300-399 A.D. Assyrian History

† 339: The Persecution Under King Shapur
by The Ashurbanipal Library Committee
Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2000 03:48 pm CST


The persecution under king Shapur lasted for forty years, and it was very severe. The following is a description of the massacres that took place on Good Friday, A.D. 339:"...The first 'Firman' of persecution was issued, ordering all Christians [Assyrians] to pay double taxes, expressly as a contribution to the cost of a war in which they were taking no share, the Catholicos being ordered to collect the same. The special order may have been a kind of test for Mar Shimun, but there was nothing unusual in the government thus dealing with the melet through its recognized head. In any case, Shimun refused to obey the order, on the double ground that his people were too poor, and that tax collecting was no part of a bishop's business.

On this it was easy to raise the cry, 'he is a traitor and wishes to rebel'; and a second Firman was issued, ordering his arrest and the general destruction of all Christian churches. Shimun was arrested at Seleucia, the Court being then at Karka d'Lidan (i.e., Susa), and in the leisurely fashion characteristic of Eastern justice, was allowed to collect his flock and to take a last farewell of them, before being conducted, with several colleagues, to what all foresaw would be his death.

All gathered to receive the solemn blessing which a contemporary writer has preserved for us: 'May the Cross of our Lord be the protection of the people of Jesus; the peace of God be with the servants of God, and establish your hearts in the faith of Christ, in tribulation and in ease, in life and in death, now and forever more." The story of his martyrdom has been told by able writers, to whom we may refer for the moving tale of Shimun's interviews with the king; of the fall, penitence and triumph of Gushtazad the eunuch; of the offer of freedom, both for himself and for his melet, made to the Catholicos, if he would consent to adore the sun but once; and of the personal appeal of the King to him to yield, by memory of their friendship.

The last scene took place outside Susa, on the morning of Good Friday, 339; when the Catholicos, five bishops, and about one hundred clergy sealed their testimony together, Shimun being last to die. To him it was given to die for both of the two noblest causes for which a man may lay down his life -- for his faith in God, and for his duty to his people." (An Introduction to the History of the Assyrian Church, P. 64)

The Greek historian Sozomen says of the above incident: "When, in course of time, the Christians increased in number, assembled as churches, and appointed priests and deacons, the Magi became deeply incensed against them. The Jews were likewise offended. They therefore brought accusations before Shapur, the reigning King, against Shimun, who was then metropolitan of Seleusa and Ctesiphon, the royal cities of Persia, and charged him with being friends of the Caesar of the Romans, and with communicating the affairs of the Persians to him. Shapur believed these accusations, and at first imposed intolerably oppressive taxes upon the Christians. He appointed cruel men to exact these taxes, hoping that by being deprived of the necessities of life, and by the atrocity of the tax-gatherers, they might be compelled to abjure their religion-for this was his aim. Afterwards, however, he commanded that the priests and ministers of God should be slain with the sword. The churches were demolished, their vessels were deposited in the Treasury, and Shimun was arrested as a traitor to The Kingdom and religion of the Persians.

In this way the Magi, with the cooperation of the Jews quickly destroyed the house of prayer. Shimun was arrested, bound with chains, and brought before the King. There he showed clearly the excellence and firmness of his character; for when Shapur commanded that he should be led away to the torture, he did not fear, and refused to prostrate himself. The King, greatly exasperated, asked why he did not prostrate himself, as he had done formerly. Shimun replied that he had not formerly been led away bound, in order that he might abjure the truth of God. When he had finished speaking, the King commanded him to worship the sun. He promised, as an inducement, that he would bestow gifts upon him, and raise him to honor; but on the other hand he threatened that, if he did not comply, he would destroy him and the whole body of the Christians as a punishment. When the King found that promises and menaces were alike unavailing he remanded him in prison.

The following day, which happened to be the sixth day of the week, and likewise the day on which, because it came immediately before The festival of the resurrection, the annual memorial of the Passion of the savior is celebrated. The King issued orders for the decapitation of Shimun; for he had been again brought to the palace from the prison, and he had reasoned most boldly with Shapur on points of doctrine, and had expressed a determination never to worship either the King or the sun. On the same day, a hundred other prisoners were ordered to be slain. Shimun saw their execution, and last of all he was put to death. Among the victims were bishops, presbyters, and other clergy of different grades." (Patriarch, Shah, and Caliph, pp. 25.) When Shapur died, in 379, the persecutions, for the most part, died with him. The forty years of terror saw 16,000 Assyrians, whose names were known and recorded, killed, and an immense number of Assyrians whose martyrdom was unrecorded 448 A.D.

One of the most horrifying massacres occurred in the year 448, in modern day Kirkuk. The King Yasdegerd II began a wave of persecution of Assyrians (and Armenians, in Azerbaijan) throughout Persia. A massacre of ten bishops and 153,000 clergy and laity took place, "...in several consecutive days of slaughter on the mound of Karka d'Bait Sluk (Kirkuk). Local tradition still asserts that the red gravel of the hillock was stained that color by the martyrs' blood, and the martyrium built over the bodies remains to this day." (Introduction to the History of the Assyrian Church, pp. 138). The place where this massacre occurred, to this day, bears the name of the Persian executioner, who was led by the sight of the endurance and faith of the people he was butchering to believe that their faith must truly be from God, and who joined them in their confession, and fate -- Tamasgerd was baptized in his own blood (ibid, pp. 139).



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