Aramaean Language

Aramaean Language (Heb. Aramith', אֲרָמִית, 2Ki 18:26; Ezr 4:7; Isa 36:11; Da 2:4; Sept. Συριστί, Vulg. Syriace) is the northern and least developed branch of the Syro-Arabian family of tongues, being a general term for the whole, of which the Chaldee and Syriac dialects form the parts, these last differing very slightly, except in the forms of the characters in which they are now written (see the Introd. to Winer's Chaldee Gramm. r. ed. tr. by Prof. Hackett, N. Y. 1851). SEE CHALDEE LANGUAGE. Its cradle was probably on the banks of the Cyrus, according to the best interpretation of Am 9:7; but Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Syria form what may be considered its home and proper domain. Political events, however, subsequently caused it to supplant Hebrew in Palestine, and then it became the prevailing form of speech from the Tigris to the shore of the Mediterranean, and, in a transverse direction, from Armenia down to the confines of Arabia. After obtaining such a wide dominion, it was forced, from the ninth century onward, to give way before the encroaching ascendency of Arabic; and it now only survives as a living tongue among the Syrian Christians in the neighborhood of Mosul. According to historical records which trace the migrations of the Syro-Arabians from the east to the south-west, and also according to the comparatively ruder form of the Aramaic language itself, we might suppose that it represents, even in the state' in which we have it, some image of that aboriginal type which the Hebrews and Arabians, under more favorable social and climatical influences, subsequently developed into fullness of sound and structure. But it is difficult for us now to discern the particular vestiges of this archaic form; for, not only did the Aramaic not work out its own development of the original elements common to the whole Syro-Arabian sisterhood of languages, but it was pre-eminently exposed, both by neighborhood and by conquest, to harsh collision with languages of an utterly different family. Moreover, it is the only one of the three great Syro-Arabian branches which has no fruits of a purely national literature to boast of. We possess no monument whatever of its own genius; not any work which may be considered the product of the political and religious culture of the nation, and characteristic of it — as is so emphatically the case both with the Hebrews and the Arabs. The first time we see the language it is used by Jews as the vehicle of Jewish thought; and although, when we next meet it, it is employed by native authors, yet they write under the literary impulses of Christianity, and under the Greek influence on thought and language which necessarily accompanied that religion. These two modifications, which constitute and define the so-called Chaldee and Syriac dialects, are the only forms in which the normal and standard Aramaic has been preserved to us. It is evident, from these circumstances, that up to a certain period the Aramaic language has no other history than that of its relations to Hebrew. The earliest notice we have of its separate existence is in Ge 31:47, where Laban, in giving his own name to the memorial heap, employs words which are genuine Aramaic both in form and use. The next instance is in 2Ki 18:26, where it appears that the educated Jews understood Aramaic, but that the common people did not. A striking illustration of its prevalence is found in the circumstance that it is employed as the language of official communication in the edict addressed by the Persian court to its subjects in Palestine (Ezr 4:17). The later relations of Aramaic to Hebrew consist entirely of gradual encroachments on the part of the former. The Hebrew language was indeed always exposed, particularly in the north of Palestine, to Aramaic influences; whence the Aramaisms of the book of Judges and of some others are derived. It also had always a closer conjunction, both by origin and by intercourse, with Aramaic than with Arabic. But in later times great political events secured to Aramaic the complete ascendency; for, on the one hand, after the deportation of the ten tribes, the repeopling their country with colonists chiefly of Syrian origin generated a mixed Aramaic and Hebrew dialect (the Samaritan) in central Palestine; and on the other the exile of the remaining two tribes exposed them to a considerable, although generally overrated, Aramaic influence in Babylon, and their restoration, by placing them in contact with the Samaritans, tended still further to dispossess them of their vernacular Hebrew. The subsequent dominion of the Seleucide, under which the Jews formed a portion of a Syrian kingdom, appears to have completed the series of events by which the Aramaic supplanted the Hebrew language entirely.

