Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Aramaic Script



Aramaic was written in a consonantal script mostly lacking vowels with a direction from right to left.It originally served Aramaic (west semitic languages. And later became the official script for the Assyrian and Old Persian (Achaemenid) Empires from 6-4 BC.It was the source of many alphabets of the world and the vast majority of Semitic scripts (Samaritan, Jewish, Palmyra, Nabataean, Syrian, Palestinian-Christian, Mandaean, Manichaean).

LR -4984_Ber Perg
9th century stele of king Kilamuwa,kingdom of Yadiya found in Turkish Zincirli (Sam'al)
image from here
The Aramaic writing had an impact even on Iranian writing systems (Parthian, middle Persian, Sogdian, and Khorezm).It was the basis (through the medium of Sogdian) for Uighur, Mongolian, and the Orkhon-Yenisei alphabets. There is also a hypothesis about the Indian Brahmi scripts and Kharosthi originating from the Aramaic script,as well.

The center for the spread of Aramaic culture was the city of Damascus, and later - Palmyra and Edessa (modern Urfa in Turkey). Aramaeans mingled everywere with the local population and they assimilated it relatively easy.. Aramaic, after Akkadian, became a kind of international and diplomatic language of the Near East in antiquity. In Palestine the same time the Gospel was spoken Aramaic, so it is likely that the early Christians (including Jesus himself) spoke in it. In addition, the Aramaeans - the only ancient people of Middle East, which, along with the Persians lived up to the present day.

Initially, the Aramaic script did not differ from the Phoenician, but then the Aramaeans simplified some of the letters, thickened and rounded their lines. A specific feature of Aramaic letters is the distinction between d and r.Aramaic writing, spread quickly from Africa to India and China.

Aramaic literature is quite wide: religious, philosophical and philological works were written in it.

In the Middle Ages the Jewish Aramaic alphabet was used to write a mystical book called 'Zohar', which evolved the numerological ideas of ​​"Kabbalah."

The Bar-Hadad inscription from North Syria (9. BC) and Zakir from Hamata (c. 800 BC). In both the word boundary is implemented by vertical lines, while in the inscription of Bar-Rakib Zendzhirli (late 8th century. BC. E.) points are used for this purpose.On the stela of the Sephira (late 8th century. BC . e.) there is no word boundary at all.


Aramaic language and the Aramaic script began to be used in the New-Assyrian and Persian period as international means of communication for the entire Near East up to Egypt, Asia Minor and India. Such an example are the Aramaic-Persian  and Aramaic-Lydian bilingual texts from Sardis (5. BC).

Aramaic inscription from Elefantine,the Jewish military colony in Egypt (5 B.C.)

Aramaic writing and Aramaic supplanted Babylonian cuneiform and Akkadian language, even in their homeland in Mesopotamia. The wide spread of Aramaic letters led to the fact that it was used not only in monumental inscriptions, but also on papyrus and potsherds. An example of Aramaic writing on potsherds can serve as a crock of Ashur. Aramaic papyri found in large numbers in Egypt. Especially a lot of papyri found at Elephantine, among them are official and private documents of the Jewish military settlement in 5 BC.In the Aramaic papyri and potsherds words are separated usually by a small gap, as we do.

At the turn of the century 2 and 3. BC the up-to-then uniform Aramaic letters develeped new forms as a result of dialectal and political fragmentation in several subgroups. The most important of these is the so-called square Hebrew block script, followed by Palmyrene, Nabataean, and the much later Syriac script.

The adoption of the square Aramaic letters by the Jews occurred during Ezra (mid-5th century BC) and is an external manifestation of Israel's accession to the common Semitic culture of the time. The square letters become the main writting system for Hebrew for the most part  and was widely used for religious and secular literature of the Jews. The name of the script is connected with the desire to give signs of a square shape.Unfortunately,we do not have any surviving written monuments of the early period of this script.  In the Dead Sea scrolls (2 BC - 1 AD),it  already had a fully developed form.

Later,the more rounded Sephardi (Eastern Spanish) and more angular Ashkenazi (German-Polish) types developed from the square Aramaic letters. In the 9th century the Italian cursive handwriting appears called Rashi, named after Rabbi Rashi (contraction of the words of Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak). More changes and abbreviations underwent signs of various cursive handwritings of the time.
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