Biblical Aramaic is the form of Aramaic that is used in the books of Daniel and Ezra[1] in the Hebrew Bible. It should not be confused with the Targums – Aramaic paraphrases, explanations and expansions of the Hebrew scriptures.


During the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, which began around 600 BC, the language spoken by the Jews started to change from Hebrew to Aramaic, and Aramaic square script replaced the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.[2] After the Achaemenid Empire annexed the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, Aramaic became the main language of public life and administration. Darius the Great declared[3] Imperial Aramaic to be the official language of the western half of his empire in 500 BC, and it is that Imperial Aramaic that forms the basis of Biblical Aramaic.[4]

Biblical Hebrew was gradually reduced to the status of a liturgical language and a language of theological learning, and the Jews of the Second Temple period that started in 516 BC would have spoken a western form of Old Aramaic until their partial Hellenization from the 3rd century BC and the eventual emergence of Middle Aramaic in the 3rd century BC.

As Imperial Aramaic had served as a lingua franca throughout the Ancient Near East from the second half of the 8th century BC to the end of the 4th century BC,[5][6] linguistic contact with even the oldest stages of Biblical Hebrew, the main language of the Hebrew Bible, is easily accounted for.

Biblical Aramaic's relative chronology has been debated mostly in the context of dating the Book of Daniel. In 1929, Harold Rowley argued that its origin must be later than the 6th century BC and that the language was more similar to the targums than to the Imperial Aramaic documents available at his time.[7]

Others have argued that the language most closely resembles the 5th-century BC Elephantine papyri, and so is a good representative of typical Imperial Aramaic, including Jongtae Choi's doctoral dissertation at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.[8] Kenneth Kitchen takes an agnostic position and states that the Aramaic of the Book of Daniel is compatible with any period from the 5th to early 2nd century BC.[9]

Aramaic and Hebrew

Biblical Hebrew is the main language of the Hebrew Bible. Aramaic accounts for only 269[10] verses out of a total of over 23,000. Biblical Aramaic is closely related to Hebrew, as both are in the Northwest Semitic language family. Some obvious similarities and differences are listed below:[11]


Hebrew and Aramaic have simplified the inflections of the noun, adjective and verb. These are more highly inflected in classical Arabic, Babylonian and Ugaritic.


Sound changes

Proto-Semitic Hebrew Aramaic
ð, δ ז ד
z ז
t ת
θ שׁ ת
ś שׂ
š שׁ
s ס
θ̣ צ ט
ṣ́ צ ק‎, ע

In the Hebrew Bible

Undisputed occurrences

Other suggested occurrences

Chaldean misnomer

For many centuries, from at least the time of Jerome of Stridon (d. 420), Biblical Aramaic was misnamed as "Chaldean" (Chaldaic, Chaldee).[12][13][14] That label remained common in early Aramaic studies, and persisted up to the nineteenth century.[15][16][17] The "Chaldean" misnomer was consequently abandoned, when further research showed conclusively that the Aramaic dialect used in the Hebrew Bible was not related to the ancient Chaldeans and their language.[18][19][20]

See also


  1. ^ and Gen. 31:47, Jer. 10:11
  2. ^ Moshe Beer, "Judaism (Babylonian)" Anchor Bible Dictionary 3 (1996), p. 1080.
  3. ^ Saul Shaked, "Aramaic" Encyclopedia Iranica 2 (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 251
  4. ^ Gzella 2015, p. 206.
  5. ^ Bae 2004, p. 1–20.
  6. ^ Gzella 2015, p. 104-211.
  7. ^ Rowley, Harold Henry (1929). The Aramaic of the Old Testament: A Grammatical and Lexical Study of Its Relations with Other Early Aramaic Dialects. London: Oxford University Press. OCLC 67575204.[page needed]
  8. ^ Choi, Jongtae (1994), "The Aramaic of Daniel: Its Date, Place of Composition and Linguistic Comparison with Extra-Biblical Texts," Ph. D. dissertation (Deerfield, IL: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) 33125990 xvii, 288 pp.
  9. ^ Kitchen 1965, p. 31–79.
  10. ^ Van Pelt, Miles V (2011). Basics of Biblical Aramaic: Complete Grammar, Lexicon, and Annotated Text (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan. pp. x. ISBN 9780310493914.
  11. ^ The following information is taken from: Alger F. Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1972), pp. 5-7.
  12. ^ King 2009, p. 216-217.
  13. ^ Gallagher 2012, p. 123-141.
  14. ^ Gallagher 2015, p. 356-375.
  15. ^ Gesenius & Prideaux-Tregelles 1859.
  16. ^ Fürst 1867.
  17. ^ Davies 1872.
  18. ^ Nöldeke 1871, p. 113-131.
  19. ^ Kautzsch 1884a, p. 17-21.
  20. ^ Kautzsch 1884b, p. 110-113.