The Assyrians and Jews: 3,000 years of common history

By Razib Khan | January 17, 2011 1:23 am

2 Kings, 17:

[5] Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years.

[6] In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

[18] Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.

Most Americans are aware of the term “Assyria,” if they are, through the Bible. The above quotation is of some interest because it alludes to the scattering of the ten northern tribes of Israel during their conquest and assimilation into the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Neo because the Assyrian polity, based around a cluster of cities in the upper Tigris valley in northern Mesopotamia, pre-dates what is described in the Hebrew Bible by nearly 1,000 years. During the first half of the first millennium before Christ they were arguably the most antique society with a coherent self-conception still flourishing aside from their Babylonian cousins to the south and the Egyptians (other groups like the Hittites who may have been rivals in antiquity had disappeared in the late Bronze Age). The period of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in particular under Ashurbanipal, was arguably the apogee of the tradition of statecraft which matured during the long simmer of civilization after the invention of literacy and the end of the Bronze Age. The Neo-Assyrian Empire marked the transition from cuneiform to the alphabet, from chariots to cavalry. Assyria’s political evisceration by its vassals and enemies was inevitable, as a agricultural society on the Malthusian margin can squeeze only so much marginal product out of so many for so long. Once social and cultural capital is gone, there’s a “run on the bank,” so to speak.

But the Assyrians are still with us! Baghdad Raids on Alcohol Sellers Stir Fears:

Eight men carrying handguns and steel pipes raided a Christian nongovernmental organization here on Thursday night, grabbing computers, cellphones and documents, and threatening the people inside, according to members of the group.

“They came in and said, ‘You are criminals. This is not your country. Leave immediately,’ ” said Sharif Aso, a board member of the organization, the Ashurbanipal Cultural Association. “They said, ‘This is an Islamic state.’ ”

The intruders wore civilian clothes, said Mr. Aso and others at the organization, but their arrival was preceded by three police vehicles that blocked off the street. He said the men stole his ring and bashed him on the leg with a pistol.

First, a little etymology. It turns out that the term Syrian likely has a root in Assyria. That term itself deriving from Assur, the primary god and city of ancient Assyria. After the conquest and dismemberment of the Assyrian Empire the core Semitic lands between the Mediterranean and the Zagros mountains became the cultural domain of the Syrian people. That is, those who spoke one of the Syrian dialects. Politically Assyria never arose independently again after its conquest by the Persians. Despite the dialect continuum, and deep roots in the Assyrian Empire and Near Eastern polities preceding it, for nearly one thousand years the eastern and western segments of the Syriac domains were divided by politically, and to some extent culturally, between the Classical Greco-Roman spheres and the Iranian orbit. People of Syrian origin became prominent in Roman life, such as the emperor Elagabalus and the writer Lucian. In the east, under Persian rule, Assyrians such as Mani were also culturally and socially prominent, though marginalized politically by the dominant Zoroastrian Persian ruling caste. The division between east and west was also evident among the Jews in Late Antiquity; ergo, the two Talmuds.

The coming of Islam changed this dynamic: the eastern and western Syrian world were reunited into one political and cultural order. Even though there always existed connections across the Roman-Persian frontier (which in any case periodically shifted), it is notable that the ancient historical divisions persist down to the present day among those who consider themselves the descendants of the (As)Syrians of that era: the Middle Eastern Christians. The Christians of Syria and Lebanon divide between those who are aligned with the Syrian Orthodox Church, or Christians affiliated with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. In Iraq the majority of Christians come from a different stream, the ancient Church of the East which grew out of the Christian communities of pre-Islamic Iran and Iraq. Today the majority of Iraqi Christians are in communion with the Pope of Rome, while the Assyrian community of the Church of the East is predominantly found abroad (this is due to 20th century politics). But whatever the current configuration, it remains true that to this day these churches can root their lineage back to the Roman and Sassanid period.

And Syriac in the form of neo-Aramaic remains a living language in the Middle East among some Christians. In Syria it is almost extinct, but substantial numbers of Christians in the east still speak it. This is one reason that there is some debate as to whether “Arab Christians” are Arab at all. Ignoring the reality that whole Arab tribes were known to have been Christian even before Islam, it is probably correct to assume that almost all Arab Christians are Arabicized Aramaic or Coptic speakers. In the The Rise of Western Christendom Peter Brown claims that the conversion to Islam by subjects of the Arabs in the Fertile Crescent increased in pace only after the shift from Syriac and Greek to Arabic. In other words, Arab Christians were far more common than Syriac Muslims.

