The Goal and Purpose of Aramaic Christian Ministries:
Research and Rescue for the Restoration of the Assyrian Christian Heritage
The primary mission of Aramaic Christian Ministries is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus (Yeshua in Aramaic) the Messiah and to restore the Church to its Semitic roots. The Holy Bible is written in three languages; Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The evidence seems to indicate that Jesus was tri-lingual and spoke these three languages. Certain scholars have constructed arguments that attempt to prove that Jesus was primarily a Hebrew speaker. This may be the case, but the text of the Greek New Testament contains many Aramaic words and shows that Jesus was a speaker of Aramaic. Aramaic is a Semitic language and is closely related to Hebrew, although it is a distinct language from Hebrew.
Aramaic is one of the oldest continuously spoken languages and is still spoken by certain groups of Middle Eastern Christians, particularly the Assyrian Christians of Mesopotamia. Although Christianity began in the Middle East and the Aramaic –speaking Christians are one of the oldest Christian communities still in existence, most Christians know nothing of their history or contributions to theology and Biblical studies. The Assyrian Christians have also been subjected to horrific persecutions throughout their history. One of the principle goals of Aramaic Christian Ministries is education. It is important for more Christians to learn of and learn from the Aramaic Christians. We must also expose the persecution that they are subjected to, work to end it, and help those who have suffered from it.
The work of Aramaic Christian Ministries is researching, rescuing and restoring the Aramaic Christian Heritage.
Aramaic as the Language of Jesus
In the Gospel of Mark, we find Jesus Christ on the cross of Golgotha suffering for the sins of all the world. “And at the ninth hour (three o’clock) Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama Sabachtani?” Which, translated (from the Aramaic), is, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) (If Jesus had been speaking Hebrew he would have said, “Eli, Eli, lama azabtani.” Jesus was not speaking Hebrew but Aramaic, the sister language of Hebrew.)
The New Testament is written in Greek. However, many Aramaic words are found embedded in its Greek text. For example, we find the Aramaic words “Abba, Father,” “Mammon,” (meaning “wealth”) and “Raca,” (meaning “empty-headed) in the teachings of Jesus (Mark 14:36, Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:11, Matthew 5:22). Jesus also uses Aramaic when healing people. To the deaf mute Jesus said “Ephphatha,” Aramaic for “Be Opened” and to the daughter of Jairus he said, “Talitha Qum” which means, “Little Girl, get up” (Mark 7:34, Mark 5:41).
Many of the people in the New Testament have uniquely Aramaic names. Often, Jesus gave his followers Aramaic names. He named Simon Kaifa, which is written as Cephas in the King James Bible and its equivalent is “Peter” in Greek (John 1:42) Jesus named James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, “Boanerges” which means “Sons of Thunder” in Aramaic (Mark 3:17). In Aramaic “Bar” means “Son” and in Hebrew “Ben” means “Son.” Many people have “Bar” in their names such as Bartholomew and Barnabas. (Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement” in Aramaic (Acts 4:36).) The name Thomas is Aramaic for “Twin” (John 11:16). The name Magdalene means “from the town of Magdala” in Aramaic. Magdala is the Aramaic word for “Tower” (Luke 8:2). Simon Canaanean means “Simon the Zealot” (or Simon the Terrorist) in Aramaic (Mark 3:18).
