The Importance of Aramaic for Biblical Studies
Most everyone learns Hebrew in seminary (or at least is introduced to Hebrew, technically I wouldn’t call knowing enough to look up words in BDB or double-clicking your computer program “learning” Hebrew, but that’s a discussion for another day…), but few of us learn Aramaic. This despite the fact that there actually is some Aramaic in the Bible (albeit a very small percentage). I guess nobody is expected to preach from Daniel or Ezra? I know, when exactly would seminarians find time to study Aramaic as well, when they hardly learned Hebrew?
I didn’t formally study any Aramaic in seminary either, but during my three years at HUC I have begun to appreciate its importance for both Hebrew linguistics and Biblical Studies (you probably have noticed an Aramaic bent to my blog over the last months as I study for comps). This is most likely due to the fact that my adviser is an expert in Aramaic, but the more I study the harder it is to ignore its importance.
For instance, the way various standard literary dialects of Aramaic have developed with a mix of features of other dialects provide insight into the issues of chronology and typology in biblical Hebrew that I have been posting about. In fact, in his paper, “Contributions of Aramaic Studies to Hebrew Philology” in the IOSOT congress volume (Basel, 2001), Dr Kaufman says:
Indeed I would venture to claim that the scholar who attempts to master the intricacies of Biblical Hebrew dialectology without more than a passing acquaintance with Aramaic dialectology of those periods does so at his or her peril (pp 50-51).
Read the rest of that paper for other important contributions of Aramaic. For my part, I am beginning to try and compile some of these features for myself, and I will try and make my summaries and synthesis available in a new essay series. I will begin with an introduction to Aramaic, and shortly I hope to have finished a summary of the Old Aramaic dialects. As always, I appreciate any comments or suggestions anyone has.