Even though the majority of the population of the core Middle Eastern nation is descended from the peoples of antiquity, they now consider themselves by and large Arab. The Arabs were also present in antiquity, and are mentioned early on as a group on the margins of the ancient world (and sometimes at the center). But it seems implausible that the antique Arabs had the demographic heft to overrun so many peoples across the Fertile Crescent, let along Egypt. Though the Semitic populations of the Middle East now generally have an Arab self-identification in keeping with their dominant language, some among the Christians dissent. For speakers of neo-Aramaic in Iraq this makes total sense; but Arabic speaking Lebanese Maronites also object to an Arab identity (though this gains some traction due to the common bilingualism of Maronites in French and Arabic). But even if most of the Christians of the Arab Middle East are no longer non-Arabs by speech, they preserve a direct link with the ancient pre-Arab Middle East in their liturgy. In the Fertile Crescent this would be a variant of Syriac, but in Egypt it would be Coptic, the language which descends from ancient Egyptian.

There are obviously many in the Middle East who take pride in their pre-Islamic past. Saddam Hussein liked to fashion himself a latter day Nebuchadnezzar II and Hammurabi, while the government of Egypt is a lavish funder of Egyptology. But the Christians seem particularly attached to the pre-Islamic past, because their religion is a tie back to antiquity, and its broad outlines were formed then. This has a bit of an ironic aspect, because in Late Antiquity the Christian Church was a powerful force in the destruction of the indigenous religious traditions of Syria and Egypt. In Syria it seems that a non-Christian culture and society made it down to the Islamic period around the city of Haran, showing up in history as the Sabians. This was probably just a coincidence of geography, as the forced conversion which Justinian the Great imposed on the non-Abrahamic minorities (and to a lesser extent on the Jews and Samaritans as well) in the 6th century was unfeasible so close to the border with the Sassanid Empire. Unfortunately the textual records from Persia are not so good. We don’t know how the Semitic population shifted religious identity from non-Christian to Christian (or Jewish), particularly in an environment where the political elites were not adherents to an Abrahamic religion (though if someone can post a literature reference I’d be very curious).

However it happened, what we do know that is that by the early Islamic centuries the Aramaic speaking populations of the Fertile Crescent were instrumental in being channels for the wisdom of the Classical Age. Many of the Syrians were trilingual, in their own language, as well as Greek and Arabic. For an overview of what transpired between then and now to the Christians of the Middle Eastern Orient, read my review of The Lost History of Christianity. Suffice it to say, by the year 1900 Westerners who were reacquainting themselves with Oriental Christianity observed that they had lost much of its cultural vitality, and been subject to involution. Over a thousand years of Muslim rule and domination meant that the Christians of the Middle East had been ground down into total marginality; to such an extent that Western Orientalists had to “re-discover” them.

This marginality was an end consequence of the dhimmi system to which they’d been subjected to, a system that Christians had imposed upon Jews and Samaritans earlier. They were allowed to persist and exist, but only marginally tolerated. Debilities and indignities were their lot. One famous component of the modus vivendi between Muslim polities and the non-Muslims whom they dominate is that one can defect to Islam, but defection from Islam is not tolerated. The involution of dhimmis then is simply not cultural, it is genetic. By and large the cosmopolitan welter of the great Islamic Empires would have passed the dhimmis by. Eastern Christians then may given us an excellent window into the impact of the Arab conquests on the genomes of the peoples of the Middle East. For example, how much of the Sub-Saharan genetic load in modern Egyptians is post-Roman, and how much pre-Roman? A comparison of Copts to Muslims would establish this. It has clear political implications in the United States, where Afrocentrism is rooted in part on the presupposition that ancient Egypt was a black civilization.

But this post is not about Egypt. Rather, let’s go back to the Assyrians and the Middle East. I wrote up the historical introduction for perspective. But this is about genes. Nature on The rise of the genome bloggers:

David Wesolowski, a 31-year-old Australian who runs the Eurogenes ancestry project (, also focuses on understudied populations. “It’s a response, in a way, to the lack of formal work that’s been done in certain areas, so we’re doing it ourselves,” he says. Wesolowski and a colleague have drilled into the population history of people living in Iran and eastern Turkey who identify as descendants of ancient Assyrians, and who sent their DNA for analysis. Preliminary findings suggest their ancestors may have once mixed with local Jewish populations, and Wesolowski plans to submit these results to a peer-reviewed journal.

A few weeks ago Paul Givargidze, David’s colleague mentioned above, informed me that it didn’t look like the article would be published in the near future due to time constraints. But with all the energy invested Paul wanted something to come out of the project, so he forwarded me a link to a set of files, and suggested that if I found it of interest I could blog about. Here’s the link:

Additionally, Paul informed me that the background of the Assyrian samples were Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox?), Church of the East, and Chaldean. The latter two are the same for our purposes; the the separation of the Chaldean Church from the main body of the Church of the East is a feature of the past 500 years. The Jacobites though presumably are from Syria, though I know that there were some Jacobites in the Assyrian lands as well. In any case, the key is this: these populations have been isolated from others since the rise of Islam 1,400 years ago. They give us an insight into the genomic landscape of the Late Antique Levant and Mesopotamia.

