Assyrians of The Middle
CHALDEANS, SYRIANS/SYRIACS (since year 2000), ARAMEANS, ASSYRIANS
over a hundred years ago the Anglican missionaries Arthur J Maclean and
William H Browne wrote in their well-informed book "The Catholicos of
the East and His People" (1892). They subtitled it "Some account
of the customs of the Eastern Syrian Christians, otherwise variously
known as Assyrians, Chaldeans or Nestorians". East Syrians was the
name used in Europe & America to distinguish these Aramaic-speaking
christians from the "West Syrians", more commonly known today as Syriac
Orthodox ("Jacobites"). East referred to the pre-islamic Parthian
and Sassanian empires of Persia, includning their territories in
Mesopotamia. The use of these terms--Nestorians, Chaldeans, Syrians/Syriacs,
Arameans, and Assyrians--in reference to the same Christian minority,
depending on the users preferred term, has continued to cause confusion.
We will briefly survey the history of these various appelations, with
emphasis on the most recent of them: Assyrians. Because of the
nationalism that has flown from the adoption of that historic name, we
shall conclude this chapter with a commentary on the relationship that
"the modern Assyrians" claim exists between them and the ancients by
original Christian churches and rites of Western Asia, the "Nestorian"
Church, formally known as the Church of The East (and as The Assyrian
Church of the East since 1976), was one of the only two churches--the
other being the Armenian Orthodox Church--to grow outside the Roman
Empire. When the Nestorians of the Ottoman Empire and Qajar Iran
became an important focus of attention of the Western Protestant
missions in the 19th century, some writers took the position that the
use of the name Nestorian in reference to these Christians went back
only to the 17th century when a considerable number of them reconciled
with the Roman Catholic Church and were organized by it into a seperate
body. Those who remained loyal to their own mother church, we are
told, were dubbed Nestorians. To the community, of course, was referred
to as Nestorian long before the 17th century. Cosmas Indicopleustes
spoke of "Nestorian" Christians as early as 525. To the medieval Arab
authors, they were known as Nasturiyun or al-Nasara al-Nasturiyah
(Nestorian Christians). Toward the end of the 13th century the
traveler Burchard referred to the Nestorians as constituting a "nation";
it was his impression that the jurisdiction of their prelate "reached
much farther in the East than that of the entire Western Church".
Writing in the mid-19th century--when these Christians were yet to be
called Assyrians-- George P Badger noted that he had in his
possetion an Arabic manuscript written by a Sleewa ibn Yuhanan of Mosul,
dated A.D. 1332, in which the author explained that the Eastern
Christians were called Nestorians because they refused to excommunicate
and anathematize Nestorius at the request of Mar Qurillos (Cyril) of
Alexandria (d.444). "And this name", wrote Ibn Yuhanan, "has been
applied to us from that day up to the present".In time, these Eastern
Christians began to refer to themselves as Nestorians. Mar 'Abd Yeshu'
(Mar Odisho) (Servant of Jesus), the Nestorian bishop of Nisibin in the
13th century, drew up a symbol of faith which he entitled "The Orthodox
Creed of the Nestorians", and concluded the work with the statement that
it was written in "the church of the blessed Nestorians" The
community continued to refer to itself as Nestorian through the 19th
century. When in 1874 the Evangelical or Protestant section of the
community was formally recognized as an organization separate from the
mother church, it was referred to as the Reformed Nestorian Church.
Some of the more educated members of the community began to resent the
appellation toward the end of the 19th century when the Western
missionaries, especially those of the Church of England, made them
conscious of the stigma and reproach of "heresy" that the term Nestorian
was originally intended to convey. The Church was formally known as
"The Old Church of the East".
 For a recent collection
of scholarly articles on the early history of these two churches see
East of Byzantium: Syria and Armenia in Formative Periods, edited by
Nina G Garsoian, Thomas F Mathews and Robert W Thomson. Washington D.C.
(Dumbarton Oaks, Center for Byzantine Studies), 1982. For the early
beginnings of the East Syrian Church, see also below, pp. 35 ff.
 William F Ainsworth,
Travels and Researches in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea and Armenia.
(London, 1842), II, 272; Horatio Southgate, Narrative of a Tour
through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia and Mesopotamia (London ,1840),
II, 178-179; Austin Henry Layard, Nineveh and its Remains (New
York, 1851), I, 217. For details on the 17th century schism, see below,
 Leonhart Rauwolff,
Itinerary into the Eastern Countries, as Syria, Palestine, or the Holy
Land, Armenia, Mespotamia, Assyria and Chaldea, etc., trans.
Nicholas Staphorst (London, 1693), pp. 22, 350-351. (Rauwolff's travels
took place in 1573-1574.) Pedro Teixeira, who visited Baghdad in 1604,
found 80 houses of "Nestorians" and ten of "Armenians." The Travels
of Pedro Teixeira translated and annotated by William F
Sinclair.(London, 1902), pp. 66, 168, 252; see also Rafa'il Babu Ishak,
Ta'rikh Nasara al-'Iraq mundh Intishar a-Nasraniyah fi al-Aqtar al-'Iraqiyah
ila Ayyamina (Baghdad, 1948), p. 124.
 See John Stewart,
Nestorian Missionary Enterprise (Madras, 1928), pp. 89, 114, 328.
 al-Biruni, al Athar
al-Baqiyah 'an al-Qurun al-Khaliyah, ed. E Sachau (Leipzig, 1878),
pp. 288, 309; al-Shahrastani, Kitab al-Milal wa al-Nihal, ed W
Cureton (London 1846), p. 175; Ibn Hazm, al-Fisal fi al-Milal wa al-Ahwa
wa al-Nihal , (Cairo, 1928), I, 48. In modern times the term al-Nasatira
is used in Arabic source.
 Burchard of Mount Sion,
A Description of the Holy Land, trans. Aubrey Steward (London,
1896), p. 107, (in Palestine Pilgrims Text Society Library, Vol
XII, Pt. 1). See also Abbe Carre , The Travels of Abbe Carre in India
and the Near East, 1672-1674 (London, 1947), 1, 87.
 George P Badger, The
Nestorians and their Rituals (London, 1852), I, 127-129, For the
theology of Nestorius, and its condemnation, see below, pp. 40-41.
 Ibid., 49.
 Badger notes that the
Patriarch Mar Awraham Shamun told him that all the Christians "Only we
are Nestoraye." J. F. Coakley quotes a letter written in 1888 by Mar
Ishaq (Matran) Khnanishu saying "We, Eastern Nestorians..." J.F. Coakley,
The Church of the East and the Church of England , (Oxford,
1992), pp. 141, 365 n. 8.
 John L. Mosheim, An
Ecclasiastical History, Ancient and Modern. (New York, 1867), I,
151; Arthur J. Maclean and William H Brown, The Catholicos of the
East and His People (London, 1892), p. 6; Coakley, under "Nestorian
doctrine" in his index. See also below, pp. 40f.
 The preferred usage
since 1976 has been The Assyrian Church of the East. While the hierarchy
of the Church has followed the laity in choosing a "national" name,
there has been a clash over this subject of names in the West Syrian (Jacobite
or Syriac Orthodox) Church; the "national" and historical name preferred
by the hierarchy is Aramean while a minority among the laity opt for
Assyrian. For details, see chapter by Wolfhart Heinrichs entitled "The
Modern Assyrians--name and nation," in Festschrift Philologica
Constantino Tsereteli Dicta, ed. Silvio Zaorani (Turin, 1993), pp. 103,
111-12. See also below, pp. 9-10; 32n.113.
and origin of the name Chaldean has also been the subject of much
acrimonious debate. While this term is generally accepted today as
referring to the Roman Catholic off-shot of the Nestorian Church, it has
in the past been used as a national name in reference to both branches.
19th century European writers, in order to distinguish between the two
churches, have referred to them as Nestorian Chaldeans and Catholic
Chaldeans. In 1840, Ainsworth one of the first few non-catholic
Europeans to visit the Nestorians, reported that these people considered
themselves Chaldeans and "descendants of the ancient Chaldeans of
Assyria, Mesopotamia and Babylonia". In order to distinguish between the
two branches of the Church, explained Ainsworth, the term Nestorian was
invented in 1681 for those who retained their ancient faith. Austin
Henry Layard, who unearthed the ruins of Nineveh during the first half
of the 19th century, like Ainsworth, believed that the term
Nestorian was coined during the 17th-century schism, noting that the
people had always referred to themselves as Chaldean. Layard
reported that in the chapel of Rabban Hormizd, where the Nestorian
patriarchs once resided, there were tombs of several patriarchs buried
there long before the schishm; the title carved upon their monuments, he
wrote, was "Patriarchs of the Chaldeans of The East", Layard,
however, is contradicted by Badger who claimed to have examined "all the
epitaphs" with care and could not discover any phraseology to confirm
Layard. According to Badger the title inscribed on all the tombs was
"Patriarchs and Occupants of the Throne of Addai and Mari," a title
by which some Nestorian patriarchs had at times designated themselves.
Repruductions of these early epitaphs confirm Bagder's criticism of
Layard, but do not support Badger's own reading of the inscriptions.
