This article will be confined to the Greek material found in rabbinical works, since the language of the Septuagint and the New Testament requires separate discussion, and does not belong here. Latin was made accessible to the Jews in Talmudic times by means of Greek, and will be treated here in this relation. For general cultural conditions see Alexandrian Philosophy; Byzantine Empire; Hellenism.

In the Talmud, Midrash, and Targum the Greek and Latin letters are transcribed according to purely phonetic principles; this transcription may therefore assist in some measure the work of solving the probable original pronunciation of Greek, still a matter of dispute. While the Greek elements found in rabbinical works must be classed for the greater part with the vernacular, they are for that reason most instructive from a phonetic point of view.

Surds and Sonants.

The pronunciation of the Greek sounds has in general been faithfully preserved; and only in a few points—including, however, the important one of iotacism—does the pronunciation represent that stage which is generally designated as modern Greek, but which, nevertheless, may have been the original one. Surds and sonants are always distinguished;e.g., τ was written and pronounced ט, and δ, ד, not vice versa, a practise that must be especially noted in view of the fact that sonants and surds are confounded in Egyptian Greek (Blass, "Aussprache des Griechischen," 3d ed., 1895), in demotic papyri, and in Gnostic manuscripts (Thumb, in "Indogerm. Forschungen," viii. 189), as well as in the Coptic; in Syriac the same accuracy has been observed. On the other hand, as in the Egyptian κοινή (e.g., καλκοῦ = χαλκοῦ), surds and aspirates are frequently confounded; thus χάλκανϑος always appears as ; ϑήατρον is represented by , though the form with ת also occurs. This is all the more striking as surds and aspirates represent the same sounds in both languages, and this leads to the important conclusion that in Hebrew כ and ק, ט and ת, were similar in sound. The aspirate φ, which occurs not only as פ but also as ב and even װ had already become a fricative sound, and hence had reached in Hebrew mouths the modern Greek stage. The same is not true in the case of θ, however, but fricative pronunciation appears in the sonants β, γ, Δ; since, for example, occurs for σμάραγδος side by side with , the modern Greek pronunciation of δ as a voiced spirant, corresponding to the English "th" in "these," "bathe," must be assumed.

Nasals and Sibilants.

As regards the nasals, the exact pronunciation of the sounds γγ, γκ, γχ is reproduced in a manner entirely analogous to the Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Romanic, etc., as can be seen in * (ἄγγελος), (ἀνάγκη), (κόγχη), etc. Otherwise, the nasals were treated with considerable license, and were frequently suppressed by assimilation and reduction, as in modern Greek. For example, just as πήπτος is used for πήηπτος, so the Jews said instead of Μήηφις, for compendiaria, etc.

From transcriptions such as * for * δταλάγμιον and for * σαρδονύχιον there must be assumed for the letter σ (which is in other cases transcribed by ם, ז, and צ) the pronunciation "sh," a sound the existence of which in Greek philologists have denied. Further proof in this regard is furnished by the transcription of as Μεσσίας (comp. Schürer, "Gesch." 3d ed., ii. 526, note).

Iotacism and Aspiration.

Iotacism of the vowels ε, ι, η, and the diphthongs ει, οι is found in almost all cases, except before γ; hence, , Νήρων, must be pronounced "Neron," and not "Niron." But αι, αν, εν had very nearly reached the modern Greek stage. In contrast with this is the scrupulous retention of both the spiritus lenis and the spiritus asper; and the aspirated ῥ is also clearly indicated by means of preaspiration; while even internal aspiration occurs, as, for example, in the frequently repeated word , συνήδριον. There are even some almost certain examples of the digamma, a sound peculiar to archaic Greek and to some dialects.

The vowels are not always kept intact, but are often interchanged without regard to rule. The Jewish idiom shares vowel-resolution (e.g., instead of δημόσια, where η has been resolved into iu) with Syriac (e.g., , στύλος, in Bar-Bahlul) and Armenian ("Tiuros" = Τύρος). As generally in vernacular idioms, hiatus does not occur.

Semitization of Greek Words.

The omission of the hiatus, together with the frequently occurring elision of syllables by apocope, apheresis, and especially syncope, gives to the foreign word-forms a certain Semitic coloring; for Βούλιμος is more in agreement with Semitic phonetics than is the Syriac for Βήρυλλος is more acceptable than, for instance, * would be. The other consonantal changes to which the Greek words have been subjected are such as may occur also in Greek, as, for instance, adequation, assimilation, dissimilation, metathesis, elision, prothesis, etc. In order to Semitize Greek words, new forms, analogous forms, and popular etymologies were resorted to. Especially frequent is the Hebrew ending ; e.g., , Νικόδημος; , campus; but compare the Greek κάστρον for κάστρα; and in Egypt ἥμισον is found for ἥμισν, as well as (i.e., ἄλλον) for ἄλλο. Compare with this, furthermore, the frequent occurrence of diminutives in -ιον, examples of which are found in the Jewish idiom that have not been preserved elsewhere.

