by Joe David
To the casual historian, the Ancient Assyrians were savages who had turned war into a refined art. History books are replete with examples of them skinning, impaling, burning, and chopping off critical body parts of their enemies. Reliefs discovered in their palaces echo such horrible acts of carnage, which they promoted with pride to terrify their enemies.
War was a way of life for them, conceived to enlarge their wealth and territories. To guarantee success against their enemies, they developed skillful warriors trained to excel in specialized areas, such as charioteers, cavalry, bowmen, and lancers. Engineers were used to craft movable towers with battering rams to destroy city walls, and iron weapons were created to give them a decisive edge on the battlefield.
To serious scholars, though, the Ancient Assyrians accomplished much more than military power. Although Christianity didn’t take hold and spread throughout Asia until 33 AD a thousand or more years later, the Ancient Assyrians prepared the way for what would follow by their devotion to one god. His name was Ashur.
The Ancient Assyrians
(2500 BC to 612 BC)
The Assyrian empire was located in Iraq in an area called Mesopotamia – a Greek word meaning “between two rivers,” or more specifically between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It was here in this fertile land, between these two rivers, home once to the Sumerians and later to the Akkadians, that the Assyrians built a civilization which at its height unified diverse cultural groups from Persia to Egypt.
What saved the Ancient Assyrians from being just another barbaric group was their achievements, which were shared with other civilizations that followed. They included a postal system, libraries, magnifying glasses, paved roads, locks and keys, a method for telling time, plumbing with flushing toilets, Hammurabi’s Law (which is generally known for its “eye for an eye” punishment), a system for managing vast land holdings (by using governors to oversee territories), and a useful knowledge of astronomy (acquired, not just for scientific purposes, but to assist superstitious rulers at making decisions).
For the purpose of this article, their most important contribution lay much deeper than all that.
Although the Ancient Assyrians had many gods, representing different aspects of nature, those other gods were all aspects of their primary God, Ashur. He was their king of all gods, their omnipresent and omnipotent creator. By spreading this idea of one God, rather than the idea of a multitude of gods, so popular among primitive societies, throughout the region to the tribes and countries they had conquered, they prepared the foundation for what would follow: the birth of one-god religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Unfortunately, because of their cruelty to their citizens and their enemies, it was inevitable that discontent would spread throughout their empire and eventually destabilize it. Their collapse was accelerated by a military that was weakened by constant wars. In 612 BC, their primary enemies, the Babylonians and Medes, successfully destroyed their capital, Nineveh, and the mighty Assyrian empire collapsed. But their legacy of monotheism remained.
The Christian Assyrian Empire
(33 AD – 1300 AD)
It took about 600 hundred years for the Assyrians to rise from their ashes. In 33 AD they again became prominent and again built an empire. This time it was a Christian empire, the very first Christian empire in the world, based on the teachings of Jesus.
Their transition to Christianity didn’t occur immediately. Their loyalty to Ashur continued until about 256 AD. But in 33 AD Ashurism began to fade in importance, as the Assyrians converted to Christianity through the teachings of three apostles – Saints Thomas, Bartholomew, and Thaddeus. These three apostles, credited with founding the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East in Edessa, Turkey in the upper Mesopotamia area, led the way for the spread of Christianity, which eventually made its way across Asia.
Unfortunately, the Christian Assyrians are rarely given much attention in history books. When most people think of the Assyrians, they often think of the Ancient Assyrians, not the Christian Assyrians. Yet, like their predecessors, the Christian Assyrians also made noteworthy contributions to civilization, some of which have been carelessly attributed to other groups. Much of their noteworthy contributions were in the area of spiritual and intellectual endeavors. Here are only some of them:
- Between the fourth and sixth centuries, they revived the knowledge accumulated by the Greeks and translated it into Syriac and later from Syriac to Arabic. This included many religious works as well as the works of important thinkers like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates.
- They also made their own special contributions in science, philosophy, and medicine. In the ninth century, for example, Assyrian Scholar, Physician and Translator Hunayn ibn Ishaq, wrote the “Ten Treatises of Ophthalmology,” which was used as a textbook until 1800 AD. The book provided important information about the eyes and its anatomy in minute detail, including discussions about eye diseases and the treatments for them.
- In the area of architecture, it was the Assyrians who freely began to use the parabolic shape to create vaulted and domed chambers.
- During the ninth century, Job of Edessa, an Assyrian writer, who translated many scientific works from Greek to Syriac was credited with evolving a physical theory of the Universe, which replaced matter (or to be more exact, empiricism, as defined by Aristotle) with a new theory, a theory of forces (which preceded the discoveries in quantum mechanics).
Their contributions were many and significant. But of them all, again, for the purpose of this article, the two crowning achievements were:
- Create a missionary system to spread Christianity throughout the world. With only a Bible, a cross, and some bread, the missionaries followed the silk route to the East, delivering their message of peace and a loving God to the world. Along the way, they established churches. By the 12th Century, the Assyrian Church of East became the largest church in the world with over 80 million followers, making it larger than the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches combined. At its peak, their missionaries had reached China, Japan and even the Philippines.
