It’s been more than 10 years since I last wrote about Aramaic, the language of Jesus. I noted then the continuing persecution of the Christian Assyrian people of northern Iraq, who still spoke this tongue.
Conditions since have dramatically worsened, with the rise of Islamic State, which has launched a campaign of genocide against Christians. Many Assyrians have fled.
But now comes a rare piece of Mideast good news. A revival in Aramaic is occurring in, of all places, Israel.
Gush Halav – known in Arabic as Jish – is a small town in the Galilee Valley, in northern Israel. More than half the population are Maronite Christians, who still use Aramaic in their church liturgy, and even often speak it.
Since 2011, under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Education, Aramaic has been taught in the town’s schools.
And this year the Israeli government recognized the country’s 20,000 Aramaic people as a distinct nationality. The first child has just been registered as Aramean.
Not much happens in Israel without controversy, and some critics say the government’s move is an attempt to create splits between Muslim and Christian Arabs. Others say that the Aramaic language has little future, other than as a religious relic.
But, as Christians increasingly flee from the lands where their faith was born, in the face of murder or slavery, it is heartening to see a tiny part of the region where they are able to live in peace, and where their traditions are respected and encouraged.