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Aramaic: One of The World’s Oldest Languages

TV report transcript

Aramaic is one of the world's oldest languages, and one that scholars believe was spoken by Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago. Earlier this year, Aramaic was heard by large audiences in the controversial film "Passion of the Christ", which portrayed the last 12 hours of Jesus' life.

Today this ancient language is spoken by fewer than 15,000 people and is in danger of dying out. Kathie Scarrah reports on efforts to keep the language alive.

Church bells ring in the Syrian village of Ma'aloula nestled in the Qalamoun mountains, 48 kilometers north of Damascus. Bells calling Christians to services sound in unison with Muslim calls for prayer. School teacher Joseph Sharbit, says his nation prides itself on its religious tolerance.

Joseph Sharbit, school teacher
"There is great harmony between Muslims and Christians here in the city of Ma'aloula in Syria."

Approximately 10 percent of the Syrian population is Christian, and in Ma'aloula, home to more than 2,000 Christians. Mass is celebrated in a mix of Arabic and Aramaic, the Semitic language thought to have been used by Jesus to preach to his followers. By the 7th century B.C. Aramaic was the dominant language in the Middle East, even though it was only passed orally from generation to generation.

It is still spoken in a few Syrian communities, where efforts are underway to revive the ancient language. Mike Khoury founded an Aramaic language school in Ma'aloula.

Mike Khoury, "Friends of Aramaic" Institute
"The government is endeavoring to keep Aramaic alive and so they've set up an institute to teach our children."

Mr. Khoury says residents of Ma'aloula, which means "entrance" in Aramaic, have faith that this new effort will keep the ancient tongue alive.