The American missionaries Eli Smith and H.G.O. Dwight,  who visited
the Nestorians a decade before Layard and Ainsworth, reported that the
congregation that converted to Roman Catholicism from the Nestorian
Church was dignified by the name "the Chaldean Church" during the
17th-century schism. Two other American missionaries Justin Perkins and
Asahel Grant, both of whom, again, visited the community prior to
Ainsworth and Layard, made the same observation. The term Chaldean,
wrote Grant, is seldom applied to the Nestorians; in no case does it
seem to be applied to them prior to the period of the split. Horatio
Southgate, who was touring the region in the early 1830s, wrote that the
Nestorians "call themselves, as they seem always to have done"
Chaldeans; indeed, "Chaldean" was their "national name," he
stressed. Interestingly, after Southgate became aware that it was
Grant's firm position that the Nestorians did not use the name Chaldean
in reference to themselves, and that the were the descendants of The
Lost Tribes (10 lost tribes of Israel) of the Old Testament, he
(Southgate) became more self-assertive. He wrote that "undoubtedly"
these Syrians were "descendants of the Assyrians and not of the
Jews." His source "Those of them who profess to have any idea concerning
their origin". According to that same source the "Jacobites" were the
descendants of the Arameans--"The Syrians whose chief city was
Damascus." Smith and Dwight were in error when they asserted that "Chaldean"
was the nomenclature adopted in the 17th-century. In the late
17th-century, French Biblical critics Richard Simon spoke of many
Christian sects in the East "who bear the name Chaldean or Syrian" and
mentioned that most of the Chaldeans "are those whom we call Nestorians"
 Pope Paul V (1605-1621) wrote to patriarch Elias (Mar Elia) that "A
great part of the East is infected by this heresy [Nestorianism],
especially the Chaldeans, who for this reason have been called
Nestorians." As far back as 1445 the Nestorians of the See of Cyprus
were called Chaldeans upon their reconciliation with The Church of
the Nestorians called Chaldeans? One of the earliest authors who refers
to the them as "children of the ancient Chaldeans" is Ibn al-'Ibri (Mar
Gregorios Yuhanan Bar 'Ewraya, Barhebreus, also known as Gregory Abu
al-Faraj), the renowned 13th-century catholicos of the rival West
Syrian/Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) Church. But, as we shall soon see, he
used the term in a derogatory manner. Yosef Assemani, the scholar most
probably responsible for the propagation of the term Chaldean, had
explained simply, and rightly, that "the Nestorians are generally called
Chaldaic Christians, because their principal, or head church, is in
ancient Chaldea."When the Roman Catholic branch of the Nestorian
Church was established in the 17th-century, its new primate was styled
the "Patriarch of Babylon" (Pateryarkha d-Bab/wel), another old and
dignified title that the Nestorian patriarchs had used when they
flourished at Seleucia-Ctesiphon (Siloq w-Qtispun) before the advent of
Islam. The new catholic patriarch was also referred to as The
Patriarch of the Chaldeans of the East, clearly indicating a confusion
of geografical and ethnic terms. Some scholars have even suggested that
the use of Babylon in the title of the Uniat patriarch is due to the
erroneous 17th century identification of modern Baghdad with ancient
Babylon. Be that as it may, it was because of the geographical
location of their patriarchate, and not beacause of their ethnic origin,
that the East Syrians/Syriacs (Nestorians) were called Chaldeans. The
various names by which they were known, and they titles bestowed by the
Roman Catholic Church upon their patriarchs, had such other exotic
combinations as "Chaldeans of Assyria" and "Eastern Chaldeans of
Catholic Assyria" nomenclatures that were "hardly ever used" by the
Nestorian patriarchs or their people themselves. They employed such
familiar and traditional titles as "Patriarch of the Orient," "Servant
of the Seat of Mar Addai"; in the 17th century, according to Fiey, Mar
Shimun VIII Dinkha referred to himself in a letter addressed to Pope
Clement X, simply as "Servant of the Patriarchal Seat which is in the
East." As for Bar 'Ewraya's reference to the Nestorians as
"descendants of the Chaldeans," a careful reading shows that he used
the term to be facetious. He spoke of the Aramaic language as split into
various dialects, some of quite unintelligible, such as the dialect of
those "wonderful Easterners", "children of the ancient Chaldeans", in
whose tongue "there is no difference between Ptakha/Ftoho and Zqapa/Zqofo"
[Vocalization marks].  By Chaldean Bar 'Ewraya meant "magicians" and
"sorcerers" in the same sense as used in Daniel (2:2, 10). Indeed, in
one of his better-known books, Bar 'Ewraya defines "Kaldayutha/Kaldoyutho"--Chaldeeism--
as "astrology and the art of magic". Another reason for calling the
Nestorians "Chaldeans" is that their mother tongue, a dialect of
Aramaic, was identified with the so called Chaldee language. Hormuzd
Rassam wrote that "the present Chaldeans [members of both the Nestorian
Church and it Catholic off-shot], with few exceptions, speak the same
dialect used in the Targums, and in some parts of Ezra and Daniel, which
are called Chaldee." To bolster his theory that the Nestorians were
the descendants of the ancient Chaldeans, Rassam drew up on classical
historical sources and asserted that Xenophon had called the inhabitants
of northern Mesopotamia "Chaldeans". By "Chaldeans" Xenophon meant the
inhabitants of Urartu (the ancient Assyrian/Akkadian name of the mount
Ararat which belongs to modern Armenia), who are also known as Haldians,
Khaldians, and Chaldeans (after the Urartean god Haldu,)Interestingly,
when Xenophon and his ten thousand passed through Assyria just over
two-hundred years after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, he found the
region sparsely populated and identified the sites of Nimrud and Nineveh
as ruined Median cities and referred to their former inhabitants as
Medes. "Chaldean" therefore, like "Nestorian" was used long before
the 17th century schism and was used in reference to all the East
Syrians/Syriacs because of the geographical location of their "head
church". In the 17th century, the Roman Catholic Church abstained from
calling the members of the Uniat branch by the "heretical" name
Nestorian; the Uniats became Catholic Chaldeans. When the terms
Chaldeans and Nestorians were thus strictly differentiated, members of
the mother church (Nestorian), claiming the same relationship to the
inhabitants of Babylon as their Catholic brethren, began also to use the
name Chaldean. Nestorian patriarchs occasionally used "Chaldean" in
formal documents, claiming to be the "real Patriarchs" of the whole "Chaldean
Church", even though the Uniat branch did not accept the Nestorians
claims as lawful. But while the Nestorians wanted to deny the Uniats
exclusive right to the historic name Chaldean, the term never became
attached to them (the Nestorians), From the 19th century on, when the
present-day Uniat branch was permanently organized and officially
recognized by the Ottoman government,  we find the term Chaldean
losing its "national" connotation and coming to mean only the name of
a religious denomination, the Catholic Chaldeans, formerly Nestorians.
 Claudius J Rich,
Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan and on the Site of Ancient
Nineveh (London, 1836), II, 276; I, 275n. See also Jean B Piolet,
Missions catholiques francaises au XIX siecle (Paris, 1901), I, 223;
Ainsworth, II, 198, 223; Mary Sheil, Glimpses of Life and Manner in
Persia (London, 1856), p, 349; Joseph Wolff, Travels and
Adventures of the Rev. Joseph Wolff (London, 1861), pp. 223, 457.
 Ainsworth, II, 272.
 For details on these
excavations, see pp. 15-16 below.
 Layard, Nineveh, I, 5,
 Ibid, I, 199.
 Badger, I, 181.
 For reproductions of the
epitaphs in question, see Kurkis Hanna 'Awwad, Athar Qadim fi
al-'Iraq -- Dayr al-Rabban Hurmizd (Mosul, 1934), pp 35, 37, and
Jacques Voste, "Les Inscriptions de- Rabban Hormuzd et de N-D des
Semences pres d-Alqos (Iraq)," Le museon, 43 (1930), pp. 263-316.
The pre-19th century titles inscribes are simply "Catholicos Patriarch
of the East," or "Patriarch of The East," and occasionally, simply "Catholicos."
Badger had seen "The impression of a [patriarchal] seal" bearing the
title "Patriarch and Occupant of the Throne of Addai and Mari," but
reproductions of the epitaphs do not bear him out. For the revision of
this note the author is indebted to Dr. H.L. Murre-van den Berg, who
brought the extensive Voste article on these inscriptions to his
attention. For more information on the Nestorian patriarchal titles see
below, pp. 22-23, and Thomas of Marga, The book of Governors, ed.
and tr. E.A.W. Budge (London, 1893), I, clxxi, and letter from the
Nestorian patriarch sent to Mr. Perkins in 1836, literally translated
and printed in The Missionary Herald, 33 (1857), 55, and ibid.,
36 (1840), 305; the title used is simply "Patriarch of the East" (Pateriarkha
 For other references to
Smith and Dwight, see below, pp. 65, 67.
 Horatio Southgate,
Narrative of a Tour through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia and Mesopotamia,
2 vols. (New York, 1840), vol 2, pp. 182-183. Cf Coakley , op. cit., p.
367 n12, Heinrichs , op. cit., p. 110, n. 20. See also Asahel Grant,
The Nestorians or The Lost Tribes, (London, 1841), pp. 198-199;
Justin Perkins, A Residence of Eight years in Persia among the
Nestorian Christians (New York, 1943), p. 4. For more on Grant and
his thesis on Nestorian origins, see below , p. 37.
 Richard Simon,
Histoire critique de la creance et des coutumes des nations du levant
(Frankford, Holland, 1684), p. 83.
 Joseph S Assemani,
Bibliotheca orientalis, iv (Rome, 1721), 75.
 One of the ruined
churches of Famagusta in Cyprus continued to be known as the Nestorian
Church. See Camille Enlart. L'Art gothique et la renaissance en
Chypre (Paris, 1899), pp. 356-365.
 Assemani , III, ii, 177.
 See Sunhadus, ix,
 J. Labourt, "Chaldean
Christians," The Catholic Encyclopedia; H Dressler "Baghdad,"
The New Catholic Encyclopedia. See also Donald Attwater, Catholic
Eastern Churches (London, 1935), p. 231n; Butrus Nasri "Lam'ah fi al-Abrashiyat
al-Kaldaniyah wa-Silsilat Asaqifatuha," al-Mashriq, 9 (1906),
640; Badger, I, 153.
 For the profusion of
patriarchal titles granted by the Roman Catholic Church, see J-M Fiey.
"'Assyriens' or Arameens?", L'Orient syrien, 10 (1965), pp. 146-148 and
his more recent, posthumously published article, "Comment l'Occident en
vint a parler de 'Chaldeen?" in Bulletin of the John Rylands
University Library of Manchester, 78 (Autumn, 1996), pp.163-170. See
also Layard, Nineveh, I, 199 ; Samuel Giamil, Ktawa d-Mat'aninwati
d-'idta d-kaldayi 'am kursya shlikhaya d-Rumi (Rome, 1902), p. 208.
 Hormuzd Rassam,
"Biblical Nationalities Past and Present", Transactions of the
Society of Biblical Archeology, 8 (1885), 373; Butrus Nasri and Addi
Saliba Ibrahina, "Ta'ifat al-kaldan al-Kathulik," al-Mashriq, 3
 Ibn al-'Ibri, M'alta
L'Grammatiqi (Jerusalem, 1916), pp.vii-viii, manuscript in the
library of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Bishopric of Beirut.
