How Difficult Is Biblical Aramaic To Learn?

Since sections of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible are written in Aramaic, you cannot understand the Hebrew Bible in its entirety unless you also understand the sections which are written in Aramaic. Learning Aramaic, at least to the level where you can understand the sections of the Tanakh which are written in Aramaic, is therefore essential. An obvious question is therefore, “How difficult is Biblical Aramaic to learn?”

What you mean, of course, is how difficult is Aramaic for you to learn. The answer depends entirely on what experience you have of learning a language – and a Semitic language like Aramaic, in particular. If you do not know any Hebrew or Aramaic, learning Biblical Aramaic will be a reasonably steep learning curve. There are several reasons for this:
Although there are some excellent resources for learning Biblical Aramaic, Aramaic does not have the breadth and variety of books, vocabularies and study guides that Hebrew or Greek have.
Many Biblical Aramaic grammars assume some knowledge of Hebrew, since people learning Aramaic typically approach Aramaic with prior knowledge of the Hebrew Bible.

Ignoring the above factors, however, learning Biblical Aramaic is probably an easier task than learning Biblical Hebrew. Here are a few reasons why:
Biblical Aramaic only covers a handful of chapters in the Tanakh. The vocabulary, grammar are word forms are very restricted, and there is therefore less to learn. The Hebrew Bible has a vocabulary of around 10,000 words. By contrast, Biblical Aramaic has around 10% of that.
Biblical Hebrew covers around 850 pages in a typical Hebrew Bible. There are many words and phrases in the Hebrew Bible which are difficult to understand, some rare forms, and lots of variety. Biblical Aramaic is much easier by virtue of being more limited in scope.
Although Aramaic is a different language to Hebrew, the two languages have a great deal in common. A knowledge of Hebrew can be leveraged to learn Aramaic by comparing and contrasting the two languages.
Some amazing study resources are available to learn Biblical Aramaic, such as BibleWorks software. BibleWorks provides a grammatical breakdown of every single Biblical Aramaic word. The text can be searched and compared with the Aramaic Targums, providing an even greater body of literature to understand the context of words.
In summary, although Biblical Aramaic will be a challenge for many, overall the task is much smaller and easier than learning Biblical (or Modern) Hebrew. A knowledge of Hebrew can be exploited to learn Aramaic much faster and more easily than would otherwise be the case.

Learning Aramaic can also help to understand difficult words and phrases in the Hebrew Bible. If you know Hebrew and love the Tanakh, you really should take the next step and learn Aramaic. Learning only one of these languages is like breathing on only one lung.

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