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Communication and Writing

The hall visualizes the history of communication and writing in Jordan, showing examples, such as the Bal'am Text, the longest known Aramaic written evidence in the southern Levant. There are also computer terminals where the visitors can write their names in Aramaic, Nabataean, Greek and Arabic, and print them out.

Part of the visual informative tour through the Jordan Museum, Amman, in the frame of Art Destination Jordan.

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Official Scripts from Aramaic to Arabic

Four main scripts stand out as being widely used in Jordan for official records and communications, and for monumental inscriptions.

The earliest evidence of Aramaic in Jordan goes back to the 9th century BC, following which the influence of Aramaic spread all over the Ancient Near East. Thus, although the Jordanian states of Ammon, Moab and Edom had their own “national” languages and scripts, there is obvious Aramaic influence in them. It is also assumed that Aramaic was an official language in Jordan during the Persian period (6th-4th centuries BC) since Aramaic was an official language of the Persian Empire. Then although Greek became the official language of the region as of the Hellenistic era, Aramaic remained in use in private and religious circles for several centuries.

The Nabataean Arabs used a late dialect of Aramaic, and a late off-shoot of the Aramaic script for their writings. The earliest inscription written in this Nabataean script goes back to the 2nd century BC, whereas the latest dates to AD 355. This demonstrates that the script’s usage was not limited to the period of Nabataean political hegemony, which ended in AD 106. The Nabataean script gradually shifted away from its Aramaic origin and took forms that were later adopted by the Arabic script.

Greek was an official language in Jordan from the end of the 4th century BC up to the 7th century AD. Two factors played a role in this: first was the incorporation of Jordan into the world of Hellenistic culture, following the conquests of Alexander the Great; the second reason was that Greek was the language of the Eastern Roman Empire as of the fourth century AD, which explains the dominance of Greek in the Levant instead of Latin under the Roman Empire. Greek remained in common official use until it was gradually replaced by Arabic during the Umayyad period.

Arabic was presumably widely spoken in Jordan before Islam, but only a few Arabic inscriptions were found from that era. Arabic replaced Greek as the official language in the region with the "Arabisation" of official records in around AD 700, during the reign of Abd al-Malik bin Marwan. After this move Arabic dominated in all aspects of life in the Arab World, including Jordan. Turkish, written in Arabic script, was also used as an official language in the region during the Ottoman period (1516-1917).

© From a wall text in the Jordan Museum

Common Jordanian Inscriptions

The terms Safaitic and Thamudic designate inscriptions written by nomads of the Jordanian desert in two ancient North Arabian languages, using a variety of South Semitic scripts.

There is no evident explanation yet why the nomads of the Jordanian desert inscribed tens of thousands of rock-inscriptions, nor how these nomads learnt to write. Their inscriptions are generally short, and are of a private character. They usually contain the name of the author of the inscription, his genealogy, his tribal affiliation, a statement about his activities such as seasonal migrations, raids, or burials. A blessing from the gods or a curse on the enemy is also inscribed.

Most of these scripts go back to the period between the 1st century BC and the4th century AD. Safaitic inscriptions are usually found in the northeastern parts of Jordan, while Thamudic inscriptions are in die southern parts.

About 100 Syriac and other later Aramaic inscriptions were found in Jordan, written on stone, pottery and church mosaics. Syriac is a dialect of Arabic that was spoken mostly by Syrian Christians.

At Khirbat as-Samra to the east of Zarqa, about 90 tomb inscriptions dating to the 7th and 8th centuries AD were uncovered. Most of these inscriptions are short and include the name of the deceased. Two significant Syriac inscriptions on basalt blocks were found at Wadi Rajil in the Harrah region, probably written by a pilgrim on his way to Jerusalem in the 8th century AD. The Syriac inscriptions on church mosaics date between the 6th and 8th centuries AD, while the script and dialect are still in use among the Syriac community and church till this day.

© From a wall text in the Jordan Museum

The Jordan Museum
National museum of Jordan’s history and culture, over 2,000 artifacts. Extensive visual informative tour in the frame of Art Destination Jordan.

Web guide for cultural travellers - a wealth of information and photos.

Contemporary art, archaeology, art history, architecture, cultural heritage.

Supported by
Jordan Tourism Board

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