In Syrian Villages, the Language of Jesus Lives

“It’s disappearing,” he said in Arabic, sitting with his wife on a bed in the mud-and-straw house where he grew up. “A lot of the Aramaic vocabulary I don’t use any more, and I’ve lost it.”

Malula, along with two smaller neighboring villages where Aramaic is also spoken, is still celebrated in Syria as a unique linguistic island. In the Convent of St. Sergius and Bacchus, on a hill above town, young girls recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic to tourists, and booklets about the language are on sale at a gift shop in the town center.

But the island has grown smaller over the years, and some local people say they fear it will not last. Once a large population stretching across Syria, Turkey and Iraq, Aramaic-speaking Christians have slowly melted away, some fleeing westward, some converting to Islam.

I was guessing that a decisive moment in the decline of Aramaic would be the fall of the Temple ~ AD 70, but the Muslim Conquest of traditionally Aramaic areas around 640-650 seems to have been more critical. As I was looking this up, I found that it is still a liturgical language for Jews, Mandaeans, and some Christians. Of course, we know that’s the case for Maronites and others who use Syriac in the liturgy. I wasn’t aware that Jews still made use of it.

And I’d never heard of Mandaeans. Apparently they venerate John the Baptist and several figures from the Old Testament, while rejecting the false prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.:ouch:

Fascinating - I had no idea Aramaic was still spoken. But I guess that will change with the coming years.

The tidbit on Mandaeans was interesting too. I am constantly reminded of how little I know about the Middle East.

I recall reading about this years ago, and an Aramaic speaker complained that because it was hardly a living language anymore, there were a lot of loan words from Arabic when there was applicable word in Aramaic, like for “sunglasses”.

I believe Aramaic is also spoken in parts of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. There was some discussion that the potential political union with (Greek-speaking) Cyprus would threaten these tiny communities (maybe it’s just a couple monasteries) - however Greek Cypriots rejected the plan, so the areas will retain their isolation for now.

This item is fascinating. Does anyone know what sort of alphabet Aramaic uses? I assume besides being spoken, it is written also.

  • kathie :bowdown:

When I was on a temp job in Damascus back in ‘97, a bunch of us from the Embassy went one a bus tour to Hama’ (I think that was it), and on the way back we stopped in a little village dug into the mountains about a half hour northeast of the capital. Everyone in the village was Christian, and their church dated from the 4th century, dug into a cave. The local language was Aramaic, and one of the locals recited the Our Father for us. It was really cool after dark–every one of the houses had an electric cross on the roof.

You can pro’ly find the alphabet by googling for it. I was at Mass at St. Elias a week and a half ago, and in their missal, the Aramaic parts are printed in its own alphabet.


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