In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Aramaic

  • Introduction
  • Comprehensive Resources
  • Overviews
  • Definitions of Aramaic and Its Unity
  • Periodization, Dialects, and Dialectology
  • Ancient Aramaic Literature in Translation
  • Old and Imperial Aramaic Language and Texts
  • Old Aramaic Language and Texts
  • Imperial Aramaic Language and Texts
  • Biblical Aramaic
  • Texts in Other Scripts: P. Amherst 63 and the Uruk Incantation
  • Aramaic Scripts
  • Middle Aramaic: General
  • Middle Aramiac: Specific Corpora
  • Middle Aramaic Dialects
  • Late Aramaic: General
  • Christian Palestinian Aramaic
  • Jewish Palestinian Aramaic
  • Samaritan
  • Syriac
  • Jewish Babylonian Aramaic
  • Mandaic
  • Targum: Texts and Language
  • Neo-Aramaic

Jewish Studies Aramaic
Aaron Koller
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0149


Aramaic has been recorded for the past three thousand years. It began as a local language in Syria, before expanding to be written and then spoken throughout the Near East for more than a millennium. Later, after the Arab conquests, Aramaic gave way to Arabic in the whole region, except for some small pockets in northern Syria and Iraq and southern Turkey, where it was spoken until the late 20th century. Long-term political developments in the region, as well as the crises of the early 21st century, have made its future very uncertain, and the last native speakers of a number of dialects have already died. Aramaic is a Semitic language and, more specifically, a member of the Northwest Semitic branch of the tree. It is thus related rather closely to Hebrew, and somewhat more distantly related to Arabic. Over the course of its long history, however, it has long been in contact with these languages and others, and has left a deep imprint within Hebrew and Arabic, as well as within unrelated languages such as Persian. From early in its history, there are monumental and other inscriptions in Aramaic. From the Achaemenid Empire, in which Aramaic was the official language of communication, letters, contracts, and belles-lettres have been preserved, especially in the dry climate of Egypt. The literary texts include eastern texts such as the proverbs of Ahiqar, an Aramaic translation of Darius’s great inscription from Bīsotūn, a massive administrative customs text that reveals details of the sea-borne trade for the year 475 BCE, and a story about Hor bar Punesh. There are Aramaic passages in the Bible, from isolated words in Genesis to a single sentence in Jeremiah, to four chapters in Ezra and six in Daniel. The imperial use of Aramaic masked dialectal differences, but following the breakup of the Persian empire, a broad diversity of dialects flourished across the region. Thousands of epigraphic texts remain from this time, as well as examples of what was once clearly a rich and flourishing literature. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, a few dozen Aramaic texts have been identified, pointing to a much larger library of such texts that has been lost. The literatures of many of the religious groups that flourished in the Near East in Roman and Byzantine times were written in Aramaic. These texts continue to be studied and recited, and thus some dialects of Aramaic, such as Syriac, Mandaic, and Samaritan Aramaic, as well as Jewish texts in dialects from the east (Babylonia) and west (Palestine), continue to live on as liturgical languages.

Comprehensive Resources

There are few resources that cover all dialects of Aramaic. Rosenthal 1967 is a textbook for classroom use that contains samples of all the major dialects, along with glossaries, that can be used profitably; it reflects the state of the field fifty years ago. The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon is a massive and highly ambitious database that should be consulted regularly by anyone studying Aramaic.

  • Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon.

    As of January, 2015, the CAL has “a database of approximately 3 million lexically parsed words,” which can be searched in many ways. It digitizes critical editions of texts as they are published, and also contains lexicon (with references to other published dictionaries) and a bibliography.

  • Rosenthal, Franz. An Aramaic Handbook. 4 vols. Porta Linguarum Orientalium 10. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1967.

    This four-volume work contains text specimens of Aramaic dialects from Old Aramaic through Modern dialects, east, west, and central. Each chapter was written by a specialist, and contains texts, translations, and glossaries. Many need to be updated in light of subsequent discoveries and research, but this is still the broadest selection of texts available.

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