Next in popularity among new formations was ; hence , occurs side by side with , matrona; was used for λέντιον = linteum, etc. By the employment of such forms a certain Semitic coloring was given to the words. Other peculiarities of Semitic speech—e.g., the Hebrew and Aramaic conjugation of verbs formed from Greek noun-stems, the employment of status emphaticus and status constructus, the addition of Hebrew and Aramaic affixes and suffixes, the plural formations, the determination of grammatical gender (though seldom according to the regular laws of the language)—all these the borrowing language had to employ in so far as it had in view the needs of actual intercourse and not academic usage. As the Jewish idiom of the Talmudic period made use of Greek words only in case of need, its laws held good for the borrowed forms, at least as far as the construction of sentences was concerned.

In addition to the forms of the words borrowed from the Greek, it is also important to determine their meanings; for some of these borrowed terms acquired in the mouth of the Jews a deeper religious and moral sense; e.g., γεωμετρία, a certain norm for the interpretation of Scripture (but compare GemaṬria); βῆλον, Latin velum, "heaven"; σχολαστικός, "teacher of the Law"; στρατμγός, "soldier" in general; σύβολον, "covenant" and "wedding present"; τόμος, "book of the Law." The Jewish usage is sometimes supported by the Septuagint and by the New Testament; e.g., κατήγωρ, "Satan"; πάνδοκος, "whore"; βλασφημία, "blasphemy." These semasiological differences justify one in speaking of a rabbinic Greek.

The Vocabulary.

Other prominent characteristics that are also found in all the popular Greek dialects are: the frequent occurrence of diminutives of material nouns in ινός; the ending in ικόν; combinations with ὁλο-(ὁλόχρυσος, ὁλοσηρικός, etc.); and the ending -ος instead of -ον. The Greek spoken by the Jews of Palestine was the Hellenic κοινή; although it contains also elements that are not Attic, these had become Hellenizedat the time of their adoption. Some words found in rabbinical works occur elsewhere only in modern Greek.

The Greek words found in the idiom of the Talmud and the Midrash refer to all conditions of life, although, of course, there is a preponderance of political concepts that came into Palestine only with the advent of the Greeks and the Romans, and of names of foreign products introduced into the country through commerce. Some of the borrowed words refer to cosmography and geography; e.g., ἄηρ = "air," introduced at an early date; others refer to minerals, plants, and animals; e.g., γύψος = "gypsum"; ἰσάτις = a plant used for dyeing; τάρδαλις = "panther." Many refer to public life; e.g., ὄχλος = "mob"; κολωνία = colonia, "colony"; παλάτιον = palatium, "palace"; ληγᾱτον = legatum, "legate"; κῆνσος = census, "census"; σηνεῖον = "sign" or "standard." Others again refer to the house and the court; e.g., βασιλική = "basilica"; στόα = "stoa," "colonnade"; others to commerce and intercourse, coins and weights; e.g., πραγματεία = "commerce"; carrum, "wagon"; δηνάριον = "denarius"; μόνητα = moneta, "coin." There are also names of weapons, tools, vessels, raw material, furniture, food, ornaments, and jewelry. A large contingent of words refers to general culture, including literature and writing, physicians and medicines, religion and folk-lore, calendars and texts, music and the plastic arts; and, finally, there is a mass of proper names. It is estimated that more than 3,000 words borrowed from the Greek and Latin are found in the rabbinical works.

In Later Times.

After the completion of the chief works of the Midrashic and Targumic literature no new Greek words were adopted; but the words already assimilated continued to be used—of course less intelligently than formerly, thus giving rise to frequent incorrect copyings and false etymologies. The Jews preserved the knowledge of the Greek language only in those countries where Greek was spoken. Justinian's law of the year 553 ("Novellæ," No. 146, Περὶ Εβραίων) refers to the use of Greek in the liturgy. As late as the end of the Byzantine period the Book of Jonah was read in Greek at the afternoon hafṭarah of the Day of Atonement in Candia (Elijah Capsali, ed. Lattes, p. 22); the Bologna and Oxford libraries have copies of this translation, which, according to Neubauer, was made in the twelfth century for the Jews of Corfu; so far as is known, it is the oldest complete text in modern Greek. There is also a Greek translation of the Pentateuch, of which there still exist copies of the edition made by Eliezer Soncino of Constantinople in 1547, and republished by D. C. Hesseling, Leyden, 1897. This translation, in Hebrew characters, forms part of a polyglot Pentateuch, which contains a Hebrew text with a Spanish translation.

The only important Midrash or commentary to the Pentateuch that is extant from the Byzantine countries, the "Lekaḥ Ṭob" by R. Tobias b. Eliezer of Castoria (ed. S. Buber), contains many Greek words (see J. Perles in "Byzantinische Zeitschrift," ii. 570-584). The Jews of southern Italy are known to have been familiar with Greek (Grätz, "Gesch." 3d ed., vi. 238); the Sylvester disputation presupposes a knowledge of Greek as well as of Latin among the Roman Jews (Vogelstein and Rieger, "Gesch. der Juden in Rom," i. 150, note 3).

