WHY ARAMAIC?

Anders’s archeology blog, called Phluzein, asks the question: What’s with the Aramaic? After referring to a new film, “The Order,” that features a dead priest covered in “religious symbols and Aramaic writing,” he says:

Aramaic seems to be the de facto dead language for media purposes these days. Just recently I saw an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, in which one of the criminals had written a passage from the bible on the wall of an apartment in Aramaic (which, amazingly, the detective was able to read – Wow! Those New York cops sure are clever!).


Of course, there’s also the controversial Mel Gibson film The Passion, which is filmed in Aramaic and Italian Church Latin (“Eche omo!”)—and remember, you read it here first. So why all the Aramaic? Read his post and the comments thread for suggested answers. And I join in his call for information:

Perhaps someone would be so kind as to inform me of any movies/TV where other dead languages appear. I would be most interested to find out if, for example, Linear A or Luwian ever show up.

Phluzein also has a depressing story about The Crumbling City of Merv. I found the blog via Histologion, which has a companion blog in Greek—very nice!

Comments

  1. More Aramaic: in “Fallen” and “Stigmata”.

  2. Isn’t it a bit of an exaggeration to call Aramaic a “dead language”? I was under the impression that it was still spoken in one region of Syria.

  3. I think there was Aramaic (or maybe it turned out to be faked Aramaic) in an episode of The X-Files years ago.

  4. Well, according to the Ethnologue site, there are languages spoken in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Israel that are described as belonging to the Aramaic group of Semitic. And then there is (Babylonian Talmudic) Aramaic, which I suppose a New York police officer could’ve been exposed to if he had had an Orthodox Jewish education. So, we have the same term being used to describe a group of languages (like Romamance or Germanic) and a specific language (like Latin, Italian). The only one I was familiar with is Syriac—I have a grammar and a New Testament somewhere in storage—which is a dead liturgical language. These Aramaic languages don’t seem to be mutually intelligible, but I’m not a Semiticist. There are always stories running in papers describing how there are Christian speakers of “Aramaic” still living in Syria, but they tend to be of the “Didja know that they speak Elizabethan English in Appalachia?” variety of pop linguistics.
    The Necronomicon ex mortuus in the Evil Dead trilogy is referred to as a “Sumerian” book in spite of its title.

  5. Yes, Aramaic is still spoken, but only in the sense that Latin is still spoken in France and Italy. The Neo-Aramaic languages still spoken in isolated villages in Syria and Turkey are descended from ancient Aramaic, which they use (in its Syriac dialect) as a liturgical language in a completely different script from the Hebrew one used in the Old Testament, but obviously the language has changed a great deal and its modern speakers call it Assyrian or Suri (at least the one I know does).

  6. According to my father-in-law (who ought to know), Aramaic is still spoken in the small historically-Christian villages in the mountains outside Damascus – Maalula, especially, and Sednaiya (sp?). In fact he recently told me a couple of language jokes that only work in Aramaic, not Arabic, involving people from there. The reason the langage has persisted there seems to be the isolation of these villages in remote mountain passes, nearly inaccessible through the centuries except by donkey. When invaders came, the people woudl retreat up the hillsides to the many caves found there and pick off the intruders one by one. The caves in the hillsides were used originally by holy men and hermits but later by city people who came there for retreat, or kept the caves as a place of refuge in case of invasion. His grandfather had one of those caves, and my father-in-law remembers going there and seeing it as a child. He returned with my husband a few years ago.

  7. Of course there is the still strong tradition of using semi-correct Latin for the language of magic, e.g. in Harry Potter, Buffy (the series), Dragon Slayer and so on. Then there’s the Egyptian reconstructed by Stuart Tyson Smith seen in Stargate and the Mummy movies.

  8. I don’t doubt that descendents (or near relatives) of Aramaic are still spoken in Syria. I just wonder how much it’s changed in 2000 years and what the mutual intelligiblity between Talmudic Aramaic and Assyrian or Chaldean Neo-Aramaic. The Ethnologue language database suggests that some of the spoken Northeastern Aramaic dialects/languages are not at all mutually intelligible. Look at the differences between Old English and Present Day English or Latin and French for similar temporal distances.

