Part 1: Transcript from the Great Debate

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Posted by Jeff from LTU-207-73-65-124.LTU.EDU ( on Wednesday, July 17, 2002 at 5:02PM :

*** This is riddled with spelling errors. Feel free to offer corrections.

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The Great Debate

Marzillier: Before we start, I'd like to introduce the president of the college, Dr. Tyree Weider, to welcome you to the college.


Dr. Weider: Thank you Leon. Several months ago, I believe it was, it was brought to my attention that we had some information that had been posted on the college web site or on a web site by one of our faculty members that some members of the community found somewhat objectionable and felt that they had another side of the story to tell. So, we had a meeting, with this wonderful gentleman here, Mr. Par-HAD...did I say that correctly?

(Mr. Parhad nods)

And... good enough?

Fred: Parhad.

Dr. Weider: Parhad. Parhaad. Ok. And we talked about what we could... "What could we as a college do to try to put some balance to the information that had been distributed?" and so we talked about it and said well this might be a good way to do it -- to have a forum, so that people could come together and talk and exchange ideas, and so that's what we decided to do. We waited a little bit because it was during finals and we were... the students were finishing up their finals and then we had summer session, so, this was the first time we were able to get everyone together and that's what we hoped would happen today. So, this is an opportunity for information, and for people to exchange ideas, and that's what a college community is about. So, on... in that light I welcome you all here, and we wanted to have this taped so that other people have the opportunity to watch it. So thank you very much, and I think it's going to be a very interesting period of time. Thank you.

(Applause. Dr. Weider shakes Mr. Parhad's hand, then Dr. Ross')

Marzillier: As I said, I'm the president of the Faculty association. I don't know anything much about this subject because my discipline is mathematics, but I'm going to moderate it and so I'm going to introduce the speakers and let you know a little bit about the ground rules.

On my left here is Mr. Fred Parhad. He is an Assyrian sculptor, born in Baghdad, Iraq. And the Assyrian community worldwide has provided funding enabling him to create three Assyrian monuments which have been presented as gifts to the American people.

The monument of Ashurb-- Ashurbanipal..excuse my pronounciation (he chuckles).. was installed in San Francisco in 1988, The monument of Queen Shumirum, called Semiramis by the Greeks, was accepted for installation by Chicago, and a third monument of Hammurabi is currently being made for Detroit. Mr. Parhad has kindly donated this sculpture to the college and it is a representation which is particularly Assyrian - it is a bull's body, with a king's head, and wings. So, we thank you for that.

[The sculpture is of the Lamasu]

On my right is Dr. Kelley Ross, who is a professor of philosophy at Los Angeles Valley College and he has been since 1987. He attended the university of New Mexico, followed by UCLA, where he got his bachelor's. And during his stay at UCLA he spent one year at the American University of Beirut. And then he got his Masters at the university of Hawaii, and his Ph.D. at the university of Texas.

So, the ground rules for this forum were that Mr. Parhad would present for 10 minutes, followed by Dr. Ross for 10 minutes, and then 5 minutes-- up to five minutes each if they wanted to respond to it.. what each other said. And then if.. there's a microphone on the floor if the.. and members of the audience would like to make a comment or ask a question, followed by a responses of a couple of minutes each for each of the speakers...and then we would wrap it up with five minutes summation after that. So, those are the ground rules for the forum. SO, without any further ado, I'd like to introduce Mr. Fred Parhad.


Parhad: Thank you. This paper that I became aware of, that our community became aware of, that was written by Dr. Ross was presented to students in his class and it was titled "Notes on MODERN Assyrians" and that became a matter of concern to me and to several of us in the community because we are concerned with what our young people learn about our own history from other people in this country - we are having a hard enough time teaching them our own history ourselves so we did not appreciate the sorts of comments that were coming.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Weider and Dr. Ross. They were under no obligation to do this. Dr. Ross did not have to agree to have a debate forum on this subject, and I think it was very forthright and forthcoming that he would be willing to do that.

It seems to me there are some points in the paper that are significant. One of the overriding concerns I have is that we seem to be judging the past by the standards of the present and I think that's a mistake whenever you do that - it's bad scholarship.

