Rabbi Jonathan of Eleutheropolis said:
‘Four languages are appropriately used in the world. And these are: Greek for song. Latin for war. Syriac (Aramaic) for mourning. Hebrew for speaking.’
Rabbi Jonathan of Eleutheropolis (third century) is the author of this famous statement regarding the respective qualities of the four languages: Greek, Latin, Syriac and Hebrew. According to his view, Greek is most suitable for ‘zemer’, which in this instance means song in the broader sense of the word – poetry. The other qualifications do not require comments.
In the Roman Near East, various languages were used for written and oral communication. The relative importance of these languages is a topic frequently studied and discussed. Two of the languages were imported by conquerors from the west. Of these, it is clear that Latin, unlike Greek, was never used widely, but it is also obvious that the first language of the Empire played a role in communications. In the present paper I shall attempt to consider the question of the extent to which Latin may have been more than the language of government and military organisation in the cities of the Near East from Pompey to the third century. This is only one aspect – but an important one – of the impact of western, Roman influence on the cities of the Near East.
The region to be considered for present purposes is more narrowly that of Syria, Judaea/Palaestina and Arabia, excluding the numerous cities of Asia Minor.