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June 21, 2016 6:48 am

Assyrian Bishop Wants Friendship With Israel

avatar by Bradley Martin

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Archbishop Royel. Photo: provided.

Archbishop Royel. Photo: provided.

“Israel has stability, the ear of the world community, and the ability to be a modern state in the Middle East. Israel has withstood the test of time,” says Mar Awa Royel, the first American-born Assyrian bishop in history. Born David Royel in Chicago, Illinois on July 4, 1975, His Grace Mar Awa, Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, who presides over the Diocese of California, conveys his desire for friendship between Israel and the Assyrian people.

Noting that “we’ve had a long history,” he cites prophecy in the Book of Isaiah in order to provide a biblical foundation for his desired brotherhood with Israel, and describes several church-organized pilgrimages that he has led to Israel.

While there are very few Assyrian Christians in Israel, until 1853 the Assyrian Church of the East shared a part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Numerous records and Assyrian manuscripts are now in the possession of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Israel.

Bishop Royel also described the relations and commonalities between Jews and Assyrian Christians in Iraq prior to the establishment of the state of Israel. Even after the Arab Muslim conquest of the Middle East, which installed Arabic as the lingua franca of the region, Assyrians continued to speak Assyrian.

The Nash Didan (Aramaic for “our people”) refers to Jews who lived in villages in northern Iraq (modern-day Kurdish Regional Government) and near the borders of Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Tradition indicates that the community was founded by Jews who fled to that area during the Babylonian Exile, and did not return to their homeland after the declaration issued by Cyrus II of Persia. Assyrian and the Nash Didan dialect are very close. It is currently estimated that about 300,000 of the Nash Didan live in the state of Israel.

“We are the most Semitic of the churches,” says Bishop Royel. Jews and Assyrians in the region were bound by more than a common linguistic heritage. Royel describes the Targumim (the Aramaic translations/paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible and accompanying rabbinic teachings) as an influential text in Church doctrine. In fact, the Targumim are the antecedents of the version of the Old (and New) Testament of the Assyrian Church of the East. Queen Helena of Adiabene, an Assyrian who converted to Judaism in about 30 C.E., spent the latter part of her life in Jerusalem, where she gave gifts to the Second Temple of Jerusalem and was meticulous in her observance of the precepts of Judaism.

Assyrian churches themselves are a fusion of synagogue and Jerusalem Temple worship. “There are no examples like it in any churches that are found in North America,” says Royel. “Facing east, there is a Holy of Holies, and a bima in the middle of the church building where the Scriptural readings take place.” The Assyrian Church of the East also follows the Jewish practice of not pronouncing the holy name of God when the Bible is read in church. Readings from the Old Testament are also featured more prominently than in other church services.

The Assyrian Church at one time had an estimated 80 million adherents. As it now stands, their worldwide numbers have been reduced to a little less than 4 million people collectively. In Iraq, 1.5 million Assyrians lived in the country at the start of the US invasion in 2003. Today, the Assyrian Christians in Iraq number around 150,000. That is a 90 percent reduction of Assyrian Christians in their ancient homeland.

“Iraq does not view Assyrians as part of their society,” says Royel. “Maybe, it is time to reconsider Sykes-Picot. There is talk of establishing martial law in Iraq, like in Egypt, but that doesn’t seem practical. Egypt is more homogenous than Iraq.”

When asked what a modern state of Assyria would look like, Royel stated that he would like very much to see a free Assyrian homeland for his people to live in peace within its borders. Friendship between Israel and Assyria would be mutually beneficial, with both countries being strong allies. Whereas Israel would serve as a model for a successful Middle Eastern state for Assyria, Israel would gain a strong ally in an increasingly tumultuous region.

Bradley Martin is a Fellow for the Haym Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and Research Assistant for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

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  • Dr Gerald Gotzen

    The history of the Assyrian Church in East is apostolic and
    dynamic. Their Bible is called Peshitta meaning straight in the Aramaic language which was spoken by Jesus, His disciples and the ancient church. The statement by the Patriarch on the theme of friendship with Israel is courageous and challenging. You cannot be a real Christian unless you believe that God has a plan and purpose for His chosen people.

    Dr Gerald Gotzen
    UK Board Member of El Shaddai TV Network. Our policy is the pro-active Israel and with the foundes Dr Pastor Abera and his wife Beletu we arrange a live broadcast from Jerusalem every year at the beginning of September

  • Joseph

    I love his article! Jews and Assyrians have always been peaceful friends. We learn from each other we need to be friends forever and worship The Living God! Jews and Assyrians are very properly organized nation. God bless!

  • mjazzguitar, The Assyrian International News Agency is good site for those interested in Assyrian affairs.

  • Christian

    God bless the two nation long live Assyria & Israel

  • Ninos

    The Lord Almighty will bring Assyria back!
    And there will be a highway from Assyria to Israel
    and the Assyrians will come to Israel and the Israelites will come to Assyria.
    And the two will be the strongest allies in the Mid East.

    We, the Assyrians, will come to Israel for our Christian pilgrimages.
    And Israelis will come to Assyria to see where it all began, with Abraham & Sarah.

    God Bless Israel and Assyria!

  • Virginia Warda

    This is good Idea good luck and God bless you

  • Virginia Warda

    This is a very good Idea good Luck and God bless you

  • Marlen Babaian

    Assyrian people are always been peaceful nation ever since over centuries BC . Today after 2000 yrs. We keep thinking to have true friends?
    We cannot have friends who have taken our dignity and our liberation from us away. We need first to be our own friends. We rather to be alone and use our own shadows for being a part of ours than to fallen in trap again!

    Not any wish is a good wish!

  • Michael

    Another example of Middle-East oppression severely under-reported by the mainstream media which obsesses over peddling its demonization of Israel.

    One problem is that Assyria has much overlap with Kurdistan. If both become independent states, how will a border be drawn?

  • Peter Y. Bet-Shlimon

    Yes, Well Said … Yes Assyria will rise again … God bless Assyrians and Israelis.

  • Jay Lavine

    The Assyrian language is a form of Aramaic, which, of course, was the lingua franca of Jews and other peoples in ancient times, as readers of the Talmud and reciters of the Kaddish and other prayers are well aware.

    Use of the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is problematic. Jews refer to their Bible as the Tanach or Jewish Bible. “Old Testament” is a kind of putdown, implying that the Jewish Bible is obsolete and has been superseded by another testament. Therefore, even Christians tolerant of diversity shy away from the term. Similarly, “New Testament” should be referred to by other names, such as “Christian Bible,” “Greek Scriptures,” et al.

  • Ben

    There is no point of interest for Assyrians to have friendship with Israel.

  • Sam Bazi

    It will
    Be good path to have strong , relationship between two nations .you are going to make a piece with ( nations that have , Brain , United , controll Financial of the planet & Lod God have point them as nation been Choice . & with Jews we are more safe then an arbe . I think it will be right movement to move. Wish you good luck in future .

  • John AlMalek

    We had friendships with the Arab Muslim world, how far did that take us? to “mass graves, refugee camps and enslavement” time to make new friends in the region.