The History of Aramaic
Aramaic was the language of
Semitic peoples throughout the ancient Near East. It was the
language of the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Hebrews and Syrians.
Aram and Israel had a common ancestry and the Hebrew
patriarchs who were of Aramaic origin maintained ties of
marriage with the tribes of Aram. The Hebrew patriarchs
preserved their Aramaic names and spoke in Aramaic. Old Aramaic 975-700 B.C.
The term Aramaic is derived from Aram, the fifth son of
Shem, the firstborn of Noah. See Gen. 10:22. The
descendants of Aram dwelt in the fertile valley, Padan-aram
also known as Beth Nahreen.
The Aramaic language in Padan-aram remained pure, and in the
course the common language (lingua franca), of all the Semitic
clans. By the 8th century B.C. it was the major language
from Egypt to Asia Minor to Pakistan. It was employed by
the great Semitic empires, Assyria and Babylon. The
Persian (Iranian) government also used Aramaic in their
The language of the people of Palestine shifted from
Hebrew to Aramaic sometime between 721-500 B.C. Therefore, we
know that Jesus, his disciples and contemporaries spoke and
wrote in Aramaic. The message of Christianity spread
throughout Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia in this Semitic
Present-day scholars claim that the Aramaic language
itself passed through many stages of development:
Standard Aramaic 700-200 B.C.
Middle Aramaic 200 B.C.-200 A.D.
Late Aramaic 200-700 A.D.
a. Western Aramaic-
The dialect of the Jews (Jerusalem, the Talmud and
the Targums) and the Syro-Palestine dialect.
b. Eastern Aramaic-
The dialect of Syriac form, Assyrian Chaldean form,
Babylon, Talmudic Aramaic and Mundaie.
Use of the Aramaic language had become common by the
period of the Chaldean Empire (626-539 B.C.). It became the
official language of the Imperial government in Mesopotamia
and enjoyed general use until the spread of Greek (331
B.C.). Although Greek had spread throughout these Eastern
lands, Aramaic remained dominant and the linqua franca of the
Semitic peoples. This continued to be so until Aramaic
was superseded by a sister Semitic tongue, Arabic, about the 13th
century A.D. to the 14th century A.D., when Arabic
supplanted Aramaic after the Arab conquest in the 7th
Century. However, the Christians of Mesopotamia (Iraq),
Iran, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon kept the Aramaic language
alive domestically, scholastically and liturgically. In spite
of the pressure of the ruling Arabs to speak Arabic, Aramaic
is still spoken today in its many dialects, especially among
the Chaldeans and Assyrians.
Before concluding, one more vital aspect of the Aramaic
language needs to be mentioned and that is its use as the
major Semitic tongue for the birth and spread of spiritual
and intellectual ideas in and all over the Near East. According
to the research and opinion of an outstanding Aramaic and
Arabic scholar, Professor Franz Rosenthal, who in the Journal
of Near Eastern studies, states: "in my view, the history of
Aramaic represents the purest triumph of the human spirit as
embodied in language (which is the mind's most direct form of
physical expression) over the crude display of material
power. . . Great empires were conquered by the Aramaic
language, and when they disappeared and were submerged in the
flow of history, that language persisted and continued to
live a life of its own ... The language continued to be
powerfully active in the promulgation of spiritual matters. It
was the main instrument for the formulation of religious
ideas in the Near East, which then spread in all directions
all over the world ... The monotheistic groups continue to live
on today with a religious heritage, much of which found
first expression in Aramaic."
(F. Rosenthal, "Aramaic Studies During the Past Thirty
THE JOURNAL OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES, pp
81-82, Chicago: 1978.)