Ilyana Barqil wears skinny jeans, boots and a fur-lined jacket, handy for keeping out the cold in the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus. She likes TV quiz shows and American films and enjoys swimming. But this thoroughly modern Syrian teenager is also learning Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
Ilyana, 15, is part of an extraordinary effort to preserve and revive the world's oldest living tongue, still close to what it probably sounded like in Galilee, now in Israel, on the brink of the Christian era.
"In Nazareth when Jesus was born they spoke more or less the same language as we do in Maaloula today," said teacher Imad Reihan, one of the pillars of this picturesque village's Aramaic Language Academy, where Barqil is studying.
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani" ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me") – Christ's lament on the cross – was famously uttered in Aramaic.
For the rest of this article, see www.guardian.co.uk