Aramaic Language

ARAMAIC LANGUAGE. The term “Aramaic” is derived from the pre-Hellenic name of Syria, Aram. Already in Abraham’s time (2000 b.c.) the Arameans controlled Haran and the surrounding area of Paddan-aram, and there the family of Terah became Aram.-speaking. Even after Abraham had migrated to Canaan and adopted the language of that region, it was an Aram.-speaking Rebekah whom Isaac married; the same was true of Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob. Their father Laban is quoted as giving to the rock-cairn of Gilead (gal ’ēd meaning “rock-pile of witness” in Canaanite or Heb.) the Aram. name Yegar sāhadūtā', which had the same meaning. Thus there was a close contact with Aram. language and culture even in patriarchal times.

Like Heb., Aram. belongs to the NW Sem. language group, and there are close resemblances between the two in the matter of vocabulary and basic morphology. One who has mastered Heb. finds Aram. quite easy to acquire. Nevertheless there are several significant differences, sufficient to give the two languages a different sound and appearance (in written form).

1. In regard to the consonants, there were four or five differences in the treatment of the original Sem. phonemes. (a) The original Sem. th shifted to sh or š in Heb. but to t in Aram. (thus the word for “three” was thalāthun in Arab. but sālôs in Heb., and telāt in Aram. (b) The original Sem. d (Arab. dād) became ṩadde in Heb., but ’ayin (or occasionally qoph) in Aram. thus the word for “earth” is ’ardun in Arab., but ’ereṩ, in Heb., and ‘ara’ or araq in Aram. (c) The original z became ṩadde in Heb., but ṭēt in Aram. thus the word for “guard” is nazara in Arab.—in which it means “to see”—but nāṩar in Heb., and neṭar in Aram. (d) The original dh became z in Heb., but d in Aram., at least by 5th cent. or late 6th cent. b.c. thus the word for “remember” was dhakara in Arab., zākar in Heb., but dekar in Biblical Aram. (e) There was a tendency to substitute an r for an original n in certain words. Thus “two” was ’ithnāni or ’ithnayni in Arab., but šnayim in Heb., and trēyn in Aram. Likewise bēn, the Heb. for “son,” was bar in Aram. (although in the pl. the bar reverted to n: benîn).

2. In regard to the vowels: (a) the Aram. preserved the original Sem. ā, which in the Canaanite dialects shifted to ô. Thus “three” was telāt in Aram., whereas it became šālôš in Heb. (b) Whereas in Heb. pretonic a was lengthened to ā, in Aram. it volatilized to a very short e, as can be observed from the example just cited: Heb. šālôš (Arab. thalāthun) is the Aram. telāt; Heb. kātab (“he wrote”) is ketab in Aram. (c) Whereas original i under accent became ē in Heb., it often remained i in Biblical Aram. (yetib, “he sat”; yākil, “’being able”) although it usually became ē. (d) U under accent usually did not shift to ō as in Heb. Thus: yiktub (“he will write”), as contrasted with Heb. yiktōb. (e) Unlike Heb., a under accent did not lengthen. Thus “aged,” “eternity” is ’ālam (accented on second syllable), whereas the Heb. was ’ôlām.

3. In regard to noun inflections, the definite article was indicated by the long final -â of the emphatic state, rather than by the preceding ha- of Heb. Thus “the king” was malkâ, rather than the Heb. hammelek. The fem. emphatic was - (thus, malke, “the queen”); the masc. pl. emphatic was -ayyâ (thus, malkayyâ, “the kings”), and the fem. pl. emphatic-ātâ (malkātâ, “the queens”). The masc. pl. absolute ended in -în rather than in -îm (as in Heb.). Thus, “kings” was malekîn, rather than the melākîm of Heb. The fem. pl. absolute ending was -ān, in contrast to the Heb. -ôt; thus, malekān rather than Heb. melākôt (to which the Aram. fem. pl. construct is more similar: malekāt). As for the possessive pronouns attached to nouns, the principal differences are found in the third sing. masc. -ēh (“his king” is malkēh, rather than Heb. malkô), first common pl. - (“our king” is malkanâ, rather than Heb. malkēnû), second plu. masc. -kôn (Heb. -kem) “your,” and third masc. and fem. pl. “their”: -hôn and -hên (as contrasted with Heb. -ām and -ān, or after pl. nouns: -êhem and -êhen).