The slide show below has what I believe are the most pertinent figures (I’ve reedited them a bit). The first two are ADMIXTURE plots. So they’re showing you the breakdowns by population/individual for K ancestral quantum (8 and 10) respectively. The rest are MDS which relate individuals within populations on a two-dimensional surface.

[zenphotopress album=248 sort=sort_order number=7]

Sephardi Jew

Some of the populations should be familiar. They’re from the same set as a Jewish genetics paper from last spring. And that’s why you see a diverse set of Jewish groups too. One thing to keep in mind is that the patterns you observe are partly conditional on the inputs. Remember that the “Near Eastern” constrained data sets aren’t simply geographical zooms from the “West Eurasian” set. Rather, the spatial relationships reoriented themselves as the underlying data set from which they emerge are changed.

In regards to the Jews, there are three obvious groups. An Ashkenazi + Sephardi cluster, a Mizrachi cluster, and finally, a, Yemeni cluster. There are also other Jewish groups which don’t fit neatly into this typology. The Jews of India, the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, etc. But since this is focused on Middle Eastern populations, you’re looking at these three groups. The Yemeni cluster is straightforward: this looks like a classic Judaizing population. In other words, the historical records which suggest Jewish convert kings of Yemen were likely accompanied by mass conversions of populations. Or, perhaps there were mass conversions of segments of the population which prompted the conversion of a kingdom to Judaism, or the rise of a Jewish noble to power.

Ashkenazi Jew

With that taken care of, it’s time to move on the Ashkenazi + Sephardi vs. Mizrachi cluster. We already saw this prefigured last spring: it looks as if Jews under Roman and Persian rule respectively parted ways genetically nearly 2,000 years ago! This is a strange finding, in particular since some of the Sephardi samples are from Syria. But this is a somewhat deceptive division, as much of the Sephardic Jewish community in the Middle East dates to the Ottoman years, as Iberian Jews fled the increasingly intolerant Catholic monarchies of the peninsulas. Though the indigenous Jewish often preserved their own customs (e.g., Romaniotes), by and large they were absorbed by the arriviste Sephardim. The results from the Syrian Jews imply that either these newcomers were very numerous, or, they were very fecund vis-a-vis the native population of Jews. Where the Mediterranean touched it seems that a common Jewish genetic-cultural pool existed. But what about where it did not? For that, one needs to move east, to the land of the Assyrians.

The Mizrachi Jews of the Middle East are a different tradition from the Sephardim. Not only are they different, but these “Oriental” Jews have also been relatively isolated from outside influences. Their closest cultural analogs are probably the Oriental Christians amongst whom they lived before the rise of Islam. I believe that the MDS to the left illustrates exactly what Paul Givargidze and David Wesolowski were suggesting was noteworthy: Assyrian Christians cluster with Mizrachi Jews. It seems as if Iraqi Jews are of equal distance from Assyrians and Iranian Jews. Overall, the three communities, along with Georgian Jews, form a distinct cluster. And and this is the reason I went to great lengths to outline the historical background which set the stage for the world of the Assyrian Christians who came under the rule of Islam in the 7th century.

One plausible explanation of why modern Assyrians are so close to Mizrachi Jews is that the Assyrians and Mizrachi Jews derive from the ancient Semitic populations which have long between resident in the Near East; the Assyrians of antiquity and the Hebrews of antiquity. There is probably some truth to this, but I think it’s a more complicated picture. First, we have plenty of records of Assyrian population movements, enforced from on high. Even if the extent of this was exaggerated, it is likely that this sort of forced transplantation was instrumental in the crystallization of an Aramaic creole which became the lingua franca of the Near East. Other Semitic languages were marginalized, from Akkaddian to Hebrew. But with the linguistic unity likely came a level of fluidity between the fuzzy sets which bounded the communities which we perceive so clearly later in history.

Judaism as we understand it today, or “Orthodox Judaism,” is a product of the religion of the Pharisees, and the tradition which matured with the Babylonian Talmud. The Judaism of the period of the Hebrew kingdoms was no doubt very different, and even that of the earlier Roman period was more variegated than we understand today. For most of history, or the history we record, Jews have lived under relatively brutal religious monopolies in the form of Christianity and Islam. Their community was limited and constrained. But outside of these contexts Jews could be quite different in how they behaved. For example, the two Jewish rebellions under the Romans or the efficiency of the Jewish subordinates who served the Persian Zoroastrians in the Levant after its conquest in the early 7th century. Just as people left Judaism, no doubt others were assimilated into the Jewish community. The Jewish religious texts provide plenty of evidence of this. And even after the Islamic conquest dhimmis were free to convert from one religion to another so long as Islam was not part of the picture.

