Tag Archives: assyrian

Not Quite Wrong, Not Quite Right

(This portion of the original image used under Fair Use doctrine for critical and educational purposes.)

Hello Aramaic enthusiasts. 🙂

Today I came across the above tattoo on DeviantArt. The owner says that he put the calligraphy together himself and that it is the word “malek” which means “king.” If one takes a close look at it, he is (for its intended purpose) correct.

However, this tattoo is another excellent example of how ambiguities can crop up when certain aspects of the written language aren’t fully taken into account (which unfortunately by empirical observation happens more often than not). There are three of these observations I’d like to make:

1) Letter Scale

This tattoo is written in Syriac script, and one interesting quirk about Syriac script is that certain letters are disambiguated by the length and angle of their stems. In this case, the center letter which should be lamad (the Aramaic equivalent to “L”), is a bit ambiguous and caused me to pause the first time I glanced at it.

Lamad is usually disambiguated from ‘e (a sharp “UH” in the back of the throat) and nun (“N”) by it’s height and angle. This lamad, however, looks very much like how one would expect an ‘e to be written.

2) Diacritical Marks

When writing in Syriac, there are a number of diacritical marks that are used to indicate vowels, when different letters take on different sounds, as well as parts of speech in largely unmarked manuscripts. The dot that we find under what was intended to be a kaf (an Aramaic “K”) is distracting.

In a marked text, a dot under a kaf means that it changes its sound to something similar to the CH in “Bach” (like lightly clearing your throat). However, this convention is usually undertaken when all of the vowels are written (so we would expect to see marks over the mim and lamad for the “a” and “e” vowels).

So here comes the ambiguity: In Eastern Syriac vowel pointing, a dot under a small tick could represent a “long” yud (the Aramaic equivalent to “Y”, but when long like “ee” in “free”). This would break down the word so it would be pronounced “muh-EEK” (if the ‘e ambiguity persists) which in some dialects of Aramaic means “squeezed one” or the word “mah-LEEK” which is not a word at all. Either case, they’re not quite what the author was after.

3) Word Form
Finally, and this is more of a stylistic choice when getting a tattoo, but the Absolute form of the word was used where, in Syriac and modern Assyrian dialects, one would expect to see the Emphatic. The Emphatic form, is spelled a bit differently, with one additional letter and a different form for kaf (as now it is no longer at the end of the word).


Overall, this (when examined closely) does express what the author was after, albeit with a little effort. It is a form of the Aramaic word “king” provided one reads the middle letter correctly and is not confused by the stray diatric mark. However, it could have been a bit cleaner, and sending it by a professional to ensure its accuracy before committing to a tattoo would have caught these ambiguities.


New Aramaic Class: The Aramaic Lord’s Prayer

A number of people have expressed their interest in the Aramaic classes that are offered over at Aramaic Designs, but that the price (in this economy) has been prohibitive.

Because of this a new class is in development that should be ready in the next couple of months that will be on the topic of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer. The basic information at this time is as follows:

ARC010: The Aramaic Lord’s Prayer
Duration: 8 weeks (~2 months)
Enrollment: Rolling (you can enroll at any time)
Price: $50

Current Syllabus: (subject to change, but probably close to this)

  1. What’s So Special About The Lord’s Prayer?
    – Context & History
    – The Prayer in Greek
  2. A (Brief) History of Aramaic & the Language of Jesus
    – An Introduction to Aramaic & its Alphabet
    – The Aramaic of Jesus
  3. The Syriac Peshitta Lord’s Prayer
    – An Introduction to the Peshitta
    – The Peshitta Lord’s Prayer
  4. Other Syriac Lord’s Prayer Traditions
    – The Other Syriac Traditions and Their Relation to Each Other
    – Old Syriac, Harklean, etc.
  5. Scholarly Reconstructions of the Lord’s Prayer
    – Reconstructing the Words of Jesus
    – The Jesus Seminar
    – Individual Scholarly Reconstructions (Jeremias’, Fitzmeyer, Chilton, Brock, etc.)
  6. Modern Aramaic Traditions of the Lord’s Prayer
    – The Plight of Neo-Aramaic
    – Neo-Aramaic Examples (Neo-Assyrian, Ma`loula, etc.)
  7. Odd Translations of the Lord’s Prayer
    – An “Aramaic” Imagination
    – Notable Odd Translations (Ouseley, Lamsa/Errico, Douglas-Klotz, etc.)
  8. Conclusions, Thoughts & Final Paper
    – Aramaic and Prayer
    – Greater Historical Context
    – Final essay on any topic covered in the class, or other topic subject to professor approval (~500-1000 words).

