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THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

About The Language
One of Mel Gibson's earliest decisions as director of The Passion of The Christ was to have the Jesus of his film speak the same language that the historical Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago. That language is Aramaic, an ancient Semitic tongue closely related to Hebrew that today is considered by some linguists to be a "dead language,” still used in dialects by only a small number of people in remote parts of the Middle East.

"Once, however, Aramaic was the lingua franca of its time, the language of education and trade spoken the world over, rather like English is today. By the 8th Century, B.C. the Aramaic tongue was widely in use from Egypt to Asia Major to Pakistan and was the main language of the great empires of Assyria, Babylon, and later the Chaldean Empire and the Imperial government of Mesopotamia. The language also spread to Palestine, supplanting Hebrew as the main tongue some time between 721 and 500 B.C. Much of Jewish law was formed, debated and transmitted in Aramaic, and it was the language that formed the basis of the Talmud.

Jesus would have spoken and written what is now known as Western Aramaic, which was the dialect of the Jews during his lifetime. After his death, early Christians wrote portions of scripture in Aramaic, spreading the stories of Jesus' life and messages in that language across many lands.

As the historical language of expressing religious ideas, Aramaic is a common thread that ties together both Judaism and Christianity. Professor Franz Rosenthal wrote in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies: "In my view, the history of Aramaic represents the purest triumph of the human spirit as embodied in language (which is the mind's most direct form of physical expression) . . . [It was] powerfully active in the promulgation of spiritual matters.” For Gibson, too, there was something ineffably powerful about hearing Christ's words spoken in their original language.

But to bring Aramaic to life on the modern motion picture screen was going to be an enormous challenge. After all, how do you create a film in a lost First Century tongue in the middle of the 21st Century?

Gibson sought the help of Father William Fulco, Chair of Mediterranean Studies at Loyal Marymount University and one the world's foremost experts on the Aramaic language and classical Semitic cultures. Fulco translated the script for The Passion of The Christ entirely into First Century Aramaic for the Jewish characters and "street Latin” for the Roman characters, drawing on his extensive linguistic and cultural knowledge. After translating the script, Fulco served as an on-set dialogue coach and remained "on call” to the production, providing last-minute translations and consultations. To further authenticate the language, Gibson also consulted native speakers of Aramaic dialects to get a sense of how the language sounds to the ear. The beauty of hearing this dying language spoken aloud, he recalls, was very moving.

Ultimately, the entire international cast of The Passion of The Christ had to learn portions of Aramaic – most doing so phonetically – becoming perhaps one of the largest groups of artists ever to take on an ancient tongue en masse. For Gibson, the film's "foreign language” had another benefit: learning Aramaic became a uniting factor among a cast made up of many languages, cultures and backgrounds. "To bring a cast from all over the world to one place and have them all learn this one language gave them a sense of common ground, of what they share and of connections that transcend language”, he says.

It also compelled the cast to look more deeply into their physical and emotional resources above and beyond the use of words. "Speaking in Aramaic required something different from the actors”, observes Gibson, "because they h

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