Middle-Eastern Christianity

Generally, this is the Not A Linguist blog. Today, for this one entry, it becomes the not A Linguist Blog.

This year the state of Israel has (finally) recognised the Aramaean nationality.

This is likely the first recognition of the existence of the Aramean nation since antiquity outside religious recognition of their several churches (including by the Ottoman government). Israel has now done for the Aramaeans what it has done to the Jews before and recognised a secular existence of a nation; even though, ironically, it was a religious leader, Father Gabriel Nadaf, who was the driving force behind the recognition.

The Aramaeans are one of the oldest peoples in the world.

Of course, all human populations including their ancestors are of the same age. But people form peoples and the Aramean nation has existed in antiquity long before the Germans (as a seperate culture from, say, the English) or the Americans (at all) existed.

There are several different groups of Christians native to the Middle-East.

  • Copts (Egyptian Christians)

    The traditional churches of Egypt are the (Oriental, that is non-Greek, Orthodox) Coptic Church and the Coptic Catholic Church (which is a particular church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church). Copts can be found in Egypt and Sudan. Their native language is traditionally Coptic, a late evolution of the Egyptian language, and it remains their liturgical language. It is distantly related to Semitic languages.

  • Ethiopians

    Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt is home to Ethiopian Christians of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which is part of the Oriental Orthodox Church. Ethiopian Christians have many different languages, including Amharic and other Semitic languages and a few non-Semitic but related languages. Their liturgical language is Ge`ez, another Semitic language.

  • Sudanese Christians

    These are traditional Christian tribes of Sudan and, today, mostly South Sudan. There are many Roman Catholics and Protestants among them. Their connection to the Middle-East is basically that they were the most popular slaves of the Arab and Turkish masters. There are still many slaves in Sudan that were captured in South Sudan and given Muslim names after capture. Sudanese Christians speak Nilotic languages including Dinka and Nuer.

  • Greeks (Arab Christians)

    A large number of Arabic-speaking Christians  of Israel and Transjordan and elsewhere, mostly of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Melkite Catholic Church identify as Christian Arabs. Others of the same group identify as Aramaeans. Liturgical languages include Greek, Latin and Aramaic.

  • Phoenicians (Lebanese Maronite Christians)

    The Maronites of Lebanon feel a strong connection to Lebanon and Lebanese history exclusive of later Arab and Turkish influences (but they did assimilate a lot of French during Ottoman times and after WW1). The Maronite Church is another particular church in full communion with the Roman Church. Maronites speak Arabic (and traditionally French) and their liturgical language is Aramaic. The difference between the Maronites and the Aramaens is cultural rather than linguistic or religious.

  • Aramaeans (Syrian Christians)

    Aramaeans live in Israel, Lebanon and Syria (i.e. in greater Syria) and are organised in different Catholic churches as well as the (Oriental Orthodox) Syriac church and the Greek Orthodox Church. Some Aramaeans speak Aramaic natively, most speak Arabic. Their liturgical languages are Aramaic (in the Syriac churches) and Greek (in the Greek churches).

  • Armenians

    Armenians, typically resident in Armenia, Jerusalem, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, are generally organised in the (Oriental Orthodox) Armenian Orthodox Church. Their language is Armenian including liturgical.

  • Assyrians (Iraqi and Iranian Christians)

    Assyrians live east of the Syrian desert in Iraq and Iran. Their native Church is the ancient Assyrian Orthodox Church (which is distinct from both the Greek Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches). Some Assyrians became Catholics. Some later converted to Protestant Christianity. Their original language, long before they became Christians, was Assyrian (which was a Semitic language closely related to Babylonien) but since Persian times they spoke Aramaic and today Aramaic-speakers remain among Arabic- and Persian-speakers.

Today's image of Islam is that of an intolerant faith out to destroy all other cultures. But in the past, pre-Islamic religions have survived Islamic rule in contrast to Europe where all faiths except Judaism have been destroyed by the advent of Christianity whether peacefully or in war.

In the Middle-East most pre-Islamic faiths survived until modern times. But outside Israel none of the pre-Islamic faiths have had a real lasting renaissance and might not survive in the long run.

 © Andrew Brehm 2016