Lecture 3 – Second Hour
Edessa and the Aramaic Language
Edessa and the Aramaic Language: Chaldean or Syriac, Sharing or Piracy
- Around the year 1000 BC, we may find archaeological testimonies of its use in Mesopotamia and surrounding regions including Edessa and Syria.
- Chaldeans spoke and used Aramaic in their rule of Babylon and the empire.
- Jews deported to Babylon in 586 BC learned and used that Chaldean vernacular, and continued to use after their return to Jerusalem and Judea up to the 1st Christian century through 132 AD.
- Edessa, because of Constantine’s conversion, since the beginning of 4th century, became major Christian schools center, hosting students from Syria and Upper Mesopotamia; the Aramaic language used in those schools was not a dialect spoken anywhere, but a scholastic vernacular of Edessa, formulated to be used between scholars as a common means of writing and teaching, called “Syriac” because of the location of Edessa within the Roman province of Syria at that time.
- There is no grammar of this scholastic Aramaic, or testimony at all, left from that time, especially a) in regard to vowels and pronunciation, b) in regard of changing pronunciation of the letters B-g-d-k-p-t in connection with B-d-o-l letters. There is no mention at all of changing the pronunciation of these letters in connection with preceding letters or vowels. That kind of fabrication was the invention of some later Syrian writers.
- Edessa fell to the Arabs around 630 and became quickly arabized. Edessanian “Syriac” died as a language used anywhere, in schools or communities, and was replaced by the language of the rulers: Arabs, then Turks, then Kurds.
- The first grammar of the Syrian “Syriac” was formulated by a Syrian, Jacob of Edessa (+708), who did not reflect any spoken vernacular, of Edessa or elsewhere, but established rules for the Syrian writers and readers as he perceived them. A major influence on the formulation of a Grammar of Syriac language was exercised by a famous scholar, Bar Haebreus (+ 1286 AD), evidently a Syrian, who did not use any Aramaic as mother tongue or ordinary communication’s tool. There is no demonstrable evidence at all that these grammarians reflected the common pronunciation of the scholastic Syriac, as it has been accepted in Edessa or used by ancient Church of the East Fathers.
- The Chaldeans have all the right to claim their share in the linguistic heritage of Edessa and its schools, and have all the right to pronounce their fathers’ compositions according to their Mesopotamian vernacular Aramaic.
- Indeed, it is a drastic destruction of the Chaldean identity and heritage to follow blindly the later grammars of Syriac, written by Syrians for Syrians, renouncing our own living heritage, and ability to update our Chaldean way of speaking Aramaic, which is the most spread form of that millennial patrimony.
- It is imperative at the present time to write a contemporary grammar for both the Chaldean vernacular and Chaldean Scholastic, in continuity with our Mesopotamian way of speaking and writing Aramaic.