Aramaic, The Language Jesus Spoke
By Associated Press
At a small Jerusalem church, Aramaic, the ancient language that Jesus
spoke, is little more than an echo these days. An elder from the Syrian
Orthodox congregation laments that he's got few people to speak to in
Aramaic besides the monks. Parts of the liturgy have to be done in
Arabic. And a nun who sings the Lord's Prayer says the words are just
about the only ones she's able to recite in Aramaic.
Some say spoken Aramaic may vanish in just a few decades.
Linguists hope for a boost from Mel Gibson's new film "The Passion
of the Christ," performed entirely in Aramaic and Latin.
Just a half million people, most of them Christians living in pockets
of the Middle East, Europe and the United States, still converse at home
in Aramaic, once the lingua franca of the Middle East and parts of Asia.
"Undoubtedly, Aramaic is in danger of disappearing," said
Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Academy of Hebrew Language in
Aramaic is one of the few languages that has been spoken continuously
for thousands of years. It first appeared in written records around the
10th century B.C. though it was likely already being spoken earlier.
Aramaic is a Semitic language and has similarities with Hebrew and
Arabic. Water is "moyeh" in Aramaic, "maim" in
Hebrew and "miye" in Arabic. Carpenter is "nagouro"
in Aramaic, "nagar" in Hebrew and "najar" in Arabic.
The most popular theory on its origin says the language was first
spoken by nomads called Arameans, who migrated from the barren Arabian
peninsula to the lush farmlands of Mesopotamia and finally settled
around Damascus, modern Syria's capital, in the 13th century B.C.
Aramaic became a common language for much of the Middle East and
parts of Asia, reaching its widest influence when it was adopted by the
Persian empire around 500 B.C. It was a relatively simple language, with
just 22 letters, and a community of scribes and intellectuals helped
spread it in a largely illiterate world, said Bar-Asher.
Texts in Aramaic have been found in places as distant from each other
as in India and Egypt. Jews returning from exile in Babylon around 500
B.C. helped spread the language to the eastern Mediterranean, where it
largely supplanted Hebrew.
Scholars think Jesus might have known Hebrew - which by that time was
reserved mainly for use in synagogues and spoken by upper classes - and
some Greek, but Aramaic was the language of his native Galilee.
The New Testament records Jesus' last words on the cross in Aramaic:
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" St. Mark, most likely writing
in Greek, adds, "... which means, 'My God, my God, why hast thou
forsaken me?"' (Mark 15:34).
Michael Sokoloff, a professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages at Bar-Ilan
University near Tel Aviv, said it is believed that parts of the Gospels
were originally written in Aramaic, but that only Greek writings have
ever been found.
Aramaic was largely replaced by Arabic during the Arab and Islamic
conquest of the 7th century.
Today, Aramaic is spoken at home by about 500,000 people - mainly
Syrian Orthodox and other Christians - in parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey,
Lebanon, India, Europe, Australia and a few cities in the United States,
In Syria, once the core of indigenous Christian Aramaic speakers, the
language is still heard in three villages perched on cliff sides north
of Damascus in the Qalamoun Mountains.
About 10,000 people in those villages speak the language, said George
Rizkallah, a 63-year-old retired Syrian teacher. But the numbers are
dwindling fast. Church services are in Arabic, elderly Aramaic speakers
are dying and young people are moving away in search of jobs.
Rizkallah has appealed to the Syrian government and international
organizations to help preserve and spread the language.
A few thousand Israelis who immigrated from other parts of the Middle
East still speak Aramaic, but are largely not passing it on to their
children. Most Jews who learn the language study it only to read the
Talmud, a book of Jewish law, and other religious texts written in
Part of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, is recited in
Aramaic, and marriage and divorce contracts in Israel are until today
often written in the language.
Sokoloff, the professor of Semitic languages, is helping write a
comprehensive Aramaic dictionary. He said it will take years because of
the large amounts of literature to comb through. He noted that a similar
project for another ancient language, Akkadian, has been ongoing since
Source: Haaretz Daily: 23/02/2004; Submitted by: Shaji Varghese, New
The Passion of the Christ:
Review of the Movie - From a Christian Perspective
In my opinion, the move is exceptionally good in depicting the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ. It truthfully depicts what is in the Gospels; a few artistic liberties were taken, however, without affecting what is portrayed in the bible. And these are kept absolutely to a minimum.