  9. Which is why I said “only in the sense that Latin is still spoken in France and Italy.”

  10. I blame Monty Python. My evidence from the script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    GALLAHAD: What language is that?
    ARTHUR: [To MAYNARD] Brother Maynard, you’re our scholar!
    MAYNARD: It’s Aramaic!
    GALLAHAD: Of course! Joseph of Arimathea!
    LAUNCELOT: Of course!
    ARTHUR: What does it say?
    MAYNARD: It reads, [reading] “Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Arimathea. ‘He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle of Auuggggggh.’”
    ARTHUR: What?
    MAYNARD: [reading] “The Castle of Auuggggggh.”
    My theory is that Mel Gibson is a decent Bruce but he just mixed up his movies and mistakenly planned to remake “Life of Brian” in Aramaic.

  11. Thank you — a very apposite quote!

  12. As a speaker of “Neo-Aramaic,” I can tell you that it is a widely spoken language: over 100,000 speakers in the United States and close to two million in the north of Iraq and Iran and eastern Syria, and another hundred thousand or so in Russia, Georgia, and Armenia, and almost equal that number in and around Sydney, Australia (esp. Fairfield). There are sizable minorities in Sweden, England, Spain, and Canada, especially in Toronto and Windsor (mostly Chaldeo-Assyrians).
    Our church services are done in what we call “high Aramaic,” which has a very specific name I have unfortunately forgotten. Neo-Aramaic (which we call “Soorit” and others call “Surith” “Suri” and “Ashuri”, transliterated as “Assyrian” in English) is similar to Hebrew; the script looks different but the letters are almost identical, to wit:
    alep bet gamal dalit hae wow zen khait d’ait ute kap lemmet meem noon simqit ay pae saada qop reesh sheen tau (tau-alep).
    I can’t explain the recent Aramaic-chic in media. Maybe the long history of Israel makes Hebrew not exotic enough, and Egyptian hieroglyphics seem silly.
    The Aramaic “spoken by some” in Syria is known to us as an antiquated form of Soorit, closer to the liturgical language but marked by strange consonant declensions (?) and vowel mutations. I can understand it, but not easily–it would be similar to the trouble a Spaniard would have understanding Catalan.
    Long story short, Aramaic is still used in this new form very widely–an estimated 6-8 million speakers worldwide–and liturgical Aramaic, while not used, is still understood widely. It is not the koine of a group of hermetic cave people, but the church language of a very large minority in the middle east and elsewhere.

  13. Ramsin: Nice to hear from an actual speaker of Neo-Aramaic. Thanks for the information. Have you ever heard (or tried to read) Talmudic Aramaic?

  14. Jim – No problem. I think I have indeed heard Talmudic Aramaic; as for reading it, I can struggle through it, but many of the words would be foreign (to me, not actually foreign) from what I understand, Talmudic Aramaic, the Latin of its time, is our ur-sprache, which is to say it is the “pure” ancient Aramaic which has been corrupted by intermingling with Turks, Arabs, Greeks, and Kurds. The contrast may be similar to that between Chaucer’s English and our own. Many of the root words are the same–the sound system is quite similar, although presence of Arabic has added a more pronounced “aey” sound (close to the Russian bI) to Neo-Aramaic.
    As I’ve stated, Neo-Aramaic is very similar to Hebrew. Although I am fluent in N-A, I was born and raised in the States so it is not clear to me as it would be to my parents, and yet I can still pick up parts of conversations in Hebrew. So Talmudic Aramaic can’t be that far from Neo-Aramaic–but I’m no linguist by any stretch of the imagination, I’ll leave that to smarter folks like you and Mr. LanguageHat.
    I appreciate your interest.

  15. Aramaic is still spoken by Chaldeans,Assyrians and Syyriacs. Yes the language Jesus spoke. Western and Eastern dialects are still spoken today, they never died.

  16. Steve Tichi says:

    Aramaic Is the Language used by the early church Before and after Christ died. The bible as we know it today came from many generations of translations. Most so called bible experts base their knowledge on a translation 500 years after Christ walked the earth. There is many folks working on translating the entire script of ancient books. What i have found is a purer meaning to many scriptures. For example Jesus Christ spoke life into people and walked in a divine Love. Most Christians are very bent on their denominations they can not work together in unity. Also they are not inpacting there country as the early church did. Itwas from the love that flowed through them. That Love was Christ in them. Americans are so apathetic and spirtualy blind to many things of the real God, Yet you go to 3rd world countries were their is need for basics and when their is genuine Love they receive Life. It will however be very important as the complete bible is translated that it is also authincated. It will be too easy for cults and false religons to create their own version. I find the definition of words very powerful. For example i used to pray for healing in Jesus name in almost a way of apologizing and saying Lord if it is your will. Well if you study the original word and even the greek you will find when we command Life in Jesus name awesome things happen. I have seen deaf receive there hearing, withered hands fixed and many amazing things that honestly kind of made me uncomfortable at first. The original laguage will bring beilivers together in a way that they take all the weirdness out of the Holy Spirit and just be Living Epistles as Jesus intended us to be, in all manner of life. John Stanley of port orchard Wa is a Bishop in the church of the East. the History of this church goes back to the days of the apostles. I know many leaders in the body of Christ. this 80 year old man radiates the Love of Christ every where he goes and is very knowlegeable of the Language.
    Im not suggesting throw out your bible but move beyond the NIV with its 5500 plus errors and for goodness sakes get a amplified greek linear and explore this language. on many familar passages you will see powerful meaning to things that in the past seemed not significant. Be wary of things on the web and check the back ground to make sure your not being sucked into new age or any ting that does not line up with the commandments jesus gave us. I know this was long yet worthy of typing anyquestions please contact me and i will share what and who i know. Walk in Christ love all the time.

