Chaldean Christians

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Chaldean Christians
(ܟܲܠܕܵܝܹܐ Kaldāye)
Chaldeansoftheprovinceof Mardin.JPG
Chaldo-Assyrian Catholics from Mardin, 19th century.
Regions with significant populations
 Iraq 550,000
 United States 100,000
 Syria 40,000
 Iran 20,000
 Turkey 8,000
Syriac Christianity (in union with Rome), Chaldean Catholic Church
The Bible
(Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic), Arabic

Chaldean Christians /kælˈdən/ (ܟܠܕܝ̈ܐ), or Chaldo-Assyrians,[1][2] adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, originally called The Church of Assyria and Mosul,[3] which was that part of the Church of the East which entered communion with the Catholic Church between the 16th and 18th centuries.[4]

In addition to their ancient Assyrian homeland in northern Iraq, northeast Syria, northwest Iran and southeast Turkey, (a region roughly corresponding with ancient Assyria) migrant Assyrian or Chaldo-Assyrian Catholic communities are found in the United States, Sweden, Germany, France, Canada, Lebanon, Jordan and Australia.[5]


The terms Chaldean and Chaldo-Assyrian are sometimes used to describe those Assyrians who broke from the Assyrian Church of the East and entered communion with the Roman Catholic Church.[6] Rome initially named this new diocese The Church of Assyria and Mosul in 1553, and only some 128 years later, in 1681, was this changed to The Chaldean Catholic Church, despite none of its adherents having hitherto used the name "Chaldean" to describe themselves or their church,[7][8][9] or having originated in the region in the far south of Mesopotamia which had long ago once been Chaldea.

The term Chaldean in reference to followers the Chaldean Catholic Church is thus properly taken as only a denominational, theological and ecclesiastical term and not an ethnic one, and is a misnomer in relation to ancient Chaldea and its inhabitants, both of which disappeared from history during the 6th century BC at the exact opposite end of Mesopotamia, Chaldean Catholics instead being regarded ethnically and historically as Assyrians, and as a part of the Assyrian continuity.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

Similarly, Chaldean Catholics should not be confused with the Saint Thomas Christians of India (also called the Chaldean Syrian Church), who are also sometimes known as "Chaldean Christians" or Assyrian Christians.


It is believed that the term Chaldean Catholic arose due to a Catholic Latin misinterpretation and misreading of the Hebrew Ur Kasdim (according to long held Jewish tradition, the birthplace of Abraham in Northern Mesopotamia) as meaning Ur of the Chaldees.[18] The Hebrew Kasdim does not in fact mean or refer to the Chaldeans, and Ur Kasdim is generally believed by many to have been somewhere in Assyria, north eastern Syria or south eastern Anatolia.

The 18th century Roman Catholic Church then applied this misinterpreted name to their new diocese in northern Mesopotamia, a region whose indigenous inhabitants had always previously been referred to ethnically as Assurayu, Assyrians, Assouri, Ashuriyun, East Syrian, Athurai, Atoreh etc., and by the denominational terms Syriac Christians, Jacobites and Nestorians.

Thus the term Chaldean Catholic is historically, usually and properly taken purely as a denominational, doctrinal and theological term which only arose in the late 17th century AD, and not as an ethnic identity or designation.[19][20][20]

The modern Chaldean Catholics are in fact Assyrians[21] and originated from ancient Assyrian communities living in and indigenous to the north of Iraq/Mesopotamia which was known as Assyria from the 25th century BC until the 7th century AD, rather than the long extinct Chaldeans/Chaldees, who in actuality were 9th century BC migrants from The Levant, and always resided in the far south east of Mesopotamia, and disappeared from history circa 550 BC. However, despite this, a minority of Chaldean Catholics (particularly in the United States) have in recent times confused a purely religious term with an ethnic identity, and espoused a separate ethnic identity to their Assyrian brethren, despite there being absolutely no historical, academic, cultural, geographic, archaeological, linguistic or genetic evidence supporting a link to either the Chaldean land or the Chaldean race.

