Syriac Was The Mother-Tounge Of Jesus Christ

Syriac or rather Christian Aramaic was undoubtedly the mother-tounge of our Lord the Christ. We know this from the few Syriac phrases which are incorporated in the Greek text, instead of being translated, such as “Talitha cumi” (“Maiden arise”); “Ethphatha” (“Be opened”); and above all, by His dying words on the Cross, “Eli, Eli lama sabachthani” (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”). It is worth noting that these words were spoken in the Galilean Aramaic dialect which bewrayed St Peter, a dialect which bore the same relation to the literary of Eddessne Syriac as Doric to Attic, or as Scotch to English.

If our Lord had spoken Edessene Syriac in that supreme moment of His sufferings, He would have said “lemana shabaqthani” instead of “lama sabachthani.” And I cannot help wondering if He would have said “sibboleth” instead of “shibboleth” if He had lived in the days of Jephthah. The first specimen of spoken Aramaic which we find in the Bible is in Gen. xxxi. 47. There we are told that when Jacob and Laban had set up a heap of stones as a witness between them, Jacob called it in Hebrew, “Galeed,” “the heap of witness,” and Laban called it “Jegar-sahadutha,” which means the same thing in Aramaic. This shows that Aramaic was the language spoken in Charan, where Laban dwelt.

A tounge akin to Aramaic is largely used in the cuneiform script of Assyria and Babylonia. It must therefore be very ancient. Throughout the Old Testament, the country north of Palestine is always called Aram; its people were the Aramaeans, and their language was Aramaic. But when they became Christians, finding that they were often mistaken for Armaians, i.e. heathen, they allowed their land to be called by its Greek name of Syria, themselves to be christened Syrians, and their speech Syriac.

The children of Judah who returned from Babylon in the time of Cyrus brought the Babylonian Aramaic with them, the very tounge which Abraham had spoken in Ur and in Charan. The common people had then forgotten Hebrew, so that Ezra and other scribes had to translate the Law to them, as well as to expound it. This continued until our Lord’s time, for we find that all the proper names in the New Testament, where they are not Greek, are Syriac; such as Sapphira, “the beautiful one”; Cephas, “a stone”; and all names beginning with “Bar,” “the son of,” equivalent to Hebrew “Ben,” or the Celtic “Mac.”

Agnes Lewis Smith, Light on the Four Gospels from the Sinai Palimpsest, 1913, page 21-23.

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