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Monday, October 8, 2018

Who were the ‘Arameans’ of Bēth-Aramāyē?

Copyright © 2018, The Making of Arameans.
Bēth-Armāyē (lit. Land of the Pagans) or Bēth-Aramāyē (lit. Land of the Arameans) is attested in several East-Syriac literary works such as the Acts of Mār Mārī and corresponds to a region geographically situated in southern Mesopotamia.[1] In the so-called ‘Nestorian’ Arabic version of the Chronicle of S'irt (mod. Siirt, Turkey.) this geographical territory is referred to as Balad al-Nabaṭ (lit. Country of the Nabateans) and its inhabitants as Nabaṭ al-Irāq (lit. Nabateans of Iraq).[2] It is noteworthy that to the west of the Euphrates, flourished another community known as Nabaṭ al-Shām (lit. Nabateans of Syria). Collectively, this Nabatean population was referred to as al-Arāmiyyūn (lit. the Arameans). The nomenclature held no ethnic implications whatsoever and was employed within a linguistic sense referring to an ethnic Nabatean populace whom employed the Aramaic-script and practised paganism. This community experienced a process of Christianisation due to the evangelistic efforts of various early Church fathers. Furthermore, the Chronicle of Sīrt informs us: "at that time (fifth-century CE) there was no other monastery in the land of the Nabateans […] He (Rabban Mar 'Abdā) travelled the country incessantly, baptizing Aramaeans (Nabateans)." [3] In light of the fact that the language of Nabatean inscriptions is Aramaic, the first scholars to study them assumed that the Nabateans were of Aramean origin. Then, in 1863, German orientalist Theodor Nöldeke analyzed  the names that had been excavated and, on the basis of the various recognizable Arabisms, concluded that the Nabateans were of Arabian origin.[4] Significantly, one of the earliest historical attestation of the Nabateans occurs in the Library of History composed by Diodorus Siculus (first-century BCE). Diodorus informs us the “Arabs who are called Nabataeans” wrote in “Aramaic characters.” [5]

Elephantine Papyri 13476, Berlin
In the Hidden Pearl, Dr. Sebastian Brock informs us “Although the term "Aramean" originally referred to an ethnic grouping, in due course it often lost that sense, and instead took on the designation of "a speaker of Aramaic." Thus, for example, under the Achaemenid Empire, the members of the Aramaic-speaking Jewish community in southern Egypt are sometimes described as "Aramaeans", that is, speakers of Aramaic." Moving on in time, we find that in Jewish texts of the early centuries BCE and CE the term "Aramaean" takes on yet a third sense, of "non-Jew, Gentile." [6] Josef Waleed Meri, an expert specialising in interfaith relations of the Middle East corroborates Dr. Brock's statement in his work Medieval Islamic Civilization. Meri informs us "In both Jewish Aramaic and Christian Syriac sources, "Aramaean" also took on a new meaning of "Gentile, pagan." In later vocalized texts in both languages, a distinction is made between Aramāyē (Aramaeans) and Armāyē (Gentiles, pagans)." [7] Thus, in the vocalized text of the Peshitta New Testament, Timothy's father and Titus are described as Armāyē, not Greeks (Acts 16:1, 3, Gal 2:3), and several times in the Acts and Epistles Jews and Armāyē, 'Gentiles,' are contrasted. In Luke 4:27 Naaman is described as an Armāyā, that is 'Gentile, pagan.' Later authors are aware of the ambiguity of the term 'Aramean.' Hence Mōr Ephrem speaks of Laban the ܚܢܦܐ, the pagan, instead of Laban the Aramean (Comm.Gen.XXVII.3). [8]

[1] Amir Harrak, The Acts of Mār Mārī the Apostle (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 41.
[2] Anthony Alcock, Chronicle of Séert, retrieved 9 October 2018, <https://suciualin.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/chronicle-of-sc3a9ert-ii.pdf>
[3] Ibid. 53
[4] Th. Nöldeke, “Zu den Nabatāischen Inschriften,” ZMDG 17 (1863), 703-708; and 25 (1871), 122ff. See also idem, in the appendix to J. Euting, Nabatāische Inschriften, pp. 73-80.
[5] Diodorus Siculus, Library of History Book XIX, continued, retrieved 9 October 2018, <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/19E*.html>
[6] Sebastian P. Brock, The Hidden Pearl: The Ancient Aramaic Heritage (Rome: Trans World Film Italia (Firm), 2001), 10.
[7] Josef W. Meri, Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia Volume 1 A-K Index (New York: Routledge, 2006), 60.
[8] E. Grypeou & H. Spurling, The Exegetical Encounter between Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity (BRILL, 2009), 207.

Further Reading:
[1] http://krc.orient.ox.ac.uk/ociana/index.php/home/155-english/home/aramaic-scripts-of-north-arabia/355-the-aramaic-scripts-of-north-arabia