Local resident speaks Jesus' language - Aramaic

Posted: Friday, May 19, 2006

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

Isn't it miraculous that the word spoken 2,000 years ago by Jesus is still a living language used by thousands of people in the world today. It is called Aramaic. I met a man here in Juneau who learned the language as a baby in the ancestral home of his people in present day Turkey. His name is Samuel Sengul. He was one of 12 children.

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Now, he is just finishing a building on South Franklin, on the lot that used to be owned by Chuck Keen.

When he was growing up in Turkey there were 40 villages of mainly Orthodox Christians in the immediate vicinity. His church was called the Syriac Orthodox. It was a rural area, with farms and livestock. When a mining company for the first time brought trucks to help explore for hydrocarbons, as a young boy Samuel imagined that the trucks had to eat hay during the night in order to run during the day, just like the cows.

Now most of his people have dispersed around the world with large colonies in Sweden and other parts of Europe and in California.

The patriarchate of the Syriac Church which used to be located in Turkey is now in Damascus, Syria. Syria has always been a welcome home for many minority Christians whose lives were often disrupted in the turbulent decades of the 20th century.

Samuel Sengul started on his road to education and a profession when his father enrolled him in a monastery called Deyrulzafaran. His father wanted him to become a priest. He studied for two years until he was 16 and learned Arabic and English. He then went to Istanbul, the glorious ancient city of Constantinople, where he learned the goldsmith trade.

At 17, he traveled to Jerusalem to gain further religious tutoring at St. Mark's monastery. While there, he learned Hebrew.

But he decided that being a priest was not for him so he went back to Istanbul. After serving his mandatory military service in the Turkish Army for 20 months, he started a successful business from 1975 to 1980.

Then he came to this land of opportunity.

"I am delighted to be an American," he says, "and happy to be part of Juneau."

I asked him to say a few words as Jesus would have spoken. Of course, this is an anglicized spelling but he said the words that Jesus used on the cross.

"Shbooq Lhoon."

"Forgive them."

And the words bread, "Lahmo," and wine, "Ohamro," when Jesus spoke of the body and blood of a new covenant.

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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