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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.

Student Testimonial

“The day I changed my major to Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies was one of the happiest of my college career.  Even before switching to CAMS,  I was interested in what the department had to offer. (...)
An undergraduate advisor suggested LATIN 003 as a way of easing into college life, as I had taken Latin classes throughout high school and had performed well on the Advanced Placement exams.  The beginning was rough, but I enjoyed the challenge of translating Latin prose and the information that the texts conveyed.  Although I pursued an Advertising degree during my first two years of college, I continued to sign up for Latin courses, and by the end of my sophomore year, I had realized that Classics, not Advertising, was the right major for me. In addition to the Latin courses, I also studied the ancient civilizations of Rome, Greece, and Egypt in the CAMS major.  All of these classes were interesting, educational, and taught by knowledgeable faculty members.   The CAMS faculty is always helpful; they provide insight into the class material and make suggestions for outside reading during office hours and after class.  When I wrote my senior thesis for the Honors College, I received much help from the CAMS faculty while researching and writing the thesis.  Now that I have received my diplomas from Penn State, both in Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Spanish, I have decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Education.  I have been accepted at the Complutense University of Madrid, one of the oldest universities in Europe, to study secondary education, specializing in classical languages.  I am confident that the education I received at Penn State, notably in the CAMS department, will aid me greatly in my postgraduate studies and in securing a teaching job, whether in the United States, Spain, or elsewhere.”

Celia Meehan
2010 CAMS graduate

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