Azar Gat has convinced me that we moderns to underplay nationalism in antiquity in War in Human Civilization. But just as modern national identities exhibit some fluidity, they no doubt did in antiquity. Jews and other Aramaic speakers in the Fertile Crescent shared a common language. During the Roman period Jews were not distinguished by being a particularly urban community vis-a-vis gentiles. The connection between Mizrachi Jews and Assyrians probably has to do with them coming out of the same broad North Semitic continuum of peoples.

The question I have is if David found any haplotype blocks connecting the Assyrians and Mizrachi Jews, and compared them in relation to the Sephardi + Ashkenazi cluster. If the demographic separation of Assyrians and Mizrachi was very recent, there may not be much of a “Jewish” distinctive signature. On the other hand, if Jews as a whole share lots of identical-by-descent regions of the genome not shared with Assyrians, then it is deeper than I’m positing here. The clustering of the Assyrians with the Mizrachis could be just an artifact because these two groups haven’t been admixed with other non-Semitic groups, as the European Jews have.

Image credit: gdcgraphics, Karin Bar

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Genetics, Genomics, History

Comments (49)

  1. chris y

    Pedantic, but I think the origin of the name Syria is usually traced to the city of Ṣur (Tyre) rather than any connection with Assyria. Not that this invalidates anything.

  2. mebee. from
    from L. Syria , from Gk. Syria , from Syrioi “the Syrians,” a name originally given to the Assyrians (Herodotus vii.63), an aphetic form of Assyrioi

    (there is some debate as to the details)

  3. Maron

    “The Austrian historian Robert Rollinger proves, with the help of a stone inscription from the 10th century, found in the city Cineköy, in modern Turkey, that the word Syria is an abbreviation of Assyria.”

  4. Maron

    Apologies. The Çineköy inscription dates to the 8th century BCE, not 10th.

  5. The light blue in the admixture plot is a plausible candidate for a North Semitic component that is most common in Middle Eastern Christians and in Jews.

    The case that you make for Assyrian Christians and Mizrachi Jews coming from the same source population is a strong one, both genetically and historically.

    The yellow and green look like competing North African and Arab components of the mix respectively.

    The dark blue looks Caucusian, but is a surprisingly large share in Southern populations, suggesting that by ca. 600 CE, the “pure type” North Semitic may have been 50% light blue, 50% dark blue, with only the remainder of the dark blue attributable to Anatolians, Caucasians and Persians.

    Alternately, one might read dark blue as deep ancesteral Mesopotamian and light blue as deep ancesteral North Levantine.

    The orange Druze outlier component is also truly striking for a population that doesn’t claim a particularly ancient or monoethnic ethnogenesis. The even, low frequency orange component of almost all of the Middle Eastern and North African populations also suggests a smigen of Druze in the very ancient founding population of the entire region that was preserved in the subsequently divided populations. If one imagines orange as a distinctive subtype of the dark blue statum (breaking out earlier because of in group homogenity that other Caucuses subtypes), then the Druze look rather similar to a flavor of Georgian and Armenian, which would be a fairly good fit to their legendary place of origin in the Northern mountains adjacent to Mesopotamia.

  6. Maron

    “The dark blue looks Caucusian, but is a surprisingly large share in Southern populations, suggesting that by ca. 600 CE, the “pure type” North Semitic may have been 50% light blue, 50% dark blue, with only the remainder of the dark blue attributable to Anatolians, Caucasians and Persians. ”

    I do not believe a 50-50 light blue/dark blue split would hold true if the original Semitic speaking peoples originated in northern Mesopotamia/southern Anatolia.

    Good read (Where did the Ancient Semites come from?):

  7. Marnie Dunsmore

    Dear Discover Magazine Editor,

    I am writing to you to inform you that Razib Khan, the author of your Gene Expression Blog, has used ideas from my linearpopulation blog without citing my work.

    His January 17th article “Assyrians and Jews: 3000 years of common history” is only one of the latest examples. In it, he and David Wesolowski, whom he cites, have used material from my articles, including:

    Ashkenazi and Syrian Jews:

    Eurogenes K10 Middle East Admixture Results:


    Syria to Assyria: 3500 years of Demic Diffusion

    In addition to lacking a citation for these articles, he has used material from numerous other articles on my blog without citation.

    I trust that you will help Razib tighten up his attention to citation.

    Should he fail to do this, I have sufficient evidence to proceed with this matter further.


