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First Century Writings

Epigraphy is the archeological study of inscriptions or epigraphs that are engraved in material such as stone or cast in metal. Epigraphic analysis can provide a cultural context and date, and elucidate previously unknown information about a given artifact.

Epigraphy has been used to analyze the inscriptions of ossuaries belonging to the first century. The writings and languages used during the first century are reflected in such inscriptions, and the chosen languages used on a given ossuary can often provide valuable information about the individual to whom it belonged.


Greek may have been a common language used in first century Jerusalem, although it is believed to have been used less frequently in the countryside. Greek would have been the native tongue of Hellenistic Jews during this period, though Aramaic would have most commonly been used.

It is believed that Jesus spoke to Pilate in Greek, and it is indeed likely that Jesus was familiar with Greek since he was trained as a Rabbi. Galilee is believed to have been predominantly Greek-speaking. The Sadducees or the priestly class would have likely spoken Greek with Roman authorities.


The common language of the entire Jerusalem region of the first century was Aramaic and was the native tongue of its residents. Aramaic is believed to have been the language spoken during religious rituals at a synagogue, with the exception of Hebrew readings of the Torah. Aramaic is also believed to be the language used by Jesus amongst his disciples, and the language he used to spread his teachings.

Aramaic was spoken prior to the Babylonian exile, and would have been spoken amongst individuals in the re-established kingdom of Judah.


It is likely that the priestly class of the Sadducees along with the Pharisees still spoke Hebrew in the first century. However, Hebrew was not the common language used by those residing in the Jerusalem area, and was in fact gaining the reputation that Latin would in Europe during this time. In other words, it was rarely used in everyday life, and was most commonly used during religious services.

Hebrew would have been used in Jerusalem in formal settings and not as a quotidian means of communication. Anyone trained to read the writings of the Torah would have been able to read Hebrew writings. Hebrew inscriptions would be used on first century ossuaries.

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