Who are the Chaldeans?
The Chaldeans of Beth Nahreen (Mesopotamia
which is current days Iraq, east Syria, and south east Turkey) are a live continuation of all the indigenous people of Mesopotamia
whether their tribal names were Sumerians, Akkadians, Amorites, Babylonians,
Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Aramaeans. The language of
the Chaldean people is Aramaic, a different dialect than that spoken by Jesus
By the fall of the Assyrian Empire (612
B.C.) and Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire (539 B.C.), Mesopotamia and the lower
valley of the Tigris-Euphrates were still predominantly pagan. With the advent
of Christianity, most of the nation gradually converted, largely through the
missionary works of Saints Addai and Mari. It is also historically accepted that
St. Thomas the Apostle had a hand in the matter during this passage to India.
Most of Iraq remained Christian, until the advent of Islam in the mid 7th
century A.D. But even in those early years, not everyone converted to Islam.
There were sizable numbers of Christians and pagans, as well as Jews. One of the
contributing factors to the presence of several religions may very well have
been the Koran itself. The Koran speaks reverently of the Torah and the Gospel,
as well as the religious significance of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
In Iraq, a turning point in
Christianity took place in 431 A.D., when the patriarch of Constantinople,
Nestorius, differed with the rest of the Roman Catholic Church over specific
dogmas concerning Christ's personhood. (As a Western parallel, the reader may
refer to the example of Martin Luther versus Catholicism.) The Eastern sector
was divided as a result of this split over church principles. Some continued to
follow the Nestorian thought, while others elected, in 1552 (more than eleven
centuries later), to abide by the teachings of Rome.
Today, there are still thousands among
the Assyrians who are Christians but not Roman Catholics. Those who are
Catholics belong to what is commonly known as the "Chaldean" Church.
Let us consider the historical
perspective to better understand the use of the designation "Chaldean" for the
Catholics of Iraq. In Babylon, and the Babylonian Empire, different tribes ruled
at various times. Regardless of who ascended the throne, Babylon always remained
the capital, also, as an empire, the term "Babylonian" remained intact.
The Assyrian Empire, especially under
Sennacherib, stood indestructible for centuries. Sennacherib won every single
battle he engaged in; a veritable military genius whom no one could destroy --
except Babylon. He was killed there in one of the Babylonian temples.
As history would have it, this Chaldean
regime was the last to rule in Babylon. The last name of this empire was not
eternally attached to the Chaldeans, therefore whoever spoke of the final state
of Babylon found himself simultaneously speaking of the Chaldeans. The name
"Chaldean", in this final stage, included both Babylon and Ninevah (Assyria).
It is not unusual, therefore, to think
of the last vestiges of the two fallen empires as "Chaldeans" collectively,
since at the final collapse, Babylon included both the lower valley and upper
The Chaldeans and Assyrians of the old
were ethnically, culturally, and linguistically the same people divided along
political and religious allegiances. Those tribes lived together under the last
Mesopotamian national regime, that of the Chaldeans. They were now,
perforce, all "Chaldeans" in the sense that the Chaldean Empire was their final
name under one nation.
Many races came and went with the
shifts of political rule. The Chaldeans, i.e., the "insiders", were the only
natives that were non-intruders. Those who came into the country to rule and
establish a new homeland cannot be properly described as Chaldeans.
The two names, "Chaldean" and
"Assyrian", are still widely used to indicate same nation and people. In the area of religion, "Chaldean" still
applies to all Chaldean Catholics of Iraq who use the Aramaic language and
follow the teachings of Rome. The term "Assyrian" is used to indicate the
followers of Nestorius, and has been employed as a name for the Nestorian Church
In 1445, the then-Nestorian
Church in Cyprus indicated her wishes to join Rome, the pope accepted the letter
of conversion from Bishop Timothawes of the Chaldeans in Tarshish and Cyprus
who wrote Pope Eugene IV identifying himself as "Bishop Timothaeus of the
Chaldeans..". On September 7, 1445,
Pope Eugene IV accepted the conversion of the Chaldean community in Cyprus into
Catholicism, and from then on the word "Chaldean" became
the official term used to identify Chaldean Catholics by the Roman Church.
Today, the Archbishop of Iraq's Chaldean Catholics goes by the official name
of "The Patriarch of Babylon over
In conclusion, when in 1552 the major
split in the Church of the East took place with a good percentage of the church
converting to Catholicism, Rome simply extended the name of the Chaldean Church
of Cyprus to cover all those new Catholic converts in Mesopotamia proper. That
is, it followed the name used by the Nestorian Christian descendents of the Babylonians and Assyrians of
Mesopotamia to identify themselves. After all, they spoke the Chaldean language,
they carried on the Chaldean heritage, they practiced the customs that were
undeniably Chaldean -- what better name to identify them with than "Chaldeans". They
were not Romans, Medes, Turks, Mongols, nor Macedonians, but "Chaldeans"!