The Aramaic Christians
Usually, the history of Christianity is told from a Euro-centric perspective. Therefore, the historical contributions of Aramaic, Chinese, Indian, Coptic and Ethiopic Christians are overlooked. Tatian the Assyrian was the disciple of the famous Justin Martyr. Tatian composed the first harmony of the Gospels which he entitled the Diatesseron. He apparently created a Syriac and a Greek version. There are also other renown theologians of the Syriac tradition. This includes Saint Ephraim, Saint Isaac of Nineveh and Bar-Hebreus (his name in Aramaic means “son of the Hebrews” as he was a Jewish Christian). There are different churches of the Aramaic tradition. This includes the Assyrian Church of the East. (This church has been called the “Nestorian” Church in the past. However, it was founded long before Nestorius was born. In the Church of the East, the Nicene Creed is recited during every service. So, the Church of the East is theologically orthodox and has been recognized as so by many theologians and by the Roman Catholic Church). The Syrian (or Syriac) Orthodox Church is another important church of the Aramaic Church tradition. Another influential church of the Aramaic tradition is the Maronite church of Lebanon. Also, there is a group of Aramaic baptizers called the Mandaeans. They claim to believe in John the Baptist but not in Jesus Christ. Assyrian physicians and scholars made many important contributions when they came under Islamic rule. They translated Greek scientific work from Greek into Syriac and then into Arabic. These translations sparked scientific progress among the Muslims.
The Aramaic Bible
Portions of the Bible are written in Aramaic, in both the Old and New Testaments. Aramaic, along with Hebrew and Greek, is one of the three original languages of the Bible. However, there exist many versions of the Bible that are completely in Aramaic.
By the time of Jesus, Aramaic had largely displaced Hebrew as the common spoken language of most Jewish people. (Hebrew was still spoken in some circles.) Since most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew, it was necessary to have the Bible translated into Aramaic. These Aramaic versions of the Bible are called the Targum. Fragments of Targumim have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Targum are still used. As noted above, Jesus quoted an Aramaic Targum version of Psalm 22 from the cross. (Bruce Chilton explores the teachings of Jesus through the Aramaic Targumim in “A Galilean Rabbi and His Bible.”)
Early Christianity spread west to the Greek and Roman speaking regions, and east to the Aramaic speaking regions. Soon a version of the Bible was made in the Aramaic language. This version is called the Aramaic Syriac Peshitta Version. Syriac was a form of Aramaic, very closely related to the Aramaic spoken by Jesus, that was spoken in Edessa. There were (are are) different dialects of Aramaic. Another Aramaic version that has survived is the “Palestinian Christian Aramaic Version.” The Syriac Peshitta Bible is still used by the Syriac Churches. The Christian communities that used the Palestinian Christian Aramaic Bible have disappeared.
Aramaic as a Jewish Language
The Rabbinic Blessing of Aramaic: “Let not Aramaic be lightly esteemed by thee, seeing that the Holy One (Blessed Be He) hath given it honor in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings” Palestinian Talmud: Tractate Sata 7:2
Certain ancient Jewish writings that we known unto the Apostles were written in Aramaic. This includes the book of Tobit and the Book of Enoch, which is quoted in the Epistle of Jude in the New Testament. Josephus, a contemporary of the apostles, claimed that he originally wrote his history of the Jews in Aramaic.
The ancient Kaddish prayer is still used by the Jewish people and is an ancient Aramaic prayer that was known to Jesus.
Aramaic is still an important Jewish language. Important Jewish prayers and songs, such as Chad Gadyo, Kol Nidray, and the Aktamot, are in Aramaic and still recited in Aramaic by Jewish people. The Kabballah, and important Jewish mystical writing, is also written in Aramaic.
Judaism is based upon the Talmud. The Talmud is a Rabbinical commentary on the Mishna, the Jewish oral law. The commentary on the Mishna is called the “Gemara, which is written in Aramaic. There are two Talmuds-the “Palestinian” or “Jerusalem” Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. Both are written in Aramaic. Some Bible scholars believe that the Talmud helps us to understand the Jewish culture in which Jesus lived and that it can help us to understand the context of the Gospels better.
The Aramaic Church Fathers
Scholars have discovered an ancient Aramaic hymnbook entitled “The Odes of Solomon.” Some scholars have dated this hymnbook to the first century. (2010, composer John Schreiner released a two-disc album called The Odes Project, which is an adaptation of the Odes of Solomon into modern music.)
According to the traditions of the Aramaic Christians, Saint Thaddeus and Saint Thomas, brought the Gospel to the Assyrians of Mesopotamia and other Eastern peoples. These traditions are preserved in the ancient Aramaic texts “The Doctrine of Addai” and “The Acts of Thomas.”