 Ibn al-'Ibri, The
Chronography of Gregory Abu'l Faraj, trans. E.Q Wallis Budge
(London, 1932), 1, 7; se also ibid., pp. 9, 52. For the meaning
of Chaldean, see Ya'qub Augin Manna, Margi Pighyanayi d-Marduta d-Aramayi
(Mosul, 1901), pp. 4f. Ibn al-'Ibri obviously was not aware of the
ancient Chaldeans achievements in astronomy. As early as the 7th century
B.C, the study of astronomy in Babylon had begun to conform to present
reckoning; lunar year had 365 days, regulated into 12 months,
alternating between 29 and 30 days. See Bernard Grun, The timetables
of History (New York, 1975), p. 11. For the various usages of the
term Chaldean, including its reference to a priestly class, see F.
Rochberg-Halton, "New evidence for the History of Astrology," Journal
of Near Eastern Studies, 43 (1984), 115-16.
 For more on the
relationship between the ancient Chaldeans and Arameans and their
languages, see below, p. 12.
 See Xenophon's
Anabasis, II, iv to III, v and passim. Throughout his
celebrated memoir, Xenophon designates the name of Assyria as Media. See
Eduard Meyer, "Media," in Encyclopedia Britannica (11th
ed.). See also David Oates, Studies in the Ancient History of
Northern Iraq.London (Oxford, 1968), p. 60; M. Rostovtzeff, A
History of the Ancient World (Oxford, 1925), I, 117; J. Friedrich,
Extinct Languages (New York, 1957), p. 81; A.T.E. Olmstead,
History of Assyria (New York, 1923), pp. 100-111; H.R. Hall, The
Ancient History of the Near East (London, 1947), pp. 458-459.
 See below, pp. 57-58.
(Suraye/Suroye/Suryaye/Suryoye, Suryani) Arameans
the 19th century the Nestorians were also referred to as Syrians by
European travelers and writers. Indeed, "Syrians" (Suraye, Suroye)
was the name by which the "Nestorians" and "Jacobites" called themselves
until the post-World War I period; thereafter, Suraye was gradually
replaced among the "Nestorians" by Aturaye, the name of the
ancient Assyrians in Syriac. The "Jacobites" continue to call themselves
designations Syria and Syrian were derived from Greek usage long before
Christianity. When the Greeks became better acquainted with the Near
East, especially after Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenian
empire in the 4th century B.C., they restricted the name Syria to the
lands west of the Euphrates. During the 3rd century B.C., when the
Hebrew Bible was translated by Jewish scholars into the Greek Septuagint
for the use of the Hellenized Jews of Alexandria, the terms "Aramean"
and "Aramaic" in the Hebrew Bible, were translated into "Syrian" and
"the Syrian (Syriac) tongue" respectively. In Palestine itself,
according to Theodor Nöldeke, the Jews and later the Christians there,
referred to their dialect of Aramaic as Syriac; in Babylon, both Greek
and Persians called the Arameans Syrians. The 2nd century
B.C. Greek historian Posidonius, a native of Syria, noted that "the
people we [Greeks] call Syrians were called by the Syrians themselves
Arameans...for the people in Syria are the Arameans."
humble beginnings as wandering tribesmen, the Arameans emerged by the
end of the second millennium B.C. as an important factor in the
cultural, political and economic life of southwestern Asia. During this
early period, Wayne T. Pitard refers to the Arameans as "one of the most
important ethnic groups of the Near East." Aramean tribes attained great
power in the large areas on both sides of the Syrian desert, eventually
succeeding in settling and establishing ruling dynasties there. The most
important Aramean kingdom was that of Aram, centered in Damaskus,
described as "the strongest and most influential powers in the western
fertile crescent," and one of the "most significant states in the whole
of the Levant."  The kingdom enjoyed a central position in the
political life of the Near East, dominating the region's main
international trade routes; it used the Aramaic idiom of Damascus as the
administrative language of diplomacy and commerce beyond its borders.
most important territories penetrated by the Arameans were in
geographical Syria, we find them also in distant regions, stretching
from Tur 'Abdin to Nisibin, which during the Christian era, centuries
later, would be the homegrounds of some of the Syrian Christians noted
in this chapter. By the end of the 10th century B.C. and the
beginnings of the 9th, Assyrian inscriptions for the first time informs
us of Aramean political units in northern Mesopotamia, while in the
southern parts of that country their confederacies remained a chronic
menace to the Assyrians until their very downfall. The Assyrian king,
Tighlath-pileser I (Tukulti-Apil-Esharra I) (1115-1076 B.C) has recorded
that he conducted 28 campaigns against the Arameans; his namesake,
Tiglath-Pileser III (Tukulti-Apil-Esharra, Bible old testament Pul),
some 350 years later, was still engaging Arameans in war. It was in the
9th and the 8th centuries B.C. when the Arameans were defeated ; in 720
B.C. Sargon II (Sharrukin II) finally brought to an end the Aramean
kingdoms of the west; their territories were incorporated into the
Neo-Assyrian provincial system, a century and a decade before Assyria
itself was overthrown.
expansion of Assyrian rule over the lands beyond the Euphrates, however,
became a major burden to the Assyrians and proved to be a suicidal act.
They subdued all the Aramean, Phoenician/Canaanite, and Hebrew
communities in what Arnold Toynbee calls "the homeland of Syriac
Civilization," but this hastened the Aramean "cultural conquest of their
military conquerors," proceeding "pari passu with the extension
of the Assyrian domination over the Syriac World." Even before its
western expansion beyond the Euphrates river, the Assyrian empire had
found it necessary to use an Aramaic dialect of geographical Syria as
its official language, a move dictated by the wide expanse of Aramaic
and the convenience of its alphabet and script. With a much larger
Aramean population now under its rule, far removed from Assyria homebase,
the smaller ethnically-Assyrian population could not resist aramaization,
a process that gradually transformed the face of the empire, "leading to
the Assyrians being outlived and absorbed." Before too long, Aramaic
had displaced Akkadian even as the language of everyday speech within
Assyria itself. According to Assyriologist H.W.F. Saggs, the cities of
Assyria proper had become so cosmopolitan and polyglot, that people of
actual Assyrian descent were possibly a minority within those
cities. The dominance of Aramaic over Akkadian in both speech and
writing was so extensive in the 8th century B.C, that Aramaic
script--not Aramaic language-- came to be called in Egyptian (Demotic),
Greek and Hebrew languages as "Assyrian writing" (Greek: Assyria
Grammata). The momentous but imperceptible changes that led to the
aramaization of the Assyrians coincided with steady decline of their
empire, especially after the death of King Ashurbanipal. His weak
successors could not cope with the "festering problem of Babylonia,"
where the rising power of the Chaldeans and their Aramean allies helped
build up the Neo-Babylonian empire. With Assyrian political and
military power gone, Aramean ethnicity, language and script remained and
continued to expand, facilitating the absorption process farther,
peacefully penetrating "the Babylonic body social." The high point of
Aramaic was reached under Achaemenids (539-332 B.C), when the influence
of Aramaic language and script went beyond their former boundaries.
Aramaic now attained official status in all Achaemenian territories,
including Egypt and Anatolia. Under the Iranians/Persians
Aramaic was also used for all aspects of written communication and
records, emerging by about the sixth century B.C. as the lingua
franca of Western Asia, and by the beginning of the fifth century,
as the common dialect of all peoples of the region. In his article
"Aramaic in the Achaemenian Empire," Jonas C. Greenfield speaks of
"ethnic groups of varied cultural backgrounds throughout the vast
expanse of the Persian realm" who used Aramaic language and writing.
Unlike the Assyrians, the Persians did not forget their own
mothertongue; they maintained their national-linguistic identity,
largely because their own Aramaic-speaking subjects did not predominate
from within Persia as they did in the core region of Assyria, later
known as Beth Aramaye--home of the Arameans. (With the advent of
Islam, centuries after the Achaemenids, Sasanian Persians were also able
to resist arabization; they liberally borrowed from the Arabic
vocabulary and adopted the Arabic script, but they were able to
Persianize what they have borrowed. In the case of the Assyrians and
other ethnicities aramaization was total just as the absorption of the
various other peoples would be, centuries later, through arabization.)
Hebrew University Professor Benjamin Mazar, cited above, writes that an
impressive phenomenon in the history of the Arameans is their tradition
of unity and distinctiveness, which remained unimpaired even in the
period of decline.
One of the
casualties of Alexander the Great's destruction of the Achaemenian
empire was the Aramaic koine. The universal Imperial Aramaic
tongue was "deliberately replaced," writes Arnold J Toynbee, by the
Greek koine, a dialect of ancient Greek. From the third century
B.C., Greek became the language of learning, diplomacy and commerce; it
expanded especially rapidly along the Mediterranean coast in Phoenician
and Philistine cities, and then to the lands beyond. Aramaic survived in
the countryside but the old standard language broke up into local
dialects. Some of these local vernaculars continued to play major roles,
developing different and separate alphabets such as Edessan (Syriac),
Mandaic, Palmyrene, Hatran, Nabatean, Jewish and Samaritan etc. The
future of Aramaic now lay with the dialects of Eastern Aramaic of
Mesopotamia and Babylonia, as influenced by the local dialects of the
non-Aramaic languages there. The monuments of the major Eastern Aramaic
dialects of Mesopotamia and Babylon were the Jewish Babylonian Talmud,
the scriptures of the Mandean religion, and Christian literature in
Aramaic dialects of Mesopotamia and Babylonia that survived the
introduction of the Greek koine, and even revived after the
Christian era, had not been used as literary languages during the
Assyrian and Achaemenian times. According to Stephen A. Kaufman, the
historical core of the Official Aramaic adopted by the Assyrians and
Persians was located geographically and typologically somewhere between
Gozan/Tell Halef and Aleppo/Halab. Syriac (Suryoyo/Suryaya), the major
Eastern dialect with which we are concerned was the Aramaic dialect of
Edessa/Urhay/Urhoy (today Urfa in Turkey); it gradually became the new
unofficial koine for all of the various Christian sects. Even before the
Christian period the Edessan dialect had become the literary language in
and around Edessa, but it attained special prominence there in the 2nd
century A.D, when it gradually became the literary language of what
Theodor Nöldeke called "Aramean Christendom." Its importance increased
with the expansion of Christianity in Mesopotamia from the beginning of
the 3rd century on. As the language into which the Bible was translated,
it became the venerable language of the Aramaic-speaking Christians of
Mesopotamia and Persia--then both unde0r Parthian rule. As the language
of the Church and its liturgy, Syriac also became the language of the
literature and correspondence, the way Quranic Arabic--a dialect of
Mecca--became the "classical" language of Arabic literature and written
communication from the 7th century on.
