The Syrian government sent reinforcements Friday to the ancient, predominantly Christian village of Maaloula, where rebels have battled regime troops this week. Maaloula, a scenic village of about 3,300 perched high in the mountains, is one of the few places in the world where residents still speak a version of Aramaic, the language of biblical times believed to have been used by Jesus.
A look at the growth and decline of the Aramaic language through the centuries:
ANCIENT ROOTS: Aramaic is part of the language family that includes Hebrew and was widely used during the time of Roman conquest in the Holy Land and, many scholars believe, likely the main language of Jesus Christ. Some parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in a form of Aramaic, which had many dialects.
DECLINE: Aramaic use began to fall off as other languages — such as Arabic — dominated with the spread of Islam beginning in the 8th century. Aramaic retained a role in the liturgies of some branches of Eastern Christianity.
CURRENT USE: Forms of Aramaic are used in small communities around the Middle East, including Assyrians and Chaldean Christians, but it is considered to be under threat because of emigration and the pressures from dominant languages such as Arabic and Turkish.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press