A Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and the language of certain parts of the OT (Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12- 26; Jer. 10:11; Dan. 2:4-7:28). Numerous references to the Aramaeans occur in Assyrian inscriptions of the second millennium b.c., but the earliest Aramaic inscriptions come from the tenth or ninth centuries b.c. Aramaic was a diplomatic language in the Assyrian Empire (cf. 2 Kings 18:26) and consolidated its position in the Babylonian and Persian empires, becoming the official language of the latter (cf. the fifth-century Aramaic papyri from the Jewish colony on Elephantine). In the postexilic period Aramaic took over from Hebrew as the language of the common people in Palestine (cf. Acts 22:2). Included among the Dead Sea finds are some fragments of early Aramaic Targums and the so- called Genesis Apocryphon dating perhaps from the first century b.c. Aramaic, in the Galilean dialect, was spoken by our Lord and His disciples (cf. Matt. 26:73; Mark 5:41; 7:34, etc.); the amount of Aramaic spoken in first-century Palestine is currently a matter of debate. Aramaic idiom can frequently be detected beneath the Greek form of the gospels (cf. Mark 4:12), but theories of Aramaic originals are generally regarded as untenable. By the beginning of the Christian era Aramaic had divided into two branches: West Aramaic (Nabatean, Palmyrene, Jewish Palestinian) and East Aramaic (Syriac, Babylonian Aramaic, Mandaean). The Aramaic Palestinian Targums to the Pentateuch, and the residual Palestinian material in the Babylonian versions of the Pentateuch and Prophets, preserve much valuable material roughly contemporary with the NT writings.
H.H. Rowley, The Aramaic of the(1929); F. Rosenthal, Die Aramaistische Forschung (1939); W.B. Stevenson, Grammar of Palestinian Jewish Aramaic (2nd ed., 1962); R. Le Déaut, Introduction à la Littérature Targumique (1966); M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (3rd ed., 1967); H. Ott, “Um die Muttersprache Jesu,” Novum Testamentum IX (1967), pp. 1-25; J. Barr, “Which language did Jesus speak?” BJRL LIII (1970), pp. 9-29,
ARAMAIC ăr’ ə mā’ ĭk (אֲרָמִ֔ית)
Aramaic is a language belonging to the NW branch of the Sem. languages and is, therefore, different from E Sem. (Akkad. dialects) and S Sem. (Ethiopic and Arab. dialects); and within the NW branch it is distinguished from Canaanite (Heb., Phoen., Ugaritic). It is distinguished from Heb. by vocabulary and such grammatical peculiarities as the use of certain dentals which correspond to Heb. sibilants and also by suffixing the definite article to the end of nouns instead of prefixing it as in Heb.
Although the Aramaeans never possessed a mighty empire, they enjoyed the privilege of imposing their language on the whole Near E. This was undoubtedly partly due to the fact that they used the alphabetic system of writing in contrast to the cumbersome cuneiform (syllabic) system used in writing Akkad. As early as the 8th cent. b.c., the Aram. language competed with Akkad. and thereafter gradually spread throughout the Near E. About the middle of the first millenniun b.c., when the Achaemenian monarchs looked for a tongue which could be understood by all their subjects, they chose Aram. which became the lingua franca of their vast empire. Aramaic attained its maximum diplomatic prestige in the Achaemenian Empire of Persia, where it was used as the interprovincial language from India to Egypt between the 6th and 4th centuries b.c.
The civilization of the Arameans was basically nothing more than a clearing house for the cultural productivity of the stronger states about them, and their language was the instrument of a work of cultural assimilation and dissemination, which went far beyond the limits of their local history, and became an element of Near Eastern civilization. The Greeks and Romans were familiar with the Near E. to a great extent through the Aram. sources, and it was to a significant degree that Babylonian, Persian and Hebrew elements were transmitted to Christianity via Aram., and through Christianity to the W. At the same time Aram. was instrumental in transmitting Gr. culture to the E, esp. philosophy, which became known to many Arabs through the medium of Aram. It was during the Hel. period that the differences between the various popular Aram. dialects became more pronounced, and some of these later became distinct literary languages.