The chief characteristics in form and flexion which distinguish the Aramaic from the Hebrew language are the following: As to the consonants, the great diversity between the forms of the same root as it exists in both languages arises principally from the Aramaic having a tendency to avoid the sibilants. Thus, where ז, שׁ, and צ are found in Hebrew, Aramaic often uses ד, ת, and ט; and even ָע for צ. Letters of the same organ are also frequently interchanged, and generally so that the Aramaic, consistently with its characteristic roughness, prefers the harder sounds. The number of vowel-sounds generally is much smaller; the verb is reduced to a monosyllable, as are also the segolate forms of nouns. This deprives the language of some distinct forms which are marked in Hebrew, but the number and variety of nominal formations is also in other respects much more limited. The verb possesses no vestige of the conjugation Niphal, but forms all its passives by the prefix את. The third person plural of the perfect has two forms to mark-the difference of gender. The use of Vav as "conversive" is unknown. There is an imperative mood in all the passives. All the active conjugations (like Kal in Heb.) possess two- participles, one of which has a passive signification. The participle is used with the personal pronoun to form a kind of present tense. The classes of verbs לה and לא, and other weak forms, are almost indistinguishable. In the noun, again, a word is rendered definite by appending 9א to the end (the so-called emphatic state); but thereby the distinction between simple feminine and definite masculine is lost in the singular. The plural masculine ends in 9ןֹ. The relation of genitive is most frequently expressed by the prefix ד, and that of the object by the preposition ל.

The Aramaean introduced and spoken in Palestine has also been, and is still, often called the Syro-Chaldaic, because it was probably in some degree a mixture of both the eastern and western dialects; or perhaps the distinction between the two had not yet arisen in the age of our Lord and his apostles. So long as the Jewish nation maintained its political independence in Palestine, Hebrew continued to be the common language of the country, and, so far as we. can judge from the remains of it which are still extant, although not entirely pure, it was yet free from any important changes in those elements and forms by which it was distinguished from other languages. But at the period when the Assyrian and Chaldaean rulers of Babylon subdued Palestine, every thing assumed another shape. The Jews of Palestine lost with their political independence the independence of their language also, which they had till then asserted. The Babylonish Aramaean dialect supplanted the Hebrew, and became by degrees the prevailing language of the people, until this in its turn was in some. measure, though not entirely, supplanted by the Greek. SEE HELLENIST. Josephus (De Maccabees 16) and the New Testament (Ac 26:14) call it the Hebrew (ἡ ῾Εβρα• ς διάλεκτος). Old as this appellation is, however, it has one important defect, namely, that it is too indefinite, and may mislead those who are unacquainted with the subject to confound the ancient Hebrew and the Aramaean, which took the place of the Hebrew after the Babylonish captivity, and was the current language of Palestine in the time of Christ and the apostles, as is evinced by the occurrence of proper names of places (e.g. Bethesda, Aceldama) and persons (e.g. Boanerges, Bar-jona), and even common terms (e.g. Talitha cumi, Ephphatha, Sabachthani) in this mixed dialect. (See generally the copious treatise of Pfannkuchen on the history and elements of the Arammean language, translated, with introductory remarks by the editor, in the Am. Bibl. Rep. April, 1831, p. 309-363; comp. Nagel, De lingua Aramaea, Altdorf, 1739; Etheridge, Aramaean Dialects, Lond. 1843).