The questions that I saw in the the paper were:
Were the Assyrians more cruel or barbaric than any of their Contemporaries? Another one would be: What was their relationship to the Hebrews? Another one is: Are modern-day Assyrians related to the ancient Assyrians, can they claim that? And who have the Assyrians influenced? Have they influenced anybody in any civilization past their own? And of course the Bible and the Assyrains.

The period of time that I am concerned with in this paper is the Neo-Assyrian empire from about 1000BC on beacuse that seems to coincide with the biblical tales that include the Assyrians...and it's from there that I think most of Western Civilization has learned what they have learned about the Assyrians. Now, in the last 100 years of Assyriology the predominant view has been whatever was written in the Old Testament about the Assyrians. Current scholarship is finding that there is a lot more in the cuneiform tablets that have been stored in the vaults of several museums around the world from the British to the Berlin to the Louvre...many of these are just being read, and what they are telling us about the Assyrians and their culture and their civilization has opened up many many things about them that we never even dreamed of before - I certainly didn't. In many ways I'm an ignorant person but then I am in good company. There's nothing wrong with being ignorant, except if you insist on staying that way, then you're stupid. I have learned a lot in researching this subject, things that I didn't even know about my own culture - and for that I do thank Dr. Ross - and I hope that he can benefit by the things that we might be able to enlighten him about.

The first point is "Were the Assyrians more cruel than any of their contemporaries?" I would like to reference an article by someone named H.W.F. Saggs. He is an Englishman, he is a writer, and he has written a lot about Assyrian History. He says in his article "Assyrian Prisoners of War and the Right to Live" that "there is no comparative evidence that has yet been deduced to establish the commonly held belief that the Assyrians were inordinantly and arbitrarily brutal towards conquered people." There is none. "They merely suffered the misfortune of running afoul of one of the world's most effective and enduring propaganda machines: the Israelite prophetic movement. With it's ability to still...with it's" - excuse me... "with it's ability still to mold the thought of many in the the Western World two and a half millenia later."

As an example... I don't want to make this a lesson in history.. I mean, there are many many sources that I can refer you to, but I would just like to hit on a few of them and talk rather than read... he makes a comparison between King Sol and his war on the Malakites, and you might also know of the Midyonites but let's stick with the Malakites. The entire tribe of the Malakites were wiped out. Men, women, and children. They were wiped out because 200 years earlier, they had crossed the Israelites as they left Egypt, coming back. Everybody was killed. As Mark Twain said: "Not even the Comanches would do a thing like that."

In contrast, the Assyrian kings reserved their harshest punishment for those who rebelled. They made a distinction between rebellion and crossing borders. If you crossed the borders into Assyria you would be attacked, you would not be wiped out. Their use of violence against prisoners was judiciously used, it was not used indiscriminantly. They did not wipe out men, women, and children.

It's a little odd to have to stand up here and defend my culture of 2000 years ago when all around me I can see a comntmporary history, the treatment of people (prisoners included) that matches in barbarity anything we were accused of doing.

Very often when enemy people were defeated, it was only the king and the royal family that were taken off to captivity. They were treated well. There is a passage where the king Tiglath-Pilessar warns his general, who is in charge of the prisoners of war, that if any of them come to harm, it will mean his life.

The basic difference was that the Assyrians were not racialists. They accepted people of all different cultures and different religions - they had their temples in their capital cities, whereas the Israelits and their God Yahweh were tribal. Their god was for them and them alone.

Ashur, the king of the Assyrians, was a universal God. When people were defeated they were welcomed into Nineveh, into Ashur, and by the Babylonians into Babylon. They had temples built their of their own kings. Many, many an enemy king - Josaiah for one, Jeuwakhin for another, ... were taken to Nineveh, or taken to Babylon. They lived there well, at the King's expense. In the case of.. I believe it was Jeuwahkin I believe it was Nebuchadnessar who took him and his royal family there, kept them for 37 years, and released him to go back, still as king, to Judah.

