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422                The Loom of Language
Accadian Accadiaa was the speech of people who inhabited the plains
of Arabia before they invaded the fertile lands of the Euphrates and
Tigris There they came into contact with the Sumerians, and adopted
a superior culture, together with a system of syllabic writing, known as
cuneiform A wealth of cuneiform inscriptions and libraries of records
engraved on cylinders and bricks of burnt day have preserved the
Babyloriian-Assynan language. The oldest assessable document goes
back to the time of the great conqueror, Sargon I (ca 2400).
For centimes Accadian was a medium of commercial and diplomatic
correspondence throughout the Near and Middle East We find evi-
dence of its wide currency in letters which Palestinian princes addressed
to Amenophis IV in the fifteenth century B c. They were unearthed at
Tel-el-Amarna, in Egypt By the time of Alexander the Great, Accadian
had ceased to exist as a living language The medium that took its
place was Aramaic. The Arameans were a trading people. After
relinquishing desert life, they came to occupy the so-called Syrian
saddle to the North-West of Mesopotamia Thanks to this strategic
position, they were then able to command the commerce that went
along the land routes between the Mediterranean and the Middle East
From about the eighth century B c onwards, they began to filter into
the Babylonian and Assyrian empires With them went their language
and script, and in tune Aramaic displaced not only Accadian, but also
Hebrew and Phoenician It even penetrated Arabic-speaking regions,
and became one of the official languages of the Persian Empire
Even after the advent of Christianity, Aramaic was an important
cultural medium The famous Nestorian Stone, discovered in 1625 m
Sin-ngan-fu, shows that missionaries carried the Nestorian heresy with
later Aramaic (Syriac) gospel texts as far as China It was erected in
A D. 781, and reports in parallel Chinese and Synac inscriptions the
successes and failures of the Nestonan mission Ail that survives to-day
of this once mighty lingua franca is the speech of three small communi-
ties near Damascus
Aramaic, not Hebrew, was the mother-tongue of Palestine during
the period with which the gospel narrative deals. When the Evan-
gelists quote the words of Christ, the language is Aramaic, not Hebrew
By that time the local Canaamte dialect in which the earlier parts of the
Old Testament were written was already a dead language The decline
of Hebrew set in with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Captivity
which began in the sixth century B c It was soon superseded by
Aramaic, which became the literary as well as the spoken medium of