Posted by From the archives from LTU-207-73-64-49.LTU.EDU (184.108.40.206) on Monday, June 10, 2002 at 11:05AM :
Written by Fr. Frank Kallabat
To discuss the history of the Chaldeans, one cannot ignore the whole history of Mesopotamia, of which the Chaldeans were a small, but significant, part who were influenced by their predecessors. Chaldeans are natives of the region that is known as Mesopotamia (Greek for the land between the two rivers). It is the region between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in what is today encompassing the country of Iraq and parts of Syria, Iran and Turkey. The land in this region was fertile due to the natural irrigation that came from the two rivers. This fertile land, also known as the Fertile Crescent due to the crescent like region that it encompassed, gave birth to civilization.
Around 7000 B.C. man ceases to be a wandering hunter and actually becomes a farmer attached to his land for regular food supply. According to archeological findings, the history of civilization began to take shape in this region until the fourth millenium B.C. For the first time in history around 3300 B.C. writing appears in the form of pictographic tablets in this region and a civilization is born known as the Sumerians. These Sumerians began a campaign of self-rule for Mesopotamia that lasted until the 6th century B.C. During this time, Mesopotamia was ruled indigenously by the following powers: Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and finally the Chaldeans, also known as the neo-Babylonians. Though at times other foreign powers invaded and also ruled the region, indigenous rule still remained in some form until 539 B.C. when the Persians defeated the last Chaldean king.
The Sumerians, born and bred in Southern Iraq, gave birth to the first notion of an organized society. This became known as the Cradle of Civilization (because it was the first of its kind in the world). This people exerted a deep influence on all the cultures and empires that followed in Mesopotamia and later to influence such great civilizations that arose in its neighborhood such as the regions that are known today as Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria and even as far away as Egypt. After its disappearance as a nation in 2000 B.C., its model of culture was adopted and carried over with little modification up to the 6th century B.C. with the defeat of the Chaldeans. Not too many cultures can boast of a thousand year rule and three thousand years of influence.
The Sumerians fell prey to the Akkadians in 2334 B.C. Though the Sumerians are acknowledged as providing humanity with the first civilization, the Akkadians, under the leadership of Sargon the great, gave the first empire for the world to know when all of Mesopotamia was unified under one rule. Though both civilizations were native to Iraq, the Akkadians were different for they were Semitic. This adjective “Semitic” was coined in 1781 to qualify a group of closely related languages and subsequently the people who spoke that language. The title comes from Shem (or Sam depending on the translation) the son of Noah found in the Old Testament in Genesis 10:21-31. This Shem is the alleged father of the Akkadians and consequently the Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and the Babylonian off-shoot, the Hebrews. Among the Semitic languages, Akkadian (the language of the Babylonians and Assyrians) is dead while Aramaic, Arabic and the newly resurrected Hebrew are still alive.
The Akkadians ruled for about 140 years and were finally defeated by foreign powers. In 2120 the Sumerians mustered enough strength to combat the foreigners and muscle their powers one more time. It lasted for about 150 years to only fall once again to foreign rule. This final blow to the Sumerians became one of the major turning points in the history of ancient Iraq. Not only were the Sumerians were expelled from Iraq forever, but also Mesopotamia had been shattered into a variety of kingdoms. For about two centuries these kingdoms existed under foreign rule until a great city in Southern Iraq named Babylon became powerful enough to compete with these foreigners. In 1792 B.C. Hammurabi, the Babylonian king, rid the region from foreign rule to claim sovereignty over Mesopotamia.
Known as one of the greatest Mesopotamian monarchs, Hammurabi was not merely a successful war leader, for he was a skillful diplomat who was famous for his Code of Law. Though not the first of its kind, because the highly civilized Sumerians were the first in the world to codify law, Hammurabi’s Code of Law proved great justice unseen before its time and copies of which dated until the 6th century B.C. It actually gave legal protection for all of its citizens making the laws of all other civilizations barbaric in comparison.