- Establish the first university, the School of Nisibis (with three departments – theology, philosophy, and medicine). This university became an important spiritual center for intellectual development, and it was used as the model for a monastery school at the Vivarium, an estate in southern Italy in about 540 AD.
Such achievements provide a glimpse into the sophistication of their civilization, which evolved over time. They also provide a glimpse into the character of the Assyrians, exemplified by their transition from a military to a peace-loving society – a direct result of their Christian development that began in 33 AD.
Unfortunately, this peaceful and cultured people faced a real threat roughly around 630 AD with the rise of Islam.
(610 AD – Present)
In 570 AD Muhammad was born in Mecca. Orphaned at an early age, he lived first with his grandfather, then later with an uncle who ran a successful caravan business. While under his uncle’s support, he met a wealthy businesswoman, a distant relative, who entrusted him with handling a business transaction. Impressed with the results of his transaction and his business skills in general, she proposed marriage to him.
After being comfortably married to her for about 15 years, he reportedly had visions in which God through the Archangel Gabriel spoke to him during religious trances. While in these trances, it is believed Gabriel delivered to Muhammad revelations, which Muhammad put to memory and his scribes later recorded in the Koran.
Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last prophet chosen by God, that he is a prophet of goodly qualities and exalted character. To duplicate his fine qualities and attain his noble character, as recorded for them in the Koran, many devout Muslims study the Holy Book and memorize passages from it.
Inspired by his teachings, and with the same religious fervor occurring today in many parts of the world, his followers swept through the Middle East in the early 7th Century, ruthlessly slaughtering non-believers, leaving behind their religious imprint of broken bodies. Like the Ancient Assyrians, they showed no mercy toward anyone who refused to adapt to their rule. At its height, the Muslim Empire through aggressive wars took control of Syria, Palestine, Persia, and Egypt and even maintained a strong foothold across North Africa and into Spain and Portugal as well as parts of Eastern Europe.
Determined to dominate the world with their political-religious views, they have continued their major war against Christians to this day. Here is just a skeletal look at their past:
- The Crusades: In 1095, Pope Urban II became concerned about all the Christians who were being slaughtered by the Muslims during their pilgrimages to the Holy Lands. Determined to protect the Christian pilgrims and the Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire, as it was sometimes called), the pope turned to European Christians for support. What followed was a series of defensive Crusades against the Muslims that lasted for nearly 200 years. In 1291, the Muslims finally defeated the Crusaders. Weakened by war, the Eastern Roman Empire eventually collapsed. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks took control of the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital, Constantinople, and turned it into an Islamic capital, the seat of its caliphate.
- Tamerlane: “Timur the Lane” was a Turco-Mongolian conqueror and a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. In the 15th Century, this Muslim warrior swept through the Middle East, and delivered irreparable blows to the Christians. He left behind him a trail of butchered human bodies. After conquering Baghdad, for example, he built a minaret for a mosque with the 90 thousand heads of Christians. As a result of his Islamic victories, the Christian population in the Middle East was significantly reduced and scattered throughout the Mesopotamia area and beyond. Those Christians who remained in the area until the 20th Century remained there historically invisible for the most part and very much subservient to the Muslim rule.
- The Barbary Coast Pirates: From about the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire maintained control of the Mediterranean Sea primarily through the capitals of three of its provinces –Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. These three cities, including Salé, Morocco, were a part of the Barbary Coast States. From their foothold on the Mediterranean Sea on the African side, the Barbary Coast Pirates not only raided Christian communities on the European side, but they also attacked ships traveling on the open sea. During their attacks, they would claim all valuable cargo and would ransom or enslave the captured enemy. (This eventually led to the Barbary Coast War in 1801, after President Thomas Jefferson, refused to pay ransom for the safety of U.S. crew and cargo, hijacked by the pirates. In 1815 treaties were signed with the United States that finally ended all tribute payments to the pirates.)
- The Hamidian Massacres: In 1894-96, Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, turned his anger savagely against the Armenian Christians and murdered about 200,000 Armenians and Assyrians, accusing them of treason, because they rebelled against enslavement by the Turks. The Sultan’s actions, which received international attention, earned for him the title, the Red Sultan. His many acts of savagery toward the Christians during his reign became an omen of what was to follow after a group of reformers called the Young Turks took power in Turkey before World War I.
