Exploring the Language of Jesus

Planning for a sabbatical during the 2012-2013 academic year, Jennifer Hevelone-Harper, professor of history, is fulfilling a goal she’s had for a while. She’ll be working specifically with the dialect Jesus spoke as she studies a seventh century manuscript. The work is, in part, an extension of a class she co-taught this past fall and hopes to offer again next year: an introduction to Syriac Language and Literature. The class equips students to participate in her research project. Here’s how Hevelone-Harper described her plans:

“For many years I have desired to do a translation of a Syriac text. Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and his first disciples, was used widely by early Christians in the Middle-East as well as in places further East like India and China. I have very recently been offered the opportunity to study the Codex Climaci Rescriptus. This is a key seventh-century palimpsest manuscript from Mt. Sinai, which contains a Syriac version of John Climacus’ two ascetic treatises written over a biblical material originally in Palestinian-Aramaic. John Climacus (579-c.650) is a vital witness to the eastern Christian ascetic tradition in the period when Byzantine rule was eclipsed by the Islamic conquests. The reuse of earlier biblical manuscripts to preserve his texts in Syriac poses intriguing historical questions. With my colleague Dr. Ute Possekel (adjunct professor of history at Gordon), I will help to prepare a translation and historical introduction for the Syriac layer of this manuscript.”

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