What Was The Passion Of The Christ Language?

Most movies and shows made in the US are in English, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yet, some still manage to do well in America despite being made in a foreign language. Look no further than The Passion Of The Christ, which made around 612 million dollars worldwide. Thus many wonder: What was The Passion Of The Christ language?

In Mel Gibson’s beloved and controversial 2004 film: The Passion Of The Christ, he disregarded spoken English for recreated ancient Aramaic and Hebrew, as well as Latin. This sets it apart from other depictions of Jesus’s crucifixion, by capturing what He and others actually spoke in that time.

This might surprise some, considering how Latin has been thought “dead” for many years. There are also those who criticize the film’s portrayal of Hebrew and Aramaic, saying it is nothing like what they spoke. Are the languages in the film even genuine? Why would the film’s director Mel Gibson use these languages over English even if they are real?

What Language Was Being Spoken In The Passion Of The Christ?

Director Mel Gibson stated that his film depicting the passion of Jesus of Nazareth was meant to transcend language and purposefully shunned the English that a vast majority of the film’s audience speaks. If the film was not in English, what language was being spoken in The Passion Of The Christ?

Aramaic was the predominant language spoken in The Passion Of The Christ, followed by Latin and Hebrew. These were the major languages at the time of Jesus and where he lived. Aramaic was reconstructed along with parts of Hebrew, this is due to the languages not being used today.

From the position of a viewer watching the film, it is understandable if you didn’t notice three different languages being spoken throughout the movie. They all from a “layman’s” perspective sound similar, though some would love to tell you otherwise.

Predominately, Aramaic is used the most in The Passion of the Christ, with Latin being secondary, and Hebrew being used the least of the three.

What does it mean for Aramaic and Hebrew to be reconstructed? And, isn’t Latin a dead language? Are the languages in The Passion Of The Christ authentic, or just lousy imitations?

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Were The Passion Of The Christ Languages Genuine, Or Just Imitations?

Were the languages in The Passion Of The Christ real and authentic? What does it mean for a language to be “reconstructed”?

The languages found within The Passion Of The Christ are genuine, albeit as far as we can know. What we hear as Aramaic and Hebrew in the film are what scholars generally agree as our best estimations of what they were like two thousand years ago.

It is really difficult for us to know exactly what these languages were like, especially in vocal speech. With the written aspect of ancient languages, we can be pretty close to what they were like centuries ago (with some small exceptions).

On the other hand, the spoken speech of the languages is where we find the most problems.

Unless we can have a time machine to go back to 30 A.D. to hear Aramaic and Hebrew spoken first hand, we’ll always have to do some estimation on our part to fill in the gaps. This does not mean we can’t have confidence in what is shown in The Passion Of The Christ, it just means that there will be some educated guesses involved.

Educated guesses in fields of study are more common than you might think. Just look at dinosaurs for instance. All we have are a few bones, yet somehow scientists and archaeologists find the Tyrannosaurus Rex form accurate and are confident having them displayed in museums around the world.

Using best estimations is an occupational hazard in dealing with things that existed so many centuries ago.

A good way of thinking of it would be akin to paraphrasing a quote, rather than reciting the exact wording. The same meaning comes across, with few minor differences to how it might sound.

This leads to why those who speak Modern Aramaic and Hebrew today can’t understand what Jesus and His followers are saying in the film. It is like how Modern Greek is very different to ancient Greek, or how old English differs so greatly to what we speak today.

This essentially means that those who speak Aramaic and Hebrew today are not really speaking the same thing as others were two thousand years ago.

With The Passion Of The Christ, even with some staunch critics, most consider it’s portrayal of the languages as a success. And, one thing we can all agree on, it is pretty cool to have the entire movie in ancient unspoken languages.

What Was The Purpose Of The Passion Of Christ Being In Aramaic, Latin, And Hebrew?

We discussed what languages are found in film, but not why they were really necessary in the first place. What was the purpose of The Passion Of The Christ being in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew?

Film director Mel Gibson’s vision and purpose for using ancient languages instead of English was to provide historical accuracy, to allow the viewer to be as close as possible to the event. This was linked with the theological perspective of Jesus’s crucifixion, thus leaving it to be loved by many.

You can see this not only with the use of ancient languages, but the brutal portrayal of the death of Jesus.

Though some criticized it as being too excessive, or even go on to say that a character here or there doesn’t wear the most authentic outfit, these types of comments miss the point entirely.

