Teaching Aramaic

From the Guardian:

It is the language that Christ spoke, but is regarded as “endangered” with ever fewer scattered groups of native speakers.

But in Oxford, Aramaic has been flourishing again, with a course in the ancient language drawing people from as far afield as Liverpool and London. There are now 56 people learning Aramaic at the university, including three classics professors, solemnly completing their weekly homework tasks and regularly attending the free lunchtime lessons, more than the numbers studying Greek.

Their first lesson might have surprised the writers of the books of David and Ezra in the Bible, and of the Talmud, both originally written in Aramaic: the scholars pored over a translation of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

David Taylor has previously taught the language to groups of two or three people in his study, and was astounded by the turnout for his first public lesson. Though a few fell by the wayside, more than 40 stayed the course until the classes ended in time for Christmas.

John Ma, an Oxford classicist and one of the leaders of Project Arshama which organised the lessons, said: “You would probably have to go back 2,000 years to find a room so full with people speaking Aramaic – the time when Jesus would have been speaking the language.”

Dialects of Aramaic – a 3,000-year-old language once spoken by millions across the Mediterranean and near east, from Syria to the borders of India – are still spoken, but Taylor believes the war may push it to the verge of extinction in Iraq.

His students were learning imperial Aramaic, from his own newly devised grammar, which is intended to be easier to learn as a beginner. They were not entirely convinced. Boris Chrubasik, an Oxford classics graduate, said: “Getting used to a semitic language is all but easy, and when the radicals start dropping one gets upset.” However, he insisted staunchly: “Learning Aramaic is fun.”

Most of the students were postgrad classicists like Chrubasik, but some theologians and biblical scholars came too.

The description of Aramaic in the Bible may need a little more nuance and we had a fair few (maybe not 40-56, but quick, unpublished calculations are probably showing more than anyone else for 2000 years ) when we ran a Sheffield Aramaic group but if it gets theologians and biblical scholars reading Aramaic, shouldn’t we stop being so churlish?



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