After Hammurabi’s death, the Babylonian Empire began a downgrade spiral that was caused by revolt in some of the city-states as well as in the court itself. By 1595 B.C. the much weakened Babylonians saw themselves overrun and thus once again Mesopotamia was ruled by foreign powers. This lasted until the rise of the mighty Assyrians in the 14th century.
The Assyrians lived in Upper Mesopotamia having Ashur and Nineveh, and later Nimrod, as their main cities. Mesopotamia began to take notice of them early on from the 19th century then under the rule of Hammurabi. In the 14th century, Mesopotamia still under foreign rule saw the rise of one of its own. In 1365 Ashur-uballit, the Assyrian King, freed the northern region of Mesopotamia from the foreigners giving them autonomy. Still not strong enough to liberate all of Mesopotamia, the Assyrians were gaining momentum to make their mark in history only to quickly loose it as a result of inner struggles as well as constant attacks from its enemies.
In the 10th century B.C. Assyria reassembled itself and awoke from its long sleep to notice the lack of unity from its enemies. After losing many campaigns and standing on the verge of economic destruction, she recognized that she was still solid and tough. Her main cities being free, she had men that were trained by years of almost constant fighting making them the best warriors in the world. In 911 B.C. under a strong monarch, Assyria loosened the grips of its enemies and made their stand to again unify Mesopotamia under one rule and free from foreign hands. This was done under very cruel means. Though all the conquerors in ancient times were brutal, it was the Assyrians who brought cruelty to new heights. This was done to spurn fear in the hearts of their enemies. For all those who would not embrace the feet of the Assyrians saw themselves tortured, their population massacred or enslaved, the towns and villages set on fire, the crops burned and the trees uprooted. The booty that was gained by war made Assyria the richest empire standing. Unlike the empires that ruled before them, using diplomatic means to maintain peace in the region, the Assyrians used fear to maintain sovereignty. This bully mentality gave strength to the Assyrians and also led to their demise.
In 612 B.C. the Assyrian empire collapsed under the hands of the Chaldeans. Though their true origin is vague, Chaldeans were still indigenous to Mesopotamia. They later took on a Babylonian identity thus making the Chaldean Empire as the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The Chaldeans, or the Kaldu tribe as they were known, were first mentioned by the Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser III in the ninth century B.C. They were nomads who had settled in the swamps located in the lower valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates. In his annals, Shalmaneser III paints a picture of the Chaldeans as being tribal who were governed under individual Shaikh. Some Chaldean tribes had also made their dwellings in the city. One such famous city was Ur where later on to be named Ur of the Chaldeans. The most famous resident of that city was Abram, later to be known as Abraham from the Old Testament who became the father of the Hebrews.
In the eighth century B.C. the Chaldean tribes were organized under one leader named Eriba-Marduk beginning a Chaldean dynastic line. Having assimilated themselves to Babylonian life and identity, Chaldeans took on an active role in Babylonian politics. So much so that in 747 B.C. Nabu-nasir claimed to be “King of Babylon.” During his reign, a new history of Babylon begins. Precise records are kept and highly accurate astronomical observations were kept giving the very term Chaldean to signify “astronomer”. Also, many “diaries” were kept listing astronomical observations as well as matters such as commodity prices, river levels and weather.
Under the leadership of Nebopolassar in 639 B.C. the Chaldeans were growing in strength and in stature making them a force to be reckoned with. Assyria could no longer avoid them and thus declared war on them in 623 B.C. For seven years, the Chaldeans resisted the Assyrians under many bloody battles. Falling into dire straights, the Assyrians asked the assistance of the Egyptians. The Chaldeans, joined with the Medes of modern day Iran, seized the opportunity and attacked Assyria. By the end of 612 B.C. the three capital cities of Assyria fell; Ashur, the religious metropolis, Nineveh, the administrative center, and Nimrud, the military headquarters. The war actually raged on for another three years until the Assyrian might was no longer and Assyria virtually wiped off the map.
