Aramaic evidently originated among the Arameans in northern Syria. These people may have been part of the ancestry of Abraham (Ge 28:2-5; Dt 20:5). After a long history, Aramaic became widely spoken and understood under the Assyrians, during the eighth century b.c., after the Arameans were conquered. This situation is well illustrated in 2 Ki 18:17-37 (Isa 36:2-22) in 701 b.c. This lingua franca of the Near East endured from the eighth to fourth centuries b.c., when Alexander the Great overturned the Persian Empire (331 b.c.), even continuing in various dialects into the NT era, until the Arab conquests of the seventh century. The Aramaic used in the biblical sections listed above came to be called “biblical Aramaic,” but was later discovered to be a form of the “official” Aramaic (Reichsaramäisch) used in the Near East during the late Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires. The letter in Ezra (Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26) may faithfully represent genuine documents from the officials of the Persian Empire. Several dialects of Aramaic are still spoken in a few areas of the Levant and in Iraq, Persia, and Syria.
Arguments concerning the nature of the Aramaic used in the book of Daniel have often been used to date the book; but, although still helpful to some extent, the Aramaic of Daniel allows a broad provenance for the completion of the book. Ne 8:8ff. may indicate that an Aramaic targum (oral paraphrase; me&ōrāš = Aram. me&āros) of the biblical text, which was read in Hebrew, was presented to the people. If so, this is the earliest instance of this that we have.
From 1893-1908 a large collection of Aramaic documents was found in Upper Egypt that indicated the fortunes and vicissitudes of a small Jewish colony located in Syene and on a small island called Elephantine. The documents present nearly a century of correspondence in the fifth century b.c., during which Persia was the dominant world power. The Aramaic of these documents helps us to understand the development of the Aramaic language; the contents reveal remarkable facts about conditions in this ancient Jewish community “in exile” and the policies of both Jewish authorities in the homeland and the Persian authorities toward this Jewish colony, which desired to preserve/rebuild a temple for worship outside of Jerusalem in Elephantine. The temple was destroyed soon after 400 b.c. Further finds of documents written in Aramaic have continued among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
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