The Chaldeans: Facts and Fiction
Posted: Monday, April 09, 2001 at 11:34 AM CT
Lately, we have been hearing some discussions about the present day Chaldeans as a separate ethnic group, descendants of the Chaldeans of antiquity, and a language of its own, contrary to known historical facts.
Before getting into the article at heart, I really need to stress that the intent here with this article is not to diminish the importance of the Chaldean Catholic Church. We are aware of the contributions of its congregation to the Assyrian peoples in fields of history, literature, and national dreams. Assyrian giant names like Yousif Malik, Agha Putrus, Mar Toma Audo, and others, speak loudly for themselves. but I felt, as an Assyrian, an obligation to be part of an educational endeavor to set some records straight. Extra efforts are being made lately by few to present each denomination of the Assyrian Church with some unmatched uniqueness, which could be true to some degree, but investigating deeper into the true agenda of these schemes, we will realize that these efforts are directed towards dressing each sect up with a fabricated national title on its own; like Nestorians being Assyrians, Jacobites being Syrians, and Catholics being Chaldeans, on the expense of the true Assyrian national plight.
The Syrian name was addressed in my previous article titled "Assyrian, Syrian and Syriac, Notes and Historical Facts" posted on www.atour.com and some other web sites. In this article I will try to shed some light on the name "Chaldean", not as some fictitious term invented by few emotionally driven and politically motivated, but rather facts learned from history lessons.
I strongly believe, based on real and solid historical facts, that it is absolutely wrong to simply use the term "Chaldean" without any indication to its historic use in Mesopotamia specially during the two periods of Pre-Christianity and the present. Since the word "Chaldean" represent two different peoples during the two periods as we shall read.
The Catholic Encyclopedia is very clear in defining Chaldeans as a Christian denomination of the Eastern Church, since it states;
We need not to discuss the content of this simple and clear definition, since it is self explanatory. But, still, before I switch to the main topic of this article, I thought that we might read through few other statements in regards to the Chaldean term which attests to the fact that Chaldeans of today represent nothing but a sect of the Eastern Church.
Today’s Chaldean term is a pure religious title which dates back originally to the 15th century when the Nestorians of Cyprus and their bishop declared their loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church. Accordingly, Pope Eugene IV in August 7, 1445, published his famous decree to call these new Roman Catholics as Chaldeans to distinguish them from the so called Nestorians. Keep in mind that this was in Cyprus and not in Bet Nahrain.
So, the fact is that both terms, Nestorian and Chaldean, were fashioned by the Roman Catholic Church. The Nestorian title bestowed on churches that believed in the dual nature of Christ and Mary being Mother of Christ and hence considered heretics, while the Chaldean one was given to those so called Nestorians who joined the Roman Catholic Church.
Dr. Philip Hitti, a professor of Semitic literature at Princeton University, in his book History of Syria, wrote;
It is amazing how we in this day and age and so passionately continue to prefer living in denial and refuse to attest to facts proven by renowned scholars and historians. It is truly tragic that sons and daughters of the Assyrian nation who continued to live in the heart of Assyria for thousands of years even question their Assyrian heritage.
It is the absolute fact that there was no mention of any Chaldean Bishop who historically practiced that title before July 5, 1830, when officially, Pope Pius VIII confirmed Metropolitan Youkhannan (John) Hurmizd as Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldean Rite, with his see in Mosul.
Worth reminding the reader that in 1552, when Shimun Dinkha became the new Patriarch of the Church of the East, a group of Assyrian bishops refused to accept him and decided to seek union with Rome. They elected a monk from Rabban Hurmizd monastery, Yuhannan Sulaqa, as their own patriarch and sent him to Rome to arrange a union with the Catholic Church. In early 1553 Pope Julius III proclaimed Sulaqa Patriarch and ordained him a bishop in St. Peter’s Basilica on April 9, 1553. This, though, did not last long, because when the new appointed patriarch returned to his homeland in late 1553 and began to assert himself, he was faced with strong opposition. Sulaqa was soon captured by the pasha of Amadiya, tortured and executed in January 1555. Eventually Sulaqa’s group returned to the Assyrian Church of the East, but for over 200 years, there was much turmoil and changing of sides as the pro- and anti-Catholic parties struggled with one another.
Lets read what Rev. W. A. Wigram wrote in his book "The Assyrians and their Neighbors";
The manipulation of titles by the Roman Catholic Church is very obvious here.