After the Exile, the Jews used the Aram. script in the writing of their Heb. language and also used the Aram. language itself more than previously. Eventually Aram. replaced Heb. to such an extent that tr. of the Heb. Bible into Aram. became necessary. These trs. into Aram. were made orally in the synagogues, and their oral preservation led in due course to the written Targumim. Aramaic then soon became the common language of post-Biblical Judaism, as reflected in the Mishnah, Midrash, and Talmud.
Christianity arose in an Aram. milieu, a fact reflected even in the language of NT Gr. The churches of Asia, such as the Nestorian, produced a vast lit. in Syr., a form of Aram. Paganism also survived in an Aram. environment; thus the Mandaeans of Babylonia preserved their holy books in their own Aram. dialect.
Finally, the Islamic Conquest in the 7th cent. a.d. doomed Aram. Since then Arab. has generally displaced the Syr.-Aram. dialects, which are now spoken by only a few thousand persons, mostly in Kurdistan and Syria.
Inscriptions and texts.
The oldest inscrs. in Aram. are from N and middle Syria and date from the 9th and 8th centuries b.c. Some of these are by Kilamuwa, king of Sam’al (Zenjirli), Zakir, king of Hamath, and Bar-Rekub, king of Sam’al. The script of these, the oldest Aram. inscrs., is the same as the script used by the Phoenicians (and other Canaanites, e.g., the Moabites). However, Aram. eventually developed a distinct “square” script of its own and this later type of Aram. script is that used in the oldest extant Biblical MSS.
Aramaic texts have been found in widely scattered places from the 7th and 6th centuries b.c. Undoubtedly Aram. was more widely used at this period than the extant evidence would imply, but since perishable materials were primarily used, most of this lit. has perished. Aramaic inscrs. dating from the reign of Esarhaddon (681-669 b.c.) have been found in Egypt. The old Aram. dialects continued in use throughout the Neo-Babylonian period (605-538 b.c.), and when the Persians became the dominant power, Aram. became the official language of their empire.
During the Pers. period (538-330 b.c.) Aram. was widely used and there are many dockets, ostraca, and seals from throughout Mesopotamia written in the Aram. of this period. Probably the most significant Aram. records from this period are those found at Elephantine in Egypt. These documents were written by a colony of Jews living on the island of Elephantine, located at the first cataract in the Nile, about 583 m. S of Cairo.
Briefly, the various Aram. dialects which evolved can be set forth as follows: Western—Palestinian, used during the time of Christ and preserved in the Aram. of the Palestinian Talmud, the older Midrashim, and the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan. Jesus and His disciples apparently used a Galilean dialect which was easily detected (
The various forms of Old Aram. (or Phoen.) script influenced the script of many languages and Aram., in one form or another, was used in the Near E from a very early period; and since Aram. is still used in some places today, it has one of the longest continuous traditions of any language.
