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for instance in Asia Minor, Jews spoke Greek. In the Near East, however, including Palestine, they usually spoke Aramaic, like the native Christians, who cultivated their own version of Aramaic, Syriac. In that sense, Palestine may be misleading, since there the Christian elites often spoke Greek, which the Jewish elites understood (the dealings ofOrigen with the rabbis in Caesarea Maritima were obviously carried on in Greek), but which was not their language of written expression. In the Syrian Orient, however, Jews and Christians shared more or less the same language, Aramaic, which had been the lingua franca of the area for a long time. This was the case on both sides ofthe political border between the Romans and the Sassanids.

The essential difference in the linguistic scene between Jews and Christians is of course a matter of weight. It is in Greek, and sometimes in Latin, that the leading Christian thinkers expressed their theologies. (Other Christian literatures - Syriac in particular, but also Coptic and Armenian - although very rich, remain marginal to the centres of political power in the empire.) For the Jews of the East, in contradistinction, literary creativity took place in Aramaic and Hebrew. There are no literary remains whatsoever of the powerful Jewish communities who spoke either Greek or Latin. The striking disappearance of Hellenistic Jewish literary culture, already noted by Joseph Justus Scaliger, remains to this day a historical puzzle. On the face of it, the Jewish communities in the Byzantine empire would appear to be the direct heirs of Hellenistic Judaism.

This sharing a language is clearly meaningful for the Jewish and Christian northern Syrian and Mesopotamian communities (in both cases, minorities, sometimes persecuted), where the geographical proximity adds to the probability of some degree of mutual cultural influence and of interdependence of literary works. Scholars have long searched the Syriac literature for evidence of rabbinic influences. In the fourth century, one of the early and major Syriac authors, Aphrahat, surnamed 'the Persian sage', retains in his Demonstrations various traces of rabbinic exegetical traditions.24

Scripture, exegesis, identity

What Jews and Christians had in common was of course, first and foremost, the Jewish scripture (albeit the Christians read it only in translation). But the Bible was also what divided them. To a great extent, the history of the cultural

24 See already J. Parkes, The conflict of the church and the synagogue, 276-8. Jacob Neusner, who claims that Aphrahat and the rabbis had nothing in common, remains a lonely voice.

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