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The very enterprise is bogus.
Modesto - Most viewers of "The Passion of the Christ" will find little familiar in the ancient language spoken by Jesus and other Jewish characters in the movie.

But for and Assyrians in the United States, Mel Gibson's film, which opened Wednesday, is an unprecedented chance to hear their native tongue - Aramaic - on the big screen.

Nobody knows exactly how first-century Aramaic sounded, and the language in the movie is just one scholar's best estimation of how Jesus would have spoken. It varies greatly from Syriac, the form of Aramaic used today by some Christians.

Still, it is familiar to today's Aramaic speakers - and for many, the language's role in the controversial movie about Jesus' final hours is a source of pride.

Aramaic is spoken by a handful of small Christian groups from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, including Assyrians, who are Catholic, and who have their own church.

There are an estimated 250,000 Assyrians in the United States - mostly in Michigan, California and Chicago ??? said Dr. Sargon Dadisho, program director and president of Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain which runs KBES-FM 89.5, KBSV-TV 23 and AssyriaSat..

In Modesto and surrounding cities, where Dadisho says the Assyrian community numbers about 20,000, Assyrian congregations have organized special outings to see the movie.

"The reality is we're very religious," Dadisho said. "But to add to it the fact that the language is a language that we speak a dialect of, to us, is very exciting."

Community leaders and scholars say they fear the language is dying, as and Assyrians leave the Middle East for the United States, and as people leave Aramaic-speaking villages in Iraq for the cities. Among Jews, spoken Aramaic has all but disappeared, although the Talmud and other religious texts are written in it.

Aramaic-speakers in the United States are struggling to maintain the dialects among generations born here.

For Jane Shumon, hearing Aramaic in the movie caused mixed emotions.

"It makes me feel proud and sad at the same time. Proud that we always carry this language that at one time was the dominating language in the region and a language that was spoken by Jesus, and sad that today there is not enough support for it to preserve it," said Shumon, program director for Assyrian Satelite Network which broadcasts 7/24 around the world.

Assyrian is "demonstrably Aramaic dialects, but they're about as different as, say, Chaucer is from modern English," said the Rev. William Fulco, who translated the script of "The Passion" into Aramaic and "street Latin."

Fulco, director of ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said his version of Jesus' language is "a calculated guess."

But Joseph Amar, a classics professor specializing in Christian Aramaic at the University of Notre Dame, strongly criticized the endeavor, saying there is no way to know how similar the Aramaic spoken in Jesus' time is to the forms preserved today.

"It has no intellectual integrity. The very enterprise is bogus," he said.
+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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Akhi Paul,

Do you agree that "the very enterprise is bogus ?

Dave B
Hi Akhi,

No, I think Prof. Amar was a little too stern there.

I would have consulted speakers of the language, though, a still-living and breathing language, instead of making a "calculated guess."
+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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Akhi Paul,

I have read that Fulco did consult Aramaic spaeking people;
he would have been irresponsible not to. How can we be sure how 1st century Palestinian Jews spoke the language ?

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Shlama Akhi Dave,

Prof. Fulco consulted Aramaic-speaking people for the pronunciation of letters. The "calculated guess" part that he spoke of in the interview concerns the grammar.

We can forgive Mel for not knowing that dining room tables didn't exist in the middle east at the time (remember the scene where Yeshua was making a table?), but there's no need to "guess", even a "calculated guess", on how 1st-century Aramaic grammar functioned.

Your research, my research and the examples preserved from the Greek text itself show us that the language did not differ a single Yodh from the Peshitta.

The people who think like Fulco imagine some mysterious Aramaic dialect spoken by Yeshua and the people of the time - but common sense tells us that if he spoke with the Syrian woman at the well, with Galileans, with Samarians, with Judeans - they must have had a mutually understandable way of speaking.

How Judeans spoke Aramaic is the same way Assyrians spoke Aramaic, otherwise passages like Isaiah 36:11 would be lying.

In your opinion, what would have been wrong with using the Peshitta text for the relevant dialogue?
+Shamasha Paul bar-Shimun de'Beth-Younan
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