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Maronite group revitalizing Aramaic

NAZERETH, Israel, April 12 (UPI) -- A group of Christian Maronites in Israel have decided to revive the language spoken by Jesus, opting to use Aramaic as their daily language.

The Sunday Times of London reported that the community north of Nazareth has set out to incorporate Aramaic back into the community life to, among other things, better understand religious texts.

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The newspaper noted that Aramaic was the street language of the Maronite community about a century ago, but today fewer than 5 percent of the local population consider themselves fluent in the ancient tongue.

"Our goal is to revitalize Aramaic," said Shadi Khalloul, co-director of the local church's Aramaic school. "This is the language of Jesus, we understand him best through his own tongue."

The Times said the creation of the Israeli state contributed to the decline of the Maronite community. The Israeli Education Ministry says the nation's two official languages, Hebrew and Arabic, are to be taught in schools instead of Aramaic.

Maronites also have been barred from returning to their ancestral village of Birim on the border between Israel and Lebanon.

"We are fighting to maintain our identity. Aramaic is a central part of that," Khalloul was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

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