Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani!

Matthew 27:46-49
46 Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

46 (in Greek) περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων · Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι; τοῦτ’ ἔστιν · Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said , This man calleth for Elias.
48 And straightway one of them ran , and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink .
49 The rest said , Let be , let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

Mark 15:34-36
34 And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

34 (in Greek) καὶ τῇ ἐνάτῃ ὥρᾳ ⸃ ἐβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ · Ἐλωῒ ἐλωῒ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι; ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με;

35 And some of them that stood by , when they heard it, said , Behold , he calleth Elias.
36 And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink , saying , Let alone ; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down .

Psalm 22:2
2 My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me

In Hebrew:

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Question:

Why the different uses: Eli and Eloi, and why did people reference Elijah?

There were two languages that were of main interest among Jews of Christ’s day and in Judea: Hebrew and Aramaic. Hebrew was used for reading the Scriptures because that is the language in which they were written. However, due to the exile in Babylon, Jews in Judea no longer spoke Hebrew on a daily basis. They spoke Aramaic, a related Semitic language. However they read the Scriptures in Hebrew in the synagogue before reading an Aramaic translation. They also used a few well-known Hebrew words and names while speaking Aramaic.
Both Matthew and Mark quote the saying of Jesus on the cross transliterated from Aramaic into Greek, the language in which they were writing the gospels. Jesus would have spoken most of his words in Aramaic, the language of the people. Matthew adds one variation in that he gives one of the words in Hebrew. In Judea, those familiar with some major names and words from the Hebrew Bible would have used them while speaking Aramaic. Much like saying “chef”, a French word, in English.
Jesus’ saying in Aramaic would be transliterated into English as “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani”. If it was to be said in Hebrew it would be transliterated as “Eli, Eli, lama azavtani”. Matthew gives the first words in Hebrew and the last words in Aramaic (“Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani”), while Mark quotes all of Christ’s saying in Aramaic. This is not surprising since the gospel writers sometimes paraphrase the sayings of Jesus or give shortened versions of his words for various linguistic and theological reasons particular to their audience. Since Matthew is writing to Jews they would know some of both languages. The version that Matthew gives is closer to what Jesus said since what the crowd says makes sense after it is based on “Eli” and not “Eloi”.
In Hebrew, “Eli” (pronounced eh-lee’) is ambiguous. It could mean (1) “my God” or (2) “Elijah” in shorted form. The full name of Elijah in Hebrew is pronounced as eh-lee-ya-hu and means “my God is Yahweh”. (“Elias” is a Greek transliteration of “Elijah” used in the gospels). In Hebrew, “Eli” was a shortened form of multiple names that begin with “Eli” (such as Eliezer) but Elijah was the most well-known if there was no clarity. Jesus could be taken as saying either “Elijah, Elijah why have you forsaken me?” or “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” The crowd thinks he is saying the former. However, rather than saying his own words complaining about God, which Protestant theologians have claimed, Christ was in reality quoting the beginning of Psalm 22 and expecting the hearers to know the rest, since it was considered a Messianic psalm and was referring to his life.
Another point to consider is that in late stages of crucifixion, a man is struggling with asphyxiation and has difficulty breathing and speaking. A short phrase summarizing Psalm 22 is all that Christ may have been able to say for a long period of time. Lord have mercy on your sevants!

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