G. Dalman, Grammatik des jüdish-palästinischen Aramaisch (1905); M. Margolis, Lehrbuch der aramäischen Sprache des babylonischen Talmud (1910); W. B. Stevenson, Grammar of the Palestinian Jewish Aramaic (1924); H. Bauer and P. Leander, Grammatik des Biblisch-Aramäischen (1927); P. Leander, Laut und Formenlehre des Ägyptisch-Aramäischen (1928); F. Rosenthal, Die Aramaistische Forschung (1939); H. L. Ginsberg, “Aramaic Studies Today,” JAOS, 62 (1942), 229-238; R. A. Bowman, “Arameans, Aramaic, and the Bible,” JNES, 7 (1948), 65-90; A. Dammron, Grammaire de L’arameen Biblique (1961); F. Rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (1961).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
lan’-gwaj (’aramith; theSyrian, Syriac; SYRIAN in the (British and American)):
1. Early Notices of Aramaic in Scripture
2. Extra-Biblical Evidences of Aramaic
3. The Script of Aramaic Inscriptions
4. Dialects of Aramaic
5. Grammatical Peculiarities
6. Comparison of Aramaic of Sinjirli with That of Bible
7. Comparison of Aramaic of Assouan with That of Daniel
8. Elephantine Papyri
9. Comparison with Aramaic of the Targums
10. Chief Differences in Latter
LITERATURE The name is given to a form of Semitic speech, most nearly related to Hebrew and Phoenician, but exhibiting marked peculiarities, and subsisting in different dialects. Its original home may have been in Mesopotamia (Aram), but it spread North and West, and, as below shown, became the principal tongue throughout extensive regions. After the return from the Captivity, it displaced Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jews in Palestine. In its eastern form it is known as Syriac. In its occurrence in the, it formerly, though incorrectly, generally bore the name Chaldee. The present article deals with it chiefly in its. Old Testament relations.
1. Early Notices of Aramaic in Scripture:
If we neglect two words which occur in
2. Extra-Biblical Evidences of Aramaic:
Formerly our knowledge of Aramaic earlier than the Targums and the Peshitta was restricted to the above-noticed passages of Scripture. Now, however, discoveries, still comparatively recent, have put us in a different position. In the closing decade of last century extensive inscriptions were discovered in Sibbaldia, in the neighborhood of Aleppo, dated in the reigns of Tiglathpileser and the Sargonid monarchs, and one that seems earlier. More recent has been the discovery of the Assouan papyri; these bear dates which synchronize with Ezra and Nehemiah. Earlier than these in discovery, but between them in date of origin, are weights of the reign of Sargon, with two inscriptions, one, official, in cuneiform, which not only gives the designation of the weight, but relates the name and titles of the king; the other, popular, in Aramaic, which only tells the weight. More striking is the fact that frequently, in regard to contract tablets, while the binding document is in cuneiform character and the Assyrian language, the inscription on the clay envelope which served as a docquet is in Aramaic, language and letter. This affords proof that at all events before the reign of Tiglath-pileser Aramaic was the general speech for commerce and diplomacy all over Southwest Asia.
3. The Script of Aramaic Inscriptions:
When we come in contact with it, Aramaic is a fully formed alphabetical language, and has attained a further stage of development than the Assyrian with its cumbrous cuneiform. To the end, Assyrian was largely ideographic and hieroglyphic. The same group of symbols represented very different sounds according to circumstances, and widely differing meanings were connected with the same sound, with the consequent necessity for determinatives. The alphabet employed in Aramaic is practically that found on the. It evidently stands at the end of a long process of evolution. It is probable that a hieroglyphic stood behind it; whether it is derived from the Hittite (Conder), or from Egyptian (Rouge), or Assyrian (Delitzsch), or is of independent origin (Gesenius), cannot be determined. Aramaic is, like Hebrew and Assyrian, a North Semitic tongue, standing in a manner between them. It is more regular in its formation than either of the others, a character that may to some extent be due to its use as a lingua franca over so wide a territory. Aramaic was the official language of the extensive Persian empire, as it had been to some extent that of its predecessor, the empire of Assyria. It may be regarded as having been generally understood from Asia Minor on the North, to the Cataracts of the Nile on the South, and from the mountains of Media on the East, to the Mediterranean on the West. Its history has been long; spoken, as we learn by inscriptions, from before the days of Tiglath-pileser, it is still spoken on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
4. Dialects of Aramaic:
These extensive limits, geographical and chronological, imply dialectic differences. Means of communication were so ineffective that the distance between the eastern and western limits would require greater time to traverse, than does that which separates America from Europe, or New York from Brazil. The primary dialectic distinction was between eastern Aramaic (Syriac) and western (formerly called Chaldee). The peculiarity which most prominently distinguishes these is the preformative of the imperfect; in the western, as in Hebrew and Arabic, it is yodh (y), while in the eastern it is nun (n) or lamedh (l). Each of these has sub-dialects. In Palestine, besides the Chaldee of the Jewish Targums, there was the; in it, besides many foreign elements in the vocabulary, the use of `ayin instead of waw in the preterite of `ayin-waw verbs is the most striking feature. The sub-dialect of eastern Aramaic is Mandean; it is characterized by the use of the matres lectionis instead of vowel signs. From the inscriptions and the papyri it would seem to follow that the eastern peculiarities are the more recent--changes introduced through passage of time. In eastern Aramaic the script became more cursive than in western, which retained the square character we associate with Hebrew: except the Samaritan, which used a still earlier script, less removed from the angular style of the inscriptions. The script of the Assouan papyri indicated a tendency toward the later square character.