    Marnie Dunsmore
    Author: linear population model blog

  8. The citation to Lipovsky is heavy on Biblical authority and light on reliable historical fact.

    The first, and only, Semitic language (pre-Islam) spoken in Mesopotamia and Southern Anatolia was Akkadian – and its arrival from the West is attested historically. None of the documented languages that preceded it in that region: Sumerian, Elamite, Hurrian, Kassite or Hattic were either Indo-European or Afro-Asiatic, nor were the languages of the Minoans in Crete, or Pelagesians of mainland Greece. The closest possible living relative to any of these languages (Hurrian) is NW Caucasian.

    The mainstream view in linguistic circles is that the Semitic sub-branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages differentiated from other Afro-Asiatic languages and originated in the North Levant (not so far really from the area Maron identifies). But, the reasoning behind that conclusion is very different. The mainstream view also puts Semitic as a relatively younger branch of Afro-Asiatic.

    There is a minority view that Afro-Asiatic languages originate in the Levant or Egypt, and that Semitic is an older branch of the linguistic tree. Distinguishing between the two hypothesizes is difficult because we have very little good information about what the linguistic situation was in the Levant prior to the first attested writings in Sumerian in Mesopotamia and Coptic in Egypt respectively.

    My estimate is merely an eyeballing guess, but a 50-50 light blue/dark blue split would make at least as much sense (if not more) if the original Semitic speaking peoples originated where Maron suggests they did as it would if the origin was a couple hundred miles to the West in the North Levant, as that area in which Akkadian was spoken would be highly admixed between Levantine and Mesopotamian populations relative to the rest of the Near East.

    It is also worth recalling, given the reference made by Maron to a theologically oriented source, that the Semitic languages clearly pre-date both the Jewish religion and the languages associated with that religion by something on the order of a thousand years – the bearers of the Akkadian language were pagan, not Jewish monotheists. The first split in the Semitic linguistic tree is between Akkadian and non-Akkadian, and the split of Hebrew and Arabic into distinct Semitic languages is one of the last branches of the Semitic language divisions. Judaism’s origins as a religion and distinct Semitic ethnicity are typically estimated by non-religious historians to be in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age.

  9. Maron

    Should also note there is a southern Iraqi Mandaean now participating in the Dodecad Project (FFD059). The Assyrian participant is FFD013. The Mandaean religion, some say, dates back to the 2nd century CE. A minority even suggest it is pre-Christian.

    “Mandeans seem to be indigenous to Mesopotamia and are certainly of Pre Arab and Pre Islamic origin. They may well be related to the Assyrians who are also Semitic, Aramaic speaking indigenous Pre Arab and Pre Islamic inhabitants of Iraq. They are Semites and speak a dialect of Aramaic known as Mandaic.”

    West Asian South Asian North European Northeast Asian Northwest African East African South European West African Southwest Asian East Asian
    Assyrian 46.2, 4.4, 0, 0, 1.4, 0, 19, 0, 28.9, 0
    Mandaean 46, 4.8, 0, 0, 0.1, 0, 20.3, 0, 28.7, 0

  10. dear marnie,

    1) i didn’t read your blog regularly since early december when i linked u

    2) perhaps some of your ideas were laundered through other blogs, don’t know

    3) your ideas aren’t so original that others haven’t had the same idea, or couldn’t

    4) if you continue to make weird accusations i guess i’ll have to “take it further.” i have a magic voodoo doll somewhere


    i think i have my crazy-person-comment-of-the-week

  11. In Southeast Michigan, Chaldeans and Jews live in close geographic proximity and share a remarkable number of cultural similarities (perhaps based on immigrant status), but the Syriac Chaldean language is spoken by many Chaldeans, many of whom don’t speak or understand Arabic.

  12. onur

    Judaism’s origins as a religion and distinct Semitic ethnicity are typically estimated by non-religious historians to be in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age.

    The Iron Age – and not necessarily the early Iron Age – is the most plausible and preferred (by non-religious historians) era for that. For the birth of the Jewish monotheism – or at least full monotheism, many non-religious historians prefer the Persian era, and some even the Hellenistic era.

  13. yes, i think the persian era is probably the best guess as to the emergence of a recognizably monotheistic judaism. or at least that’s as close to a consensus. before that period jews were at best henotheists.

  14. “has used ideas from my linearpopulation blog”

    FWIW, it is perfectly legal to use someone else’s ideas, so long as they aren’t patented. Indeed, the entire concept of science is based upon the fact that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Copyright protects precise ways of expressing ideas (i.e. copying words or closely paraphrasing and translating them), not the ideas themselves.

    In academic research, it is customary to cite a source that you actually rely upon for a statement, when you actually rely upon it (as Razib has in this case), but that is a social norm rather than a legal requirement, and even as a social norm it generally only extends to formal academic publications, not to popular media accounts, in any case.