Around 607 B.C. the ageing Nebopolassar left the war campaigns to his son Nebuchadnessar II, named after the great Babylonian monarch of the twelfth century B.C. In 605 B.C. Nebopolassar died leaving the empire in the hands of his son. Nebuchadnessar II soon set his sight on rebellion within his empire. One such famous rebellion was in Jerusalem when Johoiakim refused to pay tribute. On 16 March 597 B.C. Jerusalem was captured and its young king was deported together with 3,000 Jews. The king was replaced by one Mattaniah who soon after also led a revolt against the Babylonian monarch. On 29 July 587 B.C. Jerusalem was captured again and Mattaniah was captured. Thousands of Jews were deported with their king and a native governor was appointed. Jerusalem was then looted, its walls were broken down and the house of worship, the Temple of Solomon, was brought to ruins. In 562 B.C. Nebuchadnessar died leaving the throne to the usual lawless monarchs who were conspired against and killed. In 539 B.C. Mesopotamian self rule ended under Mesopotamia’s last indigenous monarch Nabonidus. This end came under the Persian king Cyrus II ending the Chaldean Empire.
Though short lived, the rule of the Chaldean kings left many gifts to the world. As successors of the great leaders of the preceding empires, they were able to continue the heritage that was first established by the Sumerians. Thus they are a segment of a montage of Mesopotamian monarchs. Whether Babylonian or Assyrian, Akkadian or Sumerian, Mesopotamia basically functioned as a mosaic with each piece inventing or mastering something great.
Far from being destroyed like its rival Nineveh, Babylon was treated with the utmost respect after the fall of the Chaldean Empire. From the first day of Persian occupation, care was taken not to offend the Babylonians in any way. Babylon under Persian rule ended on 1 October 331 B.C. when Alexander the Great made his triumphal entry and made a sacrifice to the Babylonian god Marduk to gain favor of its citizens. Babylonians hailed him as its savior and quickly accepted him as their king. On 13 June 323 B.C. Alexander died in Babylon himself leaving behind a divided empire. A partial survival of the city of Babylon continued until the first century A.D. but Chaldeans were still present with their language, religion and culture in tact while still making advancements in science and astronomy.
With the dawn of Christianity, Mesopotamia was changing in a radical new way. During the first century A.D. Christianity entered Mesopotamia. It was first done by accident when some Mesopotamians who were in Jerusalem heard the preaching of Peter regarding the resurrection of Jesus (see Acts 2:9). There are some who actually contend that the seeds of Christianity entered Mesopotamia by means of the Magi who came from the East to visit the baby Jesus. Since they were stargazers, the probability of them being Mesopotamian or even Chaldean is high. This, of course, is pure speculation but one that is found on a strong base since the very religion of the Chaldeans during the beginning of the first century A.D. had degenerated to magic, sorcery and the worship of the stars. Though tradition claims that they came from Persia, they could still be Mesopotamians since that region belonged to, and thus was part of, the Persian Empire.
The most significant way that Christianity entered Mesopotamia was by means of St. Thomas the apostle while journeying to India. St Thomas left his disciple Addai in Mesopotamia and sent him to Edessa to cure an ailing king named Abjar Oukama. Addai, also known in the Bible as Thaddeus, was one of the 70 disciples of Jesus. Addai was sent to accomplish this healing to fulfill the promise that Jesus Christ had made to Abjar. Tradition claims, as attested by the first Church Historian Eusebius Pamphilius in the fourth century A.D., that Abjar was hopelessly ill and sought the healing aid of Jesus through a carrier named Ananias. In this letter, Abjar mentions that he sought Jesus due to His fame as a healer. He also offers Jesus a place to live because he had also heard that the Jewish leaders were persecuting Him. Jesus responded through the same carrier Ananias that He cannot come but will send him one of his disciples to work the cure. This was done in the person of St. Thomas who sent his disciple Addai to work this miraculous healing.