Ephraim the Syrian was a great Aramaic poet and theologian who lived in the Fourth Century. He is recognized as a “Doctor of the Church” according to the Roman Catholic Church. Ephraim wrote many beautiful hymns. He also wrote an important commentary on the Diatesseron.
Saint Isaac of Nineveh lived in the seventh century. He gave his life to prayer and meditation. His spiritual insights with he wrote of are highly valued in the Greek Orthodox church and also among the other Eastern Orthodox Churches.
There are many other Aramaic Church Fathers and Theologians whose work has sadly been ignored for far too long.
The Missionary Outreach of the Assyrian Church of the East
From their origins until about 1500, the Assyrian Christians were very active in global missions. They founded churches in India. Assyrian Christians also planted churches along the “Silk Road.” The Silk Road is the name given by historians to the various trade routes through central Asia which connected the East to the West. Marco Polo traveled across the Silk Road and describes finding “Nestorian” churches often. In 636 A.D., Assyrian Christians preached to the Emperor of China. He declared his favor upon Christianity and commanded that churches be built and that the Scriptures be translated into Chinese. Christianity thrived in Asia for centuries. Many of the Mongols were Christians. Assyrian Christianity was widespread under the rule of Genghis and Kublia Khan. In fact, many in the Mongolian royal family were members of the Assyrian Church of the East. Later, due to Islamic persecution and the ravages of the Black Plague, many Syriac Christian communities in the Far East disappeared. (After the Assyrian Church fell in decline, Roman Catholics would often make converts of Chinese “Nestorian” Christians. It is possible that many Chinese Christians roots go back to Syriac Christianity.) The Church of the East also planted churches in remote areas such as the Isle of Socotra off the coast of Africa. Archeologists have found Chinese Imperial monuments proclaiming the Christian messages, Christian scrolls written in Chinese and the ruins of church buildings and Christian cemeteries. The Church of the East survived in Iraq, Iran and India
On October 31, 2010, two Islamic radicals with suicide vests full of projectiles entered a church and detonated themselves into the congregation. Over fifty were killed. Throughout their entire history, Assyrian Christians have been persecuted. Before the dawn of Islam, certain Zoroasterian rulers persecuted the Assyrian Christians. After Islamic armies arrived in Mesopotamia, Assyrian Christians had to endure Islamic rule. Throughout the Islamic world, Christians are discriminated against, persecuted and at times there have been massacres. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Turks and Kurds persecuted Assyrian Christians. In one attack, the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East was murdered. Perhaps the most terrible massacres occurred during the “Armenian Genocide” of the World War One period and the period after. During this genocide, Muslims killed Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. In August 1933, over two hundred Assyrian Christian men, women and children were machine gunned to death by the Iraqi army. After this slaughter, the officers and soldiers who participated in the massacre were given awards for this action. Christians always face discrimination in Muslim countries. Saddam Hussein did prevent Islamist attacks on Assyrians. After the second Gulf War, Islamist attacks on Assyrian Christians intensified and tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians became refugees. Please pray for the Aramaic speaking Assyrian Christians of the Middle East and all other Middle Eastern Christians.
The Challenge of Islam
After Mohammad died, the Arab people revolted against his new religion. In a war called by the Muslims the Ridda Wars, or “Wars of Apostasy,” Islam was forced upon the Arab peoples. Soon afterwards, Muslims forced the Christian Arabian tribes, which had belonged to churches of the Aramaic heritage, from the Arabian Peninsula. Then the Muslims attacked the Byzantine and Zoroasterian Persian Empires. Although Byzantium did not fall to the Muslims until 1454, large territories that had been traditionally Christian for centuries fell under Muslim rule. Mohammad speaking in Allah’s name in Quran 9:29 says, "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are of the People of the Book, [meaning Christians and Jews] until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."What about the verses that deny the Trinity, the sonship of Christ?-even the crucifixion is denied in the Koran. When Muslims conquered Christian lands, they offered Christians the choice to convert, to pay the Jizya, or to die. Under Islamic Law, the Muslims claimed the right to take all the property of a Christian and kill them at will. Soon Christians were forced to pay the exorbitant Jizya tax. Many Christians converted to Islam to escape the taxation and persecution. The persecution of Christians was so horrific, that the Coptic Christians of Egypt revolted against their Islamic oppressors. In the Peshmurian Coptic revolt of 832, revolted against the Abbasid Islamic rule, where they expel the state workers and raised the banner of rebellion and refused to pay tribute (special tax called the jizya) .In the reign of Caliph Al-Ma'mun who arrested and killed large numbers of Copts and their dependents. There have been many persecutions of Coptic and Aramaic Christians during the 1400 year long rule of Islam in the Middle East.