- World War I: By 1914, the Ottoman Turks could no longer hold their empire together. Their military control of Christians in the Balkan countries that they once ruled with might was broken after two wars. Their abusive treatment of non-Muslims had resulted in a strong uprising that resulted in military defeat and bankruptcy for the Turkey. The Young Turks who took control of the government before the war by usurping the power of the sultan turned to the Central Powers (i.e., Germany and Austria-Hungary) to help them regain their empire. Their plan was to declare a jihad against their enemies. When this failed to occur, they turned the Muslims against their two primary enemies — the Russians in the North and the Christians in Turkey. What followed in the Middle East was the brutal massacre of several million Christians (i.e., Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontic Greeks).
Call this enemy of Christianity whatever you like – radicals, fundamentalists, Islamic terrorists, or jihadists. If you connect the dots from their past to their present activities, you will uncover a disturbing pattern: a fanatical commitment to eliminating infidels. (For a contemporary and brief look at some of their atrocities, read my article in Israel National News, “Connecting the Dots.”)
Any non-Muslim in their path to mayhem, refusing to submit to their authority, was enslaved or was savagely killed. As a result of this harsh treatment, many people submitted to the Islamic faith out of fear for their safety and remained Muslims for the same reason. This raises an important question: How devoted can anyone be if they are forced to accept religious loyalty out of fear for their lives? During World War I, the Turks discovered the answer first hand, when the Muslims around the world ignored the Turks call for jihad.
Besides forcing upon large segments of the world their primitive political-religious beliefs, the Muslims will always be remembered for two positive contributions to history. In the book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Robert Spencer identified them.
- They exported Greek culture to Europe. This was done by providing Spaniards with the Assyrian translations of Greek thinkers, which enabled the Spaniards to translate the writings from Arabic to Latin. After the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Greek residents were obligated to migrate to Europe. Within no time, Europe swelled with followers of Plato and Aristotle who introduced Europe to classical philosophy and literature. This led to the Renaissance movement, which changed the face of Europe (and the world) by bringing about a rebirth of interest in Greek culture.
- They contributed to the discovery of the new world. After the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, Europeans had to find a new route to the East for their spices and other exotics goods. The spice route was blocked in the Middle East by the Ottoman Turks. Christopher Columbus believed he could avoid this Muslim blockade by sailing west to reach the East. He was convinced the world was round, not flat as many Europeans believed. His theory, which originated with the Greeks, led to his westward journey to prove his point. In 1492, to Columbus’ surprise, he discovered not a new route to the East, but instead a new world, America!
Of course, the Muslims made other contributions. But many of them were stolen from the labor of those whom they had conquered and enslaved. It is too early in time to determine what their “contributions” will be for what is unfolding today around the world. What we are seeing now in the Middle East (and spreading rapidly throughout Africa and Europe) is a continuation their unfinished war against the Christians.
The same radical obsession for the global political-religious domination through savage murder that began in the 7th Century with the birth of Islam is continuing today. Unlike the ancient Assyrians who learned from their past and embraced a religion that promised hope and peace for the world, the Muslims have clung tenaciously to their commitment to warfare.
Today while ISIS and other radical forces are moving rapidly through the Middle East, reducing Assyrian Christians and others, as well as their religious symbols to ashes, the civilized world for the most part remains silent. What will follow world-wide is conjecture. But if world conditions continue to deteriorate at such a rapid rate it could turn into a major tragedy – another World War, led by radicals with nuclear capability.
Joe David is the author of six books and numerous articles for magazines, newspapers, and journals. His latest book, The Infidels, focuses on the genocide of Assyrian Christians one hundred years ago in Persia.
 Zebel, Sydney H. and Schwartz, Sydney, Past to Present, The Macmillan Company, New York, page 42.
 Starr, Chester, A History of the Ancient World, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1983, page 133.
 BetBasoo, Peter, “Brief History of the Assyrians,” www.aina.org/brief.html
 BetBasoo, Peter, “Brief History of the Assyrians,” www.aina.org/brief.html
 Starr, Chester A., A History of the Ancient World, page 133.
 Ibid, page 137.
 Kriwaczek, Paul, Babylon, Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2010, pages 230-231, 242.
 BetBasoo, Peter, “Brief History of the Assyrians,” www.aina.org/brief.html
 BetBasoo, Peter, “Muslim Claims of Accomplishments,” archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=29404
 BetBasoo, Peter, “Brief History of Assyrians,” www.aina.org/brief.html
 Quantum mechanics is the science that explains the behavior of matter and its interactions with energy on an atomic- and subatomic-particle level. (This knowledge all came to be known before Planck and Einstein.)
 BetBasso, Peter, “Brief History of Assyrians,” www.aina.org/brief.html
 Spencer, Robert, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Regnery Publishing, Washington, DC, 2005, pp 96-97.
 Ibid, page 168.
 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbary_pirates; memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html
 Theriault, Hencry C., “Rethinking Dehumanization in Genocide”, The Armenian Genocide, Edited by Richard Hovannisian, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick and London, 2008, pages 35-36.
 For a brief highlight of some of the crimes against the Christians in the 20th Century, read the article, “Connecting the Dots” by Joe David, Israel National News.