Whereas in a previous article (Syriacs, “Assyrians” and “Chaldaeans” are all Aramaeans), I focused briefly on terms, and their origin, here I want to concentrate on the reasons for which the term “Assyrian”, if used to express the national and cultural needs of today’s Aramaeans, is absolutely prejudicial and effectively lethal for this great, ancient and long targeted nation.
- Zu as a lion-headed eagle, ca. 2550-2500 BC, Louvre.
What does the bird Zu mean for today’s Assyrianist Aramaeans who want to de-aramaize and hypothetically re-assyrianize themselves? Nothing. Only this shows how fake the effort is, and how many back thoughts and evil plots are therein involved.
As I want to direct this analysis to those who pretend — so unwisely — that they are “Assyrians”, whereas they are undisputedly Aramaeans, I will start with one theoretical concession of historical context.
Assuming the Aramaeans are Assyrians…
Let’s assume for a moment that the Aramaeans of today are of Assyrian ancestry, as the pretenders of the Assyrianist dogma so passionately want. If this assumption is true, to what extent do the supposed Assyrians of today need the name and the historical identity of the Ancient Assyrians to designate themselves?
To what extent do they need the Assyrian Cultural Heritage instead of the Aramaean?
Assyrian cultural-national heritage does not exist by any means
Assyrian cultural heritage is a very well specified term in the History of Civilizations; it pertains to a Weltanschauung that has been incepted under total Sumerian impact and narrated through myths like Enuma Elish (“When above”), Gilgamesh, Etana, Descent of Ishtar in the Nether World, Zu, and others.
There was a monotheistic prevalence in the Mesopotamian North (Assyria), in striking contradiction to the culture of the South (Babylonia) where polytheistic practices were overwhelming.
Names of Gods were rather viewed as aspects of God in Assyria whereas in Babylonia they were conceptualized as names of independent divinities. All this led to diametrically opposed political ideologies, and the Assyrian capitals (Assyria, Kalhu, Nineveh, and momentarily Dur Sharrukin) were always the unconditional rival of Babylon, despite the fact that the people were the same and the dialectal differences minimal.
This cultural background took an end with the destruction of Assyria (612-608 BCE); its Babylonian interpretation survived until the Late Antiquity (the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE) when the last Babylonian cuneiform texts were written.
What happened then is very clear through the archaeological and epigraphic evidence that we have unearthed. The diffusion of Aramaic had prevailed throughout Mesopotamia as it had triumphed in Syria many centuries earlier.
The Aramaization of Mesopotamia is not an isolated phenomenon; extensive Aramaization took place in the Iranian plateau at the very end of the Achaemenidian times (4th-3rd centuries BCE) and its extension reached Central Asia and India. The Achaemenid scribes found the Aramaic alphabetic writing far easier than the Old Achaemenidian cuneiform syllabic writing, which had been formed under strong Assyrian impact. Then, they adopted Aramaic characters for Persian and Parthian, the main languages of the Arsacid empire of Iran (250 BCE-224 CE).
Aramaization at the scriptural and linguistic levels was parallel with religious, ideological and cultural Aramaization, and this was evident in the last centuries of use of Babylonian cuneiform writing. Aramaean polytheistic systems were predominant among the Babylonians of the Arsacid times. The Babylonian cult of Ishtar at those days reminds us very little of the Assyrian-Babylonian cultural system of the times of Shamshi Adad I and Hammurapi, 1900 years earlier; contrarily, they reflect traits of the Aramaean Astarte whose cult was omnipresent in Western Syria 800 years earlier.
Cultural Aramaization is a multi-dimensional affair of the Late Antiquity; it does not pertain to mere diffusion of Aramaean cultural characteristics; as the Aramaeans were the foremost merchants of those days, travelling, establishing communities and trading from NW Africa to Egypt, the Red Sea, India and China, ideas and concepts developed in other places moved to main parts of the Aramaean lands, Mesopotamia and Syria, thanks to the tolerant and cosmopolitan Aramaean merchants.
What the Chaldaean Oracles reveal is neither Zoroastrian doctrine nor Babylonian religion nor Greek philosophy; it’s an Aramaean Gnosticism made of all these elements and diffused throughout the area of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.
Without the rise of Aramaic as lingua franca (international language), Manichaeism would not have been diffused from NW Africa and Egypt to Central Asia and China, which made of it the most perilous antagonist of the official Sassanid Iranian religion, which is known as Mazdeism (a late version of Zoroastrianism).
Where were gone all the Babylonians in the 3rd century CE? They were there, and their land was selected by the Sassanid dynasty as that of one of their most important capitals, Tesfun (Ctesiphon). But Babylonian was neither written not spoken anymore, as all the Babylonians had been linguistically and culturally aramaized.
Explicit disregard for the Babylonian and Assyrian heritage among the aramaized Mesopotamians of the Late Antiquity
Where was the entire Assyrian – Babylonian culture, Atrahasis (the Assyrian-Babylonian Noah), Gilgamesh, Marduk, Nabu, Nergal, Adad, Shamash, Sin and Ishtar in the 3rd century CE?
It was totally superseded by the Aramaean cults that we attest in Palmyra (Tadmor), Hatra and elsewhere, as well as by the Gnosticisms that reflected the religious syncretism of that era.
