By Dr. Rocco A Errico from his book Let There Be Light
“Who spoke and used the Aramaic language? What about its origin? How important was it
in the ancient world? The following is a brief history of this Semitic tongue.
Aramaic made its historical appearance toward the end of the second millennium B.C.E.
in Mesopotamia — the Fertile Crescent of the ancient Near East. Gradually, at the outset of the
first millennium B.C.E., written and spoken forms of Aramaic began making inroads throughout
Near Eastern lands. It was the language of the Arameans, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Hebrews, and
Syrians. Linguists classify it as one of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages.
Historians tell us that the term “Aramaic” derives from Aram. According to Hebrew
Scripture, Aram was the grandson of Noah.
Aramaic is the best-attested and longest-attested member of the northwest Semitic
subfamily of Semitic dialects. In time it attracted all classes of people, government officials,
merchants, and writers. This is because its alphabet was practical, and its style of writing and
speaking was simple. Thus, by the 8th century B.C.E., Aramaic became the major language from
Egypt to Asia Minor to Pakistan. Assyria and Chaldea (Babylon) employed this language. The
Persian (Iranian) government used it in the Western Provinces. This Semitic tongue continues its
history as a spoken and written language in today’s world. Modern Assyrians, Chaldeans, and
other Semitic communities in the Near and Middle East, Australia, the United States and
elsewhere regularly speak it at home. They also use it in their social, political, and domestic
meetings, and in their religious worship.
Jesus’ apostles, disciples, and followers proclaimed and taught his joyful message all
over Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Mesopotamia in the Galilean Aramaic dialect. Aramaic
remained the common language of the Near East until the 7th century C.E.; then Arabic
gradually began to supplant Aramaic as the major tongue of the East. Nonetheless, the Christians
of Mesopotamia (Iraq), Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon kept the Aramaic tongue alive
domestically, scholastically, and liturgically. In spite of the pressure of the ruling Arabs to speak
Arabic, Aramaic still survives in many Near Eastern dialects.
Another important aspect of Aramaic is that it was the major tongue for the birth and
spread of spiritual and intellectual ideas throughout the Near East. According to the research of
an outstanding Aramaic and Arabic scholar, Professor Franz Rosenthal, in the Journal of Near
In my view, the history of Aramaic represents the purest triumph of the human spirit as
embodied in language (which is the mind’s most direct form of physical expression) over
the crude display of material power. Great empires were conquered by the Aramaic
language, and when they disappeared and were submerged in the flow of history, that
language persisted and continued to live a life of its own….The language continued to be
powerfully active in the promulgation of spiritual matters. It was the main instrument for
the formulation of religious ideas in the Near East, which then spread in all directions all
over the world….The monotheistic groups continue to live on today with a religious
heritage, much of which found first expression in Aramaic”