  17. commonbeauty says:

    I’m tempted to respond in detail to Mr Tichi’s patently non-Aramaic post. But, I just remembered: I have a life.
    Mr Tichi, this forum is for LANGUAGE not for evangelism. Don’t abuse our host’s good graces.

  18. Yeah, I thought about deleting it but was too lazy. One more message like that, though, and your IP address is mud, Tichi.

  19. Aramaic/Syriac is NOT a dead language! I speak aramaic/syriac together with more than 50 000 people in SWEDEN! We have many Syriac/Aramaic organisations in Sweden. We have even a university that teaches Syriac/Aramaic.
    People that says that the language is dead, just do not have any knowledge at all. So, when you do not have any knowledge it is better to shut up.
    In Israel more than 10 000 people knows the language.
    In South east Turkey, there is also thousands of people that speaks the language, in villages like: Miden, Midjat etc, and a place called Turabdin where you can study the language Syriac/Aramaic.
    In Syria there is town where thousands of people speaks the language.
    In Germany there is thousands of people that speaks the language.
    Etc etc etc…
    Today there is more than 1 million people in the world thats speaks.
    Your Syriac/Aramaic brother in Christ!
    / Jonathan Özdemir

  20. Jonathan Özdemir says:

    I forgot to mention that…: The langauge has not even changed in 2000 years…
    There is dialect like Turoyo that has changed little bit and has some turkish words in the language.
    But for example…we do not hav new bible translations…they are the same like the old translations from 150 years after Christ.
    I speak and read the old Syriac/Aramaic…and My “Malfånå” (teacher) knows the perfect.
    / Jonatha Özdemir
    jonathan@121.nu

  21. The so-called aysory in Russia, known also as Assyrians, must be speakers of some variety of Aramaic, too.

  22. Yes, they speak the Urmiye dialect.

  23. As a full blooded Assyrian, I look down apon the people that believe my language is dead, it is obviously not, and somewhere around 4 million people around the world speak Assyrian AKA Aramaic, Syriac, whatever you want to call it. I believe that Aramaic has in fact changed over the pas 2000 years, because no language is static. Assyrians have been a minority in the middle east for a good 2000 years, and the influence of other peoples such as Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Yezdis has impacted the way we speak our language. For example, there are other Assyrians who speak a different dialect of Aramaic and in some cases with a different accent, because Assyrian villages in the middle east were so remote. To say house in my dialect of Aramaic is pernounced “betah” but another way of saying it is “besha”, the language has clearly went through some changes, in other ways as well.
    After the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC many Assyrians scattered all over the middle east, found refuge in the mountains in the north of mesopotamia. The vernacular of the ancient near east was Aramaic, and we have simply adopted it becaouse our native tongue was much too lavish to speak or write because it was in cuniform and around 31 BC cuniform was thrown away completelly. People simply did’nt have the ways and means to write on clay or take the time to draw out difficult cuniform symbols. After the fall of the ancient Asyrian Empire, a culture change was inevitable. this included laguage, ways of life and morals.
    If the Assyrian Empire had still not fallen, Aramaic would indeed be a dead language, but I asure you friends… it is not.

