Aramaic in Post-Biblical Judaism and Early Christianity


The goal of the project is to take scholars who are not yet capable of doing research with Aramaic writings--either because of an insufficient education or a lack of education in Aramaic--and give them the training to begin to use this language and its literature in their studies. The Seminar's goal, as well as the measurement of its success, is to have the participants each write a publishable essay which draws upon Aramaic primary sources. The six-week Seminar will be held from June 14 to July 23. The Seminar's leadership will consist of three individuals: Eric Meyers and Paul Flesher, the two co-directors, and Consultant Lucas Van Rompay.

To accomplish this goal, the Seminar will be divided into two parts. The first four weeks will contain instruction in the Aramaic language (Track #1) as well as seminars about its literatures among the Jews and Christians (Track #2), while giving the participants time to explore research topics and to begin their research. The last two weeks will be primarily devoted to giving the participants time to conduct research, prepare and present a seminar presentation about it, and perhaps bring their publishable essay to completion. During this time, a less intense language instruction will continue and there will be four evening lectures on the history of the Aramaic language (Track #3).

The First Four Weeks

Two educational tracks will be followed. During the morning there will be two and a half hours of intensive instruction in the Aramaic language, while three evenings a week a seminar on selected topics in Aramaic and its writings (in the Jewish and Christian contexts) will be conducted.

Track #1 Instruction in the Aramaic Language

(For more details, see the syllabus in the appendix.)
There will be meetings for two and a half hours each morning, five days a week, for the first four weeks. The goal is to give the participants competency in the three main Aramaic dialects used by Jews and Christians: (1) Jewish Literary Aramaic/Standard Literary Aramaic, (2) Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, and (3) Syriac. A week will be spent teaching each of these dialects, covering weeks two through four.

The first week's instruction is designed to help revitalize the participants' knowledge of Aramaic. It will be a refresher course in Biblical Aramaic, which is the form of Aramaic to which the participants are most likely to have been exposed. For those participants who know only Hebrew and who lack abilities in any form of Aramaic, there will be a second course, offered in the afternoon, to help them make the transition from Hebrew into Aramaic. A strong applicant pool may make this component unnecessary and would, therefore, leave more time available for preparatory research.

Co-director Eric Meyers will be in charge of the Biblical Aramaic instruction during the first week, co-director Paul Flesher will teach the Jewish Palestinian Aramaic in the third week, while consultant Lucas Van Rompay will teach Syriac in the fourth week. For Jewish Literary Aramaic, we have invited Douglas Gropp of The Catholic University of America to be the lead instructor. He is an expert in the Aramaic language and has written a teaching grammar for this dialect (publication forthcoming).

Track #2 Aramaic and its Literatures in Post-Biblical Judaism and Early Christianity

(For more details, see the syllabus in the appendix.)
This evening seminar, meeting three times a week for the first four weeks, will familiarize the participants with important research questions and problems in the study of Judaism and Christianity onto which Aramaic writings can shed light. At each session, at least one participant will give an introduction to past scholarship which, along with the assigned readings, will provide a basis for discussion and analysis led by the leader or guest expert for that session.

For five of these twelve seminar sessions, visiting experts will take the lead in guiding the participants. Lectures by these experts will provide perspectives and insights into the material different from those of the Seminar leaders, enabling the participants to see differing approaches to the material and stimulating their thinking about their own research projects.

Weeks Five and Six

The main activity of these two weeks will be to provide the participants time and support for conducting their research and writing it up. Language instruction will be reduced and the character of the evening sessions will change. During week six, the participants will give a seminar presentation on their research.

The Research Project

During their six weeks at Duke University, the participants will be expected to conduct original research drawing upon Aramaic literature and other writings. They will be expected to begin to identify a research topic during the first two weeks of the Seminar and then to read for it during weeks three and four. Week five and the start of week six will be largely open for them to do intensive work and to begin writing the essay. On Wednesday and Thursday of week 6, participants will be expected to give half-hour presentations on their research, followed by half-hour discussion among the seminar participants.
Although the two co-directors and consultant Van Rompay will be readily accessible to participants throughout the Seminar, they will hold office hours every afternoon during this period to be available to the participants to consult and advise on their research projects.

The goal of the Seminar is to enable the participants to write a publishable essay using Aramaic materials. In order to ensure that the essays get published, the Seminar leaders will edit a volume bringing these essays together in one place. The visiting lecturers will also be invited to contribute an essay based on their presentation to the Seminar. The volume will be published in the series Duke Judaic Studies (published by Eisenbrauns), a series edited by Co-director Meyers. The due date for completed essays will be January 31, 2005.

The authors of the best two essays will be invited back to Duke in the following year to present their work to Duke's New Testament and Judaic Studies Seminar, or the seminar series sponsored by the Center for Late Ancient Studies.

Track #3: The History of the Aramaic Language

(For more details, see the syllabus in the appendix.)
This four-session lecture series will take place during the evenings of the fifth week. Its aim is to give the participants an overview of the development of the Aramaic language and the different dialects into which it was divided. It will provide a context for the three dialects of the language-training, beginning with Aramaic's origins in antiquity and continuing up to the living languages of the present day, especially in the Middle East and its Diaspora (including the United States). For two lectures covering the early period and the latest period, Lucas Van Rompay will be the presenter. However, for the two lectures covering Aramaic in Palestine after the second century and Eastern Aramaic after the second century, the Seminar will bring in Professor Michael Sokoloff of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He is perhaps the world's leading figure in the study of Aramaic of both these regions.


Track #1 (stage 2): Instruction in the Aramaic Language

Aramaic language instruction will continue during these two weeks, but at a significantly reduced level. Participants will choose one dialect on which to concentrate their efforts, probably the one in which they are doing their research. Each dialect will receive one hour a day of reading instruction, guided by one of the co-directors or consultant Van Rompay.