Aramaic-speaking inhabitants continued to use their varied local
dialects for everyday speech alongside classical Syriac. According
to Stephen A Kaufman, one finds no traces of the Assyrianized Aramaic in
these lesser, local dialects that might have been there at one time;
they were eliminated, he explains, by shifting population groups and
possibly by the early demise of the Assyrian Empire. Under Islam,
the local Aramaic dialects were gradually displaced even as spoken
languages, paving the way for the islamization and arabization of the
vast majority of the Aramaic-speaking population. Members of the various
Christian churches discussed in this chapter are the majority of those
who to this day speak a dialect of Aramaic.
 An encyclical presented
to the faithful in 1981 by their patriarch, Ignatius Zakka Iwas,
covered, among other matters "the issue of the true name" of the Church.
That name, the encyclical confirmed, is the Syriac Orthodox Church of
Antioch ('idto suryoyto ortodoxoyto d-Antiokhia), and its language is
known as the Syriac language; (leshono suryoyo), and its people by the
Syrian (Syriac) people ('amo suryoyo). Any other name "is not only alien
and foreign, but also a distortion, falsification and forgery of the
historical truth". For the text in the Encyclical in the Arabic
language, see Al-Majallah al-Batriyarkiyah (1981), pp.386-389. The
author is greatful to Dr George Anton Kiraz for providing him with a
copy of that article as well as its translation as it appears on the
Internet, where the document is maintained by the Editorial Board of the
Syriac Orthodox Resources, last updated on December 14, 1997.
 It is important to
remember that the Greco-Roman period of Middle Eastern history lasted
almost exactly one thousand years; known as the Hellenistic Period, it
was brought up to an end by the Arab conquest of the seventh century
 The Authorized Version
of the Bible continued to use the same terms that the Septuagint had
adopted. In 1970, the New English Bible, published by Oxford and
Cambridge University presses, and translated by biblical scholars drawn
from the various British universities, went back to the original Hebrew
terms, using Aram and Arameans for Syria and Syrians respectively.
 See T. Nöldeke, "Semitic
Languages", in Encyclopedia Britannica,11th ed., p. 625; Nöldeke
also notes that it is "properly speaking, incorrect to employ the word 'Syriac'
as meaning the language of Edessa alone" even though Edessan Aramaic has
the best claim to it.
 See J.G. Kidd,
Posidonius (Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, 1988), vol. 2,
pt. 2, pp. 955-956. Consult also Arthur J Maclean, "Syrian Christians,"
Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics; Frederic Macler "Syrians (or
Arameans)" in ibid., where the two terms are "taken for granted"
to have been originally synonymous. Consult also Sebastian P Brock,
"Eusebius and Syriac Christianity," in Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata,
eds., Eusebius, Christianity and Judaism (Leiden, 1992), p 226.
See also T. Nöldeke, "Assyrios, Syrios, Syros," in Hermes, 1871, p. 461
and W. Heinrichs, pp103-105.
 See Benjamin Mazar, "Aramean
empire and its relations with Israel," Biblical Archeologist, 25
(December, 1962), 101-102, 112-117. For more on the Arameans, see also
Wayne T. Pitard, Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian
City-State (Winona Lake, Indiana, 1987); Abraham Malamat, The
Arameans in Aram Naharaim and the Rise of Their States (Jerusalem,
1952), Emil Kraeling, Aram and Israel or, Arameans in Syria and
Mesopotamia (Columbia University Oriental Studies: No 13, reprint
 Glenn M Schwartz, "The
origins of the Arameans in Syria and northern Mesopotamia: Research
problems and potential strategies," in To the Euphrates and Beyond,
archeological studies in honor of Mauritis N. von Loon, ed.
O.M.C. Haex, et al. (Rotterdam, 1989),
pp. 277-279. For a map
showing the widespread Aramean migrations of the 11th century B.C., see
H.W.F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, (London, 1984), p. 67.
 See Toynbee, History
(1954), vol. viii, pp. 440-441 and vol. xii (1961), p 393. Consult also
Richard N Frye, The Heritage of Persia (Mentor Book edition, 1966
printing), pp. 80-81; "Assyrian political expansion" writes Frye,
was accompanied by "the Aramean ethnic expansion."
 Consult Hayim Tadmor's
chapter "The Aramaization of Assyria: Aspects of Western Impact," in
H.J. Nissen and J. Renger. eds., Mesopotamien und Seine Nachbarn,
(Berlin, 1987), vol. 2, p. 459. See also Saggs, loc. cit., pp 125 seq.
 See also below, pp.
 See Joseph Naveh and
Jonas C. Greenfield, "Hebrew and Aramaic in the Persian Period," in
Cambridge History of Judaism (1984), v. 1, pp. 126-127. Richard C.
Steiner's research points to Egyptians as the first who called Aramaic
writing "Assyrian script." The Greek Assyria Grammata (script of
Assyria) and Samaritan Hebrew Ktav Ashuri are derived from the Egyptian
Demotic, directly in the case of Greek, indirectly in the case of
Samaritan Hebrew. Steiner speaks of the Egyptians as being "Far enough
away and insular enough not to feel to distinguish Aram from Assyria".
Consult his article, "Why the Aramaic script was called 'Assyrian' in
Hebrew, Greek and Demotic," in Orientalia (Rome: Pontificium institutum
biblicum), 62 (1993), pp 80-82.
 Saggs, The Might That
Was Assyria, pp. 89, 95, 99; Frye, Heritageof Persia, pp. 80 seq.
 Toynbee (1954), vol.
viii, pp. 440-442. See also J.C. Greenfield, "Aramaic in the Achaemenian
Empire," in The Cambridge History of Iran, v. 2, p. 709.
 The terms Iran and
Iranians will be used interchangeably with Persia and Persians.
 Loc. cit. See
also Roux, op. cit. (1992 ed.), pp. 276, 411-412.
 Toynbee, xii (1961), pp.
442-443, citing A. Dupont Sommer's Les arameens (Paris, 1949), pp.
98-102. See also Joseph A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean (Ann Arbor,
1979), p. 71, where he notes that of the various forms of Aramaic, the
closest to old Official Aramaic seems to be that represented in
 See also Raymond A
Bowman, "Arameans, Aramaic and the Bible," Journal of Near Eastern
Studies, 7 (April, 1948), pp. 84-87. For studies on the various
divisions and phases of Aramaic, see Fitzmyer, ibid, pp. 57-84;
Franz Rozenthal, Die Aramäistsche Forschung, op. cit. and his
article "Aramaic Studies the Past Thirty Years," in Journal of Near
Eastern Studies , 37 (1978), 81-91. The only remains of the Western
Aramaic dialect still spoken on the soil of geographical Syria are those
used in Ma'lula, and the nearby villages of Bakh'a and Jubb' Adin. See
Murre-van den Berg, op. cit., p. 3.
 Fore more on the revival
of Syriac during the Hellenistic and Islamic period, see below, pp.
 See Stephen A. Kaufman,
The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic (Chicago: The University of
Chicago, Assyriological Studies, No. 19, (1974), pp. 160, 164-165 and p.
165 n. 105. See also idem., "Reflections on the Assyrian-Aramaic
Bilingual from Tell Fakheriyeh," Maarav, 3/2 (1982), 152.
 For details on the
present state of these dialects, see Zomaya S. Solomon, "The State of
Spoken Aramaic Today," in Proceedings, Ninth World Congress of Jewish
Studies (1986), pp. 23-30.
It was in
1843 when the French Consular agent at Mosul, Paul Emile Botta, began
his diggings at Khorsabad, about 12 miles north of Mosul, and uncovered
the ruins of the magnificent palace of Sargon II, King of Assyria
(722-705 B.C.). That same year the British excavation, under Austin
Henry Layard, discovered the majestic palace of Shalmanasar I (ca.
884-860 B.C.) with its winged bulls, followed later by that of
Ashurbanipal (668-ca. 626 B.C.), with his libraries vast collection of
cuneiform tablets. These and other splendid collections, would soon
adorn the museums of London, Paris, and Berlin and, most important of
all, a lost chapter in history of civilization would be retrieved.
long, in one of the greatest triumphs of human ingenuity, the cuneiform
writing impressed on clay tablets or chiseled in stone, was deciphered.
Assyrians texts, in Akkadian language, were soon read with the same
certainty as Hebrew and Syriac. In 1860, the great corpus The
Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia was published by Sir Edward
Rawlinson, with the help of Edwin Norris and George Smith; about 1835,
Rawlinson had deciphered the Persian portion of the trilingual
inscription of Behistun.
especially fascinated the Christian West by these archeological
excavations was that a few of these Assyrian monuments, starting with
the reign of King Shalmaneser, dealt at some length with the history of
the same events that were narrated in the Bible. Most of the kings of
Israel and Judah from Jehu onward were mentioned in the annals of the
Assyrian kings. one of the two most dramatic finds was the Black
Obelisk, excavated by Layard at Nimrud. in 1846 and now one of the most
popular treasures of the British Museum in London. The obelisk, a four
sided, 6 ½ -foot-high stela, carved with five registers of relief
sculptures, displays 190 lines of text. There King Shalmanasar III
describes 31 of his military campaigns, including his forays in Asia
Minor, Media, Babylonia , and the Persian Gulf. One of the registers
portrays the Israelite King Jehu, or one of his emissaries, paying
tribute to Shalmaneser, a rare reference to a Biblical king in a
contemporary extra-biblical source.
Bible-reading public was well familiar with these Assyrian names and
events; they had been part of British and American cultural
consciousness, wrote Assyriologist H.W.F. Saggs. The history of the
ancient Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah, noted Saggs, "was a living
thing, as generally known as British history" To the Jews and the
Western Christians of the 19th century, the most important thing about
the newly-discovered tablets and monuments was that they had proven the
Hebrew Bible to be right. The general public in England began to view
the Assyrian sources as a weapon to be used primarily against Biblical
"Higher Criticism" as then applied to the Old Testament.