  24. I’m very glad to be hearing from so many Assyrians!

  25. Jonathan Özdemir says:

    Hi again!
    That is good, that some more aramaic speakers, can insure that our language are alive!!
    As i said, in sweden where i live more than 50 000 people are speaking the language.
    Even the biblical old aramaic, more than 1,000 people understand.
    I speak the both the dialect “turoyo”, “suryoyo” and the old West Syriac/Aramaic.
    Your Syriac/Aramaic brother!
    Jonathan Özdemir

  26. yes Aramaic is still used
    by these denomnations
    Syrian Orthodox Church (jacobite/Jacob Baraddeus)since 37 AD establighed by Peter The apostle in Antioch
    Syrian Catholic Church 17th century found beacause of the Roman Chatolic missions
    syrian protestant church founded in 19th century
    beacause of Anglican missions
    East-Syrian “Nestorian” Church of The East
    (idta d-suryaye Madenchaye)established 431
    also known as before Nestorius the Cilician patriarch of Konstantinopel
    as The Persian Church because of our nation was divided in to west-syriacs “M’arboye” & east-syriacs “Madenchaye”
    the west-syriacs lived in the Roman Empire while
    the east-syriacs lived in The Persian(Sassanid) Empire.
    this church has chanced its name since 1976 called
    “The Assyrian Church Of The East”
    They got the name Assyrians by anglican missionaries
    quotes that shows an aramean origin of this church
    these people are NOT Assyrians:
    The scholars of the East-Syrian (‘Nestorian’) Church (Since 1976 called “Apostolic Assyrian Catholic Church”)
    The scholars of the West-Syrian Church
    Catholicos-Patriarch Timotheos I of the (“Nestorian”) Church of the East (born in Hazza (Erbil), Iraq, † 9.1. 823 in Baghdad) says to other East-Syrian bishops about Mor Yeshu’zkho ,, Mor Yeshu’zkho the Aramean, episcopos of (the city of) Seleucia…..
    About Catholicos Dodyeshu he says,, Catholicos Dodyeshu’ the Aramean… “
    The striking fact is that this patriarch of the Syrian Church of the East used the word “Aramean” in reference to our people of the Church of the East in stead of general used word “Syrian” to denote our people.
    Therefore, it is very sad to see that the name of the East-Syriac (“Nestorian”) Church since 1976 has been changed in “The Assyrian Apostolic Church”, while many church fathers of this church testify about their Aramean origin.
    The East-Syrian or the East-Aramean (of the “Nestorian” Church) writer and bishop Yeshudad from Haditha († 853) wrote in his book “The light of the world”: “The Greek translation [the Septuagint] calls all Aram and Aramaeans “Syrian”. Consequently, Aram becomes the father of the Syriacs. For this reason, those living in Mesopotamia were called “Aramaeans”. There is another Aram descending from Shem, he dwelt in the land situated in the East side of the sun.”
    Another East-Aramean (“Nestorian”) lexicographer Bar Bahlul from Bagdad (†963) explains in his Syrian (Aramaic) dictionary the name “Syria”: “And the Syrians were formerly called Arameans, (but) when Cyrus ruled over them, from then on they were called Syrians.” St. Bar Bahlul most probably would be upset if he would have seen that the name of his church since 1976 has been changed in “The Assyrian Apostolic Church of the East”.
    External evidence
    In the third century BC the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. This translation was called the Septuagint (abbreviate form “LXX”). In the Septuagint the terms “Aram”, “Arameans”, “Aramaic”, and “Aram-Naharaïm” were translated with the words “Syria”, “Syrians”, “Syriac”, and “Mesopotamia”.
    For example, in 2 Kings 5:1-19 we read about the healing of general Naaman the Aramean. This healing of Naaman the Aramean is mentioned by Jesus Christ in Luke 4:27 where He says,, And there were many people suffering from dreaded skin-disease who lived in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha; yet not one of them was healed, but only Naaman the Syrian “.
    This synonymy was well known even to the Greek historian Posidonius (150 BC) who says,, “ The people we (Greeks) call Syrians, were called by the Syrians self Arameans…. for the people in Syria are the Arameans “. This is repeated by Strabo (Greek historian, born ca. 63 BC), the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (first century AD) and others who all have testified to the fact that the people, whom the Greeks called Syrians, called itself Arameans.
    Afrem Barsauwm on Tur Abdin and Mesopotamia
    He says:
    *”The first inhabitants of Tur Abdin were the Arameans”
    *About Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia): “Beth Nahrin of the Arameans, the beloved place of the Syrians”
    *Regarding Syriac community: “The Syrian community was known from its beginning as the Aramean community”
    On the Syriac (Aramean) language: “In the beginning the Syrian-Arameans had a refined language adorned with literature comprising both prose and poetry”
    On Wafa, the Aramean philosopher: “Wafa the Aramean was a ancient philosopher and poet who lived well before the Christian era”
    In East-Syriac we say: Suryaye and West-Syriac dialect of Aramaic we say: Suryoye. The English translation is: Syriac /Syrian. .
