It’s standard procedure at CRTS to have Greek and Hebrew every semester. This works out to eight of each through four years, but with sabbaticals and other things that number is cut by one or two. One of those other things is that for one semester during those four years, students are given the option of taking Aramaic instead of Hebrew. Not all students choose to do so, and there’s wisdom in that. Mastering Hebrew is probably not all that different from fighting a trophy salmon, and taking a semester off to study Aramaic is akin to letting your line go slack to check out a neat rock.
But it’s okay to be optimistic like that, to think that you can have your rock and salmon, too. And so it is that I’ve found myself, with a few others, sitting under Dr. Smith’s tutelage, stuttering through another quasi-alien language. Only quasi, though, because it uses the same alphabet as Hebrew, and even some of the same words. Like English and French, I guess.
The reason CRTS offers the course is because parts of the Old Testament were originally written in Aramaic. According to our textbook, those parts are a few chapters in Ezra, a few in Daniel, one sentence in Jeremiah, and two words in Genesis. It’s not much, but that’s also why only one semester is offered, and it’s an elective at that. It’s hard to tell from this point whether that one semester will have any lasting impact, but again, optimism.
There’s also the fact that for centuries Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East, just as English is for the world today. You could travel to Palestine, Arabia, or Persia, and reasonably expect to communicate in Aramaic with anyone you’d come across. This was the way things were from the days of Daniel to the days of Christ, who, at the end of His passion, cried out in Aramaic, eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani. So, in addition to the appeal of getting into the spirit of such exotic places as ancient Arabia and Persia, you also get a glimpse at what was the native tongue of our Saviour.
Also, you get introduced to things that probably have no practical value whatsoever, like the king whose name I chose for the title of this post. I’ll let you figure out who it was, but his name in Aramaic is a few phonetic pints more rollicking than the way it normally is in our Bibles. Just remember to gurgle the “ch,” like in Bach.