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Aramaic for beginners

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Back from Jerusalymington which went very well. A week spent exploring the last days of the historical Jesus on the streets of an English south coast town. It was a week for all the senses – we smelt nard, we shared a passover meal, we listened to music. One of the resources I discovered and used was Jordi Savall’s magnificent Jerusalém – an evocation of the history of Jerusalem through music from many eras. (It’s available on iTunes, but comes as a two-CD pack with a 400pp book. Check out Amazon). It includes a number of fascinating pieces, including fanfares using the shofar – the ram’s horn that was used on the Temple. It also includes a long chunk of the Sybilline Oracles sung in Aramaic.

Aramaic was, of course, the language spoken by Jesus. It was the day-to-day language of Israel at the time of Christ – indeed, it was widely spoken in the Eastern mediterranean – and it is preserved in the gospels in a few instances, notably in words like Abba, Maranatha, names like Cephas and Barabbas, and in quotations, such as the verse that Jesus shouted out on the cross – Eli Eli lema sabachthani.
It is also the language of probably the oldest Christian liturgy we have – the liturgy of the Syrian Church. (You can hear a sample on Spotify). But more on that anon.

Anyway, I was intrigued, therefore, to see this story in the Grauniad of the new Aramaic Language Academy in Syria.

It’s always struck me as touching that Jesus, in the moment of absolute darkness, reverted to his mother-tongue. He quotes a Psalm, but not in its original Hebrew, but in the language he spoke in his village, the language of his friends and family: Aramaic.