Group Seeks Recognition of Aramaic Language and Maronite Heritage

Bible and archaeology news

A children's class teaching the Biblical language Aramaic, a language written in Syriac script that is rare in the modern world. Photo: The Jewish Daily Forward.

Aram, an Israeli Maronite Christian group, seeks formal recognition for their cultural and ethnic heritage. Israel’s Interior Ministry currently considers the group Arab, though The Jewish Daily Forward quoted Shady Khalloul, Aram’s founder, as saying “We are not Arabs. We existed long before Arabs came to this region, and it’s about time we get state recognition.” Recognized as a non-Arab group by the Lebanese government, the Maronites in Israel supplement their goal for national identity with a linguistic and historical education campaign. In the Israeli village Jish, children are taught Aramaic, a Semitic language once spoken across the Near East. Today, Aramaic is primarily spoken as a prayer language, though select communities, including a large population of Middle Eastern immigrants in Sweden, speak the language in their daily lives. There are only a few elderly native Aramaic speakers in Israel today, but resources from Swedish Aramaic communities are aiding the language revival in Israel.

Read more.

Related Resources in the BAS Library

See “Strata: Where Aramaic Is Spoken.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2008, 12-13.

See Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “Did Jesus Speak Greek?.Biblical Archaeology Review, Sep/Oct 1992, 58-63, 76-77.

See Mikaya, Adam. “Earliest Aramaic Inscription Uncovered in Syria.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jul/Aug 1981, 52-53.

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  1. A says

    Thanks for the article. Didn’t know about this connection between Sweden and Israel.

    Interestingly, the Swedish Aramaic communities are mainly Syrian-Orthodox. There are Chaldeans, Syrian-Catholics, and Assyrians, but as far as I know they only use Aramaic/Syriac in [some of] the liturgy, but are Arabic speakers otherwise. At least those who’ve come recently, mainly from Iraq. I guess there may be some Aramaic speakers from one or more of these groups among those who came from Turkey some decades ago. As for our few Maronites, they seem to use Arabic even in the liturgy. At least that’s how the services are announced.

    So this is a cross-denominational as well as cross-national project.

  2. Dallas says

    The funny thing is that Jews use Aramaic as well, in a somewhat different dialect. For example, the Kaddish is Aramaic. And the Gemara (the second and longer part of the Talmud) is also in Aramaic. The Hebrew Bible is in Hebrew mainly, but part of Daniel is in Aramaic. Of course, Jewish Aramaic is not an everyday language and hasn’t been for well over a millennium.

    Originally, Aramaic was a fairly small language area around Damascus. But it became common for over a millennium because it was one of the official languages of the Persian empire that ruled east of the Greek-speaking eastern Roman empire, until the arrival of the Arabs and Islam. Arabic quickly displaced Aramaic in much, but not all, of the ME.

    The other two official languages of the Persian empire were Persian itself, and Elamite (mentioned in the Bible). Elamite is now extinct, but it was a Dravidian language and thus related to the pre-Indo-European languages of southern India. Elam was in the SE corner of Iran and just south of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  3. Dallas says

    Specifically, the Persian empire came into being around 540 BCE and ended in the late 600s/early 700s. So it lasted, in some form or another, for about 1200 years.

    Another interesting sidelight: the modern Hebrew alphabet (“modern” means after the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE!) is not the old, original Hebrew alphabet (paleo-Hebrew, related to the Phoenician and Canaanite writing systems that the Greeks knew about). In fact, it’s a form of the Aramaic alphabet that the Jews (exiled “Judah-ites”) picked up in Babylon/Persia, just as they picked up the calendar. (The modern Jewish calendar is not quite the same as the biblical calendar.)

  4. A says

    Yes, I also found it a bit funny to import Aramaic teachers from Sweden to Israel, where there must be plenty. Agreed, Jewish Aramaic is different, but our varieties must be different too. In fact, from what I gather from Wikipedia the spoken Aramaic in Jish ought to be of the Western variety, similar to the Palestinian Aramaic in Yerushalmi, but very different from the Eastern/Central varieties we have here. On the other hand, liturgical language tends to be conservative, so it’s likely Christian liturgical Aramaic is much closer than the spoken languages of the followers. And I believe all Christian Aramaic use the Syrian script, but all Jewish the original Aramaic, i e ‘Hebrew’, one?

    Saying that Jewish Aramaic has been dead for a millennium is only true if you refer to Jewish Palestinian Aramaic. Eastern Judeo-Aramaic was the first language in many Jewish villages in Iraq, Iran and Turkey right until the people there moved over to Israel, and is still spoken in Israel today.

    As for Western Aramaic, it seems to be alive only in a few villages in Syria, a country I presume it would be rather hard to get teachers into Israel from…


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