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date: 21 January 2020

Syrian church musiclocked

  • Heinrich Husmann
  • , revised by Peter Jeffery


There are essentially four ancient Christian liturgical traditions that can be counted as Syrian, but the practitioners of these traditions belong to a bewildering variety of religious denominations, with diverse theological, historical and organizational loyalties. They share in common the Syriac language, an allegiance to the See of Antioch, the Syriac Bible and Syriac hymns and theological literature.

Syriac is a North-West Semitic tongue, closer to Hebrew than to Arabic, that developed in the city of Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey). As a dialect of Aramaic (the official language of the ancient Assyrian empire to 200 ce), Syriac is related to the Palestinian Jewish Aramaic that was the mother tongue of Jesus and the first disciples as well as of many rabbinic authorities of the Talmudic period. For this reason modern Syrian Christians frequently call Syriac ‘Aramaic’; Western scholars before modern times often called it ‘Chaldean’.

Only a minority of Syrian Christians can still speak Syriac; for most it is a theological and liturgical language, like Latin in the West. The major vernaculars are now Arabic (in the Near East), Malayalam (in India) and English (in India and North America), all three of which are increasingly replacing Syriac in liturgical services....

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