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B - 16 : Does Google Translate Speak Aramaic?

Was reviewing the Roman recipes i wanted to write about today and suddenly thought why writing about something we could actually prepare on the boat and taste together? So no talking about cooking today. We shall focus instead on the languages you would have to learn for sailing the region 2’000 years ago.

Languages spoken in the Roman Empire about 150 AD

Latin would have been handy specifically if you wanted to do business with Roman officials. However, Greek would have been equally useful. The Hellenistic culture dominated the region since Alexander the Great (330BC). Most books at the time were written in Greek and the famous library of Alexandria (Egypt) consisted mostly of Greek oeuvres. It was the language of the cultured elite. When Cilician pirates captured high value people, a large part of their value resulted from their ability to converse in Greek - a language the Roman upper class adored.

Distribution of Aramaic speaking people

If you were the captain of a commercial sailing vessel however, you would have to speak Aramaic to your crew (mostly Phoenicians). Aramaic was the ancient language of the Neo-Assyrians who spread it > 1’000 BC over their Empire. Since the following Neo-Babylonians and the Persian King of Kings continued to use it, it became the lingua franca for commerce and trade. It was also the language of Jesus and the mother of classic Arab and modern Hebrew. Their alphabet is based on Aramaic letters.

Aramaic Alphabet

Had Aramaic in the form of Syriac not become the liturgical language of the Eastern (Antioch) and Indian (Kerala) Church, the language might have been lost. It is today spoken by less than one million people - primarily Christians in Syria and Iraq.

Bible text in Aramaic - old manuscript

We will see some of this history when visiting the first churches in Antioch at the end of week two. For a long time it was common wisdom that the New Testament was written in Greek - but there are a few scholars who maintain that the gospel was first written down in Aramaic and then translated to Greek in Antioch. I guess we will never know for sure

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