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What is Aramaic?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Aramaic is an ancient, Biblical language. It is one of the Semitic languages, which also includes Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopic and the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian language of Akkadian. Aramaic is very similar to Hebrew.

Scripts in Aramaic have been discovered that are nearly three thousand years old. The Assyrians used the language first. Aramean royalty lived in the Assyrian empire in what is now Turkey and Syria. The Babylonian and Persian empires also used it. Some passages in the Bible were written in Aramaic and, according to research, Jesus spoke this language as well.

Early Jewish culture in Israel contained documents written in both Aramaic and Hebrew. Aramaic was used by the Jews in ancient times for legal and religious writings and the script used for writing was eventually done in Hebrew. The Christian version of the language was called Syriac. Some parts of countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey still use some branches of the language today. Kurdish Jews also use it.

The name of this language comes from the Biblical Noah's grandson Aram. Some Jewish marriage documents, called ketubah, as well as some divorce documents, called Get, are written in it, as are some Jewish prayers.

According to the Talmud, when a Jewish boy turns 13, he is considered a man as he is deemed as now being capable of handling his religion. The event is marked with a ceremony called a Bar Mitzvah. Bar means "son" in Aramaic and Mitzvah means "commandment" in Hebrew. The female version of a Bar Mitzvah is called a Bat Mitzvah as Bat means "daughter" in Aramaic.

Parts of Daniel, Ezra, Jerimiah and Genesis in the Old, or Original, Testament, were written in Aramaic, while the rest of the passages were written in Hebrew. The New Testament is said to have been written in Greek, but some Biblical scholars maintain that at least parts of the New Testament were originally written in Aramaic. They argue that some New Testament passages were most likely written in Syriac.

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Discussion Comments
By anon204005 — On Aug 07, 2011

"...Syriac, the Christian form of Aramaic."

More correctly, Syriac is an Assyrian dialect of Aramaic. This particular dialect of the Aramaic language developed chiefly in northern Mesopotamia, and is today spoken mostly by the Assyrian Christians.

By deylat2 — On Apr 29, 2009

Aramaic is indeed very similar to biblical, even to modern Hebrew. When in High school some of us good friends learned Aramaic and sent messages to one another during classes, which in Jewish Palestine were held in Hebrew. If intercepted by the teacher, he could not read the notes because the alphabet was quite different even though the language was not. We spoke the language fluently free of classmate's ears. We could have used French, German or Italian as well but Aramaic was more fun because it sounded so much like Hebrew and confused intrusive ears.

Ah youthful follies.

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