4. In regard to verbal inflections, the fem. third sing. is -at instead of Heb. -âh (“she wrote” is kitebât rather than kāteh); first sing. is -ēt instead of - (“I wrote” is kitebēt rather than the Heb. kātabtî); the third pl. masc. accents on the penult rather than the ultima (“they m. wrote” is keta:bû rather than kātebû:, as in Heb.); there is a third fem. pl. in use (keta:bâ), unlike Heb.; the second pl. is -tûn, -tên, rather than the Heb. -tem, -ten; and the first pl. is -nâ instead of -nû (“we wrote” is ketabnâ rather than kātabnû). In the imperfect tense, aside from the preservation of the original -u- rather than altering it to -ō- (as in Heb.), the principal differences are found in the addition of -n to the long vowel sufformative endings; thus: “thou (fem.) shalt write” is tiktebîn instead of Heb. tikte; “they will write” is yiktebûn rather than yikte; fem. “they will write” is yiktebān instead of yiktōbna; “you” pl. is likewise tikte and tiktebûn and tiktebān rather than tikte and tiktōbna (although Heb. occasionally shows yiktebûn, tiktebûn and even tiktebîn in poetic passages). As far as the verbal stems are concerned, Aram. uses a pa’ēl rather than a pi’ēl (“he received” is qabbēl rather than qibbēl), and the causative haphēl rather than Heb. hiphīl (haqrēb or haqrib for “he brought near,” rather than Heb. hiqrîb). In regard to the passive stems, there are no niphals or pu’als in Aram., and just a few hophals in Biblical Aram. of the 6th cent., but none in later Aram. The passive of the simple or qal stem (called pe’al in Aram.) was expressed either by a pe'îl (which may have been derived originally from the passive participle, pe’îl—so that ketîb could mean either “written” or “he was written,” depending on the context) or else by the more usual hitpe'ēl or ’itpe’ēl (the hit- or ’it being originally a reflexive element, adaptable also for expressing passive ideas). For example, hitqeṭilû or ’itqeṭēlû meant “they were killed.” Correspondingly, the passive of pa’ēl was expressed by hitpa’al or ’itpa’al, which thus took the place of Heb. pu’al or hitpa’ēl. Thus from meḥâ, “smite,” comes pa’ēl imperf. yemaḥēh “he will knock aside,” and the hitpa’al form would be yitmaḥê, “he will be knocked aside.” Rarely a passive of haphēl (the causative stem) is formed with the same hit- or ’it- as an ittaphal. (In Biblical Aram. this is not yet in use; the Heb.-type hophal is still employed for verbs like neḥat “go down” and alal “enter”: honhat “he was brought down” and hu’al “he was brought in”.) Another important distinction between Heb. and Aram. is found in the infinitives. Whereas Heb. uses the pattern pe'ōl (thus ketōb, “to write”), Aram. prefixes m-; “to write” is miktab. For the other stems Aram. uses an ā-āh pattern; “to receive” is qabbālāh (but qabbēl in Heb.), the pa’ēl infinitive. The hitpe’el form is hitqeṭālāh, to be killed”; the hitpa’al infinitive of beqar “seek” is hitbaqqārāh, “to be investigated.”

Apart from matters of morphology, Aram. vocabulary differs from Heb. quite marketedly in the commonest words of everyday speech, such as “come” (’atāh in Aram., but usually in Heb.), “speak” (mallēl in Aram., but usually ’āmar or dibbēr in Heb.), “go down” (neḥat in Aram., but yārad in Heb.), “go up” (selēq in Aram. but ’ālāh in Heb.), and “fear” (deḥal in Aram., but yārē in Heb.), The regular verb for “see” in Aram., hah, is used in Heb. only for “gaze at,” “look at”; Heb. uses rā'āh for the normal idea of seeing, a word never found in Aram.

In regard to the Aram. chs. of Daniel, the reason for the composition of chs. 2 through 7 in this language rather than Heb. seems to be found in their subject matter. Since he was a high public official in Babylon, rather than a resident of Pal., Daniel’s prophetic writings were of general public interest, esp. those which pertained to the affairs of the Chaldean Empire and its future destiny. It is only natural that these six chs. should have been couched in a language serving as the lingua franca of the capital and of the empire generally. The subject matter of chs. 1 and 8 through 12, on the other hand, was of special relevance to the Jewish people, or else was of such a nature as to be kept confidential from the Gentile public. Therefore these chs. were kept in Heb. As far as the Aram. chs. of Ezra are concerned, they consist largely of international correspondence originally composed in Aram. Since Ezra’s Jewish public was perfectly conversant with Aram. after their long captivity in Babylonia, there was no need to tr. these communications into Heb.