5. Grammatical Peculiarities:
Although an article like the present is not the place to give a full grammar of Aramaic, yet we may advert to some of the more prominent peculiarities, common to all branches of the language, which distinguish it from Hebrew, the best-known of north Semitic tongues. The peculiarity that most strikes the beginner in Aramaic is the want of the article, and the presence instead of the status emphaticus, which follows the syntactic rules of the Hebrew article. The next thing likely to attract attention is the use of the relative pronoun zi or di as if it were a preposition meaning "of." While in Hebrew the passive voice is generally indicated in the derived conjugations by internal vocalic changes, as the pu`al from the pi`el; in Aramaic the syllable ’eth (E) or ’ith (W) is prefixed (earlier hith). Instead of the Hebrew causative hiph`il there is the ’aph`el earlier haph`el with its passive ’ethtaph`al or ’ittaph`al (earlier hoph`al). The causative had also shaph`el and taph`el forms, which occasionally are found. While in the Targums and the Old Testament Peshitta the syllable yath is the sign of the accusative (earlier vath, as in the Sinjirli inscriptions), the letter lamedh serves that purpose in Aramaic which is not a translation from Hebrew. A characteristic of later Aramaic prominent in the Peshitta of the New Testament is the facility with which it adopted words and phrases from Greek which had already largely displaced it as the common language. New Syriac shows a similar facility in regard to Arabic and Persian.
6. Comparison of the Aramaic of Sinjirli with That of the Bible:
A question of very considerable importance to the Biblical student is the relation in which the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra stands to that of the Sinjirli inscriptions and that of the more nearly contemporary Assouan papyri. In making the comparison we must bear in mind that the Hebrew Massoretic Text is the result of transcriptions extending the Bible over 1,500 or 1,200 years, according as we take the traditional or the critical dates for the books in question. This implies probably a score or more of transcriptions each with its quota of variations from the original. While the variations introduced by any one transcription might be few and unimportant, they would all be in the direction of lateness, and cumulatively might easily become very great. The late Hebrew of Ecclesiastes, notwithstanding its ascription to Solomon, shows how little the idea of the chronology of style entered into the thoughts of the scribes of those days, to check this tendency to modernization. It follows that while the presence of late peculiarities proves nothing but the inaccuracy of the copyist, early grammatical forms and modes of spelling are nearly indisputable evidences of antiquity.