 The Ashurbanipal palace
library's 22, 000 clay tablets cover subjects in history, medicine,
astronomy, astrology and recorded information on the movement of the
planets and signs of the zodiac. For the fascinating story of these
early excavations and their translation, C. Wade Meade, Road to
Babylon, Development of U.S. Assyriology (Leiden, 1974). After World
War II the excavations at Nimrud were re-opened (1949) by Max Mallowan
on behalf of the British School of Archeology in Iraq. The team worked
there until 1963, under direction of David Oates. Since 1963 several
teams have excavated at Nimrud, including an expedition from the British
Museum in 1989. For a summary article see John Curtis, "Nimrud, Ancient
and Modern," The Illustrated London News, 280 (Summer, 1992),
 For biblical references
to Jehu, see 2K 9:14, 10:4. An article in a recent issue of the journal
Biblical Archeology Review, entitled "Did King Jehu kill His Own
Family?", attempts to reconcile the Biblical text with that of the Black
Obelisk. The Assyriologist author remarks that modern Biblical
scholarship generally concludes that Assyrian information is reliable
within certain parameters. The Hebrew Bible, writes Tammi Schneider,
"does not refute the Assyrian information, it does not simply mention
it." 21 (January-February 1995), 26-33, 80-82.
 Saggs, The Might That
Was Assyria, pp. 290, 305-6, and his booklet, published by the
University of Wales Press in 1969 entitled Assyriology and the Study
of the Old Testament--an inaugural lecture delivered at University
 D.J. Wiseman, The
Expansion of Assyrian Studies, (London, 1962), p. 11. If some
cuneiform tablets corroborated parts of the historical books of the
Bible, others seemed to challenge their originality. In the 1870s George
Smith stirred England with the announcement of his discovery of a tablet
containing a parallel to the legend of the deluge in Genesis. Other
tablets he deciphered contained, he reported, accounts of the origin of
the world, the creation of animals and man, and the fall of man from a
sinless state. Such documents fueled Biblical criticism adding to the
secular challenges to revealed religion that 18th and 19th century
discoveries in geology, anthropology and biology had already produced.
The Assyrian documents, it was argued, now proved that the ancient
Hebrews, like other peoples, had simply added to what they had borrowed
from much older neighboring cultures; that it was Christian bias which
placed Israel/Palestine at center stage. See George Smith , The
Chaldean Account of Genesis (New York, 1876), p. 17. See also
Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood,
Gilgamesh and Others (Oxford, 1989), pp. 7 seq., and H.W.F. Saggs,
The Encounter with the Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel. London,
1978. Consult also Darwin's Origin of the Species, published in
1859 when the excitement of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian excavations
was reaching its peak. For a delightful account of these challenges,
read Naomi Shepherd, The Zealous Intruders, The Western Rediscovery
of Palestine (London, 1987); see also, Emil G. Kraeling, The Old
Testament since the Reformation, (New York, 1955) pp. 91 seq.; S. J.
Barrows, "Assyriology and the Bible," Unitarian Review and Religious
Magazine, 12 (1879), seq. 46, and George Sarton, History of
Science (Baltimore, 1927-1949), vol 1, p 246.
and Chaldeans Proclaimed Remains of Nineveh and Assyria
the Assyrian excavations revealed the remains of Nineveh to the
wondering eyes of the world, the Nestorians and their "Chaldean"
brethren in the environs of the ancient Assyrian capital an beyond
attracted special attention. The hero of these excavations, Austin Henry
Layard, hastened to proclaim these historic, linguistic, and religious
minorities to be "as much the remains of Nineveh, and Assyria, as the
rude heaps and ruined palaces." In the midst of this excitement ,
J.P. Fletcher wrote that "the Chaldeans and the Nestorians" are "the
only surviving human memorial of Assyria and Babylonia."
name Chaldeans was already, as we have seen, appropriated by those
Nestorians who had embraced Roman Catholicism, the illustrious twin name
"Assyrians" was eventually adopted by the Nestorians as a name for
themselves. Interestingly, Layard and Hormuzd Rassam continued to use
the older and more familiar name Chaldean and applied it to both the
Chaldean Catholics and "Nestorians." Coakley notes a dispute that
Rassam had with Arthur J Maclean of the Anglican mission in Qochanis in
1889 over the names "Syrians" and "Assyrians"--"why should we invent a
name when we have such a very convenient one, used for centuries, at our
hand?" it was understandable, he agreed, that someone living so close to
the ruins if Nineveh, "should have a fit of enthusiasm of Old Assyria,"
but "is it common sense to cast aside the name used by the people
themselves [Suraye] and to invent another for them of very
doubtful applicability?" Rassam's position was that "Syrian" was wrong;
the correct form was "Assyrian," but preferred, "Chaldean." Layard
always referred to the Nestorians as "Chaldeans" or as "Nestorian
Chaldeans" in order to distinguish them from those united with Rome.
Only a few years prior to the Assyrian excavations, as already noted,
one of the bishops of Urmiyah had emphasized that the Nestorians were as
Chaldean as any Catholic renegates.
World War I, the Anglican mission to the Nestorians gave the Assyrian
nomenclature a new impetus. Formally known as "The Archbishop of
Canterbury's Assyrian Mission," it re-enforced, no matter how
unintentionally, the linkage between the Nestorians and the ancient
Assyrians. "Assyrian Christians" which originally had only meant
"the Christians of geographical Assyria," soon became "Christian
Assyrians." By the late 19th century, a few of the educated and
politically conscious among the "Nestorians," especially those who had
immigrated to America, began using Aturaye [Assyrians] in their
writings. The assumption that the Nestorians were the descendants of
the ancient Assyrians found a great advocate in the Anglican missionary
William Ainger Wigram, who in his post-World War I books, The
Assyrians and their Neighbors and Our Smallest Ally,
popularized the name Assyrian and familiarized the world with the
tragedy that had befallen these "descendants of Shalmaneser." During
the interlude of the two world wars the world heard a great deal about
these modern Assyrians through newspapers and from the forum of the
League of Nations, a subject covered at length below. In their own
language [Sureth], the people gradually began, vocally, to call
themselves "Aturaye" (Assyrians) during the inter-war years, until then
it was as natural for them to speak of themselves as Suraye as it
still is for the Syriac Orthodox to call themselves by that name,
the "Nestorians" had always called themselves Syrians (Suraye),
strenuous efforts were made by the more educated to prove that Suraye
(Syrians) was simply a truncated form of Ashuraye (Assyrians in
Akkadian) and that the two terms were synonymous. The initial A of
"Assyrian," it was explained, was "lost" (tliqta in Syriac--it
had dropped out); The lost "A" was now retrieved but placed under
cancellation mark, meaning that it was originally there but was not
pronounced. Thus Suraya was written "[A]Suraya", which pronounced "Ashuraya",
also means Assyrian. (of the two names which mean "Assyrian"--Aturaya
[from Aramaic] and Ashuraya [from Hebrew and Akkadian]--it is the
former, Aturaya, that is commonly used by the people. The Iraqi
government, oddly, in its effort to deny the minority an ancient
Assyrian ancestry, refers to these Christians as "Athuriyn" but never "Ashuriyn".
The members of the minority resent this usage and prefer to be referred
to as "Ashuriyn," the form they themselves do not use.)
P. Heinrichs rightly calls the lost-A hypothesis very ingenious,
facilitating the claim of the nationalists, but points out that in the
Armenian language, the names for Syrian and Assyrian, although similar
sounding, both have always retained and pronounced the initial A: Asoric/Asori
for Syria/Syrian and Asorestan/Asorestantc'i for Assyria/Assyrian.
Moreover, even if "Syrian" were derived from "Assyrian," it does not
mean that the people and culture of geographical Syria are identical to
those of geographical Assyria.
the lost-A hypothesis, the learned Mar Tuma Odu wrote (in his book
Simta d-Lishana Suryaya), that the Greeks had changed Atur
(meaning Assyria in Aramaic) to Asur which gradually became "Sur"
and eventually "Suriya/Syria". While this hypothesis sounds plausible,
it should be remembered that even in classical Syriac, "Syrian" and
"Assyrian" are always differentiated by two distinct terms: "Suryaya"
for Syrian and "Aturaya" for Assyrian. In Greek, the name Assyria is a
translation of the Hebrew (and Akkadian) Ashur, which in the Old
Testament connotes only geographical Assyria, without its conquered
territories; the biblical name for geographical Syria is Aram, while
Athur is the Aramaic name for geographical Assyria.
is often erroneously cited by the nationalists as having equated
"Assyria" with "Syria," referring to his statement that the people whom
Greeks call Syrians are called Assyrians by others. Herodotus himself,
however, always differentiated between the two terms. Randolph Helm's
researches show that Herodotus "conscientiously" and "consistently"
distinguished the terms Syria and Assyria and used them independently of
each other. To Herodotus, writes, Helm, "Syrians" were "the inhabitants
of the coastal Levant, including North Syria, Phoenicia, and Philistia";
he never [emphasis Helm's] uses the name "Syria" to apply to
Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is always called 'Assyria'....[and its]
inhabitants 'Assyrians'. Some have argued that the physiognomies of
the ancient Assyrians and the present-day Nestorians closely resemble
eachother. Before Wigram advocated his hypothesis that the Nestorians
are "Assyrian by blood," Fletcher had observed that those who have
studied with care the sculptural representations of the ancient
Assyrians and compared them with the moderns inhabitants of the plain of
Nineveh, can hardly fail to trace the strong features of affinity which
exists between the robed monarchs and priests of the early days and the
Christian peasants of [the plain of Mosul]." Before Fletcher, Asahel
Grant did not find it difficult to write that the Nestorians were the
descendants of the "Lost Tribes of Israel"; he noted that "the
physiognomy of the Nestorians Christians bears a close resemblance to
that of the Jews of the country in which they dwell." Adducing as
peculiar to the ancient Assyrians and the present-day Nestorians
features, customs and practices which are shared by a great number of
other Nears Easterners, Wigram, or Grant, are indeed trying to prove too
much. A number of the peoples of the region resemble both the Jews and
the Nestorians in their physiognomy, and not all the Nestorians share
the same physical features, as both Fletcher and Wigram have themselves
another "proof" that the Aramaic-speaking Christians are the descendants
of the ancient Assyrians argues that the language of the two peoples is
the same. Layard wrote that the Nestorians spoke "the language of their
[Assyrian] ancestors," an opinion expressed by Layard's
Aramaic-speaking assistant, Hormuzd Rassam: that the ancient Assyrians
"Always spoke the Aramaic language" and they "still do." We have just
seen that the ancient Assyrians did not always speak Aramaic; their
mothertongue was Akkadian, the language of the famed cuneiform tablets
and monuments that Rassam himself helped excavate.
