The international topic that has consumed my thoughts this semester has been the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis and humanitarian disaster that has followed it. At OU we were fortunate enough to have a Presidential dream course this semester dedicated to Syrian Christianity in the context of the current crisis. For one of my international events I attended Dr. Muriel Debié’s lecture in this series. Dr. Debié is a historian from L’École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne in Paris (I admit this was another reason I went, topic aside. You don’t study french for 7 years and not dream about the Sorbonne). Dr. Debié’s lecture was about the Aramaic language, ancient texts that are invaluable to historians which are in danger of being destroyed by the current conflict in the region, and the unique culture of Syrian Christians historically and today. Dr. Debié was clearly brilliant and her stories were thrilling.
Interestingly enough, the one part of her lecture that made the largest impact on me was not in direct relation to the Syrian conflict, it was her explanation of one very interesting ancient Aramaic text. This was a religious text from a non-Canonical Christian text that was, at one time at least, very important to Syrian Christians. This text detailed the final judgment at the end of time, but it was very different from any other eschatological text I had ever heard of: according to this text, all men and women would be able to read and write at the end of days, and all of the words of a person’s life would be written on his or her skin. This would function as a great equalizer and also to show the power we all have on our own lives via our words. It was a very surreal and strangely moving idea. It appealed to me in particular on a variety of levels. For one, I have always thought of literacy as a great equalizer, that’s why I spent all summer working at a literacy camp. It was so surreal to learn of an ancient text that placed so much importance on literacy – I can’t think of another religious text that does the same. Another reason it appealed to me is that I believe that words matter. I have already described my reservations with the rhetoric that has been used by the President-elect, and it is because words matter. I have spoken with many of his supporters, including some of my friends. One friend told me that he was not bothered by Trump’s xenophobic statements or his proposition to ban Muslims from the United States, because “none of that stuff will actually happen, he was just saying stuff.” Trump himself addressed his scandalous sexual assault claims by saying “it’s just words, folks.” Policy differences aside, I think this is where so many disagreements originate: I, and many other like-minded people, believe that words matter, while many supporters of the President-elect do not. It was refreshing to see that ancient Syrians placed an appropriate value on the weight of words.
P.S here is Proof that words matter