by Dr. Henry Bedros Kipha (Paris/France)

It is extremly essential for us to review the highlights of this subject discussed in the two previous parts of this article which is about the famous Introduction of Bishop Eugin Manna, which is about the history of the Syriac Aramean people. This review is especially important for those who did not read the two previous articles which were published in this ARAM periodical No. 2, 3, 4.

This part three is a continuation of the same subject.

The First Part was about the subject: "The Aramean Belonging" - Included the following subjects:

- the Aramean presence.

- the Aramaic Land.

- the Aramaic culture.

- Modern World Attention and interest in the Aramean History

The Second Part

"In calling the Aramaic people as Syrians" included the following subjects:

Chapter 1 - About Bishop Manna's Reference to the source of the name.

Chapter 2 - Errors and contradictions about the reference to the source of the name.

Chapter 3 - The Relation of the name Syria to Surus.

Chapter 4 - Quatremere and what he wrote about the origin of the name Syria.

This Third Part

When did the name "Syrian" begin to mean Christian?

According to Bishop Manna the name "Syrian" started to mean Christian "in the early ages" (l). We intend to support with proof that this theory is false. It is essential for us to know: from what source did Bishop Manna drew this theory?

Did he give supporting proofs to this theory which he actually copied from some European scholars, as we unfold in this article? We will actually establish when OUR forefathers started to use the name Syrian to mean christian. Did they really mean to change their Aramaic name simply because they accepted the christian religion?

Chapter 1 - Syrian means christian an idea spread in Europe

Chapter 2 - Can we find in the books written by our forefathers anything to support this theory?

Chapter 3 - Did Bishop Manna read the book written by the French Scholar Renan?

Chapter 4 - The idea spread and accepted by the educated Syrian groups.

Chapter 5 - Did our forefathers abandon their Aramaic name?

Chapter 6 - When did the name Syrian begin to mean Christian?

CHAPTER ONE: Syrian means Christian, an idea spread in Europe.

You might wonder when you learn that the scholar Quatremere in his book about the "Nabateans" is the first who links the Syrian name to the Christian religion, and the acceptance of our Aramean forefathers to the idea, but the French scholar Renan did not seem to believe or accept this idea or theory. We quote from Quatremere's Book (3) "Later, this Aramaic people got used to calling themselves Syrians when duty demanded of them to refuse this strange name. This people accepted to abandon their real Aramaic name to be forever forgotten, a name carried by their forefathers for long ages before them".

"How can we then explain the introduction of the names Syria and Syrians to the people who lived beyond the river Euphrates? If I am not mistaken, I believe that it was through the Christian religion, the Aramean people were convinced that they should be converted or changed into a new people, and abandon their old name. This linkage (abandoning the old Aramaic name) - if I am not mistaken - I believe is proved by the use of the Aramaic word "ARAMAYA" which is not different from the Aramaic name "ARMAYA" except in one aspect, that is an Aramaic linguistic vowel which makes it to mean "pagan". It was in this way that the name Syrian was spread among the Arameans".

Quartermere was the first to suggest the theory of the Arameans accepting the name Syrian because of their conversion to Christianity.

We notice that in his presentation he reflects his doubts by saying twice "if I am not mistaken" and "I believe" without giving any proof to support his theory. As far the proof he claims about the difference between the two pronounciations is a very poor because it is taken from the dictionaries of Bar Bahlul and Bar Ali written in the 10th century. This change in the pronounciation was effected in the 10th century A.D. and had nothing to do with our forefathers accepting the Christian religion.

We will present several Aramaic records proving that our forefathers never denied their Aramaic name. We are obliged to prove this for the sake of history, against the fact that the scholar Quatremere never presented real proofs that the Aramaic people abandoned their old Aramaic name.

Quatremere's book promoted two theories that are of concern to us:

A - The Greeks called the Aramaic people Syrian - a name extracted from Assyria.

B - The Acceptance of the Syrian name by the Aramaeans, when they accepted the Christian religion, and their abandoning of their old Aramaic name.

The scholar Renan adopted the first idea only as we have disclosed previously; yet there is another scholar, whose name is Larsow, who wrote a book in the year 1841 entitled "De Dialect Linguae Syriacare" in which he adopts the second theory which is that the name Syrian was given to the Aramaic Christians.

It is most probably that Bishop Manna copied this theory from Larsow and not from Quatremere.

CHAPTER TWO - Can we find in the books written by our forefathers anything to support this theory?

We have already stated that Quatremere presented his theory without giving proofs to support it. If his theory is "right" it would be easy for the historian to find support for his theory in the Syriac literary sources, and in the books of our forefathers, therefore we endeavored to find if our forefathers did use the name Syrian to mean Christian and then Aramaic name to mean heathen.

After a long research in the Syriac sources we have come to the following conclusions:

A - We found no record to support Quatremere's theory.

B - The Syrians used the word Mshihoyo or the Greek word Khristyono to name the Christian.

C - The Syrians used the word Hanfo to mean heathen.

D - The Syrians used the "Aramaic" and the "Syrian" names interchangeably to mean the same Syriac-Aramean people.

The following are some proofs that support the conclusions we have come to. We quote from the Syriac history book of the Unknown Edessene (4) "The water entered the sanctuary of the church of the christians". It is well established that the history book of the mentioned Edessene writer was written early in the third century A.D. Another quotation from the same book (5) "YeshuYahb the leader of the christians".

In another page we read (6) "Nero was the first who persecuted the christians in his days...".

In another page we read (7) "Constantine granted freedom to all the christians." In the book known as the Maronite history we read (8) "Mani was arguing with the Jews and Heathens..." Another quotation (9) "He abandoned the teaching of the christians". In another page (10) we read "He was also a bitter persecutor of the christians". From the history book which ends in the year 724 A.D. we find (11) "He desired to make his name known and forever remembered and to respect the christians. God's people".

In reference to Mar Ephrem he writes: (l2) "Mar Ephrem the Syrian" and not Mar Ephrem the Christian. When he speaks about Mar Isaac, he says( 13): "Isaac teacher of the Syrians". Another quotation (l4) "Abdallah son of Mohammad gave orders, and the walls of the Syrian cities were destroyed". The word "Suryaya" means the Syrian people and not the christian.

Jacob of Edessa wrote (15) "Thus we the Arameans, that is to say the Syrians".

Dionisius of TelMahre says (16): "Since then the sons of Hagar i.e.( the Moslem Arabs) enslaved the Arameans like the Egyptian slavery". Dionisius of TelMahre speaks about the Syrians and he uses the word Arameans which are synonyms. In a Syriac text from the seventh century we read the following:

"YeshuYahb was treated respectfully throughout his life, by the king himself and his two christian wives Sherin the Aramean and Mary the Greek".

By saying Sherin the Aramean the writer does not mean that she is pagan because the text says that she is christian and this is a proof that Aramean did not mean pagan but Syrian. If we go back to Bishop Manna's Introduction we can find strong proofs that the name Syrian was used interchangeably with the name Aramaean, especially in Manna's following quotation.

From Bar-Salibi: ".............the name Syrian which you have deprived us from, is not considered honorable to us ... We are the sons of Aram and we were named Arameans after his name."

This quotation proves the following:

A - the name "Syrian" did not mean "Christian" in the year 1171 AD during the life of Bar Salibi, because it was not honorable to him.

B - the name "Syrian" was given to the Arameans. Doesn't he say we are the sons of Aram?

C - If the books and the records of our forefathers have no mention or proof to support Quatremere's theory, from where did Manna get this thought?

In the following chapter, we will discuss the source where Bishop Manna drew his theory.

CHAPTER THREE - Did Bishop Manna read the book written by the French scholar Renan?

All researchers of the history of the Syrians are surprised to hear this recent theory, that our Aramaic forefathers abandoned their old name favoring the Syrian name given to the christian Arameans. For this reason we tried to find the source of Bishop Manna's theory. Knowing that Quatremere was the first to mention this theory in the year 1831 AD and in the year 1841 AD, and that Larsow published it in his book in the year 1841 AD.

Bishop Manna lists the sources on which he depended (18) in writing his dictionary, among others he mentioned:

1 - The famous dictionary of Bar Bahlul

2 - Thesaurus Syriacus of Payne Smith.

3 - Bar Lebo (allubab) of father Qerdahi.

4 - Syriac dictionary of Thoma Odo.

I was greatly surprised to find that no reference was made to Quatremere's or Larsow's books, he does not even mention the French scholar Renan, in spite of the fact that he quoted from his book the "statement" that some claim to be the proof that the two names "Syrian" and "Assyrians" are synonyms.

We have several reasons to believe that Bishop Manna never read Renan's book and we list the following:

A - Bishop Manna did not include it in the list of his sources.

B - Bishop Manna copied this "statement" from the Dictionary (19) of Payne Smith. Smith depended on Renan and quoted from his book in French. Bishop Manna translated the same quotation and included it in his Introduction giving credit to Renan, to give the impression that he read Renan's book.

C - Bishop Manna translated the name of the book from the Dictionary of Smith as "Hist Des Langues Sem" of Renan and he said: "Renan said in his book, history of the Semitic languages, when the real name of the book is "Histoire Generale et systeme Compose des Langues semitiques."

D - We have come finally to believe that Bishop Manna, most probably, drew his theory from Smith's Dictionary because Smith quoted some statements from Renan (20) which state that the Arameans become known as Syrians when they accepted the Christian religion.

We conclude therefore that Bishop Manna did not read the books of Renan, Larsow and Quatremere, and that he did not check the proofs he presents. This is enough proof, for whoever reads this article, to be convinced that Bishop Manna was a linguistic scholar and not a historian. He quoted some of his ideas from Smith's dictionary that the Arameans abandoned their old name and were named Syrians, and since to the Eastern Syrians the name Syrian meant Christian, bishop Manna believed that the name Syrian was a synonym to the name Christian since the "Early Ages".

We will later in this article, prove that the Aramaic name became a synonym to Heathen during the 10th century A.D., and that the name Syrian became a synonym to Christian in the dark ages probably after the 13th century and only by the Eastern Syrians.

CHAPTER FOUR - The idea spread and accepted by the educated Syrian groups.

The majority of the educated Syrians believe that the name Syrian was given to the Aramaic Christians. This "idea" is found in most books published by the Syrian religious leaders and the educated groups, as if it has become a fundamental belief among the majority of the Syrians, Easterns and Westerns.

We will prove in this chapter that this idea was used by some Syrian fractions as an argument to split the unity of the Syriac-Aramaic people. In spite of the fact that Bishop Manna and Quatremere before him stated that the name Syrian was giving to the Arameans who accepted the Christian religion we find today that some Syrians, calling themselves "Assyrians" claim that their forefathers abandoned their old name after they became Christians.

There is no doubt that the spread of this idea among the Syrian people is for the following reasons:

A - this idea is presented in the introduction of a dictionary considered to be the first Syrian-Arabic dictionary in use, while the dictionaries of Bar Ali and Bar Bahlul are nearly out of circulation, while the dictionary of Bishop Toma Audo is only Syriac-Syriac. Therefore the dictionary of Bishop Manna is the only one the educated Syrians have access to, and the Syrian religious leaders who were anxious to know their ancient history, read the introduction of Manna's dictionary and thus spread his ideas and faults among the educated groups.

B - Bishop Manna went further and repeated the same ideas in his dictionary in the explanation of the Syriac word "ESTARYAN" (21).

C - Some educated Syrians and clerics presented some poor proofs to support this idea, and the mere acceptence of it. The Syriac clergymen have spread it widely.

D- Back to the last century the Syrian people were not good in understanding the facts of the history, because they accepted everything their religious leaders said, without questioning its authenticity. But today we see that the Syriac churches are rich with clergymen specialized in the field of history, and they will no doubt correct all false theories which have no proofs. With the spread of this idea among the Syrians another idea followed which is "our forefathers abandoned their old Aramaic name".

Different Syrian authors in this century have gone so far to explain the reason why our forefathers abandoned their old name.

Authentic history proves that the Syrian Aramean people is among the few peoples who preserved its name, language and culture. Therefore the Aramaic name is not strange to the Syrian people.

CHAPTER FlVE - Did our forefathers abandon their Aramaic name?

An accepted fact that the Arab sources refer to the Syrian Arameans as "Nabateans" and refer to the Syriac language as the "Nabateans language", all this because of the strong relation and neighbourhood between the Nabateans and the Arab tribes before the spread of Islam. The Assyrian King "Tiglet Pilesser" the third (724 - 745) B.C. mentioned in one of his records that the "Nabatean" tribe was one of the Aramaic tribes that lived in Old Babylon (review the first part of this research). Islam gave Ahl al Dhimmah" or "Ahl Al Kitab" referring to the Christian Jews and Sabians, the freedom to practice their religion under certain conditions, while the Moslems were fighting against the Heathen religion forcing its followers to become Moslems.

In the year 830 A.D. the caliph Al Maumoun (22) visited the city Rama and was greatly surprised to discover that some Harranians are neither Christians nor Jews. Since some Harranians were still faithful to the Old Heathen religion, when questioned by the caliph they claimed that thay are Sabians, in order to escape the punishment of death or the acceptance of the Islamic religion.

This could have been the turning point when the Arab sources of information started to consider the religion of Sabian Heathen. The following quotation by Renan is taken from El Fahrest (23):

"Another story about the Sabians of Al Bataeh, who followed the religion of the "Nabateans", they glorify the stars, keep idols, and they are usually called "Harranians". After this visit of Al Mamoun, the Moslem Arabs started to recognize the people of Harran as Heathens. This could be the reason why the words Harranian and Nabatean were recognized as synonyms to Heathen in Arabic sources. Bar Ali wrote in his Syriac dictionary (24) the following: "Aram itself is Harran of Mesopotamia".

The Syriac dictionary of Bar Bahlul states (25):

"Aram is Harran and the Arameans are the Harranians" meaning that the the Harranian are Heathens.

Our forefathers were careful, during their golden age, not to connect their old Aramaic name with the Harranian name which, in the Arabic sources, had become a synonym to Heathen. Our Syrian fathers used, therefore, two different pronounciations for the same name, that is:

 "ARAMAYA OROMOYO" to mean Syrian, and "ARMAYA ARMOYO" to mean Heathen.

This fact by itself is a strong proof that our forefathers did not abandon their old Aramaic name and in spite of the strangers they preserved it. Bar Hebeaeus wrote (26):

"The Arameans (the Syrians) refuse to mix with the Heathens".

This difference or separation in the pronounciation happened in the end of the ninth century or in the beginning of the tenth century. This separation was done because of the relations with the Heathen Harranian during the 9th century AD and not in the early centuries of Christianity when our forefathers accepted the christian faith. If bishop Manna had read the book of RENAN and QUATREMERE he would not have entangeled himself with these grave errors. Manna along with many Syrians today believe in a false theory, because they don't understand what authentic historical records say about the Syrian name.

Since we have explained the circumstances under which the Aramaic name began to mean Heathen.