The following are philological treatises on both branches of the Aramaean language — GRAMMARS-Sennert, Harm. lingg. Orient. (Viteb. 1553, 4to); Amira, Gramm. Syriaca sive Chaldaica (Romans 1596); Buxtorf, Gramm. Chald. Syr. (8vo, Basil. 1615,1650); De Dieu, Gramm. ling. Orient. (4to, Lud.'B. 1628; Francof. 1683); Alting, Institut. Chald. et Syr. (Frkf. 1676, 1701); Erpenius, Gramm. Chald. et Syr. (Amst. 1628); Hottinger, Gramm. Chald. Syr. et Rabb. (Turic. 1652); Gramm. Heb.' Chald. Syr. et Arab. (Heidelb. 1658, 4to); Walton, Introd. ad Lingg. Orient. (Lond. 1655); Schaaf, Opus A rameum (Lugd. Bat. 1686, 8vo); Opitz, Syriasmus Hebraismo et Chaldaismo harmonicus (Lips. 1678); Fessler, Instit. lingg. Orient. (2 vols. 8vo, Vra. tisl. 1787, 1789); Hasse, Handb. d. Aram. Spr. (Jena, 1791, 8vo); Jahn, Asram. Soprachlehre (Wien, 1793; tr. by Oberleitner, Elementa Arama/ica, ib. 1820, 8vo); Vater, Handb. d. Hebr., Syr., Chald., u,. Arab. Gramm. (Lpz. 1802, 1817, 8v,); Furst, Lehrgebaude d. aramaischen Idiome (Lpz. 1835); Blucher, Grammatica Aramaica (Vien. 1838). The only complete LEXICONS are Castell's Lex. Heptaglottum (2 vols. fol. Lond. 1669), and Buxtorf's Lex. Chald. — Taomudicim (fol. Basil. 1639); also Schonhak, Aramndisch-Rabbinisches Worterbuch (Warsaw, 1859 sq., 4to); Rabinei, Rabbinisch-Aramaisches Worterb. (new ed. Lemb. 1857 sq., 8vo): of these, the first alone covers both the Chald. and Syr., and includes likewise the sister languages. SEE SHEMITIC LANGUAGES.

The following may be specified as the different Aramaean dialects in detail:

1. THE EASTERN ARAMAIC or CHALDEE. — This is not to be confounded with "the language of the Chaldees" (Da 1:4), which was probably a Medo-Persic dialect; but is what is denominated Aramaic (אֲרָמִית) in Da 2:4. This was properly the language of Babylonia, and was acquired by the Jews during the exile, and carried back with them on their return to their own land. SEE CHALDAEAN.

The existence of this language, as distinct from the Western Aramaic or Syriac, has been denied by many scholars of eminence (Michaelis, Abhandl. uber d. Syr. Sprache, § 2; Jahn, Aramaische Sprachlehre, § I; Hupfeld, Theol. Stud. und Krit. 1830, p. 290 sq.; De Wette, Einl. § 32; Furst, Lehrgeb. der Aram. Idiome, p. 5), who think that in what is called the Chaldee we have only the Syriac with an infusion of Hebraisms. The answer to this, however, is that some of the peculiarities of the Chaldee are such as are not Hebraistic, so that it cannot have derived them from this source. Thus the preformative in the future of the third person masc. sing. and of the third pers. masc. and fem. plur. in Chaldee is י, while in Syriac it is נ; and in Heb. the last is ת; the pron. this in Chaldee is דֵּך and דֵּן, while the Syr. has הָנָץ and the Heb. זֶה; the Chaldee has the status emphaticus plur. 9יָּא, while the Syr. has a simple 9א; and to these may be added the use of peculiar words, such as תּלָתָא, תִּלתִּי (Da 5:7,16), כִּנֵמָץ (Ezr 4:8; Ezr 5:9,11; Ezr 6:13), כּעֶנֶת (Ezr 4:10-11, etc.), לחֵנָה(Da 5:2,23); the use of ד forל in such words as אֲזִד, etc. There are other differences between the Chaldee and Syriac, such as the absence from the former of otiant consonants and diphthongs, the use of dagesh- forte in the former and not in the latter, the formation of the infin. without the prefixing of in except in Peal; but as these, are common to the Chaldee with the Hebrew, they cannot be used as proofs that the Chaldee was a dialect independent of the Hebrew, and not the Syriac modified by the Hebrew; and the same may be said of the difference of pronunciation between the Syriac and Chaldee, such as the prevalence of an a sound in the latter where the former has the o sound, etc. It may be added, however, to the evidence above adduced, as a general remark, that when we consider the wide range of the Aramaic language from east to west, it is in the highest degree probable that the dialect of the people using it at the one extremity should differ considerably from that of those using it at the other. It may be further added that not only are the alphabetical characters of the Chaldee different from those of the Syriac, but there is a much greater prevalence of the scriptio plena in the former than in the latter. As, however, the Chaldee has come down to us only through the medium of Jewish channels, it is not probable that we have it in the pure form in which it was spoken by the Shemitic Babylonians. The rule of the Persians, and subsequently of the Greeks in Babylonia, could not fail also to infuse into the language a foreign element borrowed from both these sources. (See Aurivillius, Dissertt. ad Sac. Literas et Philol. Orient. pertinentes, p. 107 sq.; Hoffmann, Grammatica Syr., Proleg., p. 11; Dietrich, De Serm. Chald. proprietate, Lips. 1839; Havernick, General Introduction, p. 91 sq.; Bleek, Einl. in das A. T., p. 53; Winer, Chalddische Grammatik, p. 5.)