  15. ryan

    First, pedantically, I believe you mean cavalry, though calvary is a wonderful Freudian slip.

    I think you’re onto something when you talk about creoles of Semitic languages as part of a sort of cultural centripetalism – the persistence of something like ‘nationality’, but in a much more fluid dynamic. Just as may have happened with Aramaic squeezing out Hebrew and Akkadian in the East, it’s intriguing to postulate that a similar process happened at the other end of the Mediterranean in Spain a century or more after the collapse of Carthage, with Judaism attracting unassimilated remnants of the Phoenician/Carthaginian colonies under the Romans in the period of competing monotheisms, while Christianity attracted the remnants of Greek colonies, Romans, and most of the various endemic peoples of Hispania, whose smaller language pools and weaker external links gave them little reason and even less ability to resist assimilation to the empire.

  16. #15, i don’t want to get into it too much now because of lack of time, but marnie is not right. some of the stuff i say here does resemble her posts, but they’re not so original that others couldn’t come to the same conclusions independently. e.g., she did point out the influence of sephardic influx on syrian jews on december 1st or so (found it via google cache since she’s taken her blog ‘private’), but i noted the same thing in a paper review on june 6th. i doubt marnie ‘stole’ the idea from me, it was plainly obvious in the paper and you can find it in the history. the assyrian -> syrian stuff i got not from marnie’s post, but the paper in the files i linked to, though it makes sense in hindsight (also, i don’t accept marnie’s chronology). i’m pretty sure that the paper was written before marnie’s posts.

    anyway, i don’t even know what to say about the whole idea of “ownership” of ideas. i’m a synthesizer, i don’t make much claim to originality. if i cited all the sources, the appendix to the posts would get out of control. marnie had a good blog with interesting stuff, but you can find similar stuff elsewhere (e.g., peter bellwood’s book).

    some people have weird personalities and paranoias. i probably have had 50 co-bloggers in 8 years (at, and 90% of admin related issues had to do with one person. a guy i knew from college. it was obviously not a coincidence. if you have these sorts of issues, don’t comment on my blog. i’m a chilled out dude. really.

  17. Paul Givargidze

    Speaking of credit, Justin Loe also deserves his due, as he helped tremendously with the ADMIXTURE runs and other analyses.

  18. onur

    yes, i think the persian era is probably the best guess as to the emergence of a recognizably monotheistic judaism. or at least that’s as close to a consensus. before that period jews were at best henotheists.

    Some secular historians place the date of the emergence of the Jewish monotheism in as early as the reigns of some late kings of the Iron Age Kingdom of Judah like Josiah (r. 641–609 BCE) or some kings immediately preceding him. Even if true, is that full monotheism? I have doubts about it.

  19. “#15, i don’t want to get into it too much now because of lack of time, but marnie is not right. ”

    The shorter version of what I said was that you’re right.

  20. “The Iron Age – and not necessarily the early Iron Age – is the most plausible and preferred (by non-religious historians) era for that. ”

    Fair enough. My main thought had been to make the point that Jewish ethnogenesis was relatively young, rather than e.g. dating to 3000 BCE. The point regarding when Judaism became monotheistic rather than henotheistic is a good one that I agree with, but not a distinction I’d been focusing on when I backeted an age.

    My point had been merely to suggest that there is a legitimate argument that there could have been such a thing as a Jewish identity at some point significantly prior to the Iron Age Kingdom of Judah.

  21. onur

    My point had been merely to suggest that there is a legitimate argument that there could have been such a thing as a Jewish identity at some point significantly prior to the Iron Age Kingdom of Judah.

    There is absolutely no evidence for that aside from the book of fairy tales called “the Old Testament” (which has no external confirmation for its parts dealing with the pre-Iron Age eras and even the early Iron Age). Based on all the available non-Biblical data, the Kingdom of Judah (the ultimate source of the “Jewish” identity) itself might have been founded as late as the end of the 8th century BCE as a result of the mass-flight of a significant population to the territory which would soon be known as “Judah” from the newly destroyed (by Assyrians) Iron Age Kingdom of Israel, this is a plausible theory.

  22. pconroy

    IMO Jewish Monotheism, and Moses helping the Jewish people “return” from Egypt to Israel are both linked to Pharaoh Akhenaten and his attempted introduction of Monotheism in Egypt, its ultimate rejection after his death, and the subsequent ostracism of his supporters, and their fleeing of Egypt for Israel.

    I’ve seen the literary device of a “returning” people, clan or chief used many times in ancient Irish literature, to explain and legitimize a new arrival seizing power…

    It might also explain mtDNA L2a1 found in Jews

  23. qohelet

    Doesn’t the presumption of any continuity between ancient Assyrians and modern Assyrians have to be questioned, given that a fair segment of this Aramaic-speaking population prefers to call itself “Aramean”?