Therefore, the name "Chaldean" has come to bear national significance,
linguistic and cultural aspects, as well as religious connotations.
The Chaldean Church consists of Middle
Eastern Christians who use Aramaic as their mother tongue. It is one of the
eighteen Eastern Rites recognized by the Holy Sea in Rome. The head of the
Chaldean Church today is the Patriarch MAR RAPHAEL I BIDAWID, Patriarch of
Babylon, who resides in Baghdad. Throughout the world, Chaldeans number more
than one million. The greatest concentration of Chaldean Catholics today are in
Mesopotamia - Iraq.
Chaldean Population in the US
There are approximately 150,000 Chaldeans in the US, in addition to another 100,000 who go by Assyrians,
in addition to approximately 30,000 who go by Syriacs (Suryoyo). The centers
of the Chaldeans is Metropolitan Detroit, MI (where the majority of the
Chaldeans are) in addition to San Diego, CA, and a smaller
population in Phoenix, AZ and Chicago, IL. While the Assyrians have their
biggest concentration in Chicago, IL, with sizable population in San Francisco
Bay Area and Turlok-Modesto (around Sacramento area) of California. The
Syriacs are found more in Los Angeles area with sizable concentrations
in Chicago and Detroit.
Due to its importance, the following article
by Bishop Dr. Sarhad Jammo is posted here. This article was published over
the 12-months pages of the "Year
2000 Liturgical Calendar of St. Thomas the Apostle Chaldean Catholic Diocese
in the United States".
CONTEMPORARY CHALDEANS AND ASSYRIANS
By Bishop Mar Sarhad Jammo,
About the Author: Bishop Sarhad
Jammo was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1941. He was ordained a priest in Rome in 1964 and returned
to Iraq in 1969 to become pastor of St. John the Baptist in Dora, Baghdad from 1969-1974.
During that time, a new church rectory were built for the parish. He became Rector of the
Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad from 1974-1977. Bishop Jammo has served the Chaldean catholic
community in Michigan since 1977, when he was appointed Associate Pastor with Msgr. Garmo at
Mother of God parish in Southfield. In 1980 he became pastor of the parish and served in that
capacity until 1983. In 1983, he was assigned to be pastor of St. Joseph Chaldeans catholic
Church in Troy, Michigan. During his tenure a new social hall, meeting hall, a residential
rectory as well as a new church and a new office facility have been built and the old church
remodeled into a cultural center. Bishop Jammo has served as Vicar General of the Chaldean
Diocese in the USA from 1991 till his ordination as a bishop of the Western
United States in Detroit, Michigan on July 18, 2002. Also, in 1993 he was appointed Professor of Eastern Liturgies at
the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.
Ethnicity, Culture, and Religion
Christianity entered Mesopotamia from the beginning of Christian
era, and many natives of that land became Christians. Around 634 A.D, Moslem
Arabs conquered the region, and Islam was imposed as the religion of the
State, and became gradually thereafter the religion of the majority, Arabic
language and culture became as well the language and culture of that majority.
Christians remained what they were, i.e. the descendants of those ancient
inhabitants of Mesopotamia and the heirs of their cultural heritage. Therefore,
present-day Chaldeans and Assyrians are precisely that; ethnically, they
are the descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia, culturally,
they are the heirs of their Aramaic language and heritage.
To be accurate from the start, I must add this clarification:
1) The first wave of converts to Christianity
in Mesopotamia have surly included a segment of the sizable Jewish Diaspora
of the land;
2) The wars between Persians and Romans
resulted some times in moving some Christian captives from Roman land to
Persian ruled land, specifically to the city of Gundisapur in Elam at the
eastern bank of today's Shatt-il-Arab
These remarks indicate two ingredients in the formation of early
Mesopotamian Christianity that have merged gradually in the general Christian
population. But, we can state quite accurately that the hard and large
core of that early Christianity was formed from the common population of
Therefore, if we pose again the question: who are the actual Christians
of Iraq, i.e. the Chaldeans, the Assyrians as well as the Syrians, from
the civil point of view? The answer should be: They are the descendants
of the ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia. To the question: What is their
ethnic and cultural background? Then, I would answer: study the history
of ancient Iraq; because that same history is their history; that same
culture is their culture; that same Aramaic language is their language.