Extra-Biblical Aramaic literature.One of the oldest extant Aram. inscrs. is that of King Zakir of Hamath, written about 820 b.c. on a pedestal of a statue dedicated to the god Iluwer. Interestingly enough, it contains some admixture of Canaanite terms, such as ’-s (in Heb. ’îš) for “man,” rather than the usual Aram. enāš; ’-š-r- (’ašrā) for “the place” rather than the proper Aram. spelling ’atrā; and the verb nasā for “lift up” rather than the usual neṭē. Another 9th cent. inscr. is that of Kilamuwa from Zenjirli, which is basically Phoen. with Aram. admixtures. But more definitely Aram. is the early 8th cent. inscr. of Panammu, king of Ya’udi, found also at Zenjirli. This shows such Canaanisms as ’-n-k for “I” (Heb. ’ānōkî) rather than the Aram. ah; n-t-n for “he gave” (Heb. nātan) rather than the usual yehab; y-š-b-t for “I sat” (Heb. yāšabtî) rather than the proper Aram. form, y-t-b-t; ’-š for “man” or “each one,” rather than ’-n-š; infinitive b-n, (like Heb. benôt or bānôh) rather than the Aram. m-b-n’ (“to build”); b-n-y for “my son” (instead of be). The importance of these Canaanite loan words lies in the fact that even in the 9th and 8th centuries words were freely borrowed from Canaanite in the Aram. of that period; there is every reason to suppose, therefore, that borrowing could take place in the reverse direction, i. e., from Aram. into Heb., long before the time of the Exile and Restoration. No sound argument as to lateness of composition of any purportedly pre-exilic book of the OT can be based on the mere presence of Aramaisms in the text. There was too much mutual influence and communication between these two language areas for them to remain watertight compartments, as many advocates of liberal critical theories have naively assumed.

From Panammu’s son, Bar-rekub (in the late 8th cent.) comes a short autobiographical inscr., speaking of himself as king of Sam’al (a principality in the extreme N of Syria next to Ya’udi). He emphasizes his loyalty to the Assyrian emperor, Tiglath-pileser III, and also speaks highly of the fine palace he has built or renovated for the benefit of his own dynasty. From Sudshin (or Sujin) near Cilicia comes a longer inscr. (of over four cols. in length), likewise from the 8th cent., celebrating the prowess of a King Mati’el, and containing a suzerainty treaty. It contains a number of peculiarities in spelling, such as the substitution of qoph for kaph in w-l-z-q-r-h (“and to his memorial”); it also uses a Canaanite shin instead of tau in such words as ’-š-r (“place”) and š-w-r (“ox”).

In the 7th cent. we have an interesting letter written around 650 b.c. from the city of Asshur in Assyria by a certain Bel-etir to his brother Pirawur, discussing the provisions to be furnished to certain slaves, and also alluding to political developments during this period when Shamash-shum-ukin, as king of Babylon, was rebelling against his brother Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria. On a bas-relief discovered in Nerab near Aleppo an inscr. was recorded, by a priest named Sinzirban, containing the customary curse upon anyone who would tamper with this monument to the deceased. It too uses shin for tau in ’-s-r-k (“thy place”) and the Canaanite ṩadde for ṭet in the verb n-ṩ-r (“preserve”). Lastly, from the time of Necho’s occupation of Pal. c. 606 b.c., we have a letter to the pharaoh from King Adon of Ashkelon reporting the arrival of the invading Chaldean army at the city of Aphek in Samaria. Its chief peculiarity is the spelling of the demonstrative “this” as d-k-m (instead of d-k-n).

By far the largest body of non-Biblical Aram. lit. from the pre-Christian era was discovered at the island of Elephantine in the extreme S of Egypt. Apart from a fragmentary Aram. VS of the Behistun Rock inscr. and the Tale of Ahiqar, virtually all of these documents—letters, wills, contracts, conveyances of property—were composed by a military colony of Jews stationed on this island outpost (then known as Yeb) beginning with the reign of Darius I of Persia in the first half of the 5th cent. (the earliest dated document is from 497 b.c.). No document bears a date later than 400 (Cowley A. P. no. 35), but some of the undated or fragmentary instruments undoubtedly came from the 4th cent. These papyri afford a fascinating picture of what life was like for a Jewish colony maintaining their community life and customs so far away from their ancestral homeland. Even at that early date there seem to have been serious episodes of anti-Semitism on the part of the local populace, notably when (according to C.A.P. 30) a detachment of Egyp. militia destroyed completely the Temple to Yahweh which the Jews had built on Yeb. Much to their distress, moreover, the hierarchy in Jerusalem showed no sympathy or interest when they were appealed to for assistance in restoring this sanctuary; they apparently felt that there could be no legitimate sanctuary outside of Jerusalem.

