Who spoke Aramaic?
The short answer: Just about everyone in the ancient world.
Aramaic was the lingua franca in the Ancient Near East for more than two thousand years. It was first spoken by the Arameans around 1,200 B.C.
After the collapse of the Assyrian empire, the Babylonians and Persians inherited the language. With each successive empire, Aramaic was exported throughout conquered territories and people groups. As the economic and cultural influence of the empires spread, so did Aramaic, slowly replacing local languages in the subjugated territories. This shift took place in Palestine beginning in the sixth century B.C. Although official business in Palestine was still conducted in Hebrew, most people began speaking Aramaic. This is why some of the newer texts from the Old Testament are written in Aramaic. Jesus and his disciples likely spoke Aramaic as well. (The Hebrew language saw a resurgence after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.)
Key Aramaic texts include portions of the Talmud and the Targums, as well as the Peshitta—the Aramaic translations of the New Testament, which remain important to scholars today for the value in historical and textual criticism.
The two most well-known sections of Aramaic in the Old Testament include Daniel 2:4b–7:28 and Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12–26. But there are also two lesser-known instances that use Aramaic wording in the Old Testament outside Daniel and Ezra: Genesis 31:46–47 and Jeremiah 10:11.
In total, 269 verses in the Old Testament are translated from Aramaic or include Aramaic words in the original equivalent to all of Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Psalm 1 in the Old Testament, or all of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon in the New Testament.
Key texts to benefit from in learning Biblical Aramaic:
- Aramaic portions of the Old Testament
- Aramaic translation of the New Testament (Peshitta - written in square script)
- Aramaic Targums (Rabbinic periphrastic / interpretive translations of the Old Testament)
- Rabbinic Talmudic Writings
Schedule a free consultation to learn more about being coached in Biblical Aramaic.