There are a handful of Aramaic passages in the Bible; notably in Daniel and Ezra. Since the writing system of these two was the same, how are the Aramaic sections identified?
The two languages are related (both are Northwest Semtic languages) and eventually shared a script. Hebrew, prior to the exile used its own script called Paleo-Hebrew. It was still used afterwards in isolated places and instances, but what we now call Aramaic Square replaced it for the most part. Though they share many common words and large pieces of grammar (noun states are the same and verbal stems are similar), there are differences.
It is these differences in grammar that allow us to tell them apart:
- The definite article differs between the two languages. In Hebrew, the definite article is prefixed to the noun as a he. In Aramaic, the definite article is attached to the end of the noun as an aleph.
- Aramaic has a particle "diy" that can be used in at least 5 ways (Hebrew does not use this until postexilic times and even then rarely).
- To mark the genitive - Daniel 4:23 "roots of the tree."
- As a particle of relation (who, which, that) - Dan 2:24 "whom the king had appointed."
- As the conjunction "as"- Dan 4:23 "And as it was commanded...".
- To function as opening quotation marks - Dan 2:24 "Said to him, 'I found...".
- As an idiom - Dan 2:29 "whatever will be".
- Aramaic uses "l" in 3 ways.
- As a preposition, "to, for" - Dan 3:20 "to the furnance."
- To mark the infinitive - Dan 3:20 "ordered to bind...".
- As the mark of the accusative - Dan 3:20 "to bind Shadrack." (Yes, it gets a lot of use in that verse.)
- Aramaic can use "diy" and "l" to mark that part of a construct chain is indefinite (in Biblical Hebrew, such a chain must be either all definite or all indefinite). Dan 6:15 "Remember, O King, that a law of the Medes and Persians.. does not change." The "a" comes from law being indefinite even though Medes and Persians is not (by definition, even without the article). However, the "l" prefixed to Medes tells us that the first part is not definite.
- The participle can be used in Aramaic in ways that Hebrew does not.
- With immediate future meaning "about to" Dan 4:22 "About to be driven."
- As a 'past tense' — very common in the phrase "answered and said."
- There are letter changes. Hebrew words with "sh" will often appear in Aramaic spelt with a "t." For example, Daniel 5:25 contains "mene, mene, teqel upharsin." "teqel" is the Aramaic spelling of "sheqel."
- Aramaic did not experience the Canaanite vowel shift from a to o that Hebrew did.
They are both west Semitic and have a very obvious shared root language. They also use the same script. However, there are a handful of differences in the way they developed. For instance, the long 'a' was retained in Aramaic but changed to a long 'o' in Hebrew in some words.
Also, where we see a tav in Aramaic, there is often a shin in Hebrew. This is likely because the original "hl" (voiceless L) pronunciation of shin shifted to "th" in some areas and "sh" in others.
Hebrew and Aramaic are both West Semitic languages with common ancestry in Phoenician and Canaanite roots. Hebrew is about 200 years older, and based on a Canaanite dialect spoken around Jerusalem. Aramaic originated in Damascus, Syria, not Assyria which is modern day Iraq. Aramaic was used by the conquering Assyrians and Persians in their occupied lands because it was easier to teach than their own languages. Hebrew stopped being spoken and written after the Exile. Aramaic became the lingua franca. Later replaced by Greek.
Ezra's copyists transferred the Hebrew content of the OT to newer manuscripts with Aramaic script! But everyone spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew!
Torah was recopied during Ezra's time using a different script. Different reasons are given for the change:
the change of script had nothing to do with the "Samaritans", but was a purely practical measure because after living for 70 years in Babylon the people had become used to reading ashuri script and couldn't read the old ivri script any more.
The original script was Ashuri script, it was the holy script with which the first Tablets were inscribed and also the Torah-scroll that was kept in the Holy of Holies, but never used for mundane purposes. Torahs written for mass study and synagoge use were written in Ivri script, out of reverence for the holy. Only a few sages passed on the tradition of the Ashuri script. The people didn't even know of its existence. That's why when the "handwriting on the wall" appeared not even the king's Jewish advisors could read it because it was written in Ashuri, only Daniel could. Then it became known that there was an ancient truly Jewish script that had become forgotten. The people were anxious to renew this link with the giving of Torah. And that's why Ezra taught it to them and they choose to use it in all their sacred writings from that time on.