Living linguistic connection with Christ

Aramaic is still spoken by some 18,000 people in Syria’s Malula village.

 April 2012

View of Malula village (Photo Courtesy:

Malula: Far from the sounds of gunfire and conflict that embroil Syria lie three tiny villages where the language Jesus Christ spoke still survives.

Aramaic is still spoken by some 18,000 people in Malula, a picturesque place made famous by Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of the Christ’, and two neighboring villages, just 50 km from the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Malula, a self-enclosed world of beliefs, miracles and divine mysteries, means entrance in Aramaic. It boasts of a 4,000-year-old monastery, Convent of St. Serge, that sits atop a rock cliff 5,000 feet above sea level where Sr. Georgette recites ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in Aramaic.

Aramaic is imbibed as a mother tongue and children learn Arabic, the language spoken in most of Syria, only in schools.

Sadly, none in these villages can write in Aramaic, the language of sacred revelations.

“It passes from generation to generation, but we don’t know how to write,” said Mikhal, a 50-something resident of Malula, said.

Elsewhere in Syria, where Christians comprise nearly 10 percent of the population, even ancient churches conduct services in Arabic.

But finding the alphabets and script of Aramaic is not a lost cause, efforts are on at both individual and state level to resurrect the language in which Jesus probably spoke to Lazarus to wake up and walk with him.

The government has funded an institute to revive the written Aramaic and to teach the younger generation this sacred tongue.

George Rizkallah, 65, a retired teacher, has started a school to teach local children the ancient language.

He is finding new ways to resuscitate the language and has composed some Aramaic songs.

“The language will survive, but we need to find ways to preserve this ancient tongue,” he said.

According to Yona Sabar, a professor of Semitic languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, the three villages represent “the last Mohicans” of Western Aramaic.

People of Malula, Bakhaa and Jabadeen hope that when Jesus returns, he will speak to them in their native tongue.

However, right now they have to bear the protests against the long-standing regime of President Bashar al-Assad.