Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Maaloula in the news

Speaking the language of Jesus
Teaching Aramaic was discontinued recently in Maloula, but new efforts are being exerted to revive the program

by Alastair Beach (Forward Magazine Syria)

Photo by John Wreford

In a dimly-lit grotto carved out of a cliff face in the foothills of Syria’s Anti-Lebanon Mountain range, scores of pilgrims pay their respects at one of the holiest Christian shrines in the world.

Surrounded by framed religious icons and beneath a low-slung rock ceiling festooned with flickering lanterns, a steady procession of awe-struck worshippers stoop down, made the sign of the cross and then reached through a tiny gap in the stone to try and touch the tomb of St Thecla, one of Christianity’s earliest martyrs.

Her burial place lies in Maloula, a small village which clings like a crab claw to a spine of sand-coloured rock about 55km north-west of the Syrian capital. It is famous for being one of the last places in the world where the inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language used during the time of Jesus Christ.

I don't think I knew that Thecla was associated with the area. More on the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla here.
“It’s quite extraordinary,” said Annyck Wustyn, a 63-year-old visitor from France. “In our country, where we are mostly Catholic, Aramaic is like a myth. Now I know it is a reality.”

The only way to try and learn the ancient dialect in Maloula itself is at the Aramaic institute that was established in 2007, when the Syrian government decided to launch a series of language courses in a bid to preserve the country’s unique heritage.

The programme has been frozen since last year when an article in Syria-news.com suggested that the alphabet being used to teach written Aramaic bore an uncanny resemblance to the Hebrew characters found in modern-day Israel. But plans are afoot to try and breathe new life into the project this summer.

Background to that here and here. The Syrian government looks appallingly lame here and they deserve to be ridiculed mercilessly for this silly decision until they make it right.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."