Linguistically the Elephantine Papyri belong to the same dialect of Imperial Aram. as do the passages in Ezra and Daniel which were formerly thought by some scholars to be much later than 5th cent. There are some regional differences, however, such as the tendency in Biblical Aram. to defer the verb until later in the clause than was true in Egypt and the W. In the matter of the shift from zayin to dalet (coming from original dhal), the Elephantine documents definitely favor retention of zayin; but there are already a fair number of examples of the shift to dalet in such words as ’ahad (“seize”), dî-le (C.A.P. 13), dikkā, (“this”) in 14:6, 9, dakkî (“clean, innocent”) in 27:12, and its related verb in 21:6; and deh (“that”) in 16:9. Thus we see the transition taking place from zayin to dalet which had apparently taken place already in Eastern Aram. in the late 6th cent., judging from Daniel and Ezra.

A precisely dated funerary inscr. (455 b.c.) was found at Sardis in Asia Minor, composed in somewhat ungrammatical Aram. on a funerary stela erected by the family of Mani, and invoking the curse of Artemis “of Coloë and of the Ephesians” upon any who would disturb the family tomb. It contains such Pers. terms as stūnā (“stela”) and ’atre (“firepillar” from Pers. ātar, “fire”). Another interesting 5th cent. inscr. comes from Tema in N Arabia, memorializing the piety of a certain Salm-shezib, who introduced the worship of an image of the god Salm into Tema and set aside valuable date-palm groves for the support of his sanctuary.

Biblical and Post-Biblical Aramaic. As for the Aram. chs. of Daniel, it is highly signficant that it contains about fifteen words of probable Pers. origin, largely pertaining to administration and government; yet it does not contain a single loan word from Gr., except for the names of three musical instruments. These evidences cannot be squared with any theory of 2nd cent. composition of Daniel, after 160 years of rule by a Gr.-speaking government; yet they fit well with a final recension of Daniel’s memoirs by the author himself at about 530 b.c. In view of the failure of the LXX tr. of Daniel to tr. correctly such terms as adargāzerayyâ (“counselors”), gedobrayyâ (“treasurers”), and detābrayyâ (“law-givers”), it can be inferred only that these words had long since passed out of use by the 2nd cent. b.c., and the Gr.-speaking tr. could only guess at their meaning. The early cast of the language is further demonstrated by its use of internalvowel-change passives (hophals such as honḥat from neḥat, hussaq from selēq, hûbad from abad, and hu’al from alal), instead of the passive-reflexive prefixes hit- or ’it-, which already by the time of the Genesis Apocryphon were used exclusively to express passivity. (In this connection it should be noted that the Heb. chs. of Daniel likewise contain Pers. loanwords, but none whatever from Gr.)

By far the largest Aram. document discovered in the Dead Sea caves was the Genesis Apocryphon, which is generally dated about mid-first cent. b.c. Only five cols. are tolerably complete and legible. Column 2 contains a midrashic type of narrative concerning the remarkable appearance of the infant Moses, which led Lamech to question his wife as to whether he was really the child’s father. Columns 19 through 22 relate Abraham’s adventures in Egypt and Sarah’s temporary detention in Pharaoh’s harem (in which she was kept from defilement because of a grievous illness afflicting the king and all his family). Her charms are glowingly described, feature by feature and limb by limb. From the linguistic standpoint it is most significant to observe the contrasts between this composition and the Aram. chs. of Daniel. For example, it adds a final nun to the third pl. perf. of lamed-aleph verbs (be'ôn instead of be “they sought”; atôn for a “they came”)—a form not hitherto known to occur prior to the Talmud. The same is true of mišbôq, used instead of the regular infinitive mišbaq (“to leave”). The Apocryphon uses -ha’ for the possessive pronoun “her” even after a sing. noun, a trait which had not been known to occur prior to the Targum (a.d. 200). The appearance of aleph before the final -t of perf. third fem. sing. (e.g. ’etbeniyat instead of Biblical hitbenāt for “she was built”) was not previously known before the Targumic stage. The compound preposition bedîl (“on account of”) is never found in Biblical Aram. or the Elephantine Papyri, but is characteristic of later Aram. Many other examples could be cited to add to the cumulative result that the Aram. of the Apocryphon is centuries later than that of Daniel and Ezra. Otherwise there is no such thing as linguistic evidence. This means that the Maccabean dating for Daniel must be totally abandoned by all critics who are willing to face evidence.