I would argue, as do many others, that these objections are weak at best. If someone is coming from a Christian perspective, they should understand that the crucifixion was a ancient torture execution, it was not pleasant. The film was trying to express this, and did so quite well.

From a theological and biblical perspective, the bloody sacrifice of Christ is mirrored in the Old Testament with the sacrifice of lambs for the forgiveness of sins. Thus, Jesus Christ is the “Lamb Of God”, being sacrificed for our sins.

To certain smaller historical aspects being wrong, as in the clothes of character or parts of the recreation of ancient Aramaic or Hebrew, this is mostly used by those who don’t like the film for other reasons.

It would be akin to complaining about the shade of red in one version of Spiderman’s costume in one film vs the shade in another. Unless it is pink, it really doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s Spiderman.

Those who enjoy the film will be understanding of small errors or changes for accessibility. When really thinking about it, to try and be historically accurate does not mean you have to get everything exactly right. Being accurate does not have to mean impeccable.

It certainly doesn’t mean you must have a mystical ball that allows you to see in the past. What it should mean is to be as close as possible to what it was like at the event, while also being a movie. Thus, some things will naturally have to be slightly different..

The Passion Of The Christ tries to marry both the historical and theological perspective of Jesus’s passion to great success. This is what makes so many love the film, and why some so harshly criticize it.

If interested in more about language learning, check some of my other articles!

Is There A English Version Of The Passion Of The Christ?

If you are interested in the film, or found it difficult to watch due to the language barrier, you might be wondering if there is an English dub version. We know it was intended to be watched with the actors’ use of the ancient languages: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin. Despite this, is there an English version of The Passion Of The Christ?

There is no English audio version of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ. It is solely in ancient languages on purpose. After much debate and consideration, Mel Gibson did allow for the movie to have subtitles. Thus the film has English subtitles, and this is the intended way of watching it.

This means that from the agony of the garden in the beginning of the movie, to its end with the crucifixion of Jesus, none of it will be in spoken English.

Why Was Director Mel Gibson Opposed To English Subtitles?

Why would the director of The Passion Of The Christ, Mel Gibson, be opposed to the use of English subtitles? How would he expect anyone to follow along?

The original intent of the film director Mel Gibson was to make a movie reliant wholly on visual narrative. Later at the behest of others, he relented and allowed for the movie to be subtitled. He wished to make the movie visually focused. Yet in the end, subtitles didn’t take away from this goal.

What are some defenses and criticisms of the view of having no subtitles in The Passion Of The Christ?

The Defense Of No Subtitles

This might seem absolutely ridiculous for some to not include subtitles, but hear me out. Though I wouldn’t have agreed with the decision, there was an admirable goal for Mel Gibson’s original intention.

He was trying to make the film all visually oriented, but what does that mean?

Look at the way he showed Jesus’s suffering, the brutal reality of it. All of it was expressed through the eye, few words were spoken. He was trying to convey how awful of an experience it was not by telling you it was horrible, but by showing you.

This was not a bad goal that he was trying to achieve. It just didn’t need to exclude the use of subtitles in order to reach a wide audience of people from many different backgrounds.

And, what of the words that were spoken?

Despite not understanding what the characters are saying, we could still know what is going on in certain scenes.

For the most part all Christians know, or at the least should know, what is being said. At the last supper, we should already understand the gist of what Jesus is saying.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 

And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Luke 22:19-20 RSVCE

Or, at the sacrifice on Calvary, when Jesus is on the cross. Any Christian should know his words:

 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34 RSVCE

We can certainly disagree with not having subtitles, but we can definitely understand where Mel Gibson was coming from.

Criticisms Of Having No Subtitles

The biggest criticism of not having subtitles is how it doesn’t necessarily step away from what Mel Gibson wanted. For starters you can’t really listen to the movie to understand what’s going on, you have to see it. This doesn’t change with the use of subtitles.

For large sections of dialogue, especially the Devil tempting Jesus in the agony of the Garden, these are artistic approaches that are not found in the Bible. This does not mean they are bad or sinful to include by any means, but subtitles are necessary due to them being “original dialogue”.

We can see why the director was against subtitles to start with, but overall they were a needed component of the movie.

Why Did Jesus Speak Aramaic And Not Hebrew In The Passion Of The Christ?

We now know that in The Passion Of The Christ, Jesus and his followers spoke predominantly Aramaic. This can very well be a surprise for many, since if Jesus is a Jew why would he speak something other than Hebrew? Why did Jesus Speak Aramaic and not Hebrew in The Passion Of The Christ?

