The concept of God is central in many religions, including Christianity which has roots in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The Aramaic word for God is ‘Alaha‘.
In this comprehensive article, we will dive deeper into the Aramaic terminology for God and its historical significance in Christianity and Judaism. We will analyze the origins, meanings, and usage of the Aramaic words for God including Alaha, Elah, Elaha, Mariah, and others.
Understanding these concepts can shed light on the foundations of monotheism and the development of theology in Abrahamic faiths.
The Aramaic Word ‘Alaha’ for God
Etymology and Meaning
The Aramaic word for “God” is “Alaha” (ܐܠܗܐ in Syriac script). It comes from the ancient Semitic root ‘IL, which connotes power and deity. This root is found in many Semitic languages, including Hebrew (“El” or “Elohim”) and Arabic (“Allah”).
In Aramaic, the word “Alaha” developed into the proper name for the supreme deity of the Mesopotamian and Levantine pantheons by the 1st millennium BCE.
“Alaha” is related to the more generic Aramaic term “Alah” (ܐܠܗ), meaning “god” or “deity.” However, “Alaha” came to refer specifically to the supreme creator god worshipped by ancient Aramaic-speaking peoples, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Arameans.
It is cognate with the Hebrew “Elohim,” referring to the God of Israel.
Usage in Ancient Texts and Inscriptions
“Alaha” appears frequently in ancient Aramaic texts and inscriptions as the name of the supreme deity. For example, it is attested over 150 times in the Aramaic portions of the biblical books of Ezra and Daniel.
Several Aramaic incantation bowls from the 5th-6th centuries CE invoke “Alaha” for protection. The Jewish Aramaic targums (translations of the Hebrew Bible) use “Alaha” to represent the Tetragrammaton, the sacred name of the God of Israel.
Early Christian Aramaic inscriptions and texts also use “Alaha” as the name of God. For instance, some of the earliest dated Christian inscriptions, the Abgar inscriptions from Edessa ca. 200 CE, invoke the blessings of “Alaha.”
The early Syriac church father Aphrahat refers to Christ as the “son of Alaha” in his Demonstrations from the 4th century CE.
Role in the Development of Monotheism
The concept of “Alaha” as a supreme deity may have helped pave the way for monotheism in the ancient Near East. While polytheism was predominant, “Alaha” stood out from other deities as the most powerful creator god.
The use of “Alaha” in texts like Daniel and Ezra reflects early Jewish monotheistic attempts to equate the God of Israel with the supreme deity of the Aramaic pantheon.
The widespread invocation of “Alaha” in early Syriac Christianity also signals a monotheistic shift. Referring to both the God of Israel and Christ as “Alaha” or the “son of Alaha” shows the accommodation of Aramaic-speaking peoples to biblical monotheism.
This likely supported the rapid spread of early Christianity in the Aramaic-speaking Near East.
Other Aramaic Words for God – Elah, Elaha, Mariah
Origins and Meanings
In addition to the commonly used Aramaic word “Alaha” for God, there are a few other Aramaic terms that are also used to refer to God in the Bible and other religious texts.
The Aramaic word “Elah” (or “Elaha”) is found in the books of Ezra and Daniel in the Bible. It comes from the same root as the Hebrew “Elohim” which is also translated as “God.” The term “Elah” means something like “the Exalted One” or “the Revered Deity.”
Another Aramaic term, “Mariah,” shows up just once in the book of Ezra in the phrase “God of Heaven.” It seems to refer to God in an exalted position in Heaven. The word might come from ancient Near East titles used for various deities.
Appearances in the Bible and Other Sources
|But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days.
The term “Elaha” also shows up in the Persian period Aramaic translations of the Elephantine papyri as a name for the God of Israel.
The word “Mariah” is used just once, in Ezra 7:21:
|I, King Artaxerxes, issue a decree to all the treasurers in the region west of the Euphrates River as follows: Whatever Ezra the priest, an expert in the law of the God of heaven, asks of you must be provided promptly
How These Terms Relate to “Alaha”
The Aramaic words “Elah” and “Elaha” seem to be directly equivalent to “Alaha” as names for the deity worshipped by Israelites and Jews. They are essentially synonymous terms coming from ancient Semitic languages. They all evolved as words to refer to the supreme being in Heaven.
