"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Assyrians

There are "Eastern" Christians and then there are really Eastern Christians--those beyond the borders of the Roman Empire who carried Christianity to the farthest Eastern parts of the world in the first millennium. These include, of course, the Assyrian (sometimes if infelicitously "Nestorian") Church of the East, who will be examined in fresh detail in a book set for release this fall:  Eden Naby, The Assyrians of the Middle East: The History and Culture of a Minority Christian Community (I.B. Tauris, November 2013), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
The Assyrians are the last substantial ethnic group in the world to have preserved Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus and his disciples - as its native language. To listen to Aramaic is to catch the echoes of biblical Palestine. A minority people with distinctive cultural and religious, as well as linguistic, traditions, the Assyrians have in the modern era come under threat from the twin perils of persecution and assimilation. Though nowadays located mostly in Iran and Syria, this remarkable indigenous race - the easternmost Christians of the Middle East - were at one time numerically strong also in Iran, before falling victim in the early 20th century to Ottoman assault. The rise of Islamic exclusivity - in Iran following the Revolution of 1979, and in recent decades elsewhere in the Middle East - has further diminished the Assyrian communities, driving them from their ancient homelands. Does diaspora offer them rescue, or oblivion? Eden Naby is the foremost scholar in English of the venerable Assyrian heritage. In her much-anticipated and lively book she charts the the community from its identification with the ancient Akkadian and Assyrian empires through to Christian conversion; subsequent religious fragmentation (Nestorians, Chaldeans and Syriacs); genocide in the First World War; and statelessness and dispersal across the globe. This is the first time that the story of the resilient Assyrians has been told in its entirety.

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