Aramaic—known down to the time of Michaelis as “Chaldee”
|November 7, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter seventeen||
In the course of the nineteenth century Aramaic—known down to the time of Michaelis as “Chaldee”—was more thoroughly studied. The various branches of this language and the history of its progress became more or less clearly recognisable. Kautzsch’s grammar of Biblical Aramaic (1884) and Dalman’s work embody the result of these, studies. “The Aramaic language,” explains Meyer, “is a branch of the North Semitic, the linguistic stock to which also belong the Assyrio-Babylonian language in the East, and the Canaanitish languages, including Hebrew, in the West, while the South Semitic languages—the Arabic and Aethiopic—form a group by themselves. The users of these languages, the Aramaeans, were seated in historic times between the Babylonians and Canaanites, the area of their distribution extending from the foot of Lebanon and Hermon in a north-easterly direction as far as Mesopotamia, where “Aram of the two rivers” forms their easternmost province. Their immigration into these regions forms the third epoch of the Semitic migrations, which probably lasted from 1600 B.C. down to 600.
The Aramaic states had no great stability. The most important of them was the kingdom of Damascus, which at a certain period was so dangerous an enemy to northern Israel. In the end, however, the Aramaean dynasties were crushed, like the two Israelitish kingdoms, between the upper and nether millstones of Babylon and Egypt. In the time of the successors of Alexander, there arose in these regions the Syrian kingdom; which in turn gave place to the Roman power.
But linguistically the Aramaeans conquered the whole of Western Asia. In the course of the first millennium B.C. Aramaic became the language of commerce and diplomacy, as Babylonian had been during the second. It was only the rise of Greek as a universal language which put a term to these conquests of the Aramaic.
In the year 701 B.C. Aramaic had not yet penetrated to Judaea. When the rabshakeh (officer) sent by Sennacherib addressed the envoys of Hezekiah in Hebrew, they begged him to speak Aramaic in order that the men upon the wall might not understand. For the post-exilic period the Aramaic edicts in the Book of Ezra and inscriptions on Persian coins show that throughout wide districts of the new empire Aramaic had made good its position as the language of common intercourse. Its domain extended from the Euxine southwards as far as Egypt, and even into Egypt itself. Samaria and the Hauran adopted it. Only the Greek towns and Phoenicia resisted.
The influence of Aramaic upon Jewish literature begins to be noticeable about the year 600. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, writing in a foreign land in an Aramaic environment, are the first witnesses to its supremacy. In the northern part of the country, owing to the immigration of foreign colonists after the destruction of the northern kingdom, it had already gained a hold upon the common people. In the Book of Daniel, written in the year 167 B.C., the Hebrew and Aramaic languages alternate. Perhaps, indeed, we ought to assume an Aramaic ground-document as the basis of this work.
At what time Aramaic became the common popular speech in the postexilic community we cannot exactly discover. Under Nehemiah “Judaean,” that is to say, Hebrew, was still spoken in Jerusalem; in the time of the Maccabees Aramaic seems to have wholly driven out the ancient national language. Evidence for this is to be found in the occurrence of Aramaic passages in the Talmud, from which it is evident that the Rabbis used this language in the religious instruction of the people. The provision that the text, after being read in Hebrew, should be interpreted to the people, may quite well reach back into the time of Jesus. The first evidence for the practice is in the Mishna, about A.D. 150.
In the time of Jesus three languages met in Galilee—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In what relation they stood to each other we do not know, since Josephus, the only writer who could have told us, fails us in this point, as he so often does elsewhere. He informs us that when acting as an envoy of Titus he spoke to the people of Jerusalem in the ancestral language, and the word he uses is ?????????. But the very thing we should like to know—whether, namely, this language was Aramaic or Hebrew, he does not tell us. We are left in the same uncertainty by the passage in Acts (xxii. 2) which says that Paul spoke to the people ????????, thereby gaining their attention, for there is no indication whether the language was Aramaic or Hebrew. For the writers of that period “Hebrew” simply means Jewish.
We cannot, therefore, be sure in what relation the ancient Hebrew sacred language and the Aramaic of ordinary intercourse stood to one another as regards religious writings and religious instruction. Did the ordinary man merely learn by heart a few verses, prayers, and psalms? Or was Hebrew, as the language of the cultus, also current in wider circles?
Dalman gives a number of examples of works written in Hebrew in the century which witnessed the birth of Christ: “A Hebrew original, he says, “must be assumed in the case of the main part of the Aethiopic book of Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, the Apocalypse of Baruch, Fourth Ezra, the Book of Jubilees, and for the Jewish ground-document of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, of which M. Gaster has discovered a Hebrew manuscript.” The first Book of Maccabees, too, seems to him to go back to a Hebrew original. Nevertheless, he holds it to impossible that synagogue discourses intended for the people can have been delivered in Hebrew, or that Jesus taught otherwise than in Aramaic.
Franz Delitzsch’s view, on the other hand, is that Jesus and the disciples taught in Hebrew; and that is the opinion of Resch also.
 The name Chaldee was due to the mistaken belief that the language in which parts of Daniel and Ezra were written was really the vernacular of Babylonia. That vernacular, now known to us from cuneiform tablets and inscriptions, is a Semitic language, but quite different from Aramaic.—F. C. B.
 Emil Friedrich Kautzsch was born in 1841 at Plauen in Saxony, and studied in Leipzig, where he became Privat-Docent in 1869. In 1872 he was called as as Professor to Basle, in 1880 to Tübingen, in 1888 to Halle.
 Gustaf Dalman, Professor at Leipzig, was born in 1865 at Niesky. In addition to the works of his named above, see also Der leidende und der sterbende Messias (The Suffering and Dying Messiah), 1888; and Was sagt der Talmud über Jesum? (What does the Talmud say about Jesus?), 1891.
 2 Kings xviii. 26 ff.
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