Jews are an ethnoreligious group, a tribe, and a nation originating in the Land of Israel, descended from the ancient Hebrews and Israelites. An ethnoreligious group is an ethnic group unified by a common religion. Much like other Indigenous tribes worldwide, Jewish peoplehood, tribal identity, and religion/spirituality (Judaism) are inextricable from each other.
Our history dates back some 4000 years, and, as such, we were one of the oldest tribes in the world. In fact, the word “tribe,” which comes from “tribus” in Latin, was first used to refer to the twelve Israelite tribes.
It’s worth noting that the term “Jews” and “Judaism” do not come from a faith but rather, from a place: specifically, the Kingdom of Judah (930 BCE-587 BCE), one of the two Israelite kingdoms after the split of the United Monarchy of the Kingdom of Israel in 930 BCE.
The fact that modern-day Jews descend from the ancient Israelites should not be up for debate (unfortunately, because of deep-seeded antisemitism and propaganda surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it is). Archeological evidence, a plethora of genetic studies (“Jewish” DNA is among the most studied in the world), historical record, and the continuity of Jewish culture all conclusively tie the origins — and very identity — of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.
proposed borders for an autonomous Assyrian state
The Assyrian people are an ethnic group Indigenous to Mesopotamia, including parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. Assyrians and their ancestors have lived in the Assyrian homeland since the beginnings of recorded history.
For 300 years, the Assyrians ruled over the largest empire then known to man. However, today, due to relentless persecution and genocide, only two to five million Assyrians survive to this day.
Assyrians today are almost exclusively Christian, predominantly ascribing to Syriac Christianity. They speak Assyrian, an Aramaic language very similar to Hebrew.
FROM ANCIENT ENEMIES
wall panel from the South West Palace of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III, depicting an Assyrian soldier deporting Israelite captives, 728 BCE
In 930 BCE, the united Kingdom of Israel split into the Kingdom of Israel to the north and the Kingdom of Judah to the south over conflict over taxation. Between 740 and 722 BCE, the neighboring Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered the Kingdom of Israel and expelled its inhabitants. Many of the northern Israelites also survived the invasions by fleeing south to the Kingdom of Judah, where Jews come from.
Samaritans, the closest ethnoreligious cousins to Jews, are descended from the survivors of the Assyrian conquest. Following the Assyrian conquest, King Sargon II of Assyria turned the kingdom into the Assyrian province of Samerina.
The account of the Assyrian Captivity is verified by both Jewish and Assyrian sources. According to Assyrian sources, 27,290 Israelites were taken captive. It was Assyrian policy to assimilate captives into their culture and identity, and, as such, the captured Israelites ceased being Israelites.
Ironically, this forceful Assyrian assimilation served as a warning to the southern Jews. When, in 587 BCE, the Babylonians exiled 25 percent of the population of Judah, the Jews worked extra hard not to assimilate, determined not to suffer the fate that their northern cousins suffered a couple centuries prior.
TO POTENTIAL ALLIES
Today many Assyrians — including Assyrian leaders — see Israel and Jews as an example of resistance against Arab and Muslim hegemony in the Middle East. Of course, like all communities, the views of the Assyrian community are not monolithic.
Mar Awa Royel, the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, has expressed a desire for friendship with Israel. In 2003, a group of Israeli Jews visited Adabashi, a formerly Assyrian city now in Turkey, and had the following to say about the Assyrians they met:
“Actually, they are family.”
In 2019, a delegation of Assyrians met in Jerusalem for the Committee for the Resurrection of the Aramaic Language, inspired by the revival of Hebrew.
Juliana Taimoorazy, an Assyrian delegate of the conference, recounted how the Aramaic language and Assyrian culture always made her feel close to the Jewish People. Growing up in Iran, she would always avoid stepping on the Israeli and American flags painted on the ground. She also expressed desire that one day Assyrians will be able to return to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, just as Jews returned to Jerusalem.
At the end of the conference, Assyrian delegate Hermis Shaheen gave the Jewish chairman Dr. Jacob Maoz a certificate highlighting the connection between Jews and Assyrians.
WHEN ASSYRIANS HELPED JEWS
Following the outbreak of the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli War, Iraq severely cracked down on the millennia-old Jewish community of Iraq. For instance, in May 1947, a Jew was lynched by an angry mob in Baghdad for supposedly “poisoning” candy to hand out to Arab children. In 1948, Iraq made “Zionism” a capital offense; a Jew only needed to be accused of Zionism by two Muslims for the punishment to be carried out. Increasingly antisemitic policies were carried out as the war progressed, with thousands of Jews arrested and tortured. Though Jewish emigration was banned, Assyrians, like Kurds, assisted their Jewish neighbors as they tried to flee Iraq.