The Peoples of Mesopotamia
The Sumerians: The history of Ancient
Iraq is truly an epic of human endeavor, 3000 BC, Sumerians pioneered major
discoveries and inventions. They are the inventors of the first system
of writing, the founders of the first school, the pioneers of mathematical
principles and calculations. From them spring the first astronomers and
astrologers, the first legislation and jurisprudence, the first library
and the first pharmacy, the first prose and the first poem, the first irrigation
system, and the first city planning, the first principles of morality and
the first attempt to theology through mythology, the first parliament and
the first city-state. The Sumerians are those who made Mesopotamia the
Cradle of Civilization.
The Akkadians: Even though the
presence of a culture different from the Sumerian is noticeable, some centuries
prior to the emergence of Sargon the Akkadian (2371-2316 B.C.), it was
this great king that effected the turning point in asserting the Akkadian
prominence in Mesopotamia.
It was King Sargon I who unified the Land between the two Rivers,
including the city of Ashur and Nineveh in the North, and expanded his
rule to Upper Mesopotamia into the Syrian land. Therefore, he is the founder
of the first World-Empire. Nevertheless, the Location of the capital city
of Akkad is, until the present day, the best-guarded secret of Ancient
Among his children, the king Neram-Seen (2291-2251 KQ) raised the
star of Akkad to its peak, expanding his empire to the North and East.
But soon after, Barbarians from the northeastern mountains, the Gootians
descended and destroyed the Akkadian Cities (2211-2120 B.C.), until a Sumerian
king of Uruk, Auto Hikal, mustered enough force to chase and destroy their
power, reviving for the span Of one more century the Sumerian rule (2113-2006
B.C.), making Ur the capital city, until the fading of Sumerian control
Immigrants and Settlers: The following
century (2006- 1894 B.C.) was characterized by the immigration of a wave
of Amorites from the West of Euphrates, that came and settled in the plains
between the Two Rivers, when they established several small kingdoms in
the cities of Eissen, Larsa and Ishnuna, until the establishment in Babel
of a new dynasty.
THE SWING OF POWER IN ANCIENT
1) (1894-1598 D.C.), Babylon, since
1894 B.C., with the Amorite King
Somu ‘ym, will remain the principal and capital city of Mesopotamia
until 1157 B.C. when it was destroyed by the ‘Ilamites. Hammurabi is the
most famous king of this dynasty (1793-1751 B.C.), ruling all Mesopotamia.
2) (1595-1157 B.C.), Kyshies from Zagrus
mountains ruled in Babylon, forging strong alliances with Assyria against
3) (1156-1025 B.C.), the city
of Issen will lead the revival of Babylon reaching a remarkable climax
with Nabu-kadh-Nassar I (1124-1103 B.C.).
Historians distinguish four periods in the history of Assyria:
1) 3000-2000 B.C., when Assyria was
under the influence and rule of the Sumerians and Akkadians.
2) 2000-1521 B.C. (Old Assyrian) when
Assyria attempted autonomy and self rule, but could not achieve it, being
under Babylonian rule, clearly at the time of Hammurabi (1793-1751 B.C.).
3) 1521-911 B.C. (Middle Assyrian)
with Bozor Ashur III, who attempted to shift the center of power from Babylon
to Ashur. His successors did not always succeed in controlling and ruling
the South, particularly Babylon, nevertheless it became clear that the
political capital of Mesopotamia was in Assyria.
4) 911-612 B.C. (The Empire) when Assyria
became the superpower of the Middle East, reaching the peak of cultural
greatness, military power and colonial expansion. Illustrious names
Ashurbanibal, Sargon II, Sankhareeb, Assarhadun... etc. will resound
highly and eloquently all over the earth.
No better of a great prophet, Ezekiel, (31, 3-9) to speak out the
"Consider Assyria, a cedar of Lebanon, with fair branches and
forest shade, and of great height, its top among the clouds. Under its
branches all the animals of the field gave birth to the young; and its
shade all great nations lived.
The cedars of the garden of God could not rival it, nor the fir
trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were nothing compared with its
branches; no trees in the garden of God was like it in beauty. I made it
beautiful with its mass of branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden
that were in the garden of God."
Chaldeans (626-539 B.C.)
(For best reference, cfr. Wiseman, DJ, Chronicles
of Chaldean Kings (626-556 B.C.) In
the British Museum, London 1956)
Origin of the name: The name “Chaldea,
Kaldu, Chaldean, Chaldeans” appeared in history documents around 900 B.C.
Then, we find the Chaldeans first as Aramaic tribes in the neighborhood
of Babylon, later they conquered Babylon itself in 625 B.C. establishing
a splendid empire, until its collapse in 539 B.C. at the hand of Cyrus
the Persian. The Chaldean empire was the last and most glorious expression
of national identity for the people of ancient Mesopotamia that is before
falling under the rule of foreign Powers.
