An Introduction to Aramaic is a straightforward introduction to biblical Aramaic for beginning students who are already familiar with Hebrew. All Aramaic passages in the Old Testament are included, along with an introduction to other Aramaic texts, such as ancient inscriptions, Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, and quotations in the New Testament. There are also paradigms, a complete glossary, and a list of resources for further study as well as practice exercises for each chapter. This revised edition clarifies certain points in the first edition, updates the contents and provides an answer key.
This title was originally conceived as a workbook and is paced well for someone just starting out in Aramaic. Recognizing that most students of Aramaic desire to work with the Aramaic passages found in the Bible, the book is organized around these passages. As mentioned in the Preface to the First Edition, "These are at first simplified and abridged, in order to keep the quantity of new vocabulary to within manageable proportions. Daniel 7, the last biblical passage in Aramaic, is read exactly as it occurs in the Bible."
“The next period of Aramaic is dominated by what is called Official, Imperial, or Standard Literary Aramaic because it served as the official administrative language of the Persian empire from the sixth to the fourth centuries, although it may have begun to spread somewhat earlier, under the Assyrians and Babylonians. This is also the dialect found in the Bible, although some scholars assign the book of Daniel to a later category.” (Page 6)
“example, many Semitic languages form nouns by adding an initial (‘prosthetic’) א to a three letter root.” (Page 15)
“Aramaic accomplishes this differently—by using the 3d person pronouns as a copula:” (Page 55)
“Indeed, because they belong to the same Northwest branch of the Semitic language family, Aramaic can be a relatively easy second language to learn and a particularly useful way to achieve a deeper understanding of Hebrew itself, offering insights into the nuances of individual Hebrew words and alerting us to differing styles within the Bible. It will, for example, make us aware of ‘Aramaisms’ not only in late passages, such as the books of Esther or Chronicles where one would expect them, but also in earlier parts of the Bible, such as the song of Deborah (Judges 5). These characteristics have even led some scholars to speculate that certain books of the Bible were originally written in Aramaic and only later translated into Hebrew.” (Page 2)
“Sometimes Aramaic uses the particle אִיתַי to express the present tense of ‘to be.’ Like the Hebrew word יֵשׁ, to which it may be related,* אִיתַי normally means ‘there is’” (Page 55)
There is little doubt that Greenspahn deserves high commendation for this work. The book is reader-friendly, well-organized, and informative.
—Andrews University Seminary Studies
In all, this is a very successful and long-overdue book.
—Journal of Hebrew Scriptures
...our class was able to complete the entire workbook, thereby gaining a good sense of the basics of Aramaic and a familiarity with the Aramaic portions of the Bible without becoming entangled in the intricacies of the original.
—Review of Biblical Literature (review of First Edition)
Greenspahn has succeeded admirably in producing a very user-friendly introduction to the Aramaic language.
—Max Rogland, Review of Biblical Literature, May 2004
(Excerpted from An Introduction to Aramaic chapter 1)
"...Today few people study Aramaic because they are interested in the Arameans. Most are motivated by the fact that parts of the Bible are written in Aramaic, specifically major sections of the books of Ezra (4:6-6:18 and 7:12-26) and Daniel (2:4-7:28), as well as one sentence in Jeremiah (10:11) and two words in Genesis (31:47). In order to read the entire "Hebrew" Bible in the original, then, one must know Aramaic.
"With only some 200 verses of the Bible in Aramaic, there would be little reason to learn the dialect for that reason alone. However, mastering this limited body of material can open the door to a wide range of possibilities.
"Because Aramaic was a dominant language among the Jews of first century Palestine, a wealth of important texts are written in it. Although Jesus' teachings survive only in the Greek New Testament, the Gospels provide ample evidence of Aramaic traditions surrounding him, and the language's influence can be felt in several other passages as well. Being familiar with Aramaic can, therefore, deepen your appreciation of the New Testament. Extensive bodies of both Jewish and Christian literature are also written in Aramaic. Among these are several of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many rabbinic texts, including parts of both talmuds and various midrashim, a substantial number of ancient Jewish Bible translations, called targumim, masoretic notes to the biblical text, and legal and mystical works from as late as the eighteenth century. Within Christian tradition, important writings from the Syrian church, including the Peshitta translation of the Bible, are written in a dialect of Aramaic known as Syriac. In order to provide a taste of the riches which await those who have mastered Aramaic, a small selection from some of these has been included in the final chapters of this book.
"Learning Aramaic can also be a first step into the Semitic family of languages as a whole, for those who choose to explore some of its other members. Familiarity with these languages can illuminate elements of biblical Hebrew by providing greater perspective than is possible from knowledge of Hebrew alone, much as we can see things better with two eyes than is possible with only one. For example, it can sensitize us to what might otherwise seem ordinary and unremarkable features of Hebrew, ranging from its system of 'tenses' to the existence of internal passives and the changing function of the participle. Indeed, because they belong to the same Northwest branch of the Semitic language family, Aramaic can be a relatively easy second language to learn and a particularly useful way to achieve a deeper understanding of Hebrew itself, offering insights into the nuances of individual Hebrew words and alerting us to differing styles within the Bible. It will, for example, make us aware of 'Aramaisms' not only in late passages, such as the books of Esther or Chronicles where one would expect them, but also in earlier parts of the Bible, such as the song of Deborah (Judges 5). These characteristics have even led some scholars to speculate that certain books of the Bible were originally written in Aramaic and only later translated into Hebrew. The knowledge you are about to gain will, therefore, open the door to an entirely new world, one which is interesting and rewarding in its own right."
Frederick E. Greenspahn is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. He received his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Brandeis University in 1977.
Six pages from the chapter on consonants give a sense of what's included in each chapter. Click an image to see the full-size version.