    Also, OT – but there’s mounting evidence for urbanization and kingdom-level centralization in Judah as early as the 10th century BCE (see Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel Zayit). Not that it constitutes evidence for any sort of regional Solomonic empire, but the contemporary consensus in archaeology has moved away from extreme minimalism. The fall of Israel did, however, contribute to an increase in (and ethnic upheaval of) Judah’s population – and the southern kingdom’s most advanced years were certainly spent after 722.

  24. Doesn’t the presumption of any continuity between ancient Assyrians and modern Assyrians have to be questioned, given that a fair segment of this Aramaic-speaking population prefers to call itself “Aramean”?

    what sort of continuity do you think i’m implying? to be clear, the model i’m positing above probably means that the genetic distance between iraqi jews and iraq chaldaeans to the akkadian speaking elite of 1000 BC assyria is about the same.

  25. qohelet

    I wasn’t challenging you – your nuanced idea of how today’s ‘North Semitic’ populations came of age during the Classical era is very solid. But some people have been implying that this coincidence proves a specific ancient Jewish – ancient Assyrian link born of Assyrian assimilation policies in the 8th century BCE.

  26. qohelet, understood. though perhaps what you mean is distinctive. after all, there could be a whole set of specific ancient X ethnic group – ancient assyrian links. e.g., armenians & assyrians. i would probably be skeptical of a specific connection of jews to ancient assyrians.

  27. Paul Givargidze

    @ Razib

    “[T]he model i’m positing above probably means that the genetic distance between iraqi jews and iraq chaldaeans to the akkadian speaking elite of 1000 BC assyria is about the same.”

    Yes, I could not agree with you more. The Assyrians, from the very beginning, were an amalgam (Akkadians, Sumerians,etc.). Following the end of the Neo-Assyrian era the folks inhabiting Assyrian lands were a hodgepodge of the many conquered/absorbed peoples, including, but not limited to the Aramaeans, Hurrians, Israelites, etc.

    This is the continuity modern Assyrians suggest. At least those with whom I am acquainted. If a segment of the Aramaic-speaking population today wish to identify as Aramaean, or Chaldean, that is their prerogative. If some within today’s Aramaic-speaking population wish to identify with the Assyrian nationality, that should also be respected.

    If the United States ceased to exist as a unified state, coupled with an absence of a succeeding sovereign, but pockets of its population remained, scattered across the entire expanse of its territory, how does one expect these remnants would identify? Would an individual tracing his or her ancestry to Italy, Ireland, Germany, and Poland identify as an American or with one of the countries comprising his or her particular mix? Well, of course, it depends on a number of different factors. But, I believe we can all agree we are in no position to say which of the various groups he or she should or should not identify with, nor criticize his or her choice if they chose to identify as an American.

  28. Paul Givargidze

    A few relevant bits from the 2010 Atzmon et al. study, “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era”:

    “[The] time of a split between Middle Eastern Iraqi and Iranian Jews and European/Syrian Jews, calculated by simulation and comparison of length distributions of IBD segments, is 100–150 generations, compatible with a historical divide that is reported to have occurred more than 2500 years ago.”

    “The Iranian and Iraqi Jews are the most differentiated with the greatest genetic distances from the other populations and the least distances from each other, as well as the least sharing of the ‘‘European’’ component in Structure.”

    “During Greco-Roman times, recorded mass conversions led to 6 million people practicing Judaism in Roman times or up to 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. Thus, the genetic proximity of these European/Syrian Jewish populations, including Ashkenazi Jews, to each other and to French, Northern Italian, and Sardinian populations favors the idea of non-Semitic Mediterranean ancestry in the formation of the European/ Syrian Jewish groups….”

    Allele Sharing Distance Matrix (IBS) median values, generated by David, for a few populations, based on Behar’s complete data set and 23andMe Assyrians:

    Assyrians (23andMe samples)
    1 ASY 0.24430
    2 AM 0.24472
    3 GE 0.24509

    Iraqi Jews (Behar et al.)
    1 IQJ 0.24499
    2 ASY 0.24587
    3 AM 0.24621

    Samaritans (Behar et al.)
    1 Sam 0.20825
    2 ASY 0.24952
    3 CY 0.24955

    Iranian Jews (Behar et al.)
    1.IRJ 0.24403
    2.IQJ 0.24721
    3.ASY 0.24737

    Sephardi (Behar et al.)
    1 SJ 0.24573
    2 AJ 0.24584
    3 CY 0.24588
    4 Tuscan 0.24590
    5 No Ital 0.24603
    6 AM 0.24614
    7 Sardinian 0.24614
    8 ASY 0.24635
    9 GE 0.24664
    10 RO 0.24679

    Ashkenazi (Behar et al.)
    1 AJ 0.24409
    2 SJ 0.24584
    3 Tuscan 0.24600
    4 No Ital 0.24607
    5 CY 0.24624
    6 AM 0.24626
    7 Sardinian 0.24640
    8 RO 0.24650
    9 ASY 0.24663
    10 ES 0.24667

  29. Paul Givargidze

    Apologies, Razib. My edit time expired before I could provide some context for the Samaritan values.