The fact of having Aramaic speaking peoples in North Mesopotamia
and Syria, on the one hand, and in South Mesopotamia, on the other, shows
that the Aramaic language originated in the northwestern bank of Euphrates
in parallel to the Akkadian language that originated in the southeastern
bank of Euphrates. In fact, the Chaldeans are mentioned in the book of
Job (1, 17) as somewhere close to the residence of Job himself in 'Aws.
In 627 B.C., Nabupalassar with the help of Chaldean tribes became
king of Babylon, declared independence from Assyria, and allied himself
with the Medees, causing the collapse of the Assyrian empire and the fall
of Nineveh in 612 B.C., and then he expanded the rule of Babylon over all
of Mesopotamia and beyond.
Nabu-kadh-nassar (604-562 B.C.). The
son of Nabupallasar became Chaldean King of Babylon. with him Mesopotamia:
1) Reached the peak of its greatness
and glory; Babylon, its capital was recognized as “the pearl of kingdoms.
The jewel and boast of Chaldeans" (Isaia, 13, 19), and was proclaimed as
"a golden cup in the Lord's hand that made all the earth drunken. The nations
have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad" (Jeremiah 51,7).
2) The Chaldeans, being an Aramaic
people, became a major factor for the spread of Aramaic language and its
Alphabet among the peoples of Near East, including their Hebrew captives
The Fall of Babylon
In 539 B.C., during the reign of King Nabuna'yd, Cyrus the Persian
conquered Babylon putting and end to the Chaldean Empire and to the national
rule in Mesopotamia, The Chaldean Empire was the last national name for
Mesopotamia before falling to foreign powers. Though Mesopotamia was conquered
by foreigners, the city of Babylon remained the capital and the most illustrious
national symbol of the land. Even the Akhmanide kings added to their title:
"King of Babylon and its land", they resided in the same Palace of Nabukadnassar.
The continuity of the Chaldean identity persevered not only around Babylon
but also in the establishment of a Chaldean principality of 'Udeini long
the Euphrates (Ozoreina). King Abgar ruled it in 130 B.C.
When Babylon was destroyed and abandoned, all successive capitals
(Seleucia, Ctesiphon, Baghdad) were built in its vicinity as though to
take its role. Sequentially, the ecclesiastic administration of the Church
of the East will follow the same civil line: the Catholicos-Patriarch will
have his see in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, then in Baghdad, adopting the title
of “Patriarch of the See of Babylon".
Alexander the Macedonian in Babylon (10 June
Crashing Dara III In the battle of Arbelu in 331 B.C., Alexander
advanced to Babylon, which he entered peacefully, and made it the capital
of his empire and his dreams, residing in the Southern Palace of Nabukadhnassar.
In 311 B.C., Seleucius I Nikator became the ruler of Mesopotamia.
He is the one who built Seleucia to substitute Babylon as the administrative
capital. Babylon, being constantly the field of warring factions was looted
and hit several times during the rule of Seleucians until it lost its splendor,
while maintaining the magic of her name until it fell definitely to Methredat
the Parthian in 140 B.C., who built a military camp in Ctesiphon in front
of the old Seleucia.
It is to be noted that Seleucians tried to acquire the collaboration
of local population in Babylon, by granting special status to temples and
their employees and the priestly class, restituting to them many confiscated
properties. This fact resulted in a sort of revival of ancient Babylonian
culture, where natural science was mixed with divination. That is the reason
for some later Christian or Jewish authors to attribute to the name "Chaldean"
the allusion to a pagan priest and astrologer.
HISTORIC CONTEXT OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY
Roman Emperor Trajan entered Babylon in 115 B.C., while the Palace
of Nabukadnassar was still standing but the city was deserted. In fact,
the palace stood until the fourth century A.D. The whole region area remained
generally under Parthian rule1 interrupted with Roman rule intervals, until
226 AD when Ardasher, the Sassanide, killed Artaban V the last of Parthian
kings, and entered as conqueror of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 224 A.D. The Sassanides
Mesopotamia until the Arab conquest The defeat of Persians and the
victory of Arabs has been celebrated and symbolized in AlQadissiya battle,
February 19, 636 A.D.
General and comprehensive remarks:
A) A first general and comprehensive
conclusion should be made: "The civilization that we are talking about
is the product of Iraq in all of its parts, northern, middle and southern.
It is the summary of all what has been achieved by the ancient Iraqis,
in their different periods. It is not easy for the contemporary scholar
to distinguish between the different element of this civilization if they
are Sumerian or Akkadian. Babylonian or Assyrian. It is an ancient Iraqi
civilization, to which the ancient Iraqi have contributed (“Iraq in History”,
Baghdad 1983, pp.181-182).