The term “Mariah” also denoted the Jewish God, but emphasized the exalted status as highest in Heaven. Some scholars think it may come from the ancient Canaanite name for their chief god El, demonstrating continuity from earlier religions.
So while subtle differences exist, these Old Aramaic biblical terms fundamentally pointed to the same God concept trusted by Hebrew scribes and religious figures of their time. They capture different attributes, but align in essence and practice.
The Aramaic Concept of God in Christianity
Jesus and Early Christians’ Usage of Aramaic God-Terms
Jesus and his early followers lived in a multilingual world, where Aramaic served as the common tongue of the general population in Roman Palestine. As native Aramaic speakers, Jesus and his disciples used several key Aramaic terms to refer to God, including “Abba” (Father or Daddy), “Mar” (Lord), and “Alaha” (God).
The intimate, familial term “Abba” is used in verses like Mark 14:36, where Jesus prays “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.” This shows Jesus had a close, personal relationship with God. The designation conveys affection, dependence, and trust.
Aramaic phrases like “Maranatha” (Come, our Lord) also appear in early Christian texts (1 Cor 16:22), revealing how concepts from Jesus’ native tongue shaped theology. As Christianity spread, these terms took on layers of meaning.
Significance in the Origins of Christianity
Scholars widely agree that Jesus’ message was first transmitted in the Aramaic vernacular. The original expressions, meanings, and nuances of his teachings would have been embedded in the language.
For example, in Matthew 16:17-19, Simon Peter’s name change to “Cephas” only makes sense via the Aramaic “Kepha” (Rock). This passage describes Peter as the rock upon which Jesus will build his church. The wordplay connects to Peter’s new leadership role.
Such fine distinctions anchor early Christian culture and thought to Aramaic linguistic traditions.
Parallels to Hebraic Conceptions of God
As a sister tongue to Hebrew, Aramaic shares conceptual common ground with Jewish notions of God. Referring expressions like “Lord of Heaven and Earth” have equivalents in both languages. There are also comparable terms for divine attributes like righteousness, judgment, etc.
But Aramaic flavors these ideas with its distinctive lexicon and syntax.
For example, while Hebrew texts use “Elohim” as a name for God, the cognate “Alaha” functions differently in Aramaic literature. Alaha is shaped by idioms from Imperial Aramaic dialects. It conveys supreme wisdom and authority. The intermingling of Semitic languages adds nuance.
In the diverse social setting of the early church, Aramaic enabled both Jews and Gentiles to grapple with profound spiritual concepts in an accessible common tongue. The vocabulary united different factions and aided the spread of Christianity in its formative years.
Aramaic Influences on the Jewish Idea of God
Roots in Biblical Aramaic
The Jewish idea of God has its origins in Biblical Aramaic, the language of large sections of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra. Key Aramaic terms for God include “Elah” (God) and “Elaha” (My God), which have connections to the Hebrew “Elohim.”
In the Aramaic portions of the Bible, we see God described with kingly imagery and as a supreme cosmic ruler. This influenced later Jewish conceptions of God’s transcendence and involvement in human affairs.
Development into Rabbinic Judaism
As Aramaic became the vernacular language of Judea in the Second Temple period, Aramaic conceptions of God continued to shape Jewish thought. The Targums, Aramaic translations and paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible, provided expanded Aramaic terminology for describing God’s powers and characteristics.
Rabbinic literature drew on these expanded Aramaic conceptions as it systematized Jewish theology. For example, the Talmud has extensive discussions in Aramaic about God’s justice, wisdom, and relationship to creation.
Conceptual Links to ‘Alaha’ and Other Terms
The Aramaic term for God, “Alaha,” has conceptual links to related words in other Semitic languages. The Hebrew “El” and Arabic “Allah” share similarities with “Alaha.” Medieval Jewish philosophers like Maimonides drew on these cross-linguistic connections to describe universal philosophical conceptions about the nature of the Divine.
While important differences between the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim ideas of God exist, the common linguistic heritage provided a starting point for comparative theology and philosophy.
In summary, the Aramaic terminology for God, including most prominently the word ‘Alaha’, had a monumental influence on the origins and theological evolution of both Christianity and Judaism. Understanding the original meanings and contexts of these words provides insight into the foundations of Abrahamic monotheism which still impacts religious thought today.