Syriacs: Aramaic roots and Christian blooms

Posted on Mar 14, 2020

A mosaic of different traditions and religious communities is still flourishing in the Holy Land. The Syriac community is a part of this mosaic, and still preserves a culture rooted in the Aramaic language.

F BOUTROS NE’MEH
Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary

“The Syriacs are the Arams descended from Aram, son of Sem, who was the son of Noah, who lived in the area of Mesopotamia and the Levant for many years. They spoke Aramaic and lived there for many centuries, even before the birth of Christianity.

“When the Aramaeans became Christians, they took the name ‘Syriacs’ because they lived in Greater Syria.”

In 1915, the Syriacs were persecuted by the Ottomans in their homeland, which corresponds to present-day Turkey: many people were beheaded and killed. This led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of them to Europe, America and the Holy Land.

The daughter of a displaced Syriac family now runs the St. Ephraim school in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. Like other Syriacs, she prides herself on asserting her own origins.

AMAL BEHNAM
Headmaster of the Syriac school Mar Ephraim of Beit Jala

“I consider myself as a Palestinian Syriac Christian who has lived in the Holy Land all her life. I was born in Jerusalem. We always try to preserve this identity and to remain firm in our faith, linked to our Syriac Antiochian Church.”

The Syriacs are also eager to revive their language, a historical and blessed language, because it was the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

AMAL BEHNAM
Headmaster of the Syriac school Mar Ephraim of Beit Jala

“The St. Ephraim School was founded in 2003 with the aim of preserving the Aramaic language and the Syriac cultural heritage.”

The students of the school begin the morning by reciting the Our Father prayer in Syriac.

Our Father…( in Aramaic)

F BOUTROS NE’MEH
Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary

“We are very proud of our Syriac and Aramaic identity. The Syriacs have contributed to transmitting a glorious cultural heritage to the whole world.”

There are about 2000 Syriacs in the Holy Land, and most of them are located between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The Patron Saint is Saint Ephraim, who lived in the fourth century: his books are considered masterpieces of Christian literature.

The Syriacs consider themselves among the first Christian denominations present in Jerusalem. According to the Syriac tradition, the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mark in Jerusalem stands on the remains of the Saint’s house and on the site of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples.

Since the beginning of Christianity, the Syriacs have not given up their dream of creating their own state.

F BOUTROS NE’MEH
Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary

“This is a dream that all the members of the parish and all the Aramaeans have: that of creating our own state to preserve our history and culture.”