B) A similar second conclusion should
imply that regardless of the original provenance of many settlers in Mesopotamia,
all of them, should be considered as Mesopotamian, because they were absorbed
by the culture and identity of the land, and produced their achievement
on the same land.
C) It should
be clear that the history of ancient Mesopotamia was formed and had developed
around two principal axis:
Babylon, capital of Babylonia, in the South but closer to the Middle,
and Nineveh, capital of Assyria1 in the North. Early periods showed the
Babylonian region playing a leading role, followed by the rising of Assyrian
dominance, with the pendulum returning to Babylon with the Chaldean Empire.
D) While Mesopotamian cities and states,
armies and kings, were battling each other for prominence and dominance,
they, in fact, had contributed together in the formation of one united
civilization. That unity has been achieved principally through the usage
of one common language that became a major unifying factor of their civilization.
THE LANGUAGES OF MESOPOTAMIA
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ARAMAIC
Sumerian language remains a mystery, as far as its origin and possible
linguistic connections is concerned. But the Akkadian language, which absorbed
the writing system and some vocabulary of the Sumerian, is clearly a "Semitic"
language, having many similarities with Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew.
Akkadian mingled with Sumerian until it became the lingua franca
of Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C. It had two major dialects: The Babylonian
and the Assyrian: each one with three different periods. Aramaic began
competing with Akkadian and absorbing it around the beginning of 1000 B.C,
and became the predominant language with the Chaldean empire, then more
so with the Akhemides. Nevertheless, Akkadian kept being a written language
for many more centuries. If Christians of Iraq: Chaldeans, Assyrians, and
Syrians, speak until the present day the Aramaic language, it is basically
for one reason: because they are the descendants of the ancient inhabitants
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CHALDEAN
In the following centuries, leading to its adoption by Christians
of Mesopotamia to express their ethnic and cultural identity, the Chaldean
nomenclature is based on the following reasons:
1) The Chaldean empire is the last national
self-rule by the people of Mesopotamia. It represents the last and most
illustrious glory of ancient Mesopotamia with international repercussion
through the ages. It was the prince Nabupalassar who led the Chaldean people,
surrounding Babylon, to infiltrate the fabulous city, and then control
it independently from Assyria.
2) With the Chaldean rule, the Aramaic
language became the dominant language not only of the Mesopotamian population,
but of the court and nobility as well. Though Akkadian language continued
to be used by a minority of conservative scribes for several more centuries,
Aramaic language became gradually the most popular form of communication
3) With the Chaldean rule Babylon became
the final capital of Mesopotamia, politically, administratively, and religiously.
Babylon, because of her unique splendor, became the most illustrious symbol
of Mesopotamia. For those who saw in it the celebrated image of paganism,
it was the most hated and shameful symbol. But, for everyone else, especially
for the children of Mesopotamia, Babylon remains the symbol par excellence
of their land.
CHRISTIANITY IN MESOPOTAMIA
The Establishment of the Church of the East.
Christianity spread to Mesopotamia and areas of the Persian Empire
as early as the first Christian century. Many Chaldeans and Assyrians accepted
the Gospel and gradually established the Church of the East. According
to ancient tradition, the Apostle Thomas was the first to evangelize those
regions in his Journey to India, followed by Mar Addai, one of the Seventy
Disciples of the Lord, and then by Mar Mari, his own disciple, both coming
from the missionary base which was established in Edessa On the border
of Syria and Mesopotamia.
Early in the fourth century, when Mar Papa was the Archbishop of
Seleucia-Ctesiphon, that Episcopal see of the Sassanid Capital settled
its prominence among all Episcopal sees of Mesopotamia and surrounding
areas within the boundaries of the Persian Empire, and soon became the
see of the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Church of the East. During the fourth
and the fifth century, the prominent centers of learning for this Church
of the East were Edessa and Nisibis in Upper Mesopotamia.
At the beginning of the seventh century, prior to the Islamic conquest
of Mesopotamia (634 A.D.), about one half of the population was Christian,
following the Islamic Conquest. Islam became gradually the religion of
the majority of the population. Christians and Jews were accepted in the
state and society as "the People of the Book”, and they were organized
as religious-social-and-cultural communities under their own leaders and
During the patriarchate of Timothee the Great (780-823), when the
Arab Abbasides built Baghdad as the capital of their empire, the patriarchal
see was transferred to Baghdad. The Abbasides turned to the Christian scholars
of the country for the teaching and spreading of sciences and knowledge,
especially in the field of philosophy, medicine, chemistry, astronomy and
mathematics. The Greek culture had been translated by the Mesopotamian
Christian scholars first to Aramaic-Syriac, then to Arabic, and eventually
reached the West via Spain.