The Aram. Targums have been preserved in a written form no earlier than a.d. 200 (the Targum of Onkelos on the Pentateuch); the Targums on the Prophets and the Writings are later yet. They consist of a tr. or paraphrase of the Heb. original (which already in the time of Ezra was understood only imperfectly by the common people) into the Aram. which became the vernacular of the Jews from the late 5th cent. and onward. (Yet they were still sufficiently fluent in Heb. to understand the prophecies of Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi down to about 430 b.c.) In the synagogue services it became customary for every Heb. reading of the Torah to be followed by an interpretation into Aram. Eventually these renderings assumed a sufficiently standard form to be consigned to writing. In the early 3rd cent. a.d. Aram. was used also in many portions of the Midrash, which was a doctrinal and homiletical comm. on the Torah (the Halakah), and of the OT as a whole (the Haggada). The Midrash arose between 100 b.c. and a.d. 300, when it assumed definite written form. The second main portion of the Talmud, known as the Gemara, was almost entirely written in Aram.; the Palestinian Gemara dates from about a.d. 200, and the Babylonian from 500 or a little later. In Christian circles the eastern dialect of the Edessa region was written down in a new type of alphabet, resembling Arab. more than the “square Heb.” alphabet in use until the 2nd cent. a.d. Grammatically it was quite close to the Aram. used in Pal., but it developed some special traits of its own and became known as Syriac (q.v.).


G. H. Dalman: Aramäisch-Neuhebräisches Wörterbuch (1901); H. Bauer & P. Leander: Grammatik des Biblischaramäischen (1911, 1927); A. Cowley: Aramaic Papyri of the 5th Cent. B.C. (1923); W. B. Stevenson: Grammar of Palestinian Jewish Aramaic (1924); M. Jastrow: A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud...and the Mishnaic Literature (2 vol.), 2d ed. (1926); L. H. Gray: Introduction to Semitic Comparative Linguistics (1934); J. B. Pritchard (ed.): Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1950); M. Black: An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (1954); G. R. Driver: Aramaic Documents of the 5th Cent. B.C. (1954); N. Avigad and Y. Yadin: A Genesis Apocryphon (1956); A. Sperber: The Bible in Aramaic; M. Lidzbarski, Ephemeris für Nordsemitischen Epiographik (3 vols.) (1962).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

lan’-gwaj (’aramith; the King James Version Syrian, Syriac; SYRIAN in the Revised Version (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 Old Testament, 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 Ge 31:47, the earliest notice of the use of this language in Scripture is in the request which the representatives of Hezekiah make to Rabshakeh: "Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syriac language" (’aramith, 2Ki 18:26; Isa 36:11). The narrative from which we have made this excerpt, even if it stood alone, would prove that Aramaic, "the Syriac language," was so different from Hebrew, "the Jews’ language," that it was not understood by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Further, it shows that Aramaic was the ordinary language of Assyrian diplomacy. We next meet with Aramaic in Jer 10:11 which appears to be an answer put into the mouths of the Jews as a reply to any attempt to seduce them to the worship of idols. If we assume the traditional date of Daniel to be correct, the six chapters in that book (Da 2:4-7:28), forming the greater part of the whole, are the next and most important occurrence of Aramaic in Scripture. There are, further, passages in Ezr 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26, amounting approximately to three chapters, in which Aramaic is used. In the New Testament several Aramaic words and phrases occur, modified by having passed through Greek

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 Moabite Stone. 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 Samaritan Pentateuch; 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 (Da 3:12; Sinjirli, Had 28). The pronouns exhibit a similar resemblance to Hebrew and also to Biblical Aramaic. The 1st person pronoun is ’anokh (once ’anokhi in Pan. 1.19), as in the Phoenician and Moabite dialects of Hebrew; ’anah occurs occasionally as in Daniel. The most marked differences from later Aramaic is "z" instead of "dh" in the demonstrative pronoun; here there is relation to the Hebrew zeh. Another case in frequent evidence is ’arqa’ instead of ’ar`a.

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` (Da 4:23), which regularly would be tidda`. This also is found in the Mandean; it is, however, also found in papyri of Assouan, an evidence that the Mandean characteristic was a survival from an earlier time.

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