All who are interested or wish to have more information, please email in to Information@AramaicDesigns.com.


“Ancient” Syriac Bible found in Cyprus?

(A picture of the manuscript.)

Fri Feb 6, 2009 7:57am EST

NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) – Authorities in northern Cyprus believe they have found an ancient version of the Bible written in Syriac, a dialect of the native language of Jesus.

The manuscript was found in a police raid on suspected antiquity smugglers. Turkish Cypriot police testified in a court hearing they believe the manuscript could be about 2,000 years old.

When I saw images of this relic, they reminded me of something that happened a back in July of last year where I was approached by an individual, who claimed to come from Turkey, trying to sell me a forgery (click the link for pictures). Naturally, such an experience has made me skeptical when I heard about a “manuscript [carrying] excerpts of the Bible written in gold lettering on vellum and loosely strung together” and written in “eastern script.”

(A picture of the manuscript forgery I was offered.)

Given what I have seen of the manuscript thusfar, I’m going to have to tentatively concur with JF Coakley on his analysis. Unless other hard evidence surfaces to the contrary (carbon dating or thorough textual analysis), this is probably either a work no earlier than the 15th century, or a modern forgery.

UPDATE & NOTE (Feb 11th): It seems that I was a bit ambiguous above as to the identity of the manuscript in question. I do not believe the manuscript the police found to be -the- document I was offered, but more that it fits a consistent pattern of forgeries that are showing up in Turkey. All of the defining characteristics look like they match (which both manuscripts seem to share):

  • “Golden letters”
  • Written on leather rather than actual vellum
  • Bound together haphazardly.
  • “Synopses” of New Testament stories rather than full text.
  • Written in Pseudosyriac or modern Syriac.
  • Written in Eastern script.
  • Very characteristic illustrations.
  • Etc.


An Ambiguous Tattoo: Modern vs. Classical

In my usual searches across the Internet for Aramaic tattoo oddities, I came across the following tattoo that illustrates an very important point about how different some dialects can be. Here is a transliteration of the text:

gbrt’ yshw` mshykh

This tattoo’s owner believes it means “Jesus Christ Almighty,” but ambiguity lies within the word gbrt’.

In some dialects of Modern Aramaic, Arabic loan sounds and loan words have creeped into the language. To represent these, some dialects use diatrics to represent Arabic phonemes by marking similar consonants.

For example, the set of diatrics used to write Arabic text in Syriac letters is known as “Garshuni” (or “Karshuni”) where small loops and dots are added into the crooks of the letters to indicate the Arabic equivalents. In Assyrian dialects, a similar principle is applied, where a squiggle “~” (known as a Majliana) is placed under or over certain consonants.

The letter in question is the gâmal “G” at the beginning.

(The sounds Gâmal makes.)

When tattooing, sometimes these diatric squiggles can end up looking like standard vowel markers. Because of this gbrt’ can first be read as a loan-word from the Arabic “jabbar” which means “almighty.” Jbârthâ’, however, should be masculine, not feminine as it would be an adjective (i.e. Jesus -is- mighty). This would make the entire translation read:

jbârthâ’ yeshû` mshîkhâ’
“(She is) Almighty: Jesus Christ”

…which doesn’t seem to be what the owner is after.

On the other side of interpretation lies gebârthâ’ which is a word found in several dialects of Aramaic (most notedly Syriac) where it is the feminine form of gabrâ’ which means “man” (i.e. “woman”). This would make the translation read:

gebârthâ’ yeshû` mshîkhâ’
“The Woman: Jesus Christ”

…also not quite what they were after.

I won’t repeat myself again as to how important it is to double-check your translations. 🙂 Aramaic Designs will do it for free so there is no excuse!