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What is…

also known as: Syriack, Syriac Aramaic, Ancient Syriac or Classical Syriac

This is the Semitic language of ancient Syria and is a dialect of Aramaic, and very similar to Hebrew in sound. It was also used in Iraq and Turkey. It is the language that Jesus Christ most commonly spoke, in addition to Hebrew and probably Greek. He spoke the Galilean dialect of Aramaic.

Aramaic is the historic language of Arameans. See: Aram

The language is very similar to Hebrew and somewhat like Arabic.

Aramaic characters in Syriac script

ܐ ālap ܒ bēth ܓ gāmal ܕ dālath ܗ ܘ waw ܙ zain ܚ ḥēth ܛ ṭēth ܝ yodh ܟ kāp ܠ lāmadh ܡ mem ܢ nun ܣ semkath ܥ ʿĒ ܦ ܨ ṣādhē ܩ qop ܪ rēsh ܫ shin ܬ taw

Aramaic is written from right-to-left ←, opposite to the English language. Other languages that are writen right-to-left are Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Azeri, Divehi, Fula, Kurdish, N'ko, Rohingya, and Urdu.

Example (Genesis 1:1)

ܒܪܫܝܬ ܒܪܐ ܐܠܗܐ܂ ܝܬ ܫܡܝܐ ܘܝܬ ܐܪܥܐ܂
—from the Peshitta text, the official Bible of Syriac Aramaic-speaking churches (early 5th century A.D., with roots in 1st century)

What did Aramaic sound like?

The name of Jesus in Aramaic sounds like be-sho

Actor James Caviezel speaking in Aramaic
in “The Passion of the Christ”
Icon Productions, Newmarket Film Group
length: 28 seconds

Biblical uses

In the New Testament there are several Syriac/Aramaic-based words, such as…

  • Raca” (Matthew 5:22)

  • Ephphatha” (Mark 7:34)

  • Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

  • “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34) —meaning: “He Is” (some translations say “My God”)

    Ancient Aramaic transliteration: Eil, Eil, l'manna sh'wik-thani.

    ܘܒ݂ܰܬ݂ܫܰܥ ܫܳܥܺܝܢ ܩܥܳܐ ܝܶܫܽܘܥ ܒ݁ܩܳܠܳܐ ܪܳܡܳܐ ܘܶܐܡܰܪ ܐܺܝܠ ܐܺܝܠ ܠܡܳܢܳܐ ܫܒ݂ܰܩܬ݁ܳܢܝ ܕ݁ܺܐܝܬ݂ܶܝܗ ܐܰܠܳܗܝ ܐܰܠܳܗܝ ܠܡܳܢܳܐ ܫܒ݂ܰܩܬ݁ܳܢܝ܂

    At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” —Mark 15:34 NASB

    Matthew 27:46 gives the Hebrew transliteration: “Eli, Eli” / Hebrew: Ἠλὶ, Ἠλὶ

A Syriac version of the Old Testament, containing all the canonical books, along with some Apocryphal books (called the Peshitto, i.e., simple translation, and not a paraphrase), was made early in the 2nd century, and is therefore the first Christian translation of the Old Testament. It was made directly from the original, and not from the Septuagint Version.

The New Testament was also translated from Greek into Syriac about the same time. It is noticeable that this version does not contain the Second and Third Epistles of John, 2 Peter, Jude, and the Apocalypse. These were, however, translated subsequently and placed in the version.

Biblical references

The King James Bible refers 3 times to “Syriac” or “Syrian language.” This is more correctly translated “Aramaic,” as it appears in the New King James Bible and New American Standard Bible

  • 2 Kings 18:26 KJV

    KJV: “Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebna, and Joah, unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.”

    NKJV, NASB, ESV: “…in Aramaic…”

  • Ezra 4:7 KJV

    KJV: “And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.”

    NKJV: “…written in Aramaic script, and translated into the Aramaic language…”

    NASB: “And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his colleagues wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic.”

  • Dan. 2:4 KJV

    KJV: “Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation.”

    NKJV, NASB, ESV: “…in Aramaic…”

Article Version: August 10, 2017