Where the language of Jesus stars on football field
April 11, 2009
In a small church north of Nazareth a group of children are reinventing the spoken tongue of Jesus Christ.
“Hallelujah, blessed be the Lord,” yells out one boy, 7, in Aramaic, in a manner that would not disgrace a rap artist. Near by a girl clutching a pink bag copies down the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic script, dotting her lines with tiny hearts.
Scholars believe that Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount on the rolling hills surrounding this church. Two thousand years later these students are the newest members of the Christian Maronite community who have decided to reinstate Aramaic as their daily spoken language.
Maronites study the language to understand religious texts but in the village of Jish Aramaic is returning as the language of the common man.
A century ago Aramaic was the street language of the Maronite community. Today fewer than 5 per cent of the population regard themselves as fluent. “Our goal is to revitalise Aramaic,” said Shadi Khalloul, who is co-director with his brother of the church’s Aramaic school. When a language is lost a part of the culture is lost. Certain songs, traditions, practices can only be understood in the language they were created, he said. “This is the language of Jesus, we understand Him best through His own tongue.”
In the three months since they began the programme the Khalloul brothers have enrolled more than 100 students. They hope that by next Christmas they will be reaching most of Israel’s 7,000-strong Maronite community.
The Maronites, who date from the 4th century, are scattered in small communities around the world, with the largest group in Lebanon. Mr Khalloul feels that other communities have limited their study of the language to religious scholars. “We look to the Jews as an example. The Jews revitalised their language,” he said. “Last century nearly no one spoke Hebrew. Now the language is living again.”
Israel’s creation has contributed to the decline of the Maronite community. The Education Ministry mandates that the two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic, are taught in schools instead of Aramaic. Maronites have long been barred from returning to their ancestral village of Bir’im on the border between Israel and Lebanon. “We are fighting to maintain our identity. Aramaic is a central part of that,” Mr Khalloul said.
May Shkhady, 8, a pupil in the school, said that while studying the language had enlivened church services for her, she mostly enjoyed using it among her friends. “I love learning Aramaic because it is the language of Jesus. It’s like a secret language that we can talk between us.”
After classes children play football. The language in which Jesus preached is now used by young speakers to shout intructions to each other that the rival team can’t understand. “It’s good to know that if Jesus were playing football, He’d be on our team,” said one boy.
Found in translation
What is your name? Moon shmokh?
And where are you from? Ow men aydo atro at?
Brilliant! Saggee shapeer!
Children are learning Aramaic Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name Abba debashmaya nethqadash shmak