In Northeastern Mesopotamia, the traditional Assyrian heartland, the small state of Adiabene (Hadhyab) had accepted a form of Judaism that the scarcity of sources does not allow us to analytically portray it; but kings and queens like Izates, Monobaz, Eleni and Aphraates bear witness of Aramaean, Persian or Hellenized names.
None of them was reportedly attentive to the Assyrian cultural heritage that had died long before they existed. And none of them found:
- the need for a historical reference to Assyria or Akkad (Agade),
- the obligation to establish any possible correlation and
- the necessity of recharging their batteries in the Sargonid Assyrian political ideology.
In fact, Hammurapi was totally “dead” for the Babylonians of the times of Mani, who had been assimilated among the Aramaeans; and similarly, Tukulti Ninurta I was absolutely insignificant for the inhabitants of Adiabene who were mere Aramaeans who accepted Judaism.
Even if today’s Aramaeans were truly Assyrians, nothing of the Assyrian cultural and national heritage was left down to them.
Why “re-assyrianize” the “de-assyrianized”?
In this case, their effort to identify themselves as Assyrians is effectively meaningless; it would resemble a hypothetical effort of today’s Bulgarians (whose origin is Turco-Mongolian — Uralo-Altaic, despite their Slavic assimilation) to return back to the Turco-Mongolian — Uralo-Altaic culture of which not a single element survived among them. This would be absolutely purposeless, viewed from one standpoint.
Assessed through another viewpoint, it would be truly lethal — which in this case means suicidal, as attempted by the nation concerned. Such an effort does not — and by definition cannot — have one dimension; it has two; it’s:
- first, what you try to find, re-apprehend, reassess, re-habilitate (for reasons of assumed authenticity) and
- second, what you lose, drop, get dispossessed of, deprived of, disinherited of.
Evident absence of an Assyrian-past-rehabilitating Christian Aramaean synthesis
The reason for this is due to the fact that few historical cases of conscious historical-cultural synthesis are known to have been carried out under full terms of authenticity. We have some examples; the great Persian poet Ferdowsi is one of them. In his celebrated Shah Nameh, the “Book of the Kings”, the national poet of Islamic Iran managed to establish an authentic incorporation of Iran’s pre-Islamic past within the Islamic Iranian Cultural and National context. A really genius synthesis!
This meant that:
- contrarily to the Yemenite Muslims, for whom the cultural heritage and the royal tradition of Kharibael of Sheba and Himyar meant nothing,
- contrarily to the Copts of Egypt, for whom the cultural heritage and the royal tradition of Amenhotep III did not mean anything,
- contrarily to the aramaized Babylonians who adhered to Islam and for whom the cultural heritage and the royal tradition of Marduk-apla-iddina (Merodach Baladan) did not mean anything, and
- contrarily to the Aramaeans of Damascus who adhered to Christianity (and thence eventually to Islam) and for whom the cultural heritage and the royal tradition of Ben Hadad III or Hadad Ezer of Aram Dimashq did not mean anything,
for a Persian who became Muslim, the great Sassanid Emperor, Shahinshah Khusrau Anushirvan (Cosroes I) did still mean much indeed.
Nothing of the sort was undertaken among the hypothetical Assyrians who would have been aramaized at a later date during the Late Antiquity.
Not a single scholar, not a single Assyriologist, not a single specialist of Aramaean studies can prove that, even for a single case, a page of the Assyrian past and cultural heritage mattered, in any possible way, for any hypothetical aramaized Assyrian of the Late Antiquity or during the Christian and Islamic ages.
Speaking beyond typical cases of erudition that we attest even among various foreign authors (from Herodotus to Tabari), we can draw the conclusion that even if a part of today’s Aramaeans were of Assyrian ancestry, the Assyrian Cultural and National Heritage of the Mesopotamian Antiquity is nothing to them, having had no historical continuity and no authenticity.
National and cultural de-aramaization and parallel “re-assyrianization”
We can then ponder, facing today’s Assyrianist group’s abnormal claims, what these hypothetical Assyrians of today who speak Aramaic would gain and what they would lose by insisting on the portentous effort of national and cultural de-aramaization and parallel “re-assyrianization”.
The easiest to assess in this case is that they will gain nothing. Contrarily to what happens in Italy where Latin is taught in the Secondary Education, there will never be a single high school where the supposed “aramaized Assyrians” will learn Cuneiform Assyrian.
One should even go ahead and wonder why this great effort of recharging their youth’s batteries has not yet been undertaken by the pioneers of the Assyrianist devious ideology; the answer is very simple.
More their youth study Cuneiform Assyrian, better they will realize how totally unrelated they are — at the religious, artistic, linguistic, cultural, behavioural, ideological and national levels — from the Ancient Assyrians.
Contrarily to the farfetched — and well financed — inaccuracies of Simo Parpola, there is not a single element in the defunct before 2600 years Assyrian Cultural and National Heritage to resemble in anything with the genuinely Aramaean culture of today’s Aramaeans, irrespective of the appellation that they use to designate themselves, Aramaeans, Chaldaeans, Assyrians or Zulu…
As the subject has several dimensions, I will expand on the detrimental consequences of the ill-fated effort to de-aramaize and hypothetically re-assyrianize today’s Aramaeans in a forthcoming article.