“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 Aramaic. It’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!