During the recent Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the western media seemed to lose sight of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s role in this historic event. Instead, it focused on Pope Francis and political leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An article by Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou, “Pilgrimage or Visit, Aramaic or Hebrew, Francis or Bibi? Jesus, the Languages of His Times, and the Politics of the Media,” suggests not only that the media coverage was slanted, but also that it missed the true implications of exchanges between the Pope and Netanyahu, for example. Consider his analysis of an exchange over the question, “What language did Jesus speak?”
The strain between Francis and Netanyahu came out into the open during a tense public exchange between the Israeli prime minister and the Pope over the language spoken by Jesus. Despite efforts to reframe the incident as good natured, the very undiplomatic verbal sparring was immediately seized upon by the media as the most provocative moment of the pilgrimage, even perhaps eclipsing Francis’ apparent impromptu stop to pray at the controversial Israeli-built wall that isolates and cuts into the occupied West Bank.
During a seated discussion between Francis and Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 26, the Pope listened through a translator to Israel’s Prime Minister as he began speaking on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Francis listened intently until the point when Netanyahu said, “Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew.” Francis looked displeased, interrupted Netanyahu, and corrected the Prime Minister with a curt response: “He spoke Aramaic.” Flustered, but with a firm retort, Netanyahu insisted, “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew.”
On its surface, the edgy disagreement over what language Jesus spoke may have seemed pedantic, the stuff of endless debate and speculative interest for historians and linguists. In reality, for Francis and Netanyahu, their passionate responses to this question were not the product of some sort of arcane academic squabble. Instead, both men reacted as they did because they understand this issue is a gravely serious and consequential matter loaded with political import.
The full article is well worth reading, and can be found here.
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