Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic, is first attested around 1000 BCE, and has remained in continual use until the present day. Already in the mid-1st millennium BCE, Aramaic became the lingua franca (regional language) of the entire Ancient Near East, and texts have been found from Egypt to China. The primary Aramaic-speaking communities have always been in Syro-Palestine and Mesopotamia, and still today there are speakers in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and expatriate communities in Israel, Europe, the US, and Australia.
Because of its long history and use over a wide area, Aramaic developed into a variety of dialects. And while Aramaic is written in an alphabet very similar to that of Hebrew, a number of the dialects developed distinctive forms of this alphabet. Among the many types of Aramaic is Targumic Aramaic, the dialect in which Jews wrote a number of Bible translations between about 300 BCE and 700 CE. Some of the Targums (Aramaic translations) of the Bible are very literal, while others are more interpretive and include additional narrative material. The best attested dialect of Aramaic is Syriac, the primary language of many Christian communities in the Near East. First attested around 100 CE, Syriac is still used today as a liturgical language by several Christian denominations. There is a vast literature in Syriac, including biblical commentaries, poetry, historical texts, medical texts, philosophical texts, and more. In fact, many works of classical Greek authors are preserved only in Syriac translation, making it an important language for the study of Greek sources.
At Penn State, we offer CAMS 420 (Targumic Aramaic) when there is enough demand. Targumic, Syriac, and other Aramaic dialects may be available also as independent studies.