Monday, August 3, 2009


Aramaic is a Semitic language with a 3,000-year history. It has been the language of administration of empires and the language of divine worship. It was the day-to-day language of Israel in the Second Temple period (539 BCE – 70 CE), the original language of large sections of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra, likely to have been the mother tongue of Jesus of Nazareth and is the main language of the Talmud.

Aramaic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family. Within that diverse family, it belongs to the Semitic subfamily. Aramaic is a part of the Northwest Semitic group of languages, which also includes the Canaanite languages such as Hebrew and Phoenician. Aramaic script was widely adopted for other languages, and is ancestral to the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets.

Aramaic's long history and diverse and widespread use has led to the development of many divergent varieties which are sometimes treated as dialects. Thus, there is no one Aramaic language, but each time and place has had its own variety. Aramaic is retained as a liturgical language by certain Eastern Christian sects, in the form of Syriac, the Aramaic variety by which Eastern Christianity was diffused, whether or not those communities once spoke it or another form of Aramaic as their vernacular, but have since shifted to another language as their primary community language.

Modern Aramaic is spoken today as a first language by many scattered, predominantly small, and largely isolated communities of differing Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups of the Middle East—most numerously by the Assyrians in the form of Assyrian Neo-Aramaic—that have all retained use of the once dominant lingua franca despite subsequent language shifts experienced throughout the Middle East. The Aramaic languages are considered to be endangered.
(source: wikipedia)

The history of Aramaic is broken down into three broad periods:

* Old Aramaic (1100 BCE–200 CE), including:
o The Biblical Aramaic of the Hebrew Bible.
o The Aramaic of Jesus.
* Middle Aramaic (200–1200), including:
o Literary Syriac.
o The Aramaic of the Talmuds, Targumim, and Midrashim.
o Mandaic.
* Modern Aramaic (1200–present), including:
o Various modern vernaculars.

This classification is based on that used by Klaus Beyer*.

In a remote village nestled in Syrias picturesque Oalamoun mountains, resides a small Aramaic community. It is one of the last and it is devoted to preserving Aramaic: the language that Jesus spoke.

Protecting this 3000-year-old language has united Malulas residents: Christians and Muslims are like brothers in this town, says local resident Ibrahim Kamar. Whilst Mel Gibsons The Passion of Christ has revived interest in the language, fears that Aramaic is dying out continue. Malula, where the orphans must recite in Aramaic, is one of the last bastions for a language Mother Superior Savaf describes as a gift from God.

Will this ancient language survive?

Related video and articles:

1. Aramaic - Syria, video produced by ABC Australia,
2. Aramaic Language, article by

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