If you want to list Assyrian atrocities that the Bible claims happened we can only go back 50 years and talk about what the Germans did but we don't need to go that far back - we've had several instances of war recently and people can be cruel. But there is no evidence, no evidence at all that the Assyrians were inordinantly cruel and any more cruel than the people around them. But yet there is a lot more evidence that they treated their prisoners of war with much more consideration than was afforded to others.

And a lot of it, by the way, was propaganda. There is a quote, by Olmsted, another great writer in the field, and a scholar. He says "Assyrians have been accused of spilling oceans of blood. They did so, in their statistics. All historians know that the statistics of enemy loss are enormously overestimated... even in these days of statistical associations and professors of statistics. Yet it has been the fashion of many Orientalists not merely to accept the Assyrian statistics at face value, but if there was a choice of numbers, to take the higher."

That's the point about Assyrians being more brutal than others at that time.

In Dr. Ross' paper there was also a statement which I found very offensive, personally. And it said that the Assyrians killed more Jews than even Hitler did, in percentage, not in total numbers but in a percentage. This is the old notion that the Babylonians (more than the Assyrians) took away the 10 tribes of Israel and somehow they were lost to history. There were no 10 tribes of Israel taken away. Nebuchadnessar took about 4000 members of the Royal Family, of the people... of the Jews that he defeated. They were not subject to slavery. They were not mistreated in any way. There are several, several records of people going to work for Sargon the second - the Assyrian king - going as charioteers, as mercenaries, as business men... the Assyrian empire was the most wealthy and powerful one of its day. The city of Babylon was an amazing city. Many, many Jews remained in Babylon even when Cyrus captured babylon and set them free. Many of them returned. Many of them remained there. Jews have been in Mesopotamia since they were first taken there - and they have remained there. There were no 10 tribes. Cyrus Gordon, the orientalist, has written about this as have many, many others. This is a common myth and it was mentioned in Dr. Ross' paper.

There are many many parallels in the Old Testament to Assyrian and Babylonian and even earlier mythology. The story of Moses and the reeds and the boat is the story of Sargon the first, Sargon of Akkad, Sargon of Aggadi. The dreams that were forecast by Joseph - the pharaoe's dreams that Joseph told... Sargon did the same thing and much earlier. In the Epic of Gilgamish there is a mention of the precursor of Noah. His name was Napishtum. Uta-Napishtum. It was not Noah.

The story of Genesis, and many other of these myths can be found in Babylonian, in Assyrian, in Sumerian legends. It was the proximity of the Israelites to the Assyrians and the fact that the Assyrians had many garrison towns in Israel and much contact and commerce - even next to Nazareth there was an Assyrian garrison town.

The Assyrians were universalists in the sense that they took people in and they spread their knowledge, their learning, their science among other people. They were not exclusively only for themselves. This enabled them to teach and educate many many people. There are sources, after sources, after sources... I don't want to go through them all, but this is more contemporary science and archaeology than the papers, I think, that Dr. Ross relied upon. There is much much more current thought.

I would like to read a letter from a Dr. Simo Parpola -
(Marzillier: you have about a minute left) - who teaches at the University of Helsinki (to Marzillier:) Thank you.

He says:
"Dear Dr. Ross,

Two comments occasioned by your article, "Note on the modern Assyrians," which was brought to my attention by the Assyrian community of Los Angeles.

Number One: The way the ancient Assyrians treated their enemies did not differ significantly from the way enemies were treated by the contemporary peoples in their world."
Then he mentiones some sources in the Bible. And then he says that:
"Nobody denies the Jewish background of Christianity. However, there are features in primitive Judaism and early Christianity that cannot be explained without reference to Assyrian religion and royal ideology."
The basic point here is that we have many Assyriologists who are experts in the field who know this field far better than Dr. Ross does and for him to have written this paper and given it to our own students to read in his class and spread it among other students in the class... we felt was something that was wrong and we are very happy that the College gave us this chance to respond to it.
Marzillier: Thank you Mr. Parhead. Now, I will call on Dr. Ross for his first 10 minute presentation and then we will have 5 minutes each after that.


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** Part 2 to come soon!

-- Jeff
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