Scientists from England are trying to preserve the language spoken by Jesus and tied to Hebrew and Arabic. The language is called Aramaic. Aramaic is one of the Semitic languages, an important group of languages known almost from the beginning of human history and including also Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopic, and Akkadian (ancient Babylonian and Assyrian). It is particularly closely related to Hebrew and was written in a variety of alphabetic scripts. (What is usually called "Hebrew" script is actually an Aramaic script.)
0ur first glimpse of Aramaic comes from a small number of ancient royal inscriptions from almost three thousand years ago (900-700 B.C.E.). Dedications to the gods, international treaties, and memorial stelae reveal to us the history of the first small Aramean kingdoms, in the territories of modern Syria and Southeast Turkey, living under the shadow of the rising Assyrian empire.
Professor of linguistics at the University of Cambridge, Geoffrey Khan, has begun a quest to record the ancient language that’s been around for three thousand years before it finally disappears.
Professor of linguistics Geoffrey Khan, from the University of Cambridge, has begun to record the ancient language before it disappears completely. Prof Khan decided to record the language after speaking to a Jew from Erbil in northern Iraq. “It completely blew my mind,” Khan told Smithsonian.com.
“To discover a living language through the lips of a living person, it was just incredibly exhilarating,” he added.
By recording some of the remaining native Aramaic speakers, the linguist hopes to preserve the Aramaic language which is on the verge of extinction. Speakers can be found in different parts of the world, from America to Iraq.
Although Jesus spoke Aramaic, the Gospels are in Greek, and only rarely quote actual Aramaic words. Reconstruction of the Aramaic background of the Gospels remains a fascinating, but inordinately difficult area of modern research.
Christians in Palestine eventually rendered portions of Christian Scripture into their dialect of Aramaic; these translations and related writings constitute "Christian Palestinian Aramaic".
A much larger body of Christian Aramaic is known as Syriac. Indeed, Syriac writings surpass in quantity all other Aramaic combined. Syriac is originally the literary language of the city of Edessa (now Urfa in SE Turkey). The language became the tongue of the entire eastern wing of the church, from about the third century C.E. down until well past the Muslim conquest.
Syriac writings include numerous Bible translations, the most important being the so-called Peshitta (simple) translation, and countless devotional, dogmatic, exegetical, liturgical, and historical works. Almost all of the Greek philosophical and scientific tradition was eventually translated into Syriac, and it was through this channel that most found their way into the Islamic World and thence, into post-Dark Ages Europe.
Over the past twenty years Prof. Khan has published several important books on the previously undocumented dialects of Barwar, Qaraqosh, Erbil, Sulemaniyya and Halabja, all areas in Iraq, as well as Urmi and Sanandaj, in Iran. He is also working on a web-based database of text and audio recordings that allows word-by-word comparisons across dozens of Aramaic dialects, Smithsonian.com reported.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the remains of the library of a Jewish sect from around the turn of the Era, are many compositions in Aramaic. These new texts also provide the best evidence for Palestinian Aramaic of the sort used by Jesus and his disciples.
Since the Jews spoke Aramaic, and knowledge of Hebrew was no longer widespread, the practice arose in the synagogue of providing the reading of the sacred Hebrew scriptures with an Aramaic translation or paraphrase, a "Targum" In the course of time a whole array of targums for the Law and other parts of the Bible were composed. More than translations, they incorporated much of traditional Jewish scriptural interpretation.