Assyrian activist Frederick Aprim recalls how his own father helped his Jewish friend Selim Battot:
“One day late evening…before Battot was to leave Iraq, Battot came to our home with a bag and told my father, ‘I do not know what is going to happen in the next few days. Would you keep this bag with you and bring it to me when I get in touch with you later? If I [call] you, allow me to have my suitcase back, but if I [do] not call you, keep the suitcase and all that is in it to yourself.’ My father waited for a phone call from Battot. Couple of days later, Battot called and asked my father to meet with him in Baghdad. My father traveled from Kirkuk to Baghdad to give back Battot’s suitcase as Battot was getting ready to leave Iraq. Battot said, ‘I was going to leave Iraq either way with or without my savings which [are] in the bag…you could have kept the suitcase to yourself and I could have done nothing.’
“Battot looked at the suitcase and said to my father, ‘I could tell that you have not even attempted to open it.’ My father responded, ‘I cannot open a bag left with me in confidence[!]’ Battot was very grateful. The two friends lost contact since then.”
In 1997, Aprim’s daughter visited Israel and tracked down Battot, her father’s old friend. Battot told her that he would never forget what her father did. They exchanged numbers and the two friends got in contact once more, after nearly 50 years.
ASSYRIANS IN ISRAEL
Today some 4500 Assyrians live in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, predominantly in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The community mainly has its roots in those who fled the Assyrian Genocide, also known as the Sayfo, in 1915.
According to Israel’s Ministry of Interior, 85 percent of Israel’s Arab Christian population is eligible to change their registration to “Aramaic.” It’s important to note however that not all Aramaic-speaking peoples are Assyrian.
Dr. Jacob Maoz, an Assyrian Jew and chairman of the Committee for the Resurrection of the Aramaic Language, has stated that one of his main objectives is for there to be an Assyrian embassy in Jerusalem.
He has stated that an Assyrian embassy in Jerusalem would “embody Israeli society's declaration of support of the Assyrian nation, its cultural heritage and its national aspirations."
One of the most important factors in Jewish-Assyrian relations is that, in light of Arab suppression and revisionism of Indigenous cultures and history, Jewish historical records validate Assyrian historical records, and vice versa.
This is particularly necessary in light of the appropriation of the Tanakh (“Hebrew Bible”). Due to its appropriation, the Tanakh was stripped of its cultural, tribal, and national context, so now it is dismissed as mere religious fantasy, when in reality it is a text encompassing the mythologies, laws, and history of the Jewish People. Thanks to meticulous Assyrian records, we can verify many of the narratives as rooted in actual history and archeology.
As linguist, translator, and author Ross Perlin explains, “Nearly three millennia of continuous records exist for Aramaic; only Chinese, Hebrew, and Greek have an equally long written legacy.”
In the first century, the Assyrian Kingdom of Adiabene converted to Judaism. Queen Helena of Adiabene even moved to Jerusalem, where she built palaces for herself and her sons, and donated large sums to the Temple. However, after 115 CE, there are no records of Assyrian Jewish royalty.
Today a small number of Jews whose ancestors were displaced to Assyria identify as Assyrian Jews and speak various dialects of Aramaic. The majority now live in Israel. Sometimes they are mistakenly conflated with Kurds or Kurdish Jews, but they are Assyrian, not Kurdish, and this erasure is inaccurate and problematic.
Other than Samaritans, Assyrians arguably share the most common culture with Jews.
The Hebrew alphabet that we have used for the past 2500 years is known as “Ktav Ashuri,” meaning “Assyrian script,” as the letters are a variation of Aramaic. The Talmud, a compilation of rabbinic commentary through the centuries, is written in Aramaic. Many Jewish prayers, such as the mourner’s Kaddish and Kol Nidrei, are in Aramaic.
Many “Hebrew” words we use everyday are actually Aramaic. For example, the Hebrew word for “father” is “av,” but we generally use “abba,” which is Aramaic.
While Assyrians are almost exclusively Christian, the Syriac churches are rooted in syncretism with ancient Assyrian spiritual practices, which is why Assyrian Bishop Mar Awa Royel has called the Syriac churches “the most Semitic” of all churches, drawing similarities to Jewish culture.
Like Israel, Assyria takes its name from a deity, Assur/Ashur. For more on the ancient Canaanites, the Canaanite god El, and how that relates to the Jewish People, I recommend my post WHEN, HOW, & WHY THE TORAH WAS WRITTEN.
In ancient Assyrian tradition, Assur was a consort to Asherah, one of the two most important Canaanite deities. Additionally, there are many similarities between Asherah and Ishtar, an ancient Assyrian goddess. Another figure shared by both Jewish and Mesopotamian (including Assyrian) mythology is Lilith. Finally, Assyriologist Simo Parpola has drawn similarities between the Assyrian and Jewish Kabbalist depictions of the Tree of Life.
Assur is the deity creature depicted at the top of the Assyrian flag.
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