When did Jews shift to Aramaic?



The Egyptians fearing the expansion of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar moved their armies north to Assyria. They faced their enemies at Carchemish were they were defeated in 605BC.

Nebuchadnezzar
נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר‎

After their victory the Babylonians  besieged Jerusalem which resulted in Jehoiakim-king of Judah paying tribute to the Neo-Babylonian empire and young nobility of the kingdom of Judah (Bēyt Dāwīḏ in Aramaic) being transferred and kept hostages in Babylon.

Battle of Carchemish.

But in 603BC Nebuchadnezzar's army was defeated by the Egyptians ruled by Nechu II and as a result Jehoiakim revolted against his Babylonian overlords refusing to pay tribute.


Nebuchadnezzar waisted no time and moved against Jerusalem again which was captured and utterly destroyed.

The Jewish nobility and many others were forcibly exiled to Babylon. There they were forced to learn Aramaic the common language of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

Destruction of Jerusalem.
Exile to Babylon.


In 539BC the Achaemenid Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great invaded Babylonia turning it into a satrapy and subsequently giving rise to the so-called Imperial Aramaic.

A ziggurat temple.

After the fall of Babylon Cyrus allowed the exiled Jews to return to Judah. Many of them never returned settling in Lebanon, Syria and Upper Mesopotamia areas where Aramaic was the dominant language.

Others went back to Judah and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

Return to Zion.

The exile to Babylon and  the settlement of the Jews in Aramaic speaking areas resulted in Hebrew gradually falling out of use in favour of Aramaic.

Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language between the 2nd and 4th century C.E. after the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire.

Mered Bar Kokhba
 מֶרֶד בַּר כּוֹכְבָא

Nevertheless it continued to be used as a liturgical language.

From this time on, a  Bible interpreter -the meturgeman (translator) translated orally the Bible from Hebrew to the vernacular Aramaic. This practice lead to the targumim  (translations).



The exile of Babylon in the Bible.

Ezra 1:1-4

Cyrus Helps the Exiles to Return 
 1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: 2 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. 
4 And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’



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