Aramaic Language, Biblical

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The term Biblical Aramaic refers to the form of Aramaic, once called Chaldaic, that is used in certain passages of the original text of the OT. These passages, written in general between the second half of the 5th century b.c. (if the Ezra passages were composed at that time, as is commonly accepted) and the second quarter of the 2d century b.c. (the Daniel passages), are: Gn 31.47 (two words); Jer 10.11; Ezr 4.86.18; 7.1226; and Dn 2.447.28.

Older Term. It had been the custom to speak of the Aramaic of the Bible and the Targums as "Chaldaic." Strictly speaking, this would be the correct term for the Aramaic used in the first millennium b.c. by the Chaldeans of Mesopotamia. St. Jerome used it for the Aramaic of the Bible and the Targums, partly because it is said to be the language used by the "Chaldeans" in Dn 2.5 (where, however, the word Chaldeans means merely soothsayers) and partly because he thought that the Jews who returned to Palestine from the Babylonian Exile had brought this language back with them from Mesopotamia, which was at that time largely inhabited by Aramaic-speaking Chaldeans. Actually, the fact that certain passages of the OT are composed in Aramaic is merely a manifestation of the widespread process whereby in the second half of the first millennium b.c. Aramaic supplanted, not only Hebrew in Palestine, but also the remnants of other older languages in Syria and Mesopotamia, while it was used as the lingua franca throughout the ancient Near East and the official chancery language of the Persian Empire. Biblical Aramaic, however, represents a somewhat late stage of this Official or Imperial Aramaic, as it is called, standing in general about midway between the Aramaic of the Elephantine papyri of the late 5th century b.c. and the Aramaic of the Dead Sea Scrolls from about the time of Christ.

Characteristics. There are some slight differences between the Aramaic of the Book of Ezra and that of the Book of Daniel. The former is more archaic and closer to the language of the Elephantine papyri, while the latter has traits in common with Middle Aramaic. Thus, with one exception, the suffix of the second person masculine plural is-kōm (as in the Elephantine papyri), whereas it is -kōn in Daniel (as in the Targums). The suffix of the third person masculine plural, -hōm, is found in Ezra, as it is in older Aramaic, but it is no longer used in Daniel.

The Aramaic passages of the OT are important from a linguistic viewpoint, inasmuch as their traditional vocalization, as preserved in the Masoretic Text, casts light on the pronunciation of the unvocalized texts written in Official Aramaic. Some of the more striking features of Biblical Aramaic, as contrasted with Biblical Hebrew, are: the absence of the reflexive-passive form of the verb, nifal, for which a hithp eēl form is substituted; the existence of a verbal form hithpaal in place of the passive pual; the absence, on the other hand, of the hithpaēl form; and traces of a causative form of the verb in š -(in a few words borrowed from Akkadian), which is used in both an active and a passive sense. The normal causative form appears both as an 'afēl (the later form) and as a hafel (the older form, corresponding to the Hebrew hifîl ). The active participle is used very frequently in Biblical Aramaic, where it is employed to form both an imperfect and a present tense. Finally, the preposition l is used not only to express the dative relationship, but also as the so-called sign of the accusative.

As distinct from general Official Aramaic, Biblical Aramaic has been considerably affected by Biblical Hebrew, not only in its vocabulary (particularly in religious terminology), but also, to some extent, in its vocalization. Together with general Official Aramaic, it contains many words borrowed from Akkadian and Persian (particularly terms used in political and legal administration) and a few words from Greek (names of musical instruments).

Bibliography: f. rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (Wiesbaden 1961). l. palacios, Grammatica aramaico-biblica (Rome 1953). h. bauer and p. leander, Grammatik des Biblisch-Aramäischen (Halle 1927); Kurzgefasste biblischaramäische Grammatik (Halle 1929). h. l. strack, Grammatik des Biblisch-Aramäischen (6th ed. Munich 1921). h. h. rowley, The Aramaic of the O.T. (Oxford 1929). g. r. driver, "The Aramaic of the Book of Daniel," Journal of Biblical Literature 45 (1926) 110119, 323325. h. l. ginsberg, Studies in Daniel (New York 1948).

[j. m. sola-sole]