Two villages in the Holy Lands tiny Christian community are teaching Aramaic in an ambitious effort to revive the language that Jesus spoke,centuries after it all but disappeared from the Middle East.
The new focus on the regions dominant language 2,000 years ago comes with a little help from modern technology: an Aramaic-speaking TV channel from Sweden,of all places,where a vibrant immigrant community has kept the ancient tongue alive.
In the Palestinian village of Beit Jala,an older generation of Aramaic speakers is trying to share the language with their grandchildren.
Beit Jala lies next to Bethlehem,where the New Testament says Jesus was born.
And in the Arab-Israeli village of Jish,nestled in the Galilean hills where Jesus lived and preached,elementary school children are now being instructed in Aramaic.
The children belong mostly to the Maronite Christian community. Maronites still chant their liturgy in Aramaic but few understand the prayers.
We want to speak the language that Jesus spoke, said Carla Hadad,a 10-year-old Jish girl who frequently waved her arms to answer questions in Aramaic from school teacher Mona Issa during a recent lesson. We used to speak it a long time ago, she added,referring to her ancestors.
The dialect taught in Jish and Beit Jala is Syriac, which was spoken by their Christian forefathers and resembles the Galilean dialect that Jesus would have used,according to Steven Fassberg,an Aramaic expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
They probably would have understood each other, Fassberg said.
Several Jish residents lobbied for Aramaic studies years ago,said principal of the Jish school Reem Khatieb-Zuabi.,but the idea faced resistance: Jishs Muslims worried it was a covert attempt to entice their children to Christianity. Some Christians objected,saying the emphasis on their ancestral language was being used to strip them of their Arab identity.
Ultimately,Khatieb-Zuabi,a secular Muslim from an outside village,overruled them.
This is our collective heritage and culture. We should celebrate and study it, the principal said.
Aramaic dialects were the regions vernacular from 2,500 years ago until the sixth century,when Arabic,the language of conquering Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula,became dominant,according to Fassberg.