In Sicily the Jews curiously changed the meaning of ἑτοιμασία ("timisia") to designate a chest for the Torah (Zunz, "G. V." 2d ed., p. 247; idem, "Z. G." p. 522); they had officials called "sufi" (σοφοί) and "proti" (Güdemann, "Erziehungswesen . . . der Juden in Italien," p. 281). Liturgical poems were generally designated by the Byzantine terms "pizmon" and "darmosh" (Zunz, "S. P." pp. 5, 69b). Other Greek words used were "latreg," "alphabetarion" ("Byz. Zeit." l.c.), "sandek," etc. Similarly, there were Christian designations, such as "apiphyor" for "pope," and "hegmon" for "bishop" ("R. E. J." xxxiv. 218-238; compare "patriarch" in Benjamin of Tudela and in "Milḥemet Ḥobah," p. 4, Constantinople, 1710).

Shabbethai Donnolo had a Greek education, and so to a certain extent had Nathan of Rome; the author of the Ahimaaz Chronicle often refers to the Greek-speaking Jews of southern Italy. Joseph, "the Greek," translated Greek works into Arabic (Steinschneider, "Polemische und Apologetische Lit." pp. 39, 314), as did also Kilti, or Kelti (idem, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 499; "J. Q. R." xi. 605). It is expressly said of Jacob ha-Levi that he was conversant with the Greek language (Neubauer, "The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah," p. xii., note 5). Greek words are found in the works of Jacob b. Reuben (ib. pp. 59, 60), Judah Mosconi, and Meyuḥas b. Elijah ("Orientalistische Literaturzeitung," 1900, p. 429; "R. E. J." xli. 303); and a knowledge of Greek in general must be assumed in the case of the Jewish authors living in Greece. The Karaites also knew classical Greek—e.g., Judah Hadassi (Fürst, "Gesch. des Karäerthums," i. 212)—and modern Greek, as, for example, Caleb Afendopolo in the fifteenth century. "Wise men from Greece" and single scholars with the surname "Greek" are not unfrequently mentioned by Western Jewish authors.

The Oriental and the Western Jews, on the other hand, were mostly ignorant of Greek. A gaon admitted, in regard to a Greek expression in the Talmud, that he did not know Greek (Harkavy, "Teshubot ha-Geonim," No. 47, p. 23); and "aspargon" was explained as a Persian word (ib. p. 374). Scholars from Greece could, however, be consulted (ib. No. 225, p. 105), as was done by Moses Naḥmani (B. B. 8a). Eliezer b. Elijah, who knew twelve languages, had only a smattering of Greek (Jost, "Jahrb." ii. 30). The Samaritan Abu al-Fatḥ, in the fourteenth century, also admitted that he did not know Greek ("Annales," ed. E. Vilmar, p. xc., Gotha, 1865). The statement in the Chronicle of Jerahmeel (ed. Gaster, p. 200) that Judah and half of Simeon spoke Hebrew and Greek among themselves, must either be a fable or be based on a misunderstanding.

Greek Etymologies.

Greek etymologies, generally false ones, are noted by Rashi, Abraham ibn Ezra, Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran, Elijah Levita (in "Tishbi," s.v. ; comp. Grünbaum, "Jüd.-Deut. Chrestomathie," p. 494), and Abraham Zacuto, as well as by other medieval authors. R. Isaac of Siponte was more successful in explaining several expressions in the Mishnahin Greek; e.g., Ma'as. v. 8. There were no Greek works by Jews in the Middle Ages, aside from the new translations of the Bible. But Jews read Greek authors in the original at Byzantium; e.g., Asaph, who renders botanical names in Greek, and Judah Hadassi the Karaite, who quotes entire sentences from the philosophical works of the Greeks (P. Frankl, in "Monatsschrift," 1884, xxxiii. 449, 513 et seq.). In regard to some translations from the Middle Ages it is still doubtful whether they were made directly from the Greek text. It has by no means been proved that terms occurring in Jewish philosophical works have been borrowed from the Greek, as Steinschneider asserts ("Hebr. Uebers." p. 420, Berlin, 1893); e.g., for στέρησις, found in Samuel ibn Tibbon, is merely a translation of the corresponding Latin or Arabic word. Although Joseph b. Abraham (Steinschneider, l.c. p. 453, § 267) uses Greek words, it must be assumed that he lived in the vicinity of Greece; for only Jews so situated could have been familiar with that language.

  • S. Krauss, Lehnwörter, Berlin, 1898-99;
  • A. Thumb, Die Griechische Sprache im Zeitalter des Hellenismus, passim, Strasburg, 1901;
  • Perles, in Byz. Zeit. ii. 570-584.
G. S. Kr.