CHURCH OF THE EAST: An
independent church or an integral part of a Church Catholic?
For the first four centuries of Christianity, the Church of the East
considered itself as an integral part of the Catholic, i.e. Universal,
Church. In the fifth century and later, as a consequence of political circumstances
and Christological controversies, the majority of this church accepted
the Nestorian Christological formulas --condemned in the Ephesian Council
(431 A.D.) as a valid expression of the common faith, thus isolating itself
from the Church of the Roman Empire, and therefore was called "the Nestorian
In a millennium of isolation, the Church of the East accomplished
the most prodigious and ambitious missionary expansion of the Middle Ages,
that is between the 7th and end of the 13th century. "Nestorian" monks
spread the Gospel, together with the Aramaic Alphabet and culture, among
the peoples of Khurasan, Azurbeijan, Afghanistan, Turkumanistan, Mongolia,
China, Tibet, India, Japan and the Philippines. The Stele of Si-Ngan-Fu
in China (A.D.781), and the 611 tomb-stones discovered in the province
of Semiryenchensk in Southern Siberia, all inscribed in Aramaic Estrangelo
letters, remain eloquent witnesses of the magnitude of Mesopotamian missionary
expansion and influence. The living remnant of that fervor and shared spirituality
are the three million Indians in Malabar, Kerala, who still follow the
Chaldean Rite. The Mongolian vexations and persecutions, in the first half
of the 14th century, were what decimated the children and the dioceses
of the Church of the East.
At the beginning of the 15th century, good segments of this glorious
Church, moved by the spirit of renewal, found the road of Rome again reestablishing
the ecclesiastic unity with the Catholic Church in 1553. Being shrunk to
their mother-land in Mesopotamia, the descendants of ancient Babylonians
and Assyrians found also the awareness of their ethnic and cultural identity,
resuming the last and most glorious of their ancestors names: Chaldeans.
Those who are still separated from Rome hold the name of Assyrians. Their
Church is the Assyrian Church of the East. Many members of the Chaldean
Catholic Church of Iran prefer to be called "Assyrian Catholics” in order
to express their ethnic background as well as their attachment to their
To be fair for all sides, it is right to say that both names, "Chaldeans"
and "Assyrians", are but nomenclatures designating from two perspectives
the same people.
Exchange of Positions between
Two Patriarchal Dynasties
A first phase of communion with Rome
The period that followed the conclusion of unity agreement wilt
Rome was a period of bitter struggle, even bitter fight among the children
of the Church of the East; between the camp of those who were for full
ecclesiastic and canonical communion with Rome, on one side, and the camp
of those opposing it, on the other. Youhanan Sulaka, the newly elected
Patriarch, fell martyr for the cause of unity on 12 November 1555 by the
hands of agents Turkish Pasha of Amadia, of the opposing faction.
In regard to the movement of Catholic unity, we could distinguish
three regions in Northern Mesopotamia:
1) The region of Diarbekir, Mardin
and Seert, they were the center of unity movement.
2) The region of Azurbejan Induding
Urmia, Salamas and Hekari, they were isolated areas and distant from any
communication with the Western missionaries;
3) the Nineveh region, including Rabban
Hormizd monastery, the town and cities of the plain of Mossoul, where there
was a heated struggle between the two factions, with the unity faction
After the death of Youhannan Sulaka, Mar 'Abdiso' Marun succeeded
him, having his See in Diarbekir until his death in 1567; he was succeeded
by Mar Yabbalaha who died in 1580. His successor, Mar Shimoun IX, the bishop
of Gelo and Salamas, installed his see in St. John monastery near Salamas;
the same did his successor Shimoun X; while Shimoun XI and Shimoun XII
moved the see to Urmia in the vicinity. After Shimoun IX the heredity system
was revived again for the hierarchical succession among the successors
The Successors of Sulaka
While communication were very rare between the Holy See and the
successors of Sulaka, a tenuous thread of ecclesiastic communion kept the
canonical unity alive, i.e. the professions of faith that each one of these
Patriarchs used to send to Rome. The last of these letters-profession-of-faith
is that of Shimoun XIII, sent to Pope Clement X in 1670, bearing the title
of "Letter of Mar Shimoun, Patriarch of Chaldeans” (Jamil, pp.197-200).
It was this very Patriarch who moved his Patriarchal See to Qochanis in
Hekari around 1700, severing at the same time all ties with the Roman See.
