Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Monday, 31 August 2015

Saving Aramaic. The Language Of The Ancient Near-East. Spoken By Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Aramaic Language
inscribed in stone.

The 7th-Century Monastery of Rabban Hormizd, only 28 miles North of Mosul,
Iraq, is situated on The Front Lines of the battle against Islamic State.

The following Text is from 

For more than three Millennia, Aramaic was spoken across The Near East, but, today, the language is in danger of being lost for ever. Colin Clarke reveals a new project, desperately fighting against the odds, to preserve the inscriptions that link us to our spoken past.

Aramaic was once an international language that extended across the ancient Near East, from Mesopotamia to Egypt. It was the official language of The Achaemenid Empire, in the 5th- and
4th- Centuries B.C., and continued as a Lingua Franca down to the 7th-Century A.D.

In New Testament times, Aramaic was the daily language of Jesus and his Disciples:

καὶ κρατήσας τῆς χειρὸς τοῦ παιδίου λέγει αὐτῇ,
Ταλιθα κουμ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον
Τὸ κοράσιον, σοὶ λέγω, ἔγειρε

And taking the child’s hand, He said to her,
Talitha kum’, which means ‘Little girl, I say
to you, arise.’ (Mark 5:41)

Here, the Aramaic phrase, Talitha kum, is translated for the Greek-speaking audience of the Gospel. Syriac is the Christian dialect of Aramaic, and, as such, it offers a direct link to the language and traditions of The Early Church. Syriac-speaking Edessa, located in Northern Mesopotamia, in what is now modern Turkey, was the first Christian Kingdom.

A depiction of Saint George and The Dragon at the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mor Gıworgıs,
at Qaraqoš, in Nineveh, Iraq, destroyed in 2006. The inscription above it is in
Syriac, Garshuni, and Arabic.

Sebastian Brock, Professorial Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an expert on the Syriac language, maintains Christianity has three traditional elements: Latin, Greek, and Syriac. Brock suggests that each element emphasises aspects not always seen in the others: Latin, the legal; Greek, the philosophical; Syriac, the symbolical and poetical. It should be noted that philosophy is not traditionally part of Semitic thought; Biblical wisdom texts are expressed in poetry.

With the expulsion of Christian communities in the Middle East, we are witnessing the uprooting and destruction of a heritage that extends back to Apostolic times. When Mosul fell to the Islamic State, it marked the first time in 1,600 years that the Church Bells of the City stopped ringing.

In November 2013, the Canadian Centre for Epigraphic Documents (CCED) launched the World’s first Syriac inscriptions database. The Centre is currently focusing on the Harrak Collection of Iraqi-Syriac and Garshuni inscriptions, that are largely from Mosul and the Plain of Nineveh. Even before the Islamic State invasion of Northern Iraq, a number of documents, that the CCED were working with, were only extant copies of now damaged or lost inscriptions.

CCED is a non-profit organisation, founded in order to archive, catalogue, and digitise epigraphic materials. This is a non-political, non-religious organisation, staffed by professionals and graduate students from the information field: librarians, archivists, and digital humanists. While receiving the support of scholars and organisations the World over, the Centre continues to work on a zero budget – all staff are volunteers. For the CCED to move forward with its goals, funding is needed.

The inscription from the Chaldean Church of Mar Eša‘ia, in Mosul, Iraq, is written in poetical metre. Line 16 offers a hidden chronogram: The year of death is given when the numerical values of the letters are added together: O Romanos the Priest, as watchful Angel, enter your heaven! = 1870.

In addition to the Harrak Collection, the CCED is working with the Talay Collection of Syrian Syriac inscriptions, dating from the 10th-Century A.D; The St Ephrem Ecumenical Research Institute
(SEERI) Collection, and the Association for Preservation of Saint Thomas Christian Heritage (APSTCH)/Perczel Collection, both from Kerala, India. These contain Syriac, Malayalam, Tamil, and Pahlavi inscriptions, possibly dating from the 9th- and 10th-Centuries to the 20th-Century.

The Centre has just launched the CCED Journal, an open-access, peer-reviewed publication relating to epigraphic studies.

While the Centre operates with no budget, sectarian violence across The Middle East is accelerating the destruction of Syriac Christian heritage. Many, if not most, of the Iraqi- Syriac inscriptions that the CCED is working with are the only copies of now- lost inscriptions. Meanwhile, inscriptions in India are also in danger of being lost through neglect. Every time the Centre adds another inscription online, that inscription is saved from oblivion. Each word saved is a victory.


Visit the Canadian Centre for Epigraphic Documents Website to see more about their work, and details of how to support the project:

This Article appeared in Issue 72 of Current World Archaeology. Click here to subscribe.

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