Sunday, April 04, 2004

An amusing article from Ha'aretz on Mel Gibson, Lenny Bruce, and especially Aramaic -- Een, Yuudaayaa naa. (Jim Davila over at PaleoJudaica has been on the Aramaic watch, and here's another good example).

But, unlike Latin, Aramaic is a living language though surely a threatened one. I already had a dim notion that Aramaic is still spoken by Christians in isolated hamlets of Syria, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan. What I did not know, until a couple of years ago, is that it is still spoken by Jews. A cousin of my wife married a delightful young woman whose family belongs to a community that hails from an area of northwestern Iran - by Lake Ormiya near the border with Turkey and Azerbeijan. She told me that her parents spoke Aramaic. I admit I was incredulous. But it is true.

Her small community, which settled in Ormiya at the time of the Babylonian Exile and never left, calls itself "Nash Didan." They speak a dialect of Aramaic they call lishan didan - "our language." As I write, I have by me three books, lent to me by our cousin. They are translations from the Bible into lishan didan; the language is recognizably Aramaic. I later learned that Kurdish Jews also speak an Aramaic dialect they call lishna yehudiyya.

I find this survival of an ancient Jewish language profoundly moving, an unbroken link with a past that stretches back to the early years of the Babylonian Exile. Sadly, the language will probably disappear within a couple of generations: The young people of the community no longer speak it. Unlike Yiddish or Ladino it has no literature to speak of and we shall not see a chair in lishan didan studies endowed at any university. Truly a great pity.

So one cheer to Mel Gibson for Aramaic. But, as for the movie, if I ever have an overwhelming desire to see a crucifixion I think I'll look again at the DVD of "Life of Brian."

I have to say I agree with that last comment -- "Look on the bright side of life" indeed.

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