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'Syrian Village Speaks Tongue Used by Jesus'

January 10, 1987

The story on Aramaic by Charles P. Wallace is fascinating, but it is a fragmentary and misleading account of a magnificent Semitic language that was ancient but very much alive at the beginning of the Christian era and is still a vital subject of learning to this day.

Aramaic was the vernacular language of the Jewish people in the Holy Land and in Babylon; it was spoken by Jesus of Nazareth; it is the basic language of both the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmuds, and comprises two of the ancient versions of the Bible, which even today are indispensable to scholars in the analytical study of Scripture.

Wallace errs in limiting spoken Aramaic to Syria. It is also spoken by some of the Kurdish tribes of Iran-Iraq. Also overlooked by Wallace are the Aramaic words uttered by Jesus on the cross: Eloi, Eloi, lama s(h)ebaktani, (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46), the Aramaic translation of Psalm 22:2, "my God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

SAMSON H. LEVEY

Los Angeles

Rabbi Levey is professor emeritus of rabbinics and Jewish religious thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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