Despite enduring centuries of persecution from their Muslim rulers, the worst persecutions occurred in the 20th Century and are occurring right now. In the period of World War I, in what is known as the Armenian Genocide, one million Armenian Christians, as well as tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Assyrian Christians.
In August 1933, over two hundred Assyrian Christian men, women and children were machine gunned to death by the Iraqi army. After this slaughter, the officers and soldiers who participated in the massacre were given awards for this action.On October 31, 2010, two Islamic radicals with suicide vests full of projectiles entered a church and detonated themselves into the congregation. Over fifty were killed.
After Operation Iraqi Freedom began, Muslim radicals began targeting Iraq’s Christian minority. American forces refused to give Iraq’s religious minorities any security or protection. Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq’s Christian population decreased by two-thirds. Syria had a population that was 12 % Christians. Muslim militants have also targeted the Christians there in the current civil war. The Coptic Christians of Egypt are also under attack.
There is currently a large-scale ethnic cleansing of the Middle East’s Christian population. Many Christians have fled the region and are destitute.
Raymond Ibrahim Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christianity (Regency Publishing, Washington, 2013)
The Silence of Our Friends by Ed West [Kindle Edition]
A Call to Action: How to Help
There is power in prayer. Please pray for all the Middle Eastern Christians and all Christians who are persecuted by Muslim radicals around the world. Also, become informed and challenge people to know the truth.
If you feel led to immediately give to help Aramaic Christians in need contact the Barnabas Fund and give a designated offering to help Middle Eastern Christians. Currently, Iraqi and Syrian Christians are in desperate need. (www.barnabasfund.org 6731 Curran Street
McLean, VA 2210, Telephone: (703) 288-1681, Fax: (703) 288-1682
Toll Free: 1-866-936-2525 , Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I need $400 to organize Aramaic Christian Ministries as a 501 (c3) organization. If you feel led to give, contact me through the contact information below.
Please pray for me as I work on my doctoral project. My project will be Facilitating Interaction between the Aramaic Assyrian Christian Community and Evangelical Christians for Sustainment and Spiritual Renewal. Please pray that I will find funding for my doctoral research and that I will be blessed as I create educational materials about the Aramaic Christian heritage.
Aramaic in the Bible
Aramaic in The Old Testament
The Law Genesis 31:47
The Writings Daniel 2:4-7:28
Ezra 4:6-8 and 7:12-26
The Prophets Jeremiah 10:11
(2 Kings 18:17)
Aramaic in the New Testament
(The list of Aramaic words used in the New Testament is too long to list completely in this booklet. There is a sample of texts.)
Maranatha Aramaic for “Come, Our Lord” 1 Corinthians 16:22
Akeldama Aramaic “Field of Blood” Acts of the Apostles 1:18–19
Bethsaida Aramaic for “House of the Fisherman” Matthew 11:21
Cananean Aramaic for “Zealot” Luke 6:15
Golgotha Aramaic for “Place of the Skull” John 19:20
Tabitha Aramaic for “Gazelle” Acts 9:36-42
Rabbouni Aramaic for “My Teacher” John 20:16
An Aramaic Resource Guide
An handy introduction to Aramaic studies is my book The Language of Jesus: Introducing Aramaic (by Stephen Missick).
Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute www.bethmardutho.org
Aramaic Bible Translation sells Bible movies, including the “Jesus” film, in the Aramaic language and also has audio Bibles. (The Jesus film is a two-hour film based on the account of the life of Christ found in the Gospel of Luke. The “Jesus Video Project” is an attempt to dub this film into every language on earth, including modern dialects of Aramaic.) They are currently located at 100 Wycliffe Drive, West Chicago, Illinois, 60185. Visit them online at www.aramaicbible.org or call 630-876-8452. A dramatic presentation of the Gospel of John in Modern Aramaic is also available.
Samuel Hugh Moffett A History of Christianity in Asia Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 (Harper San Francisco 1992)
Hans-Joachim Klimkeit and Ian Gillman Christians in Asia Before 1500 (University of Michigan Press 1999)
Sebastian P. Brock and Davis G. K. Taylor The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian Orthodox Church and Its Ancient Aramaic Heritage: Volume I The Ancient Aramaic Heritage Volume II the Heirs of the Ancient Aramaic Heritage Volume III At the Turn of the Third Millennium, the Syrian Orthodox Witness (Transworld Films, Italy 2001) with accompanying videotapes.
Christoph Baumer The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity.
The Martyred Church by David Wilmshurst
The Lost Sutras of Jesus: Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks by Ray Riegent. Martin Palmer The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (Ballantine Wellspring, New York 2001)
Stephen Missick’s Books on Aramaic
The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity (Xulon Press, 2006)
Mary of Magdala: Magdalene, the Forgotten Aramaic Prophetess of Christianity (Xlibris, 2006)
Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ’s Teaching (Xlibris, 2006)
Aramaic: The Language of Jesus of Nazareth (Xlibris, 2008)
Christ the Man (Xulon Press)
The Hammer of God: The Stories of Judah Maccabee and Charles Martel (Xulon Press, 2010)
The Ascents of James: A Lost Acts of the Apostles (Create Space 2010)
Saint Thaddeus and the King of Assyria: The Aramaic Origins of Christianity (Create Space 2010)
The Lord’s Prayer in the Original Aramaic (Createspace 2011)
Jesus the Poet (Createspace 2011)
The Assyrians: The Oldest Christian People (Createspace 2011)
The Language of Jesus: Introducing Aramaic (2010)
Christ’s Language: Spiritual Insight from Aramaic (2011)
De-Coding the Language of Jesus
Stephen Andrew Missick
Reverend Stephen Andrew Missick is the author of The Assyrian Church in the Mongol Empire, Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church in India, and Socotra: The Mysterious Island of the Church of the East which were published in the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies (Volume XIII, No. 2, 1999, Volume XIV, No. 2, 2000 and Volume XVI No. 1, 2002). (See www.jaas.org.) He is the author of The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity, The Secret of Jabez, Saint Thaddeus and the King of Assyria, The Ascents of James: A Lost Acts of the Apostles, The Hammer of God: The Stories of Judah Maccabee and Charles Martel, The Ennead: The Story of Osiris the Vindicator, the Beloved Enchantress Isis and Horus the Avenger and Christ the Man. He is an ordained minister of the gospel. He graduated from Sam Houston State University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rev. Missick has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived among the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Aramaic Christians in Syria. He also served as a soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and 2004. While serving as a soldier in Iraq he learned Aramaic from native Aramaic-speaking Iraqi Assyrian Christians. Rev. Missick is the writer and illustrator of the comic book “The Assyrians: The Oldest Christian People,” the comic strip Chronicles: Facts from the Bible and the comic book series The Hammer of God which are available from www.comixpress.com. The Hammer of God comic book series dramatizes the stories of Judah Maccabee and Charles Martel. He has also served as a chaplain in the Army National Guard in Iraq during his second deployment in 2009 and 2010. He participated in an archeological excavation of Bethsaida in Galilee in 2011 and went on a missionary trip to Uganda in 2012 and India in 2013.
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