Nonetheless, the title "Patriarch of Chaldeans" stayed permanently in the
seal of this Patriarch, as well as all his successors bearing the name
of Shimoun, until the last one: Mar Shimoun XXI Ishai.
The Aboona Dynasty
At the same time, the Aboona family continued the succession of
patriarchs for the traditional patriarchal See of the East. Most of these
patriarchs adopted the name of "Elia”, they resided in Alqosh, and were
buried in the Patriarchal Cemetery of Rabban Hormizd. Thus for the period
of more than a century, the Church of the East had two dynasties of Patriarchs:
a) the dynasty of the Church of the
East, remaining in the Nestorian tradition;
b) the dynasty of Y. Sulaka, gradually
distancing itself from the Catholic communion, and eventually reverting
to the heredity system and ecclesiastic independency with Shimoun XIII,
right after 1670.
The Catholic movement, having lost the Sulaka's dynasty, returned
back to Diarbekir, its original center, and succeeded to gain Mar Yousif,
the Nestorian bishop of the city, to the unity cause, then obtained for
him the recognition of the Ottoman Sultan as "Patriarch of Chaldeans” in
1677. His successors were, Yousif II, Yousif III, Yousif IV, and Yousif
V (1803-1827). For Rome, Diarbekir region with its patriarchs was not a
satisfactory achievement. Simply, because Diarbekir could not be representative
of the Church of the East. Thus, Rome denied recognition to the last of
the Yousifs in Diarbekir.
Rome kept working for an agreement with either of the principal
dynasties: the original dynasty of the Church of the East residing in Alqosh,
and having its continuation with the Aboona Family; the other one residing
in Qochanis, which was the continuation of the dynasty of Mar Youhannan
Sulaka. At the end, Rome succeeded in concluding a solid agreement with
Mar Youhannan Hormizd Aboona in 1830 and recognized hint as "Patriarch
of Chaldeans", whose dynasty continues until the present day with the patriarchs
of the See of Babylon of Chaldeans. The dynasty of Qochanis continued its
independent course until today with the patriarchs of the Assyrian Church
of the East.
1) The children of the Church of the
East, being reduced to Mesopotamia and adjacent regions, wanted to restore
their national and cultural identity. Rome in its documents and attitude
did nothing but recognize that fact.
2) the restoration of national identity
focused from the beginning on two names: Chaldean in regard to more generic
and cultural elements, and Assyrian, reflecting the geographic region of
later residence. The choice of denomination hesitated for over a century
between the two.
3) The title of "Patriarch of Assyrian's"
was first applied to the successors of Sulaka in Communion with Rome; "Patriarch
of Babylon" was used by the Aboona Family to indicate the traditional dynasty
of the Church of the East. But later development reversed the application
of the title.
4) The name "Chaldean" was first used
by the Mesopotamian immigrants in Cyprus, then to indicate a general belonging
to a Chaldean nation. Later, in 1670, it was used by Mar Shimoun XIII,
whom official seal reads: "Mhyla Shimoun Patriarka d-Kaldaye", and was
transmitted to his successors of the Mar Shimoun dynasty in Qochanis. But,
when the Mar Yousifs Patriarchs of Diarbekir adopted the title of "Patriarch
of Chaldeans”, and have been recognized as such by the Ottoman High Gate,
it became their prerogative. The same title was sequentially transmitted
to the dynasty of Aboona Family at the moment of their reunion with Rome.
5) When Anglicans came in touch with
the independent Patriarchate of Qochanis, it was quite convenient to use
the name "Assyrian" being different from the one used by Catholics, even
though the same term has been in usage in the deals with Rome three centuries
A Swinging Pendulum between "Chaldean”
In his book "An Introduction to the History of the Assyrian
Church", published in London, England, in 1910, William Wigram says:
'Syrian' to an Englishman, does not mean 'a Syriac-speaking man';
but a man of that district between Antioch and the Euphrates where Syriac
was the vernacular once, but which is Arabic-speaking today, and which
was never the country of the 'Assyrian' Church. 'Chaldean' would suit admirably;
but it is put out of court by the fact that in modern use it means only
those members of the Church in question who have abandoned their old fold
for the Roman obedience; and 'Nestorian' has a theological significance
which is not justified. Thus it seemed better to discard all these, and
to adopt a name which has at least the merit of familiarity to most friends
of the Church today." (p. VIII)
Finally, It is our conclusion and consistent position that both names
are correct and valid.
The name Assyrian is justified:
1) It indicates the geographic region
and people, where Christianity had originated and preserved itself from
apostolic times until today.
2) It indicates a great empire and
civilization that dominated Mesopotamia and the whole Middle East for almost
a millennium, from 1500 BC until the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC.