 Layard, Nineveh,
 J.P. Fletcher, Notes
from Nineveh and Travels in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Syria
(Philadelphia, 1850), p. 188. Fletcher was Badgers lay companion sent by
the Archbishop of Canterbury to begin work among the Nestorians in 1842.
 See above, pp. 3ff.
 The correspondence
between Rassam and Maclean was carried on through on of the
administrators of the Anglican mission in England, for details see
Coakley The Church of the East and the Church of England, pp.
 See his Nineveh and
Its Remains passim.
 See above, p. 8.
 Isabella L. Bishop,
Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan. (London, 1891), II, 237. See also
Aubrey R. Vine, The Nestorian Churches (London, 1937), pp.
179-180. Cf. Coakley, p. 366 n. 12.
 An appeal by Archbishop
Tait published in 1870, was entitled "Appeal on behalf of the Christians
of Assyria, commonly called the Nestorians." and "From that moment
'Assyrian' replaced 'Nestorian" in formal Anglican vocabulary," writes
Coakley, the historian of that mission. Op. cit. p. 65. See also Rufus
Anderson, History of the Missions of the American Board of
Commissioners for Foreign Missions in the Oriental Churches (Boston,
1872), ii, 83, where he points out that in 1840, the American
missionaries used the designation "Assyria Mission" in reference to
their apostolic work among the Christian sects in Mosul.
 Daniel P. Wolk's recent
research shows that even the Urmiyah Christians in America, in their own
language, continued until after World War I to refer to themselves as
Suryaye. In his reading of some of their major publications from
1907 to 1920, Wolk found that the first ethno-nationalist organization
established in Urmiyah, Khuyada--Unity--was a Suryeta
organization. Chicago's newspaper Mashkhiddana Suryaya-- Suryaya
Herald--first published in 1915--changed to Mahskhiddana Aturaya
only in 1920, when the nationalist discourse had come to age; the title
in English was Assyrian, American Herald, most probably because
"Syrian" in the United States stood for the more numerous Arab
Christians from geographical Syria. See Wolk's "The Emergence of
Assyrian ethnonationalism: The Discourse Against the Hachoqage
('Thieves of the Cross')," paper presented at the Middle East Studies
Association Conference (MESA), Chicago, December 6, 1998. For the growth
of Assyrian nationalism, quickened during the war years, an the presence
of an Assyrian American delegation at the Peace Conference in Paris, see
below, pp. 156-157.
 Maclean and Browne, p.
6. See also Coakley,. 147, where he quotes Maclean saying "there is
really as far as I know no proof that they ['the Syrian Christians'] had
any connection with the Old Assyrians. One of the few Anglicans who did
use the term Assyrian was Archbishop of Canterbury Benson," but that is
a fad of His Grace, as no one else does," wrote one of the missionaries
quoted by Coakley. See also Fiey (1965), pp. 149-151.
 Heinrichs, pp 106-7,
where he calls the hypothesis "simply naive." Armenian name Asori
referred to the people of geographical Syria, the Arameans wherever they
were found. The writer is grateful to the late Dr. Avedis K. Sanjian,
Narekatsi Professor of Armenian Studies at the University of California,
Los Angeles, for confirming my reading of these terms in his letter
dated October 10, 1994. Cosult also Norayr de Byzance, Dictionnaire
francaisarmenien (Constantinople, 1884) under "Assyrien," "Syrien"
and "Syriaque"; S. Mulkhasyantch, Armenian Etymological Dictionary
(Erivan, 1944), I 236; G Avadikian, K. Surmelian and M. Avkerian,
Dictionary of Armenian Language (in Armenian) (Venice, 1836), I,
314. See also, M. Falla Castlefranchi, "Armenia," Encyclopedia of the
Early Church, v. 1, p. 79; Frederick C. Conybeare, "Armenian
Language and Literature," in eleventh edition of Encyclopedia
Britannica. In late 16th century, Sharaf Khan al-Bidlisi referred to
the Nestorians as "Christian infidels called Ashuri" a borrowing from
the Armenian. See also al-Bidlisi's Sharafnameh (in
Farsi/Persian) (Cairo, n.d.), pp. 130-132.
 Heinrichs, pp. 102-103,
104., n. 9. Well known Semitic scholars are of the opinion that "Syrian"
and "Assyrian" are of completely different origins even though it
remains for the future historians to prove the correctness of the
theory. See Rosenthal's Die aramäistische Forschung seit. Th.
Nöldeke's Veröffentlichungen (Leiden, 1939), p. 3, n. 1.
 This confusion of terms
was highteaned in an article entitled "Assyria and Syria: Synonyms," by
Richard N Frye; it appears in the Journal of the Nears Eastern
Studies, v. 51. n. 4 (October, 1992), 281-285. This article was
reprinted in the Journal of the Assyrian Academic Studies,
followed by a critique by this writer entitled "Assyria and Syria:
Synonyms?" See JAAS, v. 11 n. 2 (1997), pp. 30-34. Fore more on Mar
Tuma Odu and his position on this subject, see Heinrichs, p. 103.
 See Helm's "Herodotus
Histories VII.63 and the Geographical Connotations of the Toponym
'Assyria' in the Achaemenid Period" (paper presented at the 190th
meeting of the American Oriental Society, at San Francisco, April 1980).
See also his "Greeks' in the Neo-Assyrian Levant and 'Assyria' in Early
Greek Writers" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1980),
pp. 27-41; see also Herodotus' Histories, I.105 and II.106. The late
Arnold J. Toynbee, has also clarified that the Syrioi "are the
people whom Herodotus includes in his 5th Taxation District" which
includes "the whole of Phoenicia and the so-called Philistine, Syria
together with Cyprus." The Syrioi, emphasizes Toynbee, are "not
the people of an 'Assyria' which contains Babylon and which is the 9th
district of his list." A Study of History (1954), vol. vii, p.
654, n. 1. See also George Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus,
ed. Manuel Konroff (New York, 1956),
bk. ii, p. 115. Cf.
Odisho, The Sound System of Modern Assyrian, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
 W. A. Wigram, The
Assyrians and their Neighbors (London, 1929), p. 167.
 Fletcher, op. cit., p.
 Grant, Nestorians,
p. 223. In his review of Grant's book, Semitic scholar Edward Robinson
made a strong argument against Grant's hypothesis in American
Biblical Repository, 6 (1841), 454-482. 7 (1842), 26-68. See also
Ainsworth, II, 256-271. Consult also Encyclopedia Judaica under
Israel Joseph Benjamin (also known as Benjamin II), where, independent
of Grant and only a few years after him, Benjamin II wrote of an ancient
popular tradition that among the Nestorians there were families of
Jewish origin. A.J. Maclean has noted that many Jews in Eastern Turkey
and Persia have a vernacular closely akin to the spoken Aramaic dialect
of the Nestorians. Speaking of the population of the Jilu district of
Hakkari, he wrote that the people there "are very different in
appearance and character from most of the other Syrians, being of a more
Jewish cast." See his Grammar, op. cit. p. xiii. In his
monumental history of the Jews in Babylonia, Jacob Neusner writes that
he is "much impressed by Asahel Grant's argument in favor of the
northern Israeli (Adiabenian) origin of the Nestorians." See v. 3, pp.
15-31, 339n. For a study of the Jews in Grant's day in Kurdistan, see
W.J. Fischel, "The Jews of Kurdistan, a Hundred Years Ago, a traveller's
record," Jewish Social Studies (1944), 195-226. For details on
Jewish origin of Syriac Christianity in general, see below, pp. 36-38.
 Nineveh, I, 203.
 See Rassam "Biblical
Nationalities," pp. 178, 371. For details on the aramaization of the
Assyrians, see pp. 11-12, 27-29.
Kept Memory of Assyrians Alive
the Old Testament, the names Assyria and Assyrian were
well known for centuries, long before the archeological excavations of
the 19th century. In the works of the early Eastern Christian writers,
notes Fiey, we find all the gamut of references to these ancients,
employing indifferently the words Syrians, Athurians [Assyrians],
Chaldeans, and Babylonians, but these writers never identified with
these ancients. "I have made my indices of my Christian Assyria,"
emphasized Fiey. "and have had to align some 50 pages of proper names of
people; there is not a single writer who has an 'Assyrian' name." In
early modern times, as noted above, the Roman Catholic Church added to
the confusion by coining a number of names for the various Christian
communities of the East and their patriarchs; these Roman Catholic
titles and names, however, tried to identify the geographical location
of the churches and patriarchates of the region and not the ethnic
origin of the people involved. In the 18th century Assemani used
"Assyrian" in reference to the Nestorians but with no implication that
they were the descendants of the Assyrians. Assemani, according to Fiey,
found a certain Assyrian descendance in all the peoples in the region:
Jacobite, Nestorian, Sabaeans, Yezidis, and a great deal among the
Kurds. Also in the 18th century, the British historian Edward
Gibbon, aware of this confusion of names, wrote that the Nestorians,
"under the name of Chaldeans or Assyrians are confounded with the most
learned or most powerful nation of Eastern antiquity."
19th century A.D., the only common folk who had some knowledge of
the ancient Assyrian--their history, empire, names of some of their
kings, etc.--where the Jews, and through them the Christians. These were
the only people who religiously read the Bible or listened to its
stories and histories being read or narrated. For over 2000 years, the
Jewish people had been reading or hearing about the Assyrians before the
Assyrian cuneiform tablets were discovered and deciphered in the 19th
century A.D. Assyrian monuments of stone and clay lay buried under the
dust and debris of two millenniums, written in a language long forgotten
before they were deciphered during the 1850s. Biblical texts during
those same long centuries, were carefully copied on parchment, leather
or papyrus, and reverently transmitted by hand from one generation to
the next, their stories read or listened to throughout those ages. The
Christians, too, were for centuries tuned to the biblical accounts--for
over a thousand years before the Assyrian cuneiform documents were
the centrality of the subject in Jewish history, the Bible dwelt at some
length on Assyrian and Babylonian kings, religion, geography and
history. The destruction of Israel by Assyria, and of Judah by Babylon,
had resulted in a national trauma for the Jews. Jewish history, fatally
entangled with that of the imperial powers of Mesopotamia, was mourned
and reflected upon in the various prophetic works; it was always
remembered, keeping at same time, the memory of ancient Assyria
important to bear in mind that throughout the centuries, the cultural
and religious life of the people who embraced Christianity, in both the
West and the East, was reshaped by the Bible's prayers, proverbs,
lamentations, and poetry. Biblical stories, histories, and legend's
became favorite folktales, the source of their folklore and myths for
centuries to come. The Hebrew Bible that the Christians inherited gave
them not only a sacred book but also a vision of the past and of its
peoples; it provided them with a new and distinct identity. In time
the only past that these Christians knew came from the Old
Testament--what Fergus Millar calls "the historical inheritance of the
 See his "'Assyriens' ou
'Arameens'?", p. 146.
