Resources for Learning Aramaic

“If our God to whom we pay reverence exists, he is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and he will deliver us from your hand, O king. And if not, let it be known to you, O King, that to your gods we will not pay reverence and we will not pay homage to the golden image that you have set up.”
-Daniel 3:17–18 (my translation)

I have always loved these verses. I love the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed Nego in the face of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Even under a tremendous amount of social and political pressure, and at the risk of their very lives, they refuse to bow to the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar has erected. They are not certain that God willdeliver them. But they are certain that he can.And that is enough for them. Their fear of Him outstrips their fear of any human king and his pagan gods.

Though I’ve known this story for most of my life, this evening I read it for the first time . . . in Aramaic. Did you know that about 10 chapters of the Old Testament were first written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew? I’ve wanted to learn Aramaic for several years now, and thanks to some great resources, I’m studying it on my own this semester.

If you’ve studied Hebrew, then adding Aramaic is no big deal. You, too, can learn Aramaic from the comfort of your own home. Here are some helpful tools:

1. Miles Van Pelt’s Basics of Biblical AramaicIt’s the only book you need. It contains a complete grammar of the language, a full lexicon of all the Aramaic words occurring in the Bible, and the complete biblical Aramaic text double-spaced so you can practice translating it. Amazon has it for only $33. (And no, I’m not getting paid to tell you this. Nor did they give me a free copy, because I didn’t think to ask for one.) The grammar is divided into 22 lessons, so at one lesson a day, you can finish “learning” the language in less than a month. Then you can work your way through the biblical text in another month, translating about 10 verses each day (268 verses in all). You don’t need more than this, but here are a few more things that I’ve found helpful:

2. Aramaic flash cards on BibleWorks. With the flash card feature you can isolate just the Aramaic words and practice them. Once you mark a word as “learned” it won’t ask you again. You can sort words alphabetically or by number of occurrences, so that you can just work on the most common words. When it comes time to translate the text, if you don’t own BibleWorks, you can use a resource like the Reader’s Hebrew-English Lexicon, and just open it to the passage you want to read.

3. Listen to the Aramaic biblical text being read online or download it for free. Follow along to train yourself to read well.

4. Check out the treasure trove of resources for learning Aramaic here, on a website designed by a friend of mine.

I looked around a long time before coming to Wheaton, trying to find a course on Aramaic. Now that I’m here, ironically, I’m learning it on my own. Zondervan has made the process much easier. So if you can’t find a course on Aramaic, don’t let that stop you from learning it!

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About Carmen Imes

I entered Wheaton's doctoral program in 2011 with an Old Testament concentration under Dr. Daniel Block. I have an MA in Biblical Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte campus), and a BA from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. My husband, Danny, and I are missionaries with SIM and we have 3 great kids: Eliana, Emma, and Easton. You can find my personal blog at www.seminarymom.blogspot.com. I'm passionate about the Word of God, both written and incarnate, and I long to see our generation transformed so that we can truly know God and reflect Him to the world.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Online resources, Research and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Resources for Learning Aramaic

  1. Jim says:

    Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    Very useful indeed. Far too few New Testament scholars read Aramaic. This needs to change.

  2. Rick Wadholm Jr. says:

    It is a travesty that so few know Aramaic. I was just recommending this volume to a friend two days ago because of the ease offered by this single volume with which one may now begin learning Aramaic on their own. I intend to use this volume myself when I begin teaching Aramaic (as an aside, there is now also a Basics of Ugaritic that is being published which will hopefully offer a comparable resource of introduction). It is a great day for introducing students to such languages.

  3. Carmen,

    I just saw your post on Aramaic. I haven’t looked at Van Pelt yet, but I expect it to be good. However, you may also want to take a look at this website from a professor who now teaches at Yale.

    http://www.introlessonsinaramaic.com/

    Many blessings,
    Cristian R

  4. I’ve plugged all the vocab lists from Van Pelt’s BBA into an electronic flashcard system… free access for all. Let me know if any improvements could be incorporated. http://quizlet.com/professor_tice/folders/basics-of-biblical-aramaic

  5. Carmen Imes says:

    Excellent! Thanks for sharing this. It’s great to have access to other language-learning resources!

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