Raphael Bidawid, the then patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church commented on the Assyrian name dispute in 2003 and clearly differentiated between the name of a church and an ethnicity:

I personally think that these different names serve to add confusion. The original name of our Church was the ‘Church of the East’ … When a portion of the Church of the East became Catholic in the 17th Century, the name given was ‘Chaldean’ based on the Magi kings who were believed by some to have come from what once had been the land of the Chaldean, to Bethlehem. The name ‘Chaldean’ does not represent an ethnicity, just a church… We have to separate what is ethnicity and what is religion… I myself, my sect is Chaldean, but ethnically, I am Assyrian.[22]

In an interview with the Assyrian Star in the September–October 1974 issue, he was quoted as saying:

Before I became a priest I was an Assyrian, before I became a bishop I was an Assyrian, I am an Assyrian today, tomorrow, forever, and I am proud of it.[17]

Chaldean Catholics in the Middle East[edit]

The 1896 census of the Chaldean Catholics[23] counted 233 parishes and 177 churches or chapels, mainly in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. The Chaldean Catholic clergy numbered 248 priests; they were assisted by the monks of the Congregation of St. Hormizd, who numbered about one hundred. There were about 52 Assyrian Chaldean schools (not counting those conducted by Latin nuns and missionaries). At Mosul there was a patriarchal seminary, distinct from the Chaldean seminary directed by the Dominicans. The total number of Assyrian Chaldean Christians is nearly 1.4 million, 78,000 of whom are in the Diocese of Mosul.

The current patriarch considers Baghdad as the principal city of his see. His title of "Patriarch of Babylon" results from the identification of Baghdad with ancient Babylon (Baghdad is 55 miles north of the ancient city of Babylon and corresponds to northern Babylonia). However, the Chaldean patriarch resides habitually at Mosul in the north, and reserves for himself the direct administration of this diocese and that of Baghdad.

There are five archbishops (resident respectively at Basra, Diyarbakır, Kirkuk, Salmas and Urmia) and seven bishops. Eight patriarchal vicars govern the small Assyrian Chaldean communities dispersed throughout Turkey and Iran. The Chaldean clergy, especially the monks of Rabban Hormizd Monastery, have established some missionary stations in the mountain districts dominated by The Assyrian Church of the East. Three dioceses are in Iran, the others in Turkey.

The liturgical language of the Chaldean Catholic Church is Syriac, a Neo-Aramaic dialect originating in Assyria during the Parthian Empire. The liturgy of the Chaldean Church is written in the Syriac alphabet.

The literary revival in the early 20th century was mostly due to the Lazarist Pere Bedjan, an ethnic Assyrian Chaldean Catholic from northwestern Iran. He popularized the ancient chronicles, the lives of Assyrian saints and martyrs, and even works of the ancient Assyrian doctors among Assyrians of all denominations, including Chaldean Catholics, Orthodox Christians and the Assyrian Church.[24]

In March 2008, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was kidnapped, and found dead two weeks later. Pope Benedict XVI condemned his death. Sunni and Shia leaders also expressed their condemnation.[25]

Chaldean Catholics today number approximately 550,000 of Iraq's estimated 800,000 Assyrian Christians, with smaller numbers found among the Assyrian Christian communities of northeast Syria, southeast Turkey, northwest Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Armenia.[4] Perhaps the best known Iraqi Chaldean Catholic is former Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz (real name Michael Youhanna).[4]

Hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians of all denominations have left Iraq since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003. At least 20,000 of them have fled through Lebanon to seek resettlement in Europe and the US.[26]

As political changes sweep through many Arab nations, the ethnic Assyrian minorities in northeast Syria, northwest Iran and southeast Turkey have also expressed concern.[27]

Predominantly Chaldean Catholic towns in northern Iraq[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mar Raphael J Bidawid. The Assyrian Star. September–October, 1974:5
  2. ^ Parpola, Simo (2004). "National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times" (PDF). Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies (JAAS) 18 (2): pp. 22.
  3. ^ George V. Yana (Bebla), "Myth vs. Reality" JAA Studies, Vol. XIV, No. 1, 2000 p. 80
  4. ^ a b c BBC NEWS (March 13, 2008). "Who are the Chaldean Christians?". BBC NEWS. Retrieved March 26, 2010. 
  5. ^ Edmund Ghareeb, Beth Dougherty (2004). Historical Dictionary of Iraq. Scarecrow Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8108-4330-1. 
  6. ^ Dr. Layla Maleh (Kuwait University) (2009). Arab Voices in Diaspora: Critical Perspectives on Anglophone Arab Literature. Rodopi. p. 396. ISBN 90-420-2718-5. 
  7. ^ “A difficulty now arose; the new converts styled themselves 'Sooraye' and 'Nestornaye' . The Romanists could not call them 'Catholic Syrians' or 'Syrian Catholics' for this appellation they had already given to their proselytes from the Jacobites, who also called themselves 'Syrians'. They could not term them 'Catholic Nestorians,' as Mr. Justin Perkins, the independent American missionary does, for this would involve a contradiction. What more natural, then, than that they should have applied to them the title of 'Chaldeans' to which they had some claims of nationality, in virtue of their Assyrian Descent.” - Asshur and the Land of Nimrod” by Hormuzd Rassam
  8. ^ Qaryaneh Jobyeh" - Mar Toma Audo. 1906
  9. ^ Arabs and Christians? Christians in the Middle East” by Antonie Wessels
  10. ^ Rassam, H. (1897), Asshur and the Land of Nimrod London
  11. ^ Soane, E.B. To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise John Murray: London, 1912 p. 92
  12. ^ Rev. W.A. Wigram (1929), The Assyrians and Their Neighbours London
  13. ^ Efram Yildiz's "The Assyrians" Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 13.1, pp. 22, ref 24
  14. ^ Assyrians After Assyria, Parpola
  15. ^ “The Eastern Christian Churches” by Ronald Roberson. “In 1552, when the new patriarch was elected, a group of Assyrian bishops refused to accept him and decided to seek union with Rome. They elected the reluctant abbot of a monastery, Yuhannan Sulaqa, as their own patriarch and sent him to Rome to arrange a union with the Catholic Church. In early 1553 Pope Julius III proclaimed him Patriarch Simon VIII “of the Chaldeans” and ordained him a bishop in St. Peter’s Basilica on April 9, 1553
  16. ^ Aqaliyat shimal al-‘Araq; bayna al-qanoon wa al-siyasa” (Northern Iraq Minorities; between Law and Politics) by Dr. Jameel Meekha Shi’yooka
  17. ^ a b Mar Raphael J Bidawid. The Assyrian Star. September–October, 1974:5.
  18. ^ Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 2001: Where Was Abraham's Ur? by Allan R. Millard
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Travis, Hannibal. Genocide in the Middle East: The Ottoman Empire, Iraq, and Sudan. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2010, 2007, pp. 237-77, 293–294
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^ Nisan, M. 2002. Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle for Self Expression .Jefferson: McFarland & Company. Jump up ^
  22. ^ Parpola, Simo (2004). "National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times" (PDF). Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies (JAAS) 18 (2): 22. 
  23. ^ Mgr. George 'Abdisho' Khayyath to the Abbé Chabot (Revue de l'Orient Chrétien, I, no. 4)
  24. ^ "New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia". 
  25. ^ "Iraqi archbishop death condemned". BBC News. 2008-03-13. Retrieved 2009-12-31.  from BBC News
  26. ^ Martin Chulov (2010) ”Christian exodus from Iraq gathers pace”The Guardian, retrieved June 12, 2012
  27. ^ R. Thelen (2008) Daily Star, Lebanon retrieved June 12, 2012

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

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