    In the Middle East they can be found in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. In the very beginning of Christianity our people were geographically divided into West-Arameans and East-Arameans. Roughly speaking, the East-Arameans were those living in Persia and the West-Arameans were those living in the Roman Empire. Over the course of time, our people split into various Christian denominations.
    The conclusion of these Gaint scholars is beyond any doubt, namely that the Syriacs are the Arameans of Mesopotamia! When these brilliant scientists of the Church of Antioch provided the world of their time with an excellent scientific knowledge, wisdom and theology, the Western countries were not formed yet in their present-day magnitude. The science which then were explored, later transferred to the West, was here still in its infancy. It is a mystery, why these and many other scholars of our Church are just ignored when it came to the identity of our people. Isn’t a lack of respect towards these scholars when today some of the so-called “scholars” in the Western countries try, with doubtful (political) objectives, to link the Syriac people to the former Assyrians of antiquity?
    The Western missionaries and the creation of mythical identities….
    The confusion regarding the identity of the Arameans of Mesopotamia was created in the 16th and late 19th century when the Western missionaries, especially the Anglican missionaries, went to the middle-east and started with their mission activities. Although the name of our people and its history is very well documented (like quoted above) by the great scholars of the Church of Antioch, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican missionaries felt it necessary to stick mythical names onto our people, with the result that we are regularly misrepresented in some media by people who have no authority whatsoever to act on behalf of our people. Here below a word or two about the behavior of the Western missionaries carried out in the middle-east in the 16th, 19th and 20th century.
    In 1551 the East-Aramean “Nestorian” Church of the East were split into two groups due to the activities of the missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church. The part of the Church united with the Catholic Church in 1551 got the name “Chaldeans” and with that the Chaldean Church (of Babylon) was born. The remaining part of the East-Aramean Nestorians, especially in Hakkaria (bordering Turkey- Iraq) and Urmia (Iran), were described as “Assyrians” – in particular by the Anglican missionaries. As a result of the activities of the missionaries, some of the East-Aramean Nestorians of the present day now living in Iran and northern Iraq identify themselves – in contradiction to the historical facts – with the former “Assyrians” of antiquity and the East-Aramean language called the “Assyrian” language.They came to the Middle East in the name of “Jesus” and they were supposed to preach love, unity, support and protect their fellow weak Christian brothers and sisters against fanatical people of the Middle East. However, instead of doing their duty as true Christians, they weakened, created hatred and split our people in several sects with the result that our people became vulnerable to the fanatical groups of the Middle East.
    Nowadays, there are still some people who try by all means possible to keep the mythical identity (invented by the missionaries) alive by spreading misinformation regarding the origin of our people, thereby distorting our history and our Sacred Syriac (Aramaic) language. .
    Chaldean church since 1552 Roman-United church
    an off-shot from the Nestorian church Of The East
    the members called them suryaye before the church was established after that they got the name chaldeans by the pope in the Vatikan.
    Maronite Church 4th century
    established by an eremite munk named Mar Maron
    The Melkite “Royalist” Church (byzantine church)
    since Ecummenil Council in Chalcedon 451
    Our Nation is and And Have always been
    Aramean(Oromoye/Aramaye) later Syrians/Syriacs (Suryoye/suryaye coming from the greek term Syrios) and after the 19th century Suroye/suraye
    a 200 year old term of our nation
    The “Assyrian” name is the English Protestant invention going back to 1900 A.D. It was bequeathed to the Nestorians in the regions of Mosul 1919-1920 A.D. for a malicious, political purpose, so that the English politicians might create for themselves out of the Nestorian youth a militia they named “Assyrian” aiming at the realisation of their political plan in Iraq, a plan which failed in 1933 and resulted in the exile of the Katholikos of the Nestorians and his exile from the country with his followers, the result being that all the nations refused to permit his return to the near East.
    In conclusion, the Syrians have no interest whatsoever in taking to themselves this strange name which will make them lose their race, their ecclesiastical support which is their unique and sole means of existence in the world. No wise man would of his own free will agree to change the name of his race, his community of his church, all of which had lasted two thousand years.
    they use the term Atouraye as an ethnical term
    but when today its really only a geografical term
    Atouraya meens in aramaic
    1.Assyrian
    2.A Person no matter what denomnation he/she has
    living/lived in NW Iraq
    for more info:
    http://www.aramnaharaim.org/

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