 Ibid. See also Coakley,
The Church of The East, pp. 65-66.
 See Fiey (1965), p. 148,
n. 33, where the expression in French is "beaucoup parmi les Kurdes."
See also Assemani, III, ii, 177.
 Edward Gibbon, The
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed.
J.B. Bury (London, 1898), v. 150.
 See above, pp. 15ff.
 For the text of the Book
of Isaiah--a major Biblical source on the ancient Assyrians--"preserved
complete" in many Syriac manuscripts from the 5th century A.D. on--see
Isaiah, Part III, fascicule 1 of The Old Testament According
to the Peshitta Version, ed. by the Peshitta Institute of Leiden,
prepared by Sebastian Brock (Leiden 1987), pp. viii, x, xi, xiii, xx,
xxii. See also "Text History and Text Division in Peshitta Isaiah," in
P.B. Dirksen and N.J. Mulder, The Peshitta: Its Early Text and
History, (Leiden, 1988). The books of the Peshitta Old Testament
were translated at different times by Jews for Aramaic-speaking Jews of
Mesopotamia; they were adopted as their own by the early
Aramaic-speaking Christians, many of them formerly Jews. The origins of
the various components of the Peshitta Old Testament, writes Sebastian
Brock "remain extremely obscure" (1992, p. 225). See also Han J.W.
Drijvers "Early Syriac Christianity: Some Recent Publications," in
Vigilae Christianae, 50, no. 2 (1996), 174.
 The historical books of
the Hebrew Bible recorded the danger to Israel that emanated from
Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. The imperial expansion of the two
Mesopotamian empires westward toward Palestine and Egypt had naturally
attracted the attention of the prophets. Assyrian power and cultural
influence were at their height in the time of the prophet Isaiah, the
prophet who showed the keenest interest in the affairs of the Assyrians.
The various chapters of the book of Isaiah deal with a number of crises
and alliances in the region, including negotiations in 727 between
Assyria and Egypt, the Assyrian suppression of a Babylonian rebellion in
731-729, and the Assyrian King Sargon's new anti-Egyptian policy.
Consult John R Bartlett, The Bible Faith and Evidence, a critical
enquiry into the nature of biblical history (London, 1990), pp. 61,
103,-6, 115; Saggs (1969), p. 1. See also Is. 5:26-30.
 See also below, pp.
 Rome and the East 31
B.C - A.D. 337 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 2227, 487-88. See also his
article, "Empire, Community and Culture in the Roman Near East: Greeks,
Syrians, Jews and Arabs," Journal of Jewish Studies, 38 (1987),
Jesus and the
Assyrians are associated in the Old Testament with war and violence,
they are also remembered there as a special people. one of the books of
the Old Testament, albeit a brief one, is wholly devoted to the
Assyrians: the story of Jonah, one of the great favorites of the Bible.
God bids Jonah, read, to a journey on a special mission to the capital
of the Assyrians, Nineveh. Through the mouth of Jonah, God warned the
Assyrians that should they not give up their wicked ways, "in forty days
Nineveh will be overthrown." The Ninevites "took heart this warning from
God; they declared a public fast, and high and low alike put on
sackcloth." God then "relented and did not inflict on them the
punishment he had threatened."
Christian period, over seven hundred years after the fall of Nineveh and
of the Assyrian empire, the story of Jonah became on of the great
favorites of the church fathers, its theme being the divine pardon for
repentant sinners--that God's universal love and mercy extend to all
men, even to the Assyrians. Jesus, a Jew well familiar with the Hebrew
Bible, referred to the ancient story; He used the Assyrians of Nineveh
as a model for the Jews of his day, whom he reproached for their
unwillingness to repent. "The men of Nineveh," Jesus told his listeners,
"will appear in court when this generation [of Jews] is on trial, and
ensure its condemnation, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah,
and what is here is greater than Jonah." Because of these New
Testament references, the story of Jonah and its universal message had a
special meaning for the Christians and are referred to through the
patristic literature. To Christians everywhere, the Assyrians of Nineveh
became a model during the Lenten penance. The Roman Catholic Church
reads the third chapter of Jonah on Wednesday of the first week of Lent.
In the Greek Orthodox liturgy, the entire book of Jonah is read during
Lent, while Anglicans and Lutherans read portions of it. During the
afternoon service on Yom Kippur, the Jews read the book of Jonah because
of its emphasis on God's forgiveness after genuine repentance.
Eastern Christians, whether Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, Jacobites, or
Nestorians, observe a pre-Lenten fast remembering the message of Jonah
and what Jesus said of the Ninevites. Locally, both Christians and Jews
commemorated the event: Christians built a church where Jonah "had
preached." The Jews of Mosul had the synagogue of Obadiah which,
according to tradition, "Jonah built." William C. Emhardt and George
M. Lamsa in the 1920s, and the Assyrian nationalists after them, have
misinterpreted the Rogation of the Ninevites (Ba'uta d-Ninwaye) as a
unique fast among the Nestorians, observed as a thanksgiving "for the
salvation of their forefathers," entirely missing the theological and
historical significance of the Biblical story of Jonah in both Jewish
and Christian tradition.
establish a link between themselves and the ancient Assyrians, the
nationalists conclude that such a link is confirmed whenever they find a
reference to the word "Assyrians" during the early Christian period; to
them it proves that their Christian ancestors always "remembered" their
Assyrian forefathers. Nationalist writers often refer to Tatian's/Tatianos
statement that he was "born in the land of the Assyrians," and note that
the Acts of Mar Qardagh trace the martyr's ancestry to ancient
It is not
surprising that "in the land of the Assyrians" one encounters an
occasional legend that traces the ancestry of an individual or group to
an ancient hero. This writer has heard Persians on the streets of
Kermanshah begging and claiming that they were the lineal descendants of
Imam Husayn--grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad--who lived over
1,300 years before them. Michael G. Morony speaks of villagers of
Aramean descent who, assimilated with the Persians, claimed to be of
Royal Persian descent--"from Kisra, son of Qubadh." The story of Mar
Qardagh, himself a semi-legendary figure, is such a legend; it traces
the ancestry of his father to the family of Nimrud and that of his
mother to the family of Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.), a genealogy that
harks back over a thousand years.
 See Jonah 1:17; 3:4-10.
Biblical scholars are of the opinion that the book of Jonah may have
originated in the 5th century B.C., long after the fall of Nineveh. The
venomous oracles of Nahum, who probably lived and preached about the
time of Nineveh's fall, depict the Assyrian capital as a harlot and
relate its punishment to the sins of Assyrians. See Nahum, 3:4-7,
Besides the book of Jonah, there are almost 120 references on the
Assyrians, in 13 other books of the Bible.
 Matthew 12:40-41. See
also Luke 11:29-30: "For just as Jonah was a sign for the Ninevites, so
will the Son of Man be a sign for the present age." For interpretations
of the Jonah story in Western art and literature, see James Linburg,
Jonah: A Commentary (Louisville, 1993).
 See "Jonah" in Oxford
Dictionary of the Jewish Religion (1997)
 Influenced by both
Jewish and Christian traditions, Muslims believe that the prophet Jonah
is buried in Mosul, where a mosque is dedicated to him.
 William C. Emhardt and
George M . Lamsa, The Oldest Christians People (New York, 1926;
reprinted by AMS Press in 1970), p. 22. According to the authors,
"Abraham was Assyrian" and Aramaic "is not only the language which
Christ spoke, but the language also, we are told, which God spoke to
 Tatian not only did not
claim to be an Assyrian, but scholars point out that he was not even
born in the lands to the east of the Euphrates. Tatian (Greeik Tatianos),
writes Fergus Millar, no more came from geographical Assyria than did
that other "Assyrian" with a Latin name, Lucian (Greek Lucianos) of
Samosata, Fergus Millar explains that the terms Assyria and Assyrians
were common terms then from geographical Syria and its inhabitants. See
his Rome and the East,pp. 227, 454-455, 460. Consult also
Asmussen, op. cit., p. 927; Encyclopedia of the Early Church (New
York, 1992), under "Tatian"; Patricia Crone and Michael Cook,
Hagarism (Cambridge, 1977), p. 197, n. 163.
 See his Iraq After
the Muslim Conquest (Princeton, 1984), p. 173.
 The Acts also tells us
that young Qardagh, before his conversion to Christianity, was a
Zoroastrian; his father bearing the Persian name of Gushnavi. When
Qardagh became a Christian he was serving Shapur II as a military
governor in geographical Assyria. After his conversion he, like other
martyrs, performed miracles; when faced with Satan in human form, he
cursed him and made the sign of the cross, turning Satan into a snake.
See Mar Aprim, The Nestorian fathers, op. cit. See also
Hagarism, p. 190, n. 71, where in accordance with their methodology,
authors Crone and Cook accept Qardagh's descendance from Assyrian kings
as a believed fact by his contemporaries, making Hagarism a
favorite source book of the modern Assyrian writers. In a letter to the
author , dated June 11, 1997, Patricia Crone wrote that she and Cook
"do not argue that the Nestorians of pre-Islamic Iraq saw themselves as
Assyrians or that this is what they called themselves. They called
themselves Suryane, which had no greater connotation of Assyrian in
their usage than it did in anyone else's...We take it for granted that
they got the modern Assyrian label from the West and proceeded to
reinvent themselves....of course the Nestorians were Arameans." In their
prefatory remarks Crone and Cook, who warn the non-specialist not to
expect a "guided tour" but a pioneering expedition through some very
rough country, also anticipate, "the raised eyebrows" of the
specialists. For reviews of Hagarism, see Oleg Grabar, in
speculum 53, (October, 1978), pp. 795-799; Michael G. Morony, in
Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 41, no. 2, (1982), 159; Joseph Van
Ess, "The Making of Islam," in Times Literary Supplement
(September 8, 1978), pp. 997-998. For nationalist references to, and
misinterpretation of, Hagarism, see Odisho Bet Ashur (pen name),
"The Continuity of Assyrian History," Nineveh, v. 17, no. 3
(1994), pp. 16-17, notes 19, 20, 24; Odisho, Sound Systems, pp.