Dr. Saadi Al-Malih in "Fi Al-Asil wa Al-Fasil wa Mulahadat Ukhra" (Roots, Classifications, and Other Remarks) wrote;
And what did Dr. Fr. Yousif Habbi say about the Chaldean name in his renowned article ‘Who are the Christians of Iraq’?
Dr. Bahnam Abu al-Soof, Professor of Archaeology in Baghdad University said in his lecture "The Chaldeans of today and their relation to the Chaldeans of yesterday";
I will not dwell in the Chaldean title as a religious denomination of the Eastern Church any longer, since it has been proven historically as being a title given by Rome to those Assyrians from the Church of the East who preferred to follow the Roman Catholic Church. Allow me then to concentrate on presenting historical accounts describing the Chaldeans of antiquity and their language. By the conclusion of the article I hope that any myths of a connection between the Assyrians of the Chaldean Rite and those Chaldeans of antiquity will be put to rest.
CHALDEANS OF ANTIQUITY, HISTORICAL VIEWS
We tend to have hard time trying to find books written solely on Chaldeans of antiquity, since their origin is obscure and the reign of their kings over Babylonia was one of the shortest dynasties in Mesopotamia. From what it has been revealed to us, so far, there are accounts which indicate that the Chaldeans of antiquity lived in the swamps and lakes of southern Mesopotamia, some of their tribes lived south of Borsippa while others bordered Elam. Their organization was tribal, and each Chaldean bitu (house) was under the leadership of a ‘shaikh’ who at times called himself a ‘king’. But the tribal regions were ill-defined and the political strength of each individual shaikh was largely a matter of personal ability and prestige. Their name began to surface sometime in the 9th century, and they rose during the 8th and 7th centuries against the Babylonian kings who were, generally, pro Assyria in this period, but they were defeated each time. When the Medes entered the Mesopotamian scene, the Assyrian Empire was at its weakest point and no king was recognized in Babylonia because of the fighting which existed between the contending factions. Nabopolassar, the Chaldean, in 626 seized the opportunity and proclaimed himself King over Babylon hence starting what is known to scholars as the Neo-Babylonian period, or as it is known too, the period of the Chaldean kings over Babylon which lasted 87 years.
It is also interesting to note that the name Kaldu or Chaldeans has not been mentioned in any of the tablets left during the neo Babylonian period. For example throughout the tablets concerning the fall of Assyria Nebupolassar and Nebuchadnezzar are called " the King of Akkad" (shar Akkad) rather than the "Chaldean King" however the English translator has labeled these records as the "Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings". Read D.J. Wiseman’s "Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings"
In "The Conquest of Civilization", by James Henry Breasted, a different theory about the origin of the Chaldeans is brought up, but I need not discuss that point for now rather where they existed. We read;
Even Arab historians support this fact, here is what Dr. Zubair Bilal Ismael in his study "Arbil and its Historical Periods" wrote in regards to the Medes’ [Persians] march to Nineveh in 614 BC;
Georges Roux in his book "Ancient Iraq" wrote about the events of the fall of the city of Assur in 614 BC, he stated ; "The Babylonians arrived too late to take part in the action"
Then he attest to the fact that the Babylonians did not live in Assyria, by what he wrote next;
He continues to refer to southern Mesopotamia as Babylonia even after the Chaldean dynasty took control over it and he calls its kings; "The Chaldean kings of Babylon", since Chaldean control on that part was one of the shortest of any other dynasty, meaning that they did not establish an empire to the true sense meaning of the word, although they flourished for 40 years during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II.
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar II in 562 BC, Babylonia started to lose its power. And in 539 BC, the Persians under Cyrus defeated the Chaldean king army under the young crown prince Belshazzar with no trouble and entered Babylon. Hence, the Chaldean kings ruled for a total of (87) years in Babylonia.
What can we learn from the Persian manuscripts in this period?
Assyria 1995, Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project / Helsinki, September 7-11, 1995
The contents of the Cylinder of Cyrus, discovered during excavations at Babylon, and now in the British Museum, dated 538-529 BC, reads as follows;
"Pasargadæ, The Oldest Imperial Capital of Iran" by Ali-Sham, translated by Rev. Ralph N. Sharp, M.A. from Cambridge, Assistant Professor of old Persian history in Shiraz, Iran.
We read too that the Persian Kings called the labor people whom they brought to help them with construction after the fall of both Nineveh and Babylon in and around Babylon region "Assuri" and not Chaldeans. For a matter of fact the word Chaldean or Caldu is not mentioned in Cyrus’ Cylinder not even once. If we read the announcement of the Babylonian priests and religious leaders, praising the acts and conduct of Cyrus, we read not of any account of the word Chaldean either. What does that tell us ? It simply implies that the 87 years the Chaldean kings rule over Babylon made no serious impact on the political and sociological life in Babylonia. The contributions of the Chaldeans of antiquity in the fields of astrology and restoration of earlier buildings must not be underestimated.