3) It is specific and neat in its indication
to identity. Nineveh, preserved better than other regions the continuity
of Aramaic culture until recent times.
4) It has a biblical connotation through
the story of Jonah the prophet and his preaching to the Ninevites.
The name Chaldean is justified:
1) It is the last national name reflecting
Mesopotamian identity before having the country conquered by foreigners.
2) The Chaldeans were an Aramaic people;
during their rule, the Aramaic language became the dominant language of
Mesopotamia and the lingua franca of the Middle East.
3) Babylon, or the cities around it
(Seleucia-Ctesiphon and Baghdad), was for most periods of history the administrative,
cultural, and symbolic capital of Mesopotamia. In religious as well as
civil history, for Christians and pagans alike, Babylon is the most illustrious
name of all.
4) Compared with the "Assyrian" name,
the name "Chaldean” reflects a more comprehensive and generic identity.
At the dawn of the new millennium, waking up after two centuries
of the last major ecclesiastic split of our people, we have to realize
that having established two ecclesiastic jurisdictions, within the frame
of the legacy of the Church of the East, has led gradually to the formation
of two distinct communities, each one of them having developed some different
liturgical practices, as well as variant cultural and social patterns.
Therefore, to restore this Church to its primordial unity, and to
bring its Chaldean and Assyrian people to share, in a united nation, the
same heritage, and walk together toward a common destiny, will require
to deal not only with theological and ecclesiastical matters but with cultural
and social issues as well. That is the challenge of our generation.
of Pictures shown above. Starting from top to bottom:
Assyrian horseman in a hunting pose. Found carved on the walls of North
Palace of Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC) in Nineveh.
of color-glazed brick, this 40-foot-tall, speculative reconstruction of
the façade of Nabuchadnezzer’s (604 - 562 BC) throne room stands in a
gallery of Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum. The lions, perhaps
symbolic of the goddess Ishtar and royalty, and portions of the border are
original; their reassembly was aided by matching up coded marks made on
the bricks by ancient Babylonian craftsman.
Nabuchadnezzer, the walls of the Processional Way, which ran from the
Temple of Marduck through the Ishtar Gate toward the Akitu temple, were
decorated with glazed relief figures of striding lions. Height of lion is
the Assyrian King Sargon palace in Khorsabad, those 14-foot-tall winged
bulls are displayed in the Khorsabad Courtyard of Louver Museum of Paris. To
facilitate their shipment from Mesopotamia to Paris, they were sawed in
pieces by their discoverer, Botta.
of Bishop Sarhad Jammo, current Chaldean Bishop of Western states of
United States of America.
of Gudea, ruler of Lagash (2100 BC) found in the temple of the goddess
Geshtinanna at Girsu.
granulated gold work frames an exquisite palm tree mosaic of semi-precious
stones set in lapis lazuli. Perhaps symbolizing the Sacred Tree often
depicted in Assyrian art. This eighth century-BC pendant was found in 1989
in a queen’s t
omb at Nimrud, in Iraq.
nearly symmetrical graved figures of Ashurbanipal II face a stylized
Sacred Tree and are flanked by benevolent genies. Raising a pine cone in
the right hand and carrying a bucket in the left, each genie performs a
divine ritual giving magical protection. In this stone relief from
Northwest palace at Nimrud, the king, in his role as high priest, lifts
his hand in worship to the winged disk overhead, where the God Assur
Gate of Ishtar at Babylon, Iraq.
Aramaic scripture of a science book. Other details unknown.
Chaldean Monastery in Elqosh, northern Iraq. Built around 4th
century AD by the Persian Monk Hirmizd.
picture of Raban (Monk) Hirmizd Monastery.
showing the past 11 Patriarchs of the Chaldean Church starting from right
to left by the picture of Patriarch Youhanna Sulaka who introduced
Catholicism to the followers of the Church of the East in 1552, resulting
in the latter division into two sections, the Assyrian church and the
Chaldean church. More information on the picture can be found at: http://www.chaldeansonline.org/prevpatr.html
the 9th century BC mounted soldiers rode in pairs so that one
could control both horses while the other used his bow. Saddles and
stirrups had not yet been invented. Relief from Assyrian Northwest Palace
of the Chaldean flag.
Picture of the Assyrian flag
For more information on the subject,
try the following links:
Nation-Two Names..The Chaldean/Assyrian Dilemma
of the East and Its Two Halves (In Arabic)
National Rights in Beth Nahreen
Chaldeans/Assyrians Under the Arab Baath Regime of Iraq
Christian Churches destroyed by Saddam
Encyclopædia Britannica: Chaldea
Herodotus: Babylonia, Chaldea, and Assyria..430 BC
Encyclopedia: Chaldean Christians