Survival After the Fall
Assyrian writers usually cite a statement that assyriologist Sydney
Smith allegedly made early in the 20th century (1925)--namely, that the
ancient Assyrians disappeared "immediately" and "vanished" after the
fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. To "disprove" Smith, the cite another
assyriologist, W.W. Tarn, who noted that for centuries after the fall of
their empire, Assyrian "survivors" perpetuated old Assyrian names at
various places on the site of ancient Ashur. Edward Y. Odisho refers to
"a few" historians who "talk about the continuation of the (Assyrian)
[sic] identity" until the establishment of Christianity in geographical
Assyria, some 8 centuries after the fall of the Assyrian empire.
What do these few historians and assyriologists really "talk about"?
Excavations in northern Iraq, according to Sidney Smith, "have, it is
true, shown the poverty-stricken communities perpetuated the old
Assyrian names...but the essential truth," he concludes, "remains the
same": the Assyrians were "unduly devoted to practices which can only
end in racial suicide." W.W. Tarn notes that under the Parthians in
the early 3rd century A.D. "a little body of people" worshipped the god
Ashur; he describes theirs as a "pathetic survival." More recently,
assyriologist Joan Oates, in a section entitled "Assyria after the
fall," points out that on the ancient site of old Ashur, where "a large
Parthian city" was excavated, the influence of Assyrian tradition and
symbolism can sometimes be seen "in architecture and art." Patricia
Crone and Michael Cook, in their Hagarism note that under the Parthians
"The temple of Ashur was restored, the city was rebuilt, and an Assyrian
successor state returned in the shape of the client kingdom of Adiabene/Hadyab/Khadyab,)
adding that the region had an Assyrian "self-identification" and speak
of the human survival of a "a native aristocracy." Odisho's reading
of Hagarism leads him to the conclusion that as late as the Parthian
period--over 800 years after the fall of the Assyrian empire--"there
survived a strong native (Assyrian) [sic] aristocracy peculiar to itself
and very conscious of its past and proud of it." To reinforce this
hypothesis, Odisho cites historian of ancient Iraq George Roux, who
notes that during the Parthian period geographical "Assyria was
literally resurrected," and the several of its cities were "inhabited
again, and Assur, rebuilt anew, became at least as large city as it had
been in the heyday of the Assyrian empire." According to Odisho,
the resurrection and rebuilding of Assyria were done by the "strong
native Assyrian aristocracy" that he believes flourished under the
benign rule of the Parthians. A more careful reading of Roux, however,
would have shown that there is no mention of any Assyrian involvement in
the reoccupation and reconstruction of the "towns and villages which had
been lying in ruins for hundreds of years." In the very next sentence
following the above quotation, left out by Odisho, Roux writes that it
must be emphasized that "the revival settlements had very little in
common with their Assyrian or Babylonian precursors"; that the old
Sumero-Akkadian civilization, which was "perpetuated by a few priests in
a few temples," was an "ossifized" civilization that simply could not
withstand the profound ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural
changes that were introduced by successive waves of invaders in northern
Mesopotamia--Persians, Greeks, Arameans, pre-Islamic Arabs--"who could
be neither kept at bay nor assimilated." This massive influx of foreign
peoples and ideas "had submerged what was left of the Sumero-Akkadian
civilization." Speaking specifically of the ancient Assyrians, Roux
explains in what sense the Assyrians "disappeared": they were a people
who had forgotten their Akkadian mother tongue, and a "nation which
forgets it language forgets its past and soon loses its identity."
 Odisho, ibid, p.
 "Asurbanipal and the
Fall of Assyria" The Cambridge Ancient History, The Assyrian Empire,
v. 3 (1954 reprint), pp. 130-131. See also above, pp. 11f.
 See "Parthia" in ibid.,
The Roman Republic 133-44 B.C. v. 9, (1962), pp. 597-598. Cf.
Odisho Bet Ashur. op. cit., p. 13.
 The Cambridge Ancient
History. The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, v. 3, pt. 2 (2nd ed.,
1991), pp. 189-193.
 During the Parthian
period, geographical Assyria, the lands situated between the Greater and
Lesser Zab rivers to the eats of the Tigris river, were known to Western
historians as Adiabene, a corruption of Hadyab in Aramaic. The Parthian
name for Assyria was Norshirakan, while Northern Mesopotamia was known
as Arabistan. See A.D.H. Bivar, "The Political History of Iran under the
Arsacids," in The Cambridge History of Iran, v. 3, pt. 1 (1983),
p. 89. Consult also Wilhelm Eilers, "Iran and Mesopotamia," in ibid.,
p. 496. For the misinterpretation of Hagarism by modern Assyrian
writers, see above, p. 27n.94.
 Loc. cit., p.
 Ibid., p. 9 n.
 Cf. Roux, ibid.
(1964 edition), pp. 352, 354-355, and pp. 419-420, 423-42 (1992
edition), One of the tenets of modern Assyrian writers is that it was
the Arameans who were assyrianized and their identity changed. In a
recent article, one of them wrote, one of them wrote that some of the
modern Assyrians "rightly point out that even the idea of the ancient
Assyrians adopting the language of a wandering tribal group is
questionable; why would a civilization as great as Assyria adopt the
language of essentially desert nomads." See Odisho Bet Ashur [pen-name],
"The Continuity of Assyrian History," Nineveh, 17, no. 3 (1994),
p. 12. Lately, Assyrian nationalists have found a supporter in the
Finnish scholar Simo Parpola. In a lecture before the annual Assyrian
convention on September 4, 1999, Parpola told his audience that the
Assyrian empire had, in its final analysis, "never been destroyed at all
but had just changed ownership: first to Babylonian and Median
dynasties, and then to a Persian one." The Assyrian Empire "continued to
live on despite the fact that the Assyrians themselves were no longer in
control of it." According to Parpola, one of whose research interests is
to trace the roots of Hebrew monotheism and Greek philosophy to
Mesopotamian and Assyrian origins, the Christian religion is essentially
a religion of the ancient Assyrians; "many teachings of the Early
Church," he said, "were consonant with the tenets of Assyrian imperial
religion. In fact, it can be argued that many features and dogmas of
early Christianity were based on practices and ideas already central to
Assyrian imperial ideology and religion." Parpola's lecture, reproduced
on the Internet on September 17, 1999, is reportedly to be published in
the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, vol. xiii, no. 2, 1999.
See also his article "The Assyrian Tree of Life--tracing the origins of
Jewish monotheism and Greek philosophy," Journal of Near Eastern
Studies, vol. 52, no. 3 (July, 1993), pp. 161-208. For Hebrew
cultural borrowings from Mesopotamia, see above, pp. 16-17 n.
language molded widely differing ethnic, social, and political elements
into a uniform and integrated culture. Just as Arabic language later
amalgamated various ethnic groups, creating the Arabs, without much
regard to their Arabian physical origin, so did Aramaic mold peoples of
different identities into Arameans [Aramaye/Oromoye] ("Syrians/Syriacs/Suryaye/Suryoye/Suroye/Suraye").
The ancient Assyrians did not "vanish" when they were vanquished in the
late 7th century B.C., nor did everyone of them immedietly
"perish". The merely "merged with the mass of Near Eastern Arameans,"
just as other peoples before and after them, were similarly assimilated,
like the Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, Hurrians, and others.
About 800 years after the fall of Nineveh, a common religion
(Christianity , in this case Syriac Christianity), together with a
common langauge (Syriac/Aramaic) unified the peoples of this region,
just as Islam and the Arabic tongue would arabize and muslimize most of
the Arameans a few centuries later, causing them to "disappear".
Christianity began in an Aramaic environment; Jesus preached his message
in an Aramaic dialect. Among the converts to the new faith were Jews and
Gentiles of all ethnic backgrounds. The Church and the new religion
served as a melting pot; as members of a new dispensation, the converts
tended to lay aside former distinctions and prejudices and became in the
character of Christians one homogenous people devoted to the Lord, not
unlike the Islamic umma of the 7th century A.D. Writing in
the third century, Bar Daysan, the eminent Edessan known as founder of
Syriac literature, did not feel himself to be a leader of a sect but
rather to belong unquestionably to the universal Church. "What shall we
say about ourselves, the 'new race' of Christians whom Christ has
caused, to be raised in all countries as consequence of his own coming?
We are all Christians by the one name of Christ wherever we may be
found." He then proceeds to speak of brethren in Gaul, Parthia, India,
Persia and Mesopotamia without making any distinction.]106]
Christian community could not for long think of itself as a new nation.
Various factors--geographical, political, sociological-- were bound to
give rise to a whole new set of ideas which were very different from the
aims of the accepted Church tradition. In the case of the Church of the
East the hostility between the Roman and Persian empires made it
necessary for these Aramaic-speaking Christians of Persia to build up
their own independent ecclesiastical organization. Eventually, the
Church in Persia became a sort of national church over which the Bishop
of Seleucia-Ctesiphon wielded unlimited power.
various sections of the dissected Christian community in the Middle East
eventually developed into "secondary ecological and kinship units." They
became millets, a term which, depending on the group's geography,
history and size, could be translated into sects, communities,
minorities, or nationalities--groups of people who owed allegiance to
one another and their religious leaders by the ties of faith and
language. A member who adopted another creed was regarded as a
renegade. The people who today call themselves Assyrians are,
strictly speaking, members of a cultural and religious group, molded
together into a minority by ties of a common language and, until the
19th century, a common church membership which, until the birth of the
modern nation-state in the Middle East, was the strongest tie among
people. The lineal origin of the community, like that most of Middle
Eastern nationalities--and nationalities the world over-- is hidden in
the mists of history. The religious and linguistic minority under
discussion is naturally a mixture of ethnicities, mainly Aramean, but
also Persian, Kurdish, Arab,  and Jewish, just as
present-day Arabs are the result of a similar merging of a variety of
nationalities. But just as it was the speakers of Arabian language who
gave most of the converts to Islam in the Middle East and North Africa
the name "Arab," so the Arameans gave the various converts to
Christianity their mother tongue, and for the next 1,800 years,
bequeathed to them the language of their literature and liturgy as well
as the very name by which they have for centuries called themselves--Suraye/Suroye,