Jesus likely would have spoken Aramaic on a daily basis, and would use Hebrew in reading or dealing with the Pharisees. Aramaic was the most commonly spoken language where Jesus lived, on the other hand Hebrew was mainly for reading and writing.

Even considering the fact that Jesus was Hebrew, or what we commonly know as a Jew, he would have spoken Aramaic more than he would have spoken Hebrew. The reason the film shows Jesus speaking Aramaic is for historical accuracy.

Why Hebrews (Ancient Jews) Spoke Aramaic In The Passion Of The Christ

If Jesus spoke Aramaic because of it being the most commonly spoken language in his day, then does this apply to all the Hebrews? Why did Hebrews speak Aramaic in The Passion Of The Christ?

Hebrew was the language of the educated and learned in Jewish society 2000 years ago. Thus it was used in writing and higher society. Aramaic was the common tongue, and used by all regardless of standing. The ancient Hebrews in Jesus’s day were multilingual, and spoke both languages.

That is why from the perspective of the film makers, they had most of the conversations portrayed in Aramaic. It was to try to achieve the most legitimate historical accuracy they could.

Another example of this would be when some of the Hebrews would speak Latin, there were purposeful mistakes made. That’s right, the writers incorporated purposeful grammatical mistakes in the Latin used in the film.

This was done to make the point that the Hebrews were inexperienced with Latin and wouldn’t have spoken well. This would be especially true when compared to the Roman soldiers’ common Latin and Pontius Pilate’s more aristocratic version of Latin.

Are The Languages Of The Passion Of The Christ Spoken Today?

We have discussed a lot about the languages featured in The Passion Of The Christ, from why they chose to include them to why Jesus spoke them in the first place. Do these languages still remain? Are the languages of The Passion Of The Christ spoken today?

Is Aramaic Spoken Today?

Is the chief language found in The Passion Of The Christ, Aramaic, still used today?

The version of Aramaic that Jesus spoke is dead, or long forgotten. Modern versions of Aramaic do exist, though they are spoken by much smaller communities in the middle east. Aramaic today differs greatly from what it was two thousand years ago, leaving many seeing it as unrecognizable.

A good way of seeing it is the difference between modern English, and old English or even Old Saxon language (Old Low German). They’re essentially unintelligible, and this is pretty much the relationship with the Aramaic of today and what it was like centuries ago.

Is Latin Spoken Today?

The language of the Romans is featured in The Passion Of The Christ, and out of the three it was the second most used. Some might wonder since this language used to hold so much sway if it is still spoken today. As such we should ask ourselves the question: is Latin spoken today?

Latin is a dead language and only remains active in niche academic fields, like in the medical field. It is also used in religious circumstances, mainly Catholicism. Ancient Hebrews would have only spoken a little Latin, and what they did speak has long been disused.

As is discussed in this paper, languages exist because we made them and use them. This means that for a language to be considered “dead”, it has long since stopped being useful.

Jesus likely spoke only a little Latin, and this version of it has long disappeared.

However, in a way, Latin lives on in its descendants. Languages like Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese are all derived from Latin. English has actually been influenced by Latin a great deal, even though it is a Germanic language.

Latin is not spoken today, but it lives on in Catholicism, the medical field, and languages derived from it.

Is Hebrew Spoken Today?

Hebrew is important for Christians because parts of the Bible are written in it, and especially for modern religious Jews since it holds significance to some of their major tenets. Due to this, some wonder if Hebrew is still around, as such: Is Hebrew still spoken today?

Modern Hebrew is spoken today by many Jewish communities, and its ancient version is still studied by many biblical scholars. Modern Hebrew is the official language of Israel. However, it is debatable whether or not it resembles the Hebrew that ancient Jews spoke at the time of Jesus.

The form of Hebrew being kept alive by Jewish communities today has undergone many different events further distancing it from how it was two thousand years ago.

This is very similar to how Aramaic is today, albeit Hebrew is a bit more controversial topic due to the general religious aspect of it.

The Final Talking Points On The Language Of The Passion Of The Christ…

To wrap it all up, the languages that are in The Passion Of The Christ, are: Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew. Especially Aramaic and parts of Hebrew were reconstructed due to parts of them being lost. The versions of them that exist today are very different to what it was two thousand years ago.

If you’re looking for more information regarding language learning and specific languages, then read some of my other articles.

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, department leader at various levels and organizations, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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