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The Chaldeans, Facts and Fiction

by Fred Aprim

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 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;

Chaldeans:" The name of former Nestorians now reunited with the Roman Church. Ethnologically they are divided into two groups (Turco-Persian and Indian), which must be treated apart, since in their vicissitudes one group differs considerably from the other. The first group is usually known as Chaldeans, the second as Christians of St. Thomas (also called the Syro-Malabar Church)."

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;

"Before the rise of Islam the Syrian Christian Church [Assyrian] had split into several communities. There was first the East Syrian Church or the Church of the East. This communion, established in the late second century, claims uninterrupted descent in its teachings, liturgy, consecration and tradition from the time the Edessene King Abgar allegedly wrote to Christ asking him to relieve him of an incurable disease and Christ promised to send him one of his disciples after his ascension. This is the church erroneously called Nestorian, after the Cilician Nestorius, whom it antedates by about two and a half centuries. The term Nestorian was applied to it at a late date by Roman Catholics to convey the stigma of heresy in contradistinction to those of its members who joined the Catholic Church as Uniats and received the name Chaldeans."

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 truely 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";

" Facts are too that the first time a Patriarch was associated with the word Chaldean was Mar Youhannan Hurmizd who was called by Pope Pius XIII in 1828 "Patriarch of Babil over the Chaldean Rite" in which the Church became definitely Papal in its obedience as one of the " Uniate Churches" of the East. And the first to be called the "Chaldean Patriarch" was Mar Nicolas Zaia in 1844 and later the word Babil was added in 1847 when Mar Yousif Odo was consecrated as "Patriarch of Babil over the Chaldean."

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;

"Lets get back again to the names given to this nation of Al-Ashuriyon, Al-Siryan, Nestorians, Catholics, Christians and now Chaldeans, they all were fabricated to indicate this nation’s religious belief since groups of Assyrians switched their religious beliefs so many times."

(translated from Arabic by the author of this article)

And what did Dr. Fr. Yousif Habbi say about the Chaldean name in his renowned article ‘Who are the Christians of Iraq’?

He wrote; " Chaldean is a religious denomination of the Catholic Assyrians."

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";

"All the inhabitants of the villages which are called Chaldean--TelKeif, Alqosh, Batnaya, Telesqoof, Karamles, Qaraqoush, and others--had no connection with the Chaldeans of antiquity. Today’s Chaldean term is new to us, it came from the west, and from Rome precisely. You people, the inhabitants of the above mentioned villages are originally Assyrians, descendants of the Assyrians of antiquity. I, for example, was born in Mosul, and belong to the Chaldean Church, yet I am Assyrian and we all are Assyrians, being Syrians, Chaldeans, or Maronites."

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 periode. 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 labled 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;

"The Chaldeans, or Kaldi, the desert tribe from the land of the southwest Persia, began to creep slowly around the heads of the Persian Gulf and settling along its shores at the foot of the eastern mountains.

In 604 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II, the greatest of the Chaldean emperors, began his reign of over 40 years over Babylonia and it was in 616 BC that he had mastered his control over the entire Babylonia region.

When the Medes, in 614 BC marched down the Tigris and captured Assur, Nebuchadnezzar II arrived too late to share in the assault. He did establish an alliance with Cyaxares, the Median king, and together they attacked Nineveh but the Medes were left in possession of the northern mountains of Assyria."

(Breasted is telling us that Chaldean kings of Babylon did not settle in Nineveh) 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 ;

"Arbil fell to the Medes. Asia Minor and the Assyrian Empire was split between the Medes and the Babylonians, the Medes took the upper parts of Mesopotamia, including the Land of Ashur and the Babylonians controlled the southern parts of Bet Nahrain, Syria and Palestine......"

(Translated from Arabic by the author of this article)

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;

"The Babylonians remained in full possession of Assyria, but did not occupy it and made no attempt to repair the damage they had caused. All their efforts were devoted to the religious and cultural revival of southern Mesopotamia, and in the field of foreign policy to the protection of the Taurus frontier and the subjection of Syria-Palestine."

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?

"After the fall of Assyria, however, its actual name was gradually transferred to Syria. Thus, in the Babylonian version of Darius I’s inscription Susa f, Eber-nari ("across-the-river," i.e. Syria, Palestine and Phoenicia) corresponds to the Persian and Elamite Athura [Assyria]. Besides, in the Behistun inscription, Izalla, the region of Syria renowned for its wine, is assigned to Athura."

"Several Persepolis Elamite documents, drafted at the end of the 6th and at the beginning of the 5th century BC, mention Assuriya [Assyria] workers of the royal household at Persepolis and in its area who were issued rations of flour and grain."

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 ;

" I (am) Cyrus, the king of the world, the great king, the mighty king, the king of Babylon, the king of Shumer and Akkad, the king of the four regions; the son of Cambyses; the great king, the king of the city of Anshan; the grandson of Cyrus, the great king, the king of the city of Anshan, the great grandson of Teispes, the great king, the king of the city of Anshan, the primal root of the kingdom, whose dynasty is beloved of Bel, and Nebo, and whose rule is dear to their hearts. When I had entered Tintar {the ancient name of Babylon} peacefully amid the jubilation and applause of the populace, I established my sovereignty in the palace of the princes. Marduk, the great lord, inclined the noble hearts of the people of Babylon towards me, for I was daily attentive to his worship. My vast army entered Babylon peacefully."

