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The Hidden Pearl
The Syriac Orthodox Church and Its Aramaic Heritage

The following description is from the pre-publication brochure. The publication was released in April 2001 in Rome. The three volume book with three accompanying videos is available for $150 + shipping ($15 within the USA). Place orders with Patriarchal Vicarate of Western US, 417 E. Fairmount Rd., Burbank, CA 91501. Phone: (818) 845-5089.

The production team with H.H. Patriarch Zakka 1 and other Metropolitans at Damascus

The Rationale for the Present Enterprise

Globalisation is a complex and new phenomenon which characterises the end of the second millennium of our era. In the economic and industrial sectors, this phenomenon which has led to the breakdown of all sorts of barriers put up by national states, by removing protectionism and rendering markets universal and by imposing the laws of competition and transparency. In the realm of Communications, globalization has led to the universalization both of information and cultures, and of historical and anthropological research. At the same time, it has also resulted in the rediscovery of some of the world's oldest and least known peoples, ethnic groups, languages and traditions. It is in the context of this modem process that our ambitious project is to be located: The aim is to retrace, from its distant origins, the rich heritage of the Aramaic-speaking peoples, with their culture, language and traditions. During the course of the three millennia of their history these peoples have played a major cultural role in the Middle East, bridging the time-span between Ancient Mesopotamia and the birth of Arabic and Islamic Civilisation. As a result of political vicissitudes, however, especially in our own century, these peoples are now to be found scattered all over the world, with diasporas in many different countries. What makes these speakers of Aramaic unique in the world today is the fact that they are the sole modern heirs to the language spoken by Jesus some 2000 years ago. It is a truly remarkable fact that different dialects of this language should still continue up to the present day to be spoken, or used as a liturgical language, by some five million of our contemporaries, on five continents. What we have here is an untold story which richly deserves to be told.

Vol. 1. Aramaic Heritage of Antiquity (Pre-Christian periods)

  • A long-lived language: Three thousand years of Aramaic
  • The language spreads: Aramaic under the great empires
  • The desert kingdoms: Palmyra, Petra and Hatra

The Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and the Arabic world of the modern Middle East are widely familiar, but between the two there is a period of over a thousand years when Aramaic was the main cultural language of this area - and Aramaic was, of course, the language of Jesus of Nazareth. The earliest inscriptions in Aramaic belong to the time of the Aramaen city states of Syria in the early first millennium BC. Although these city states eventually became swallowed up by the Assyrian Empire, the use of their language, Aramaic, gradually spread all over the Middle East, and during the time of the Achaemenid Persian Empire it had become the official language of the state, and was in use from western Iran to the Mediterranean, and down to the south of Egypt, where it was also used by a local Jewish community with their own temple. In the Hellenistic period (3rd - 1st cent. BC), after the conquests of Alexander the Great, Aramaic continued in use, now alongside Greek. It flourished especially in the east, and was used by the Indian king Asoka in a series of religious inscriptions found in the twentieth century in Afghanistan. In the early period of Roman domination in the Middle East, a number of small desert kingdoms came into being (1st century BC to the 3rd century AD), all of which use Aramaic (in different scripts) as their written language; these were based on Palmyra (with its famous queen, Zenobia), Petra and Hatra.

Vol. 2. Aramaic Language: Customs and Traditions

  • The language of Jesus and the heirs of the Aramaic heritage
  • Monasteries and churches
  • The art of the manuscript: Calligraphy and illustration

Although Hebrew had been the language of the ancient Israelite kingdom, after their return from Exile the Jews turned more and more to Aramaic, using it for parts of the books of Ezra and Daniel in the Bible. By the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the main language of Palestine, and quite a number of texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls are also written in Aramaic. Aramaic continued to be an important language for Jews, alongside Hebrew, and parts of the Talmud are written in it. After the Arab conquests of the seventh century, Arabic quickly replaced Aramaic as the main language of those who converted to Islam, although in out of the way places, Aramaic continued as a vernacular language of Muslims. Aramaic, however, enjoyed its greatest success in Christianity. Although the New Testament wins written in Greek, Christianity had come into existence in an Aramaic-speaking milieu, and it was the Aramaic dialect of Edessa, now known as Syriac, that became the literary language of a large number of Christians living in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire and in the Persian Empire, further east. Over the course of the centuries the influence of the Syriac Churches spread eastwards to China (in Xian, in western China, a Chinese-Syriac inscription dated 781 is still to be seen), to southern India where the state of Kerala can boast more Christians of Syriac liturgical tradition than anywhere else in the world.