The Chaldee, as we have it preserved in the Bible (Ezr 4:8,18; Ezr 7:12-26; Da 2:4-7:28; Jer 10:11) and in the Targums, has been, as respects linguistic character, divided into three grades: 1. As it appears in the Targum of Onkelos, where it possesses most of a peculiar and independent character; 2. As it appears in the biblical sections, where it is less free from Hebraisms; and, 3. As it appears in the other Targums, in which, with the exception to some extent of that of Jonathan ben-Uzziel on the Prophets, the language is greatly corrupted by foreign infusions (Winer, De Onkeloso ejusque Paraphr. Chald., Lips. 1819; Luzzato, De Onkelosi Chald. Pent. versione, Vien. 1830; Hirt, De Chaldaismo Biblico, Jen. 1751). SEE TARGUM.

The language which is denominated in the N.T. Hebrew, and of which a few specimens are there given, seems, so far as can be judged from the scanty materials preserved, to have been substantially the same as the Chaldee of the Targums (Pfannkuche, On the Language of Palestine in the Age of Christ and his Apostles, translated in the Bibl. Repository, Apr. 1831, and reprinted in the Bibl. Cabinet, vol. 2). In this language some of the apocryphal books were written (Jerome, Praef. in Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees), the work of Josephus on the Jewish war (De Bello Jud., prief. § 1), and, as some suppose, the original Gospel by Matthew. It is designated by Jerome the Syro-Chaldaic (contr. Pelag. 3, 1), and by this name it is now commonly known. The Talmudists intend this when they speak of the Syriac or Aramaic (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. on Mt 5:18). SEE HEBREW LANGUAGE.

The Chaldee is written in the square character in which the Hebrew now appears. This seems to have been the proper Chaldee character, and to have superseded the old Hebrew or Samaritan character after the exile. The Palmyrean and the Egypto-Aramaic letters, SEE ALPHABET much more closely resemble the square character than the ancient Hebrew of the coins (Kopp, Bilder unid Schriften, 2:164 sq.). SEE CHALDEE LANGUAGE.

2. THE WESTERN ARAMAIC or SYRIAC. — Of this in its ancient form no specimens remain. As it is known to us, it is the dialect of a Christianized people, and its oldest document is the translation of the N.T., which was probably made in the second century. SEE SYRIAC VERSIONS.

As compared with the Arabic, and even with the Hebrew, the Syriac is a poor language; it is also harsher and flatter than the Hebrew. As it is now extant, it abounds in foreign adulterations, having received words successively from the Persian, the Greek, the Latin, the Arabic, and even, in its more recent state, from the Crusaders.

