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Article in the NY Times on Aramaic

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  • George Kiraz
    The article below on Aramaic appeared today... ... BOOKS and VIDEOS ON ARAMAIC AT WWW.GORGIASPRESS.COM The largest selection of Aramaic books/videos on the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 24, 2004
      The article below on Aramaic appeared today...

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      > This article from NYTimes.com
      > NYC: Watch Your Languages. They're Ancient.
      > February 24, 2004
      > TOMORROW is the big day for Mel Gibson, the actor-director
      > who apparently considers himself in some
      respects to be
      > more Catholic than the pope. His much-debated film,
      > Passion of the Christ," will open in theaters.
      George A. Kiraz can hardly wait.
      > His interest, though,
      > not in the theological and social disputes the movie has
      generated. He is curious about the dialogue, which Mr.
      > Gibson chose to
      render entirely in Aramaic and Latin, not
      > exactly the hottest languages
      on the planet.
      > "I want mainly to see if I understand any of
      the Aramaic,
      > and what form of Aramaic it is," said Dr. Kiraz,
      > of the Syriac Institute in Piscataway, N.J. His
      organization promotes the study of Syriac, an Aramaic
      > dialect that is
      the liturgical language of the Syrian
      > Orthodox Church and some other
      churches with Middle Eastern
      > roots.
      > "I call it BBC
      Aramaic - the standard form that continues
      > to be used today," said Dr.
      Kiraz, 39. He began speaking it
      > as a boy in Bethlehem (as in Little Town
      of Bethlehem, not
      > the place in Pennsylvania). He uses it today with
      > daughter, Tabetha.
      > "Since she was born three years
      ago, I've only spoken the
      > classical Syriac, which is Aramaic, to her,"
      he said. "Now
      > when she speaks to me, it's always in Aramaic. It's
      > a language used among bishops and priests. It would be
      > someone speaking Latin to his kid."
      > Aramaic, a
      Semitic language that in one of its forms is a
      > cousin to Hebrew, has
      been around for 2,500 years or more.
      > In Jesus' time, it was the lingua
      franca of the Middle
      > East.
      > "Jews were probably not
      speaking Hebrew in the first
      > century," said Rabbi Ismar Schorsch,
      chancellor of the
      > Jewish Theological Seminary. "They were speaking
      > With the rise of Islam, the language was shoved
      aside by
      > Arabic. It endures in some Syrian villages and a few
      > places in that region. A couple of Christian schools in
      > Jersey teach it, Dr. Kiraz said, and it is heard in church
      > Aramaic is familiar to Jews as well. Portions of the
      > of Daniel and Ezra were written in Aramaic, as were some
      > the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud. Observant Jews hear
      Aramaic every day in the Kaddish, an exaltation of God that
      > also serves
      as a mourner's prayer.
      > "You have to know Aramaic to be a
      serious student of the
      > Bible," said Rabbi Stephen A. Geller, chairman of
      > Department of Bible and Semitic Languages at the
      > theological
      seminary, in Morningside Heights.
      > While it might be a mistake
      to pronounce the language dead,
      > it would be silly to call it thriving.
      By contrast, this
      > film's other language, Latin, is faring rather well
      for an
      > ancient tongue once given up for lost.
      > (Mr.
      Gibson's use of Latin, by the way, is deemed a blunder
      > by experts. He'd
      have done better with Greek, which was
      > widely spoken in Jesus' day. "No
      one in the Mideast spoke
      > Latin," Rabbi Geller said. In other words,
      don't expect
      > every scholar to walk away from "Passion" saying,
      > fractum non sit, noli id reficere" - "if it ain't broke,
      don't fix it.")
      > THESE days, Latin is enjoying a resurgence.
      "The nadir came
      > in 1970, right after the Roman Catholic Church gave
      > Latin," said Thomas J. Sienkewicz, vice chairman of the
      National Committee for Latin and Greek, a group that
      > promotes studies in
      those classical languages.
      > But all indicators point to a
      turnaround in the last two
      > decades, said Professor Sienkewicz, who
      teaches classics at
      > Monmouth College in Illinois. Indeed, one problem
      now is a
      > looming shortage of qualified teachers for the growing
      numbers of students. A nationwide campaign to recruit
      > instructors is
      planned for the first week of March.
      > Some young people like
      studying Latin for its own sake,
      > Professor Sienkewicz said. Others are
      persuaded by evidence
      > that high school students who take Latin do far
      better than
      > average on the verbal SAT.
      > There is, too,
      the "Gladiator" factor, said Nancy McKee,
      > chairwoman of the Latin and
      Greek group and a former Latin
      > teacher in Lawrenceville, N.J. The
      Russell Crowe movie
      > "prompted an interest in the Roman culture," she
      > Might "Passion" similarly breathe new life in Aramaic?
      > one is betting on it. The language, Dr. Kiraz acknowledges,
      has obvious limitations in today's world.
      > "Sometimes we have
      to coin a new word to describe things,"
      > he said. "Pancake, for example,
      is kind of difficult. In
      > Syriac, there is a word for cake, kuko.
      Basically, for
      > pancake we say 'pankuko.' "
      > For
      moviegoers, unfortunately, there is no Syriac word yet
      > for popcorn.
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