Vol. 3. Syrian Orthodox Church and people on the eve of the third millennium

  • The Mountain of the Servants of God: Tur Abdin and its churches and monasteries
  • The homelands of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq
  • In a distant country: the diaspora communities

Testimony to the artistic creativity of the Syriac Churches in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages is provided above all by the survival of numerous churches and monasteries, as well as by frescoes and manuscripts, many of which are works of art, either for their calligraphy or for their illustrations. Until the present century Syriac Christianity was almost entirely confined to the Middle East and southwestern India. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century were traumatic times for almost all the Middle Eastern Christian communities, with large-scale massacres and forced migration. In recent decades too, emigration to the West has been increasing, with the result that there are now large diaspora communities from the Syriac Churches in various European countries (Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden in particular), the Americas and Australia. In many of these a keen awareness of their Syriac and Aramaic heritage is maintained in various ways.

Backwards in time

This fascinating and challenging programme will oblige us to trace the historical routes of the Aramaic-speaking peoples and to investigate, by means of ancient inscriptions, the most distant origins of their language. We will also revisit their first settlements, which at various times in history linked the common Aramaic Heritage. This historical "excursion" will take us first to the heart of the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel), then further afield to the regions of Kerala in Southern India, to Asia, Europe (Switzerland, Holland, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden) and finally to various parts of the United States.


Countries involved 14
Museums involved 34
Historical findings filmed 160
Universities involved 11

Sebastian P. Brock

Before joining the University of Oxford in 1974 Professor Brock taught at the University of Birmingham (1964 - 1967) and at the University of Cambridge (1967-1974). He is a fellow of the British Academy and a Corresponding Member of the Syriac Section of the Iraqi Academy. He has an Honorary Doctorate from the Pontificio Istituto Orientate (1992), and was nominated to the Order of St. Silvester by the Maronite Diocese of St. Maron, USA (1989). He has published many works in his field.

The Producer

Perhaps never before, as in this case, has a production enterprise centred around a producer, in the physical form of a cinema entrepreneur, rather than a television network and/or a film company. The producer: an Italian, Giacomo Pezzali. The well known producer has thirty years of unique experience behind him, which have led him to venture - with success - into other extremely challenging multimedia projects. The multimedia Encyclopaedia "ROMA IMA GOURBIS" known throughout the world, is destined to remain in the annals of culture and cinema. The Italian producer worked on this project, which brought him to sixteen countries on three continents, during the course of the last ten years. Giacomo Pezzali is therefore in a position to develop the fascinating project on the Aramaic Heritage as an ethnographic film, thereby bringing the language and the face of the descendants of the ancient Aramaic peoples to the limelight, through thousands of historical roads and crossroads; civilisations, cultures, traditions and diverse peoples. These heirs are alive, active and vital with all the wealth of their history, their traditions and their customs in the context of contemporary society.

Honorary Committee

His Holiness Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

His Eminence Archbishop
Yulius Yeshu Cicek
Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Central Europe

His Eminence Archbishop
C. Eugene Kaplan
Patriarchal Vicar of the Western USA

Prof. Sidney H. Griffith
Institute of Christian Oriental Research
Catholic University of America, Washington DC, USA

Prof. Amir Harrak
Professor of Aramaic and Syriac
Department of Near and Middle Eastem Civilisations
University of Toronto, Canada

Prof. Wolfgang Hage
Professor of Church History
Phillips-Universitat, Marburg, Germany

Prof. Han J.W. Drijvers
Professor of Semitic Languages,
Department of Languages and Cultures of the Middle East
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands


Prof. Sebastian P. Brock
Reader in Syriac Studies in the University of Oxford and Professorial Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford

Dr. David G.K. Taylor
Lecturer in the Department of Theology
University of Birmingham, Great Britain

Dr. Witold Witowski
Ph.D. in Semitic languages, Uppsala University, Sweden
Researcher at the Institute of Asian and African languages, Uppsala University


Fr. Ibrahim Unal
Parish of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch in Ticino, Switzerland

Rev. Youhanna Sader, Ph.D.
Professor of Archaeology and History of Art

Rev. Dr. Shafiq Abouzayd
Director of ARAM, Society for Syro-Mesopotamic Studies

A Trans World Film Italia Production
00128 ROMA - 43, Via Massimo Meliconi
Tel. 0039 - 6/508 43 02 - 508 42 69 - 507 41 28 Fax 508 38 01

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Last Update: August 8, 2001