As Christianity was flourishing in Mesopotamia, an identity change began to take place. Converts to Christianity refused to acknowledge their ethnic and cultural background due to the fact that it may confuse them with the pagan faith that is assimilated with that culture. For example Chaldeans that converted to Christianity refused to be called Chaldean because there were still pagan Chaldean rituals that were taking place by the remnant Chaldeans. This was not only true for Chaldeans alone but was true of all of the inhabitants of Mesopotamian and its neighbors such as ancient Iran. They preferred to call themselves Christians and took up the name the ‘Church of the East’.
In the fifth century A.D. the Church of the East separated herself from the center of Christianity, Rome, for two reasons; political and religious. The political reason is that the Church of the East in Mesopotamia was ruled by the Persian Empire while the Pope of Rome was under their bitter enemies; the Roman Empire. Of course a violent and bloody persecution of the Christians in the East in the fourth century A.D. helped to reach this separation. The religious reason comes from a teaching that was known as Nestorianism (see religion below).
The Chaldean identity took a sharp change in the seventh century with the onslaught of the Islamic Arab invasion. With the expansion of the Muslim religion into Mesopotamia, all inhabitants were put to the sword unless they converted. The exception were the people who the Muslims called “the people of the Book” that is the Jews and the Christians, though they were under heavy taxations. This religious campaign that was carried out effectively ended the indigenous faith of Mesopotamia that was begun by the Sumerians and carried on, with certain adaptations, by the Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and finally the Chaldeans. It died on the edge of the blade of the Muslim Arabs and was completely wiped from the face of the earth. Interestingly, though, the name Chaldean and Babylonian was then picked up by the same faith that first rejected them, that is Christianity.
With the end of the pagan worship of the Chaldeans, the Church of the East began to use this identity in its title, though not officially. So much so that some texts began to refer to Chaldeans not as the worshipers of the stars, but as the Christians who were living in that region. There is evidence that in the ninth century A.D. the Patriarch of the East, that is the supreme head of the Church in that region, was referred to as the Patriarch of Babylon.
In 1444 the title Chaldean Catholic Church was introduced officially to distinguish them from their Nestorian counterparts (see religion below). This title was sealed in 1554 when John Sulaka, the first Patriarch to formally profess solidarity with Rome after the separation in the fifth century, was named the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon. This does not necessitate that all who belong to this Church are truly the remnants of the old Babylonians or Chaldeans of ancient Mesopotamia. This is true due to the fact that early in its history, the Church of the East embraced all of its surrounding cultures including, but not limited to, the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Indians, Persians, Arabs, Chinese, Mongolians and much more. Therefore no one can claim with certainty that they are Chaldean. But the Church did not pick up the name Chaldean for no reason for probably many Chaldeans had embraced the faith. Therefore, just as the ancient Chaldeans assimilated to Babylonian Culture, so did the Christian inhabitants of Mesopotamia in taking the title ‘Chaldean’. As a result, no one can claim for certain to be Chaldean based on purity of blood, for the name is adopted as a result of assimilation.
Akkadian was the language that was spoken by the Babylonians and Assyrians and, obviously, the Akkadians. But as early as the eighth century B.C. Aramaic, the language of the Aramaeans began to compete with Akkadian. Aramaeans were a group of Semitic tribes who roamed the Syrian desert and who began to move into Mesopotamia in the eleventh century B.C. This influence was due partly to the sheer weight of their number and partly to the fact that they adopted a practical script that was much easier than the pictographic methods of the Akkadian script.
By about 500 B.C. the foreigners that ruled this land, known as the Achaemenians, looked for a tongue that could be understood by all their subjects. They chose Aramaic, which became the lingua franca, that is the common language, of Mesopotamia and the Middle East. With the arrival of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. Greek became the official language but Aramaic remained the unchallenged dialect of all the people. In the seventh century A.D. with the dawn of the Arab invasion, Arabic became the official language and subsequently that of the people. The Arabic script itself actually derives from a cursive form of Aramaic.
