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The Rise and Fall of Aramaic

Sept. 16 2015

Aramaic—the language of parts of the Bible, most of the Talmud, and much other Jewish religious literature—is still spoken today, although it is now in danger of extinction. But it was once the language that united the Middle East, as John McWhorter writes:

The Aramaeans—according to biblical lore named for Noah’s grandson Aram—started as a little-known nomadic group. But . . . by the 11th century BCE they ruled large swaths of territory in Mesopotamia, encompassing parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—including, for a spell, the city of Babylon itself. . . . In 911 BCE, the Assyrians, who spoke a language called Akkadian, ousted them. But the Assyrians unwittingly helped the Aramaeans’ language extinguish their own.

Namely, the Assyrians deported Aramaic-speakers far and wide, to Egypt and elsewhere. The Assyrians may have thought they were clearing their new territory, but this was like blowing on a fluffy milkweed and thinking of it as destruction rather than dissemination: the little seeds take root elsewhere. Aramaic had established itself as the language of authority and cross-cultural discourse in Babylon and beyond, and with language as with much else, old habits die hard. People were soon learning Aramaic from the cradle, no longer just in one ruling city but throughout the Fertile Crescent stretching from the Persian Gulf through northern Arabia to the Nile. Even the Assyrians found it easier to adjust to Aramaic than to impose Akkadian. . . .

Here is also why Jesus and other Jews lived in Aramaic, and why portions of the Hebrew Bible are actually in Aramaic. The two languages are part of the same Semitic family, but still, when the book of Daniel switches into Aramaic for five chapters because Chaldeans are being addressed, it’s rather as if Cervantes had switched into Italian in Don Quixote for the tale of the Florentine nobleman. So dominant was Aramaic that the authors of the Bible could assume it was known to any audience they were aware of.

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ancient Near East, Aramaic, Book of Joshua, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Language

 

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations