In response to my post on Jonah and His God, an anonymous reader wrote:
Allow me first to write that I’m glad to read such comments in order to be able to correct many misconceptions and wrong judgements which are passed upon the ancient Assyrians. I should make it a point and case to put not a penny but a dollar aside for every time I see an article repeating that the ancient Assyrians were “ruthless” people but no one mentions the accomplishments and the civilization that the ancient Assyrians left for the world, in addition to being the first people to believe in the message of salvation and spreading it as far as India, Mongolia, Soumatra, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, and so on with their monuments being witnesses to that great effort long before Marco Polo or the Roman Catholic Church set foot in those remote lands, the missionaries of the Holy Church of The East a.k.a. The Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of The East, held a Cross in one hand and the Bible in the other and went on foot to preach the Gospel with Christian brotherly love and not coercion. The ancient Assyrians used force just like did the Romans, Greeks or Egyptians, even the Jews did. Since their historical lands in what’s today known as Iraq amongst other parts of the Middle East were invaded by Persians, Arabs and Mongols the indigenous Assyrians have paid a highest price over the centuries just to preserve their identity, culture, language and history and they continue to suffer. A final point about Jonah who was supposed to be a believer yet he tried run away from God’s command in order not to go to Assyria but the Assyrians listened to his message, repented and later on became the first people to believe in the Messiah and Salvation. The Old Testament is full of different stories which are pro and against people but the most important of them all is this verse from the New Testament Luke 11:32 The word which you used in the article as niphal is the Assyrian word napla from the verb napel meaning to fall. It’s a well known fact that the Hebrews spoke Assyrian which is referred erroneously to as Aramaic or Syriac and till today 6 of the Old Testament books are still read by the Jews in what is referred to erroneously as “Aramaic” and the alphabet which the Hebrews or Jews today use is called the Assyrian letters even though they write it differently. The Assyrians believed without seeing but those who had the light amongst them never saw it. Till today the Liturgical calendar of the Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of The East still commemorates that event with a three day fast named the Rogation of the Ninevites and many traditions are attached to that fast.
I quote the comments of anonymous in full because I am sympathetic to the plight of the Assyrians who are alive today.Their culture has survived even though the Assyrians had to endure much persecution.There are, however, a few points in his comments that need to be addressed.
1. The Bible and history show that the Assyrians imposed a policy of terror and violence upon their enemies.The Assyrian monuments give full evidence of their brutality.The graphic above shows Tiglath-pileser III besieging a city and bodies of dead enemies impaled and piled up on the ground.
2. The conversion of the Assyrians is a matter of debate.The book of Nahum gives no indication that the Assyrians were converted.The people who settled in Samaria after the exile of the Northern Kingdom were not Assyrians.They were conquered people deported from their countries and settled in Samaria by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:2-34).The Assyrians would never repopulate their own people.
3. The original language of the Hebrew people was a dialect of Canaanite; the language spoken by Israel in the pre-exilic time was called “the language of Canaan” (Isaiah 19:18). The language of the ancient Assyrians was Akkadian.When Aramean tribes moved into the region, Aramaic became the dominant language.Aramaic became the official language of the provinces in the Assyrian empire and eventually became an international language, used in diplomacy and trade.
In fact, when the Assyrians invaded Judah, it was very clear that the people did not understand Aramaic.At the time of the invasion, the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the supreme commander of the Assyrian Army, the Rabsaris, the Assyrian king’s chief officer, and the Rabshakeh, the army’s field commander to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.
When the Assyrian officers spoke to the officers of Hezekiah, the Israelite officials said to the Assyrian field commander: “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it.Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall” (2 Kings 18:26).
After the Assyrians established their empire, Aramaic became the language of the Ancient Near East.This is seen when the Bible says that some of the Jews who returned from exile had a difficult time preserving their native language.
The book of Nehemiah says that of the people who came back, “Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah” (Nehemiah 13:24).Thus, when Ezra read the Law of Moses he had to translate it to the people: “Ezra read from the book of the Law of God, translating and giving the sense; so the reading was understood” (Nehemiah 8:8 NJB).
4.Anonymous wrote: “The word which you used in the article as niphal is the Assyrian word napla from the verb napel meaning to fall.”
This is not correct.The word “Niphal” does not come from “naphal” (נפל), a Hebrew word meaning “to fall.”Rather, the word “Niphal” comes from the Hebrew word “pa`al” (פעל) a Hebrew verb meaning “work.”It is also the Modern Hebrew word for “verb.”The word “Niphal” (נפעל) is the word “pa`al” (פעל) with the prefix נ (a preformative) attached to the word “pa`al” to give a passive or reflexive meaning to a verb.
The Bible is not completely negative about the Assyrians.There are several passages in the Old Testament that seem to indicate that Assyria has a special place in God’s plan:
In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth (Isaiah 19:24).
In this passage, the prophet affirms that in the last days Israel, Egypt, and Assyria will be united as one people under God.Instead of being enemies, they will be united and instead of having different religions, they shall all worship the same God.Israel, together with Assyria and Egypt, will become a blessing to other nations because from them the true religion of God will be extended unto other nations.
Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance (Isaiah 19:25).
In this passage, God calls Assyria “the work of my hands.”This expression is used in parallelism with “my people,” and “my inheritance.”Since Israel is also the work of God’s hand (Isaiah 64:8), the prophet is saying that in God’s hand, Assyria will be a means of blessing to others.
Consider Assyria . . . I made it beautiful (Ezekiel 31:3, 9).
This passage describes in a parabolic manner the greatness that was Assyria.Assyria’s beauty, that it, its power, prosperity, and glory, was the work of God.
From these passages we discover that God has a plan for Assyria.Maybe this is the reason God used them to spread the gospel to other lands.
Many Assyrians today are Christians.According to estimates, there are about 4,000.000 Assyrians in the world today.Of these, 3,000,000 still live in the Middle East; most of them live in Iraq (a country that encompasses the lands of the former Assyrian empire) and Syria and more than 300,000 live in the United States.
If anyone wants to know more about Assyrian Christians, a good source is Assyria: The Forgotten Nation in Prophecy by John Booko.Booko is an Assyrian American and an alumnus of Northern Seminary.Booko’s book takes a maximalist view of Assyria and a pre-millennial view of prophecy.
The book Assyria: The Forgotten Nation in Prophecy can be ordered from:
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NOTE: For other studies on the book of Isaiah, read my post, Studies on the Book of Isaiah.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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