The Sinjirli inscriptions, if we neglect the less important, are three, the Panammu inscription, the Hadad inscription and the Barrekab inscription (Bauenschrift, Sachau). The first and last of these are dated in the reign of Tiglath- pileser, the middle one is placed by Sachau in the preceding century. It ought to be noted that, when first discovered, it was a matter of doubt whether the inscriptions should not be reckoned as Hebrew, rather than Aramaic The close affinity between them and Hebrew is shown in various ways. By a relation among the north Semitic tongues similar to that among the Aryan languages expressed by Grimm’s law, where letters with the s- sound appear in Hebrew, in later Aramaic we find corresponding letters with the t-sound. But in the Sinjirli inscriptions we do not find this mark of the later language; thus we have sheqel, not theqel, shelathin instead of telathin, zehabh for dhehabh, etc. That this is not due to the proximity of Hebrew is proved by the fact that on the weights in Sargon’s palace we find sheqel. Thus, the Sinjirli inscriptions date from a period when Hebrew and Aramaic had not been completely differentiated. There are other points of likeness. Instead of the ’aph`el and ’ethtaph`al or ’ittaph`al of later Aramaic, there is haph`el and hoph`al; instead of the ’eth or ’ith as the sign of the passive, there is hith. The vocabularies also are nearly identical. In both, the syllable yath or wath, sign of the accusative, is present, as if a survival, only as the support of the oblique case of a pronoun (
7. Comparison of Aramaic of Assouan with That of Daniel:
More nearly contemporary with the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra is that of the Assouan papyri. These are carefully dated, and extend from 471 BC to 411 BC; these two dates include the whole reign of Artaxerxes I, the king whose cupbearer Nehemiah was, and who sent him as governor to Jerusalem, and a few years of his predecessor’s and successor’s reigns. These documents, as written with a reed pen on papyrus, and not cut with a chisel on stone, manifest a very different style of letter; as already said, there is some approximation to the later square character. The resemblance between the grammar and vocabulary of these papyri and those of Biblical Aramaic is closer than that of the latter to the Sinjirli grammar and diction. Where, in the more ancient Aramaic, we have "z," in these papyri we occasionally find the later "dh." It is not improbable that, as in Spain, a lisping pronunciation became prevalent; the "dh" pronounced as "th" in "then" would in that case represent more accurately the sound actually uttered than would "z."
The word already noticed, ’arqa’ which generally appears in Biblical Aramaic as ’ar`a, is a similar case. In northern Palestine the Arabic qaf is pronounced much as if it were `ain, if not even the related sound hemzeh; instances of this spelling also are found in the Assouan papyri. Both of these differences are due to frequent transcription assimilating the spelling to the pronunciation. Another peculiarity is probably due to a different cause. In Biblical Aramaic the preformative of the 3rd person singular and plural of the imperfect of the substantive verb is lamedh. Of this peculiarity Dr. Bevan gives an ingenious explanation. If the yodh preformative were used, the resulting word would have a resemblance to the sacred name: to avoid this, he thinks, the yodh was changed into a lamedh.
Unfortunately this explains too much, therefore explains nothing. Had this been the explanation, the name "Jehu," which consonantally is nearly the same as the 3rd person singular and plural of the substantive verb, would never have been written as it is. Further, if Jewish reverence for the Divine name expressed itself in this way, we should expect to find this preformative in the Targums, which, however, we do not. Hundreds of cases in proof may be found in Onkelos alone. The truth is, it is a Mandean form, which proves that the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra is eastern. A further peculiarity is the nun compensative; as tinda` (
8. Elephantine Papyri:
Another interesting point of contact between the Aramaic of this period and that of Daniel is exhibited in the Elephantine papyri published by Sachau. These papyri, discovered in the island of Elephantine (opposite Assouan) in 1907, are three in number, and are dated in the 14th year of Darius II (407 BC). In the first, ll. 2, 27, 28, the second, l. 26, and the third ll. 3, 4, we have God called "the God of heaven," the title given to God throughout Da 2. This is also the appellation used in the Aramaic of Ezra (5:11,12; 6:9 etc.) From the passages where it occurs it would seem that during the Babylonian and Persian rule this was the recognized governmental title of the God of the Hebrews.
9. Comparison with Aramaic of the Targums:
As it is frequently asserted that the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra is that of the Targums, it is necessary to examine the truth of this statement. In considering this question son with we must have regard to the history of these paraphrases, as only in this way can we estimate truly the chronological value of this "great" resemblance, should it be found to exist. According to Talmudic tradition the Targums were delivered orally, and were not committed to writing till late in the 2nd century of our era. A traditional rendering was handed on from meturgeman (interpreter) to meturgeman. In such circumstances archaic forms, words and idioms, are perpetuated. The sacred always tends to preserve the antique; in illustration we need only refer to the song of the Fratres Arvales, a college of priests dating from primitive Latin times and continuing to the days of the Gordians. This sacred song of theirs preserves to us the most ancient form of the Latin tongue, though the inscriptions, from which we learn of it, date from the classic period. Hence the Aramaic of the Targums may represent the form of the language a couple of centuries before the Christian era.
