Before leaving home, I photocopied some of Syria’s Lonely Planet guide to bring along. One blurb about Malula and its Aramaic legacy went like this:
“So was the Aramaic spoken in Mel Gibson’s epic, ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ accurate? Malula’s locals say that the first time they saw the film, they were so moved they didn’t pay attention. On a second viewing, however, they realized they could barely understand a word of the dialect that Mel had used…”
I asked our Aramaic-speaking, from-Malula guide if this were true. He said that he could understand very little of the movie’s speaking. So that confirmed it.
“Not so fast,” he replied. “My uncle understood everything.” Apparently, the movie was done well enough even to include words and forms that are long since outdated and uncommon among today’s tiny Aramaic-speaking population. Our guide, Hanna, has been away from Malula for many years, and his Aramaic has taken a hit as a result. But his has-spoken-Aramaic-his-whole-life-and-never-left uncle, who has also has a better grasp on the older language… well, that’s another story.
So to Mel Gibson, from an uncle in Malula, I say, “Well done.”