"Pasargadو, 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;

".... the Chaldeans as originally encountered were restricted to south Babylonia, and always remained predominant there ...." and continues to say;

" .... There is no hint of any non-Semitic linguistic background, but this does not preclude the possibility that their ancestry included elements from earlier groups who had ruled the south of the country, or from the Kassites. Some scholars suggest that they were originally of east Arabian origin; there is little positive evidence for this, but it is not impossible, and if they came in via the west coast of the Persian Gulf it might explain why they were in the main only in the south of Mesopotamia."

Rev. W. A. Wigram in his book "The Assyrians and their Neighbors" wrote;

"The Assyrian stock, still resident in the provinces about the ruins of Nineveh, where Mosul, Arbil, and Kirkuk were already great cities, seem to have been left to its own customs in the same way."

Dr. Faraj Basmachi in his book " Kinooz al-Matthaf al-Iraqi" (The Treasures of the Iraqi Museum), stated; Key Akhsar controlled the north eastern parts of Land of Ashur, while Nebuchadnezzar controlled the southern parts."

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:

a) Ancient powers tendencies, just as today’s official news broadcast by countries during war, are best portrayed in "The Face of the Ancient Orient" by Sabatino Moscati, when he wrote;

"We must not take all the victories announced in the annals entirely at their face value. We have proof that, by a process not unknown to any state or epoch, these military bulletins exaggerate the successes and minimize the defeats. But it is certain that the expansion of the Assyrian empire pursues an inexorable course along the main lines of its military advances."

b) The population of the Chaldean tribes like the Bit-Dakuri, Bit-Amukani, and Bit-Yakin, who the Assyrians at time fought on behalf of the Babylonian King, could not had been even close to the figures mentioned above. Just for the sake of comparison, and I understand that a gap of time does separate between the two examples, Daniel Snell in his book "Life in the Ancient Near East" wrote about large city population and what that meant in those early days of civilization;

"Surface survey reveals that during this period the large cities continued to grow to hitherto unparalleled proportions. Uruk, the best studied, probably had more than 60,000 people, and other cities of the empire likely also blossomed."

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;

"The total population of Babylon at the time of Nebuchadnezzar has been estimated to have been up to 200,000. This estimate is based on measurements made for the city area and figuring out how many people could have lived within its walls. The population of Nineveh has been said in the Biblical passage of (Jonah iv 11) to have been 120,000".

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;

II Samuel 10:18 states "And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shُ´bâch the captain of their host, who died there." While in I Chronicles 19:18 we read " But the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew of the Syrians seven thousand men which fought in chariots, and forty thousand footmen, and killed Shُ´phâch the captain of the host."

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;

"There has been no proof of any kind that a language called the Chaldean language ever existed. And what we are hearing lately are fabrications by few Catholic people of the Chaldean rite which has no historical base."

He continued to say;

"Quite few of the sons of this religious sect like Fr. Alber Abona, Potrus Nasri, Ogeen Minna, and others proved that their language is a dialect of the Aramaic which was later called as Syriac after Christianity entered the region."

(Translated from Arabic by the author of this article)

Leo Oppenheim in his book, "Ancient Mesopotamia" while speaking about the language of the Chaldeans of antiquity wrote;

"The only indication that the Chaldeans spoke a language of their own is a small number of foreign names, probably in a dialect of Aramaic, the language which they probably used ; most of the persons mentioned in historical texts and in letters have good Neo-Babylonian names."

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;

"Because the Aramaic was described in The Chapter of Daniel by the Chaldeans of antiquity, it was presumed then that it was the Chaldean language, so this came about only by mistake. It is a well known fact that the Babylonians and Chaldeans spoke a dialect of the Akkadian."

Dr. Al-Malih continued to say;

" If by the Chaldean language was meant the language of the late Babylonians, that too can not be true since they spoke the Babylonian Aramaic.

And for those, like Hanna Abdul-Ahad, who relate the so called Chaldean language to the findings in Mar Gewargis Church in Ain Kawa and to its inhabitants, that too is incorrect since these writings were proven to be written in around AD 816 when all the Christians in those regions were Nestorians, who spoke the Assyrian Aramaic, which was later called Syriac."

(Translated from Arabic by the author of this article)

Joan Oates in the book titled "Babylon" wrote;

"No direct evidence indicates that the Chaldeans spoke a language other that Babylonian [Akkadian]. Certainly most of those mentioned in letters and historical texts are the possessors of good Babylonian names. The presence of a few possibly Aramaean names is sometimes taken as an indication that the Chaldean spoke a local dialect of Aramaic..."


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 occured 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;

Here are a people who, in the time of the beginning of the Christian era, are founded living in the lands where, in the year 600 BC the Assyrian stock had been established since history began; nor is there any record of any considerable immigration into, or emigration from, that land, in the interval."


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