Even though the Arabic was forced upon the people to become the spoken language of the Middle East, Christians in Mesopotamia preserved the Aramaic language. Jesus himself spoke this language which became a source of pride for the Mesopotamians. Even though Arabic was being forced by the Muslims on their subjects, Aramaic was preserved in the Christian Church as a distinguishing mark from the conquering Arabs. The language was especially preserved in its many dialects in the secluded regions of Christian towns and villages, and its classic form is preserved liturgically, that is in the prayers of the Church. Today this language is still spoken in its many dialects and its classic form is still prayed around the world.
Religion of the Chaldeans
The religious nature of the Sumerian civilization that sprang up from prehistory was, as mentioned above, ‘Mesopotamian’ in origin and was adopted with little modification by all the cultures that followed. The gods of Sumer were therefore worshiped for more than three thousand years, until the fall of the Chaldean Empire. These gods were not all of equal stature. The dominant three were An, Enlil and Enki. An (Anu in Akkadian), the “king” of all the gods, was originally the highest power of all the gods who was also the creator of the heavens and the begetter of many other gods. He was the god in charge of the heavenly affairs. At a certain time, though, the Sumerians then elevated their patron god Enlil to supremacy. When the Babylonians took over, he was dethroned by Marduk, the patron god of Babylon. Enlil was the creator of the world and then took charge of the human affairs. Enki (or Ea) created the apsű , that is the sweet waters where the earth rests. These Mesopotamians saw the earth as a flat disc surrounded with a rim of mountains and floating on an ocean of sweet waters known as the apsű. Not only was Enki the god of the fresh waters that flow in rivers and lakes that bring life to the Tigris and Euphrates, he was also the ‘inventor’ god whose intelligence gave birth to the sciences, arts and magic. If Enlil created the world, Enki gave it its intelligence.
Along with the male gods, there were the female goddesses. While many were merely wives of the male gods, some fulfilled specific functions. Prominent of which were the mother-goddess Ninhursag (also known as Ninmah or Nintu) and Inanna (or Ishtar for the Semites). So great was Inanna, being the goddess of carnal love and war, that she led her armies into war elevating her to the ranks of the male gods.
The story of creation for the Mesopotamians have a few legends. One such legend is found in the Babylonian version known for its first line as the Enuma elish which is translated as ‘When on high . . .’ This epic describes the creation not as a beginning but actually as an end result of a cosmic battle between the good and bad gods. When Apsu the god of the fresh waters and Tiamat the goddess of the earth gave birth to deities, these children were noisy and a nuisance and so the parents wished to kill them. Ea, the wise and good god wished to spare them and so had Apsu put to sleep under a spell and then killed. Ea retired to his sweet waters, the apsű, and then with his wife Damkina begot Marduk. Meanwhile Tiamat, who was still alive and free, declared war on the gods. She created a fierce army of dragons and monsters and placed her son Kingu as its head. All the gods feared this army and no one dared to do battle with them. Marduk accepted with the condition that he be proclaimed as the supreme god. Having no other choice, the gods accepted. Marduk did battle and won. He slayed Tiamat by splitting her creating with one half the sky and the other he placed beneath the earth. In this new sky he put the universe in order by fixing the course of the sun, the moon and the stars and then decided to create man. On Ea’s advice Kingu was put to death and from his blood Marduk and his father fashioned the first human being to labor for the gods. Therefore, mankind was created to be the servant of the gods and had in its very nature the evil blood of Kingu, which accounted for its wickedness.
When Christianity found its way into this region, Mesopotamians saw themselves as faithful Christians no different from those who were in Jerusalem, Rome or anywhere else in the world. They officially called their church as the Church of the East. But in the fifth century A.D., the Christians in Mesopotamia embraced a teaching that is known as Nestorianism. Named after its leader Nestorius, this false teaching, also known as a heresy, was condemned by the Christian Church at large and especially by the Pope in Rome due to the way it dealt with the nature of Christ; as Jesus the man being separate from Christ the Son of God though both inhabiting the same body. Though the Church in Mesopotamia never really adhered to this teaching, it embraced it formally to separate itself from the Church in Rome so that it can become independent.
