A Cultural History of Aramaic

From the Beginnings to the Advent of Islam


Aramaic is a constant thread running through the various civilizations of the Near East, ancient and modern, from 1000 BCE to the present, and has been the language of small principalities, world empires, and a fair share of the Jewish-Christian tradition. Holger Gzella describes its cultural and linguistic history as a continuous evolution from its beginnings to the advent of Islam. For the first time the individual phases of the language, their socio-historical underpinnings, and the textual sources are discussed comprehensively in light of the latest linguistic and historical research and with ample attention to scribal traditions, multilingualism, and language as a marker of cultural self-awareness. Many new observations on Aramaic are thereby integrated into a coherent historical framework.
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Biographical Note

Holger Gzella, Habilitation (2004) in Semitics, Heidelberg, is Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at Leiden University. He was formerly trained at Oxford, Münster, and the Biblicum (Rome), has published widely on Semitic languages, and is a member of The Young Academy.

Review Quotes

“…the book under review is written fluently in a very accessible language. It offers a valuable, first-hand overview of the Aramaic language, dialects, and records from the beginning of the first millennium B.C. to the advent of Islam.”
EDWARD LIPIŃSKI in The Biblical Annals / Roczniki Biblijne 6.2 (2016) 289-295.

Table of contents

List of Abbreviations
1. Introduction: Aramaic among the Semitic Languages
2. The Emergence of Aramaic Dialects in the Fertile Crescent
3. The Spread of Aramaic in the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires
4. Official Aramaic and the Achaemenid Chancellery
5. Aramaic in the Hellenistic and Early Roman Near East
6. Western Aramaic in Late Antique Palestine
7. Eastern Aramaic in Late Antique Syria and Mesopotamia
8. Epilogue


Semitists, biblical scholars, classicists, linguists, historians of the Ancient Near East and of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity, and anybody interested in one of the world’s richest and most diverse languages.