as a Galilean to the servant girl at the brazier the night of Jesus' trial (see Matthew 26:73 and Mark 14:70).

Scholarly reconstruction

Classical scholarship

In the 17th and 18th centuries, John Lightfoot and Johann Christian Schöttgen identified and commented on the Galilean Aramaic speech. Schöttgen's work Horae Ebraicae et Talmudicae, which studied the New Testament in the context of the Talmud, followed that of Lightfoot. Both scholars provided examples of differences between Galilean and Judean speech.[3]

The 19th century grammarian Gustaf Dalman identified "Galilean Aramaic” in the grammar of the Palestinian Talmud and Midrash,[4] but he was doubted by Theodor Zahn, who raised issues with using the grammar of writings from the 4th–7th centuries to reconstruct the Galilean Aramaic of the 1st century.[5]

Modern scholarship

Porter (2000) notes that scholars have tended to be "vague" in describing exactly what a "Galilean dialect" entailed.[6] Hoehner (1983) notes that the Talmud has one place (bEr 53b) with several amusing stories about Galilean dialect that indicate only a defective pronunciation of gutturals in the 3rd and 4th centuries.[7] Hugo Odeberg attempted a grammar based on the Aramaic of the Genesis Rabbah in 1939.[8] Michael Sokoloff's English preface to Caspar Levias's 1986 A Grammar of Galilean Aramaic (in Hebrew) also sheds light on the controversy that began with Dalman.[citation needed] E. Y. Kutscher's 1976 Studies in Galilean Aramaic may offer some newer insights.[citation needed] More recently, attempts at better understanding the Galilean dialect in the New Testament have been taken up by Steve Caruso,[9] who has spent over 10 years compiling a topical lexical reference of the Galilean dialect. Caruso has noted the difficulties of the task:

Galilean has proven to be one of the more obscure and misunderstood dialects due to systemic – albeit well-intentioned – corruption to its corpus over the centuries, involving the layering of Eastern scribal “corrections” away from genuine Western dialect features. To this day there is no easily accessible grammar or fully articulated syntax, and due to the academic predisposition towards viewing Aramaic languages through an Eastern Aramaic lens, assessing vocabulary with appropriate orthographical and dialectical considerations has proven difficult.[10]

Personal names

Evidence on possible shortening or changing of Hebrew names into Galilean is limited. Ossuary inscriptions invariably show full Hebrew name forms. David Flusser suggested that the short name Yeshu for Jesus in the Talmud was 'almost certainly' a dialect form of Yeshua, based on the swallowing of the ayin noted by Paul Billerbeck,[11] but most scholars follow the traditional understanding of the name as a polemical reduction.[12]


  1. ^ Allen C. Myers, ed. (1987). "Aramaic". The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. p. 72. ISBN 0-8028-2402-1. It is generally agreed that Aramaic was the common language of Israel in the first century CE. Jesus and his disciples spoke the Galilean dialect, which was distinguished from that of Jerusalem (Matt. 26:73).
  2. ^ "Aramaic language". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. ^ Clarke's commentary on Matthew 26:73 Archived 2013-01-16 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ George F. Moore: Dalman’s Aramaic Grammar and Reader. In: The American journal of Semitic languages and literatures 1899 University of Chicago. Dept. of Semitic Languages and Literatures "For the grammar of the Galilean Aramaic in the Palestinian Talmud and Midrash, with the exception of the […] nothing has hitherto been done. It is, therefore, with great satisfaction that we hail Dalman's grammar as the beginning of a new era in these studies."
  5. ^ Gustaf Dalman 1902 The words of Jesus considered in the light of post-Biblical Jewish writings and the Aramaic language Authorised English version by David Miller Kay pp. 79–81 "There is no justification indeed for Zahn’s misgiving that the distinction, adopted in my Grammar, of a “Judaean” and a “Galilean” dialect of Jewish Aramaic rests upon uncertain grounds. The two dialects so designated are so sharply defined in point of grammar and vocabulary, that their separation did not call for the exercise of exceptional penetration. But in applying these designations, nothing is fixed in regard to the time when these dialects flourished, and the extent over which they then prevailed. The “Judaean” dialect is known to us from literary remains of Judaean origin in the period from the first to the third (Christian) century; the Galilean dialect from writings of Galilean origin in the period from the fourth to the seventh century. […] “Syriac” being the Semitic language of Canaan in his own day, Jerome finds Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in the “Syriac” speaking inhabitants of Egypt."
  6. ^ Stanley E. Porter 2000 Diglossia and other topics in New Testament linguistics pp. 110–12
  7. ^ Harold W. Hoehner (1983). Herod Antipas, p. 63. "It is true that in one place the Babylonian Talmud does give several amusing stories with regard to the Galilaean dialect. However, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Maybe the defective pronunciation of gutturals was prevalent in the third and fourth century"
  8. ^ Hugo Odeberg (1939). The Aramaic portions of Bereshit rabba with grammar of Galilæan...
  9. ^ "Aramaic NT". Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  10. ^ "Digital, Interactive, and Topical Galilean Aramaic Dictionary". 11 July 2017. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  11. ^ Joachim Jeremias 1977 New Testament theology "…deliberate truncation made for anti-Christian motives; rather, it is 'almost certainly' (Flusser, Jesus, 13) the Galilean pronunciation of the name; the swallowing of the 'ayin was typical of the Galilean dialect (Billerbeck I 156f.)"
  12. ^ George Howard 2005 Hebrew Gospel of Matthew p. 207 "According to the Tol'doth Yeshu, Jesus' original name was Yehoshua (otvp). Later, when he became a heretic, his name was… for the name of Jesus became common in medieval Jewish polemics and can be found even in the Talmud (cf. b)."