Aramaic in late antiquity

Yochanan Breuer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

15 Scopus citations


THE ARAMAIC VERNACULAR OF THE JEWS The Hebrew and Aramaic languages are related tongues and resemble each other in many ways. They both belong to the northwestern branch of the Semitic language family. According to the text of the Pentateuch, the Hebrews originate in Aram, since Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews, came from there, as did all the Matriarchs. Nevertheless, the Aramaic language was almost unknown in the Land of Israel during the period of the First Temple. Clear evidence of this is the story of Rabshaqe, which took place not long before the end of this period. Rabshaqe was sent by the King of Assyria to Jerusalem, where he spoke to the besieged inhabitants in the language of Judaea, Yehudit, despite the request of the Judaean princes: “Pray, speak to your servants in the Aramaic language, for we understand it; do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall” (2 Kgs. 18.26). The significance of this incident lies in the fact that apparently only the princes spoke Aramaic, as they came into frequent contact with foreigners, whereas the commoners of Judaea did not understand that tongue. The knowledge of Aramaic in the Land of Israel, however, spread with the return of the Babylonian exiles. This development had two causes: first, the return to Zion was marked by the arrival of a large wave of Babylonian Jews whose main language seems to have been Aramaic. Second, the status of the Aramaic language was rising and strengthening throughout the entire region during this period until it became the major language both in the Land of Israel and throughout the East. Even in Babylonia it appears that Akkadian was on the decline and was being replaced by Aramaic.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Judaism
Subtitle of host publicationVolume IV the Late Roman-Rabbinic Period
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)9781139055130
ISBN (Print)0521772486, 9780521772488
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2006

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2006 and Cambridge University Press, 2008.


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