This separation continued until a small number of these Christians gave their allegiance to the Pope of Rome. In doing so the Pope gave them a title to distinguish them from their Nestorian brothers and thus named them the Chaldean Catholics. This name became permanent when a large segment of the Nestorians in Mesopotamia not only returned to union with Rome, but also elected an official Patriarch that would govern them. Rome then officially recognized this Church as the Chaldean Catholic Church. This Church teaches in faith all that the Catholic Church teaches but celebrates its faith in prayer in a different way due to the differing traditions. Thus they are not a Christian sect but a self-governing Church that has allegiance with the Pope of Rome. One example of a celebration that is particular to the Chaldean Catholic Church is the three-day fast known as Baoutha. It is done in commemoration of a miraculous end of an epidemic that was ravaging the northern region of Mesopotamia.
Inventions and Accomplishments
So much has been accomplished by the original inhabitants of Mesopotamia that only a brief summary for now will do.
Civilization: Probably the greatest service that Mesopotamia gave to the world was that of civilization. As mentioned above, the Sumerians were not only the first to reach civilization status, but they also influenced the neighboring cultures so that they too may excel.
Sciences: Astronomy, mathematics
Inventions: The wheel, irrigation, agriculture, musical instruments such as the lyre
Codified Law: The Sumerians were the first to codify law in order to govern with justice. The most famous of the codes that is found in tact is that of the Babylonian monarch Hammurabi.
Writing: The Sumerians were the first to invent writing, in the form of pictographs, or picture writing, and used a clay medium as well as stone. It was this writing that later on influenced the Egyptian hieroglyphics. The earliest tablets found thus far deal with accounting purposes only. Later on it would develop to include such things as mythology, history etc.
Architecture: One of the greatest accomplishments of the Mesopotamians is found in its architecture. The Sumerians who erected Ziggurats as a means to give worship to the gods found its mention in the Old Testament as the Tower of Babel. Evidence now suggests that the Egyptians were inspired by these massive monuments of worship. There is also the monumental structure that was known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. So great is this edifice that it is known today as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was erected by Nebuchadnessar II as a gesture of love for his wife. She, coming from the mountainous regions of her home, longed for such a place where she lived. Nebuchadnessar’s architects therefore improvised to give her this man-made mountain that had running streams and complex irrigation.
Mythology: The mythology of the Mesopotamians in many ways influenced that of the Greeks and later the Romans. One such story is that of the god Adonis who was Dumuzi (or Tammuz) in Sumer. He is found in a Greek legend where Persephone and Aphrodite quarreled for him and Zeus had to intervene. This was originally the Sumerian mythology of Inanna’s descent to the Netherworld.
Missionary: When Mesopotamia was conquered by the Arabs, and Islam became the official religion in the seventh century A.D., Christianity in the beginning was allowed to exist but not spread. Evangelization in the Arab-dominated region was punishable by death to the preacher and convert. Therefore, the Church in Mesopotamia embarked on many missionary routes outside of the Muslim region. They established churches in such distant lands as China, Korea, Philippines, Afghanistan and even Russia. At its time, it was the largest missionary group in the world. A monument in China in the Xi An Fu province was uncovered that dictates in detail how Christianity first arrived into China. This monument was written in both Chinese and Aramaic.
Preservation of Greek Philosophy: In the Christian era, two main centers of learning were created in Edessa and Nissibin. These two schools became very prominent for their studies in philosophy and religion. The scholars of these two Christian centers in Mesopotamia translated Greek philosophy, such as that of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, into Aramaic. These were then translated into Arabic and were later studied by the Arabs. By this time, these books were lost in the west and were “rediscovered” through the Arabs via Spain. These writings would have been lost forever if the Christian scholars had not preserved them in Aramaic.
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