As I worked on my dissertation on Ps 68 in Judaism and Paul’s epistles, I came across several articles that approached the problem of Ps 68:18 in Eph 4:8 from a text-tradition perspective. Paul changes Ps 68:18’s “you received” to “he gave” in Eph 4:8, so naturally an examination of early versions was a first step. But one of the early versions is the Peshitta, to which I had no linguistic access, but which was appealed to in several articles and commentaries. I quickly learned that Syriac was yet another language I needed to learn if I would study the New Testament.
Anyone who has ventured to learn a new language, though, understands that many textbooks are not user-friendly, and many require classroom supplementation from professors. Thankfully there is now a new resource available to help you learn Syriac at home on your own!
Steven Hallam has taught Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac at the graduate level and wanted to produce a book that would enable anyone to learn Syriac from scratch. With almost no Syriac knowledge whatsoever, I took his book for a test-spin, and really enjoyed how simple it was.
The first step was of course to learn the alphabet, which wasn’t as difficult as I had supposed (every new alphabet always seems more daunting than it really is). Hallam helpfully provides a list of proper biblical names for you to memorize right away, which helped me get the alphabet memorized while learning lots of names. After quickly looking over nouns for vocabulary, I was able (by glancing back and forth) to translate through the Lord’s prayer at the end of the second chapter! I really think this kind of practical payoff is incredibly helpful for students to keep them encouraged and engaged.
The grammar is laid out with nominals first (which is how we learn language naturally, by the way), followed by the verbal system and then seven appendices. These appendices include advice for next steps, reading eastern and western texts, numbers and dates, charts comparing Syriac and Hebrew, similar Syriac and Hebrew roots, verbs with pronominal endings, and finally a Syriac-English lexicon. The bottom line is that this grammar gets through the basics quickly and gives you practical payoff with Scripture readings right from the start. Best of all, you can use it at home on your own without needing a professor to supplement the content.
This grammar does have its own integrated workbook. It does not come with answers in the back of the book, but you can acquire them online. Sign up as a student at www.ZondervanAcademic.com and you can then access the answer key under the Learning Resources tab. The answer key, of course, would be crucial for teaching yourself at home and for using the workbook, so thanks to Zondervan for making it available.
If you care about early versions, New Testament studies, or even early church history, Syriac is waiting for you, and it’s not as difficult as it might seem. Hallam’s Basics of Classical Syriac certainly makes it much more accessible to get started reading Syriac quickly.
Preview or buy it here on Amazon.