Are we able to understand today, when the name Syrian meant Christian? In answering this question we make the assurance that our forefathers never abandoned their Aramaic name neither in the "Early centuries" as Bishop Manna claims nor during the tenth century AD., because the history books of Bar Hebraeus, Bar Salibi and Michael the Great ( the Syrian) (27) are full of references stating that the Syrians are only Arameans and that they boasted that nobody can change these authentic facts found in the Syrian history books. The Syrian generations in the future will take authentic history facts only because false theories tend to retard development of nations and their culture.

CHAPTER SIX - When did the name Syrian begin to mean christian?

We have presented several examples where the Aramaic name was a synonym to Syrian. We find also how our forefathers expressed the difference between "ARAMAYA OROMOYO" Syrian and "ARMAYA ARMOYO" the Heathen people of Harran.

We have stated also how Bar Salibi ridiculed the Greeks for their attachment to their old name which meant in their language "Heathen". If the name Aramaic means Heathen, Bar Salibi would not have proudly declared that he is Aramean!

There is no doubt that our forefathers, during the dark ages of Ignorance and devastation, that engulfed the whole Near and Middle East, dropped the differentiation between the two pronounciations, and the Aramaic name began partly to mean heathen. This can be clearly noted from the Arabic translation of the history of Elia, bishop of Nisibis, in the 12th century. We read this Syriac statement We find in the Arabic translation (28) "The church remained without leader until the death of Al-Hadjjadj".

In this translation the translator did not translate the term "BETH ARAMAYA" (the Arameans' land), because the Aramaic name may meant heathen and the translator was afraid of saying "the church of the Arameans", because it would have been understood as "the heathen church". Another statement (29) in the Arabic translation of this Syriac quotation is "Bardaisan the Christian was born in it on the 11th of July". This is the only statement where we find the word Suryaya/Suryoyo translated as "christian"! But this statement does not support Bishop Manna's theory because the translation was done after the 12th century AD! Previously we raised the following question: when did the name Syrian start to mean christian? Through this article the readers have read the Syriac quotations which assure that our forefathers, during the early centuries when they accepted christianity and even in their golden years, used the words Mshihoyo and Khristyono referring to a christian, and Hanfo referring to Heathen. We have also presented many proofs that the name Syrian was a synonym to Aramean. Our forefathers differentiated between the use of Oromoyo/ Aramaya Syrian and Armoyo/ Armaya to mean Heathen or Harranian, they did this because they feared the Moslems and not because they liked that.

Arts and science was flourishing among the Syrians until the 10th century AD. It is well accepted that the Syrians played a great role in the transfer of the Greek and Syriac cultures to the Arabs, especially during the days of Al Mamoun. But after the fall of the Syriac countries in the hands of the "Mamluks" and the "Ottomans" dark ignorance engulfed the Syriac cities, villages and monasteries.

Syriac language began to be less used. Scholars and writers became less and their knowledge very limited. Wars of the crusaders, the Monguls destroyed many places and the Syrians suffered a huge loss of lives.

During this long dark period of our history from the middle of the 13th century AD. and until the end of the World War l, our forefathers began to use the Aramaic name partly to mean heathen because of their ignorance and lack of understanding what it really means. Since the names Aramaic and Syrian were used as synonyms by the eastern and western Syrians, and since the Aramaic name began to mean Heathen they started to use the name Syrian to mean Christian.

"The name Syrian means Christian" was a result of the first equation (the name Aramaic means Heathen). This conclusion has nothing to do with the fact that our Aramean forefathers accepted the Christian religion, and that the name Syrian meant Christian to the eastern Syrians in the late centuries A.D. The acceptance of the Syrian people to this false theory lead to the misunderstanding that our Aramean forefathers abandoned their old name. The educated class of the Syrian people today are perplexed between accepting the false theory or the writings of our forefathers. Those Syrians who read the introduction of bishop Manna are more than those who read the books of our forefathers.

The coming article will discuss the importance and effects of bishop Manna's introduction among the Syrian people.


ARAM No.7 Summer 1994 P.30-37