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Aramaic and the Babylonian Exile

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In the previous lesson, we looked at the Babylonian Empire, a very important Empire in the context of the Bible. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, is very famous in history, and the events surrounding the life of Daniel the prophet (Daniel in the lion's den, for instance) are well known to all Bible students. The prophetic dream of king Nebuchadnezzar is also well known.

But the Babylonian Empire is also pivotal in the history of the Jews. In 586 B.C., the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and large numbers of Jews are exiled (taken captive) into Babylon. Here, in Babylon, they were forced to speak the language of the Babylonian Empire. That language was Aramaic.

This means that BEFORE the Babylonian Exile, the Jewish people could speak only Hebrew. Hebrew was the Holy Language. But AFTER the Babylonian Exile, Jews were more familiar with Aramaic. Aramaic became more widely known, and although Hebrew was still used in the synagogue and revered in the Hebrew Bible, Aramaic was now more commonly spoken as their everyday language. That trend only continued as the centuries went by.

As we shall see, after the exile, when the Jews returned to the Land of Israel, Ezra laments that the people no longer understood Hebrew. When he reads the books of the Law of Moses to them, he has to translate into Aramaic to make sure they understand the Hebrew text.

In the next lesson, we shall continue to look at the empires after the Babylonian Empire - namely, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire and the Roman Empire. In the Middle East, Aramaic continued to be the dominant language spoken by ordinary people, all throughout these important Biblical empires.

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