Introduction to the Aramaic Language

I’ve just started on my quest to learn the third and final biblical language (Aramaic). First off, a little background and history.

Language Group

Aramaic is a Semitic language, the most common of which today is Arabic. One of the key similarities between Semitic languages is their use of triconsonantal roots. Aramaic shares a number of other similarities with Hebrew (which we’ll deal with in future posts). The primary benefit for me is that having had three years of excellent Hebrew lessons, I’m not starting from scratch on the alphabet, grammar etc.

Moving one step further up the proverbial language tree, all Semitic languages are Afroasiatic.

History

The history of the Aramaic language is divided into Old (1100BC – 200AD), Middle (200-1200) and Modern (1200-present) Aramaic. I’m only really concerned with Old Aramaic.

Genesis 10:22 introduce us to one of Shem’s sons called Aram (אֲרָם). It’s difficult to say much with confidence about the development of languages so long ago. There are inscriptions which show the language’s use as early as 10th century BC.

The writing system seems to have changed and evolved as the earliest inscriptions use Phoenician script not the square Hebrew script that we might expect.

The big empires of the ANE (Assyria, Babylon and Syria) all adopted and adapted Aramaic giving rise to a number of variations. Eastern Aramaic was used in Babylon and Assyria, whilst Western Aramaic used in Syria. The East further split into Northern (Assyrian) and Southern (Babylonian).

The interaction of these nations with Israel and Judah impacted on the use and spread of Aramaic. When Assyria conquered the Northern tribes their language was impacted and led to the use in Samaria. Similarly, when Judah was taken captive by Babylon the result was that Daniel and parts of Ezra were written in Aramaic. The overall result was that there were two slightly different dialects spoken at the time of Christ, but Aramaic as a whole was widely spoken and understood.

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