The Syriac of the early times is said to have had dialects. This is confirmed by what has come down to us. The Syriac of the sacred books differs from that preserved in the Palmyrene inscriptions, so far as those can be said to convey to us any information — on this point, and the later Syriac of the Maronites and of the Nestorians differs considerably from that of an older date. What Adler has called the Hierosolymitan dialect is a rude and harsh dialect, full of foreign words, and more akin to the Chaldee than to the Syriac. The Syriac is written in two different characters, the Estrangelo and the Peshito. Of these the Estrangelo is the more ancient; indeed, it is more ancient apparently than the characters of the Palmyrene and the Egypto- Aramaic inscriptions. Assemanni derives the word from the Greek στρογγύλος, round (Bibl. Orient. 3, pt. 2, p. 378); but this does not correspond with the character itself, which is angular rather than round. The most probable derivation is from the Arabic esti, writing, and anjil, gospel. The Peshito is that commonly in use, and is simply the Estrangelo reduced to a more readable form. SEE SYRIAC LANGUAGE.

3. THE SAMARITAN. — This is a mixture of Aramaic and Hebrew. It is marked by frequent permutations of the gutturals. The character used is the most ancient of the Shemitic characters, which the Samaritans retained when the Hebrews adopted the square character. Few remains of this dialect are extant. Besides the translation of the Pentateuch [see SAMARITAN VERSIONS], only some liturgical hymns used by Castell, and cited by him as Liturgia Damascenorum, and the poems collected and edited by Gesenius (Carmina Samaritasa) in the first fasciculus of his Anecdota Orientalia, remain. (Morinus, Opuscula HebrceoSamaritana, 1657; Cellarius, Hore Samaritance, Jenae, 1703; Uhlemann, Institutt. Ling. Samaritanae, Lips. 1837.) SEE SAMARITAN LANGUAGE.

4. THE SABIAN or NAZOREAN. — This is the language of a sect on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris who took to themselves (at least in part) the name of Mendeites (Gnostics) or Nazoreans, but were called Sabians by the Arabians. Some of their religious writings are extant in the libraries at Paris and Oxford. Their great book (סִדֶרָא רִבָּץ), the Liber Adami, has been edited with a Latin translation by Matthias Norberg, Prof. at Lund, who died in 1826, under the title Codex Nasarcaus, Liber Adami Appellatus (3 parts 4to, Lund, 1815-16); this was followed by a Lexicon (1816) and an Onomasticon (1817) on the book by the same. The language is a jargon between Syriac and Chaldee; it uses great freedom with the gutturals, and indulges in frequent commutations of other letters; and in general is harsh and irregular, with many grammatical improprieties, and a large infusion of Persic words. The MSS. are written in a peculiar character; the letters are formed like those of the Nestorian Syriac, and the vowels are inserted as letters in the text.

5. THE PALMYRENE. — On the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra or Tadmor have been found many inscriptions, of which a great part are bilingual, Greek, and Aramaic. A collection of these was made by Robert Wood, and published by him in a work entitled The Ruins of Palmyra (Lond. 1753); they were soon afterward made the object of learned examination by Barthelemy at Paris and Swinton at Oxford, especially the latter (Explication of the Inscriptions in the Palmnyrene Language, in the 48th vol. of the Philosophical Transactions, p. 690-756). These inscriptions are of the first, second, and third centuries; they are of little intrinsic importance. The language closely resembles the Syriac, and is written in a character akin to the square character, but a little inclining to a cursive mode of writing.

6. THE EGYPTO-ARAMAIC. — This is found on some ancient Egyptian monuments, proceeding probably from Jews who had come from Palestine to Babylonia. Among these is the famous Carpentras inscription, so called from its present location in the south of France: this, Gesenius thinks, is the production of a Syrian from the Seleucidinian empire residing in Egypt; but this is less probable than that it is the production of a Jew inclining to the Egyptian worship. Some MSS. on papyrus also belong to this head (see Gesenius, Monumenta Phaen. 1:226- 245). The language is Aramaic, chiefly resembling the Chaldee, but with a Hebrew infusion.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Scripture linking and popups powered by VerseClick™.