10. Chief Differences in Latter:
We cannot attempt to give an exhaustive summary of the differences between Biblical and Targumic Aramaic, but indicate only some of the more obvious. Account need not be taken of yath, the sign of the accusative, as it appears only as representing the Hebrew ’eth. In verbs, reference has already been made to the "L" preformative in the substantive verb, a peculiarity which Biblical Aramaic shares with Mandean in distinction from other forms of the language: also to the fact that the hith of the earlier verbal forms is replaced by ’ith in the more recent ’ithpe`el and ’ithpa`al. This also is the case with ’aph`el (in earlier and Biblical Aramaic haph`el), the passive of which is hoph`al, not ’ittaph`al, as in Targumic. The importance of verbal forms in determining age is readily recognized; thus in English, if the 3rd person singular of the verbs in an English writing is in eth we decide that writing to belong, in fact or feigning, to a period not later than the 17th century. In regard to pronouns, while in Biblical Aramaic, as in Sinjirli and Assouan, the 1st person singular is ’an’a, in Targumic it is ’anah: the plural in Biblical Aramaic is ’anachna’ akin to ’anachnah in Assouan, whereas in the Targums it is usually ’anan, though sometimes the Biblical form appears. The 2nd person singular in Biblical Aramaic is ’ant as in Assouan, with the plural ’antum (Assouan, ’antem): in Targumic it is ’att and ’attun.
To compare our own language, when we find "thou" and "ye" in a writing, we date it as not later than the 17th century. The ordinary vocabulary, though not without value in this respect, is not very important chronologically. Connective particles, however, are. Everyone acquainted with Hebrew knows how frequently yesh, "is" occurs; as frequent is ’ith in Targumic. In the Bible, the papyri, the form found is ’ithi. In the Targums ’i stands for "if"; in the Bible and papyri it is hen. Cognate with this, the Bible and the papyri have lahen, "therefore": this is not found in the Targums, which have instead `al-ken. In our own language the presence of "eke" in serious prose or poetry as a conjunction would prove the antiquity of the composition. The fact that the distinction between "c" and "s" has disappeared in the Targums, but is still preserved in the Bible, is a note of age that cannot be passed over. Other examples might be given, but these will suffice. Professor Bevan lightly dismisses many of these differences as mere matters of orthography; yet in French the presence of "l" for "u" or as strengthening the "u" in such words as alx, eulx, aultres is regarded as a note of old as distinct from modern French; yet probably the pronunciation was not different.
In pursuing this part of the subject the latter portion of Pusey’s first Lecture (Daniel the Prophet) is worthy of study. Pusey had not the advantage of contemporary documents with which to compare Biblical Aramaic; he could only emphasize the nature and amount of the differences which separated the language of Daniel from that of the Targums. The argument can now be supplemented by a yet stronger argument from the resemblance between the former and the contemporary papyri of Assouan, and yet the earlier Sinjirli inscriptions. See further, SYRIAC VERSIONS; LANGUAGES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT; and compare the article "Aramaic" in Encyclopedia Biblica.
LITERATURE. Numerous grammars and dictionaries of the two principal dialects of Aramaic, eastern (Syr) and western (Chaldee) may be seen in any catalogues. There is an excellent compendium of the grammar of Biblical Aramaic in Delitzsch’s introduction to Baer’s Text of Daniel and Ezra. For the Samaritan there is a small grammar by Nicholls, also one in the series "Porta Linguarum Orientalium." Noldeke has published grammars for Mandean and New Syriac
J. E. H. Thomson