I invite reviews of the new book by Holger Gzella: A Cultural History of Aramaic From the Beginnings to the Advent of Islam (Brill, 2015), available, like most recent Brill publications in our fields, in ebook format (even online in violation of copyright for those who know how to find it–email me)!
Those who have not yet seen the book should be warned that the title is completely misleading and must have been developed by the advertising department at Brill. I would not blame Prof. Gzella for it. It intends to be a history of the language, not a cultural history. Herewith the key explanatory paragraph:
Since Aramaic was not used by one well-defined speech community but by
very different groups and in quite distinct social contexts, this work does not
focus on the history of Aramaean peoples and their culture throughout the
ages. Rather, it follows the language in its meanderings from the Ancient Near
Eastern city-states and empires via the Greco-Roman matrix cultures into the
The logic of that paragraph may not be obvious, but so it is.
The book has too much prose and not enough clear data and reads like a series of lecture notes interspersed with extensive polemic. It is at its core a homage to the late, lamented K. Beyer and his various (often idiosyncratic) theories, for whom Gzella also offered a fine obituary last year. Most distinctive features of the various dialects are mentioned, but I did notice a few lacunae, such as the infinitive of derived stems in Babylonian and a clear presentation of the various systems of nomina agentis. But it will undoubtedly be seen to be a valued contribution. Any takers?