“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: