Comprehensive List of Resources for Learning Jesus’ Aramaic

The following is what I believe to be the most comprehensive list of resources available for learning Jesus’ language of Aramaic. The dialect of Aramaic that Jesus spoke is called Galilean Aramaic or Jewish Palestinian Aramaic.

Jump to any section using these links:

 

Introduction

Jesus may have known Hebrew and used it during religious ceremonies and reading scripture, but Aramaic was his first language, as was common for people of Galilee and Judea during his time. 

Why did Jesus speak Aramaic? Although the majority of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible was written in Hebrew, it decreased in prominence during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC) as Aramaic spread throughout many nearby regions. Aramaic was also spoken in Babylon, where many conquered Jews were taken captive and held for a time before returning to Galilee and Judea (597–538 BC). From the time following the Babylonian Empire and throughout Jesus’ time, many common people didn’t know Hebrew. However Hebrew eventually experienced a resurgence and became the dominate language of the Jewish people again as it is today (though in a different form from what it was in the Bible).

As Bill Janzen on Quora puts it, “So, by the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the language of the people. Even the name ‘Jesus’, when traced back through its etymology, is יֵשׁוּעַ [yeh-SHOO-ah], the Aramaic version of Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) — see Nehemiah 8:17.”

There are Aramaic portions of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible as well as very important Aramaic versions of the New Testament, but these are different dialects than the dialect Jesus used. The Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra are in Imperial or Biblical Aramaic, an older dialect to what Jesus spoke. And the Aramaic of the New Testament Peshitta is a type of Aramaic called Syriac. 

However, of course, there are considerable similarities between all of these dialects of Aramaic. Learning one will help prepare you to understand the others.

The student wishing to learn Jesus’ language – his particular dialect of Galilean Aramaic – should become primarily familiar with the grammar of the Targum.

Jesus used the same alphabet (or technically, “abjad”) for Aramaic and Hebrew. Actually, the Hebrew alphabet comes from the Aramaic alphabet, not the other way around. The style of letters that Jesus would have read and written the alphabet in is called the Square/Herodian script.

At the time of this writing, this list aims to be exhaustive for everything relating to Jesus’ dialect of Galilean/Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, but not exhaustive for other dialects including Imperial/Biblical Aramaic and Syriac. I will keep this post updated as I can. Please tell me in the comments if I missed anything.

 

About the author

Ryan Masterson

I'm the CEO and Co-founder of Green Hat Web Solutions, a great web development and branding agency founded in Denver in 2010. But my greatest passion is studying Jesus and ancient writings about him. Recently I've been spending time participating in online groups for speaking Koine Greek as a living language with other enthusiasts. I also enjoy good discussions on the possibility of sentient and intelligent life throughout the universe. I have degrees in Biblical Studies from Colorado Christian University and Art from the Art Institute of Colorado. Click here to learn where to find me.

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