Speaking from his flat overlooking the village’s higgledy-piggledy hillside houses, Mr. Rezkallah says that while the two alphabets do have similarities, it is Aramaic which first began using square lettering around the 12th century BC. The Hebrew now used in Israel, he said, was formulated 700 years later after the restoration of the ancient kingdom of the Jews in the 5th century BC.
“The Persians adopted Aramaic. The Babylonians adopted it and so did the Jews. It then prevailed as the language of the Middle East until 700 AD.”
David Taylor, author of "The Hidden Pearl: Aramaic Heritage of the Syrian Orthodox Church," adds that the Jewish people adopted the square Aramaic alphabet – which had become the lingua franca of the entire Middle East from about 700 BC – after they were exiled to Babylon in 587 BC, before which they had used a Palaeo-Hebrew script.
“It would be something of a linguistic tragedy if this splendid survivor were allowed to disappear,” he added.
It would also be a travesty for Syria, says Dr. Taylor.
“Aramaic is a constant reminder of the international importance of Syria in the ancient world, when it was a beacon of learning and culture that had a profound impact worldwide,” he says. “It mirrors the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity that has always been of such great importance in Syria and is key to its long-term success.”