There are numerous accounts which prove that the people living in northern Bet Nahrain, north of today’s Iraq, are of the Assyrian stock and not the so called Chaldeans of antiquity. Even though the origin of the Chaldeans of antiquity has always been a matter of obscurity, but from what is available to scholars indicate strongly that they predominantly lived in southern Mesopotamia.
Lets read from "The Babylonians" by H.W.F Saggs;
and continues to say;
Rev. W. A. Wigram in his book "The Assyrians and their Neighbors" wrote;
Dr. Faraj Basmachi in his book " Kinooz al-Matthaf al-Iraqi" (The Treasures of the Iraqi Museum), stated;
If the recently used Chaldean name is not simply a Church denomination, designated to those originally Assyrians, erroneously named Nestorians by some historians, who switched and become followers of the Roman Catholic Church, how would anybody, with true sense of logic, explain the two million Chaldeans of the Malabar Indian Coast ! Could they be part of the same claimed ethnic Chaldean people even though they have no geographical or any other connection with the Chaldeans of antiquity?
It is true that the Chaldean kings of Babylon were the last power from within Mesopotamia to rule in Bet Nahrain and for some 87 years, but what does that proof?
Does that constitute a domination on the heritage, culture, language and ethnic background of those people who belonged to the Assyrian and Babylonian stock who lived in the northern and southern Mesopotamia respectively for some five thousand years ?
I need to stress on another point here which is that there is no substantiated proof of any kind that a massive migration of people from southern Bet Nahrain to the north had taken place. Historic records do not verify any such migration which displaced the original Assyrian occupants of the plains of Nineveh with Chaldeans. The few recent fabricated accounts of some 200,000 prisoners and other massive figures taken by Assyrians from Babylon and brought to Assyria have no logical and scientific ally. Lets proof that historically through these two simple points:
So if we consider a normal growth factor to the population between the cities in the Sumerian period and the Assyrian/Babylonian period, we might come close to what H.W.F. Saggs concluded in his book "Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria" when he wrote;
Now, something does not add up here, the total population of Babylon (which includes the original Babylonians, Aramaeans, Chaldeans and others) was estimated at a maximum figure of 200,000 and we know that the Chaldeans were for sure a small part of this population and the majority living a tribal like life not even in the vicinity of Babylon, as we mentioned. And if the population of Nineveh was 120,000, how would the Assyrians bring some 200,000 or even 20,000, for that matter, Chaldean prisoners back to Nineveh? Did the Assyrians leave Babylon empty?
Recording figures during war time in those days has been argued as a very controversial matter earlier.
What other proof do we have on this point? Well, lets read from the Bible;
While in I Chronicles 19:18 we read:
How about that for a controversy!
I hope that puts the issue of massive Chaldeans of antiquity migration to the plains of Nineveh to rest.
CHALDEAN AS A LANGUAGE!
Dr. Saadi Al-Malih in "al-Kildan, min al-Wathaniya ila al-Islam" (The Chaldeans, from paganism to Islam) wrote;
He continued to say;
Leo Oppenheim in his book, "Ancient Mesopotamia" while speaking about the language of the Chaldeans of antiquity wrote;
Dr. Saadi Al-Malih in another book "Fi al-Asil wa al-Fasil wa Mulahathat Ukhra" (Roots, Classifications, and Other Remarks) said while quoting Dr. Philip Hatti in his book History of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. part 1;
Dr. Al-Malih continued to say;
Joan Oates in the book titled "Babylon" wrote;
In summary, we read that the Chaldean dynasty ruled over Babylonia for some 87 years, and they spoke a dialect of Akkadian or Aramaic, and we are not able until today to point out to any such thing as a Chaldean language. We know for a fact too that the Chaldean name in the modern time is a religious name given by Rome to those Assyrians who abandoned the Church of the East and adapted Roman Catholicism. We had shown, on the other hand, that no major migration had occurred by the Chaldeans of antiquity to Nineveh which could have resulted in some sort of evacuating of the original Assyrian inhabitants and replacing them with the Chaldeans. Hence, the Christian inhabitants of today’s Mosul and its neighboring towns are mainly from the Assyrian stock who have been living there since the fall of the Assyrian Empire according to history records. This fact is thoughtfully noted by Rev. W.A. Wigram’s in his book "The Assyrians and their Neighbors," when he wrote;