    Shen et al.

    “We speculate that the Samaritan…lineages present a subgroup of the original Jewish Cohanim priesthood that did not go into exile when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, but married Assyrian and female exiles relocated from other conquered lands, which was a typical Assyrian policy to obliterate national identities. This is in line with biblical texts that emphasize a common heritage of Jews and Samaritans, but also record the negative attitude of Jews towards the Samaritans because of their association with people that were not Jewish. Such a scenario could explain why Samaritan Ychromosome lineages cluster tightly with Jewish Ylineages, while their mitochondrial lineages are closest to Iraqi Jewish and Palestinian mtDNA sequences.”

    The order of the Samaritan autosomal ASD Matrix values are in contrast to neighboring populations, including the Syrians, Lebanese, Druze, and Palestinians. All of whom have Cyprus (and with greater than .0001 separation between CY and their second interethnic population) as their first interethnic population. Geographically, of course, Cyprus is to be expected for populations of the Levant. The Assyrian-Samaritan link defies the expected relationship.

    I am NOT suggesting this is the only possible explanation for the extra-geographical relationship. In fact, it may not even be a contributing factor. Simply providing some background.

  30. Paul Givargidze

    I think some of you may find a few more of the ASD Matrix values of interest as well.

    Razib, the “cosmopolitan welter of the great Islamic Empires” is on display in the values below. The absence of an intraethnic value among a population’s top matches is suggestive, in my opinion, of significant intraethnic heterogeneity.

    The significant presence of the West Asian component, most abundant in Georgians, among non-Arabic speaking WA populations in Dienekes’ and David’s ADMIXTURE runs may be supported by the placement of the Georgians in the relevant lists below:

    1 CY 0.25159
    2 ASY 0.25175
    3 AM 0.25197

    1 AZJ 0.24319
    2 UZJ 0.24700
    3 ASY 0.24724

    1 UZJ 0.24569
    2 AM 0.24636
    3 ASY 0.24637

    1 GJ 0.24282
    2 GE 0.24574
    3 ASY 0.24597

    1 CY 0.24424
    2 AM 0.24503
    3 Tuscan 0.24524
    4 ASY 0.24525

    1 CY 0.24773
    2 ASY 0.24786
    3 AM 0.24786

    1 CY 0.24826
    2 AM 0.24839
    3 ASY 0.24868

    1 ASY 0.24713
    2 GE 0.24733
    3 AM 0.24742

    1 Druze 0.24594
    2 CY 0.24679
    3 AM 0.24711
    4 ASY 0.24724

    1 AM 0.24405
    2 GE 0.24421
    3 ASY 0.24472

    1 GE 0.24590
    2 AM 0.24594
    3 ASY 0.24626

    1 CY 0.24854
    2 ASY 0.24868
    3 AM 0.24898

    1 GE 0.24225
    2 AM 0.24421
    3 Adygei 0.24451
    4 ASY 0.24509

    Populations in data set:
    Basque,GE,GJ,HU,IQJ,IR,IRJ,JO,KSA,LB,Lezgin,LT,MA,MAJ,Mozabite,N Russian,No Ital,Orcadian,Pal,RO,RU,Sam,Sardinian,SJ,SY,TR,Tuscan,UZJ,YE,YEJ

  31. dire

    Where do Kurds fall out? In Northern Iraq, Kurds make a point of referring to resident Assyrians as
    “Christian Kurds.” Assyrians will counter that Kurds are “Muslim Assyrians”. Many Northern Iraqi Assyrians/Chaldeans light eyes and hair (blonde and especially red), traits they share with the Kurds but not most of the surrounding Muslim Arabs.

    Other points – Some Iraqi Jews and Chaldeans/Assyrians lived in the same villages in Northern Iraq pre-1948, according to Chaldeans living in Southeastern Michigan. 1900 years of daily interaction suggests mixing might indeed the source of at least some of the similarity.

    On the other hand, some Chaldean historians claim they, in part, descend from Jews converted by St. Thomas around 33 AD. Those who call themselves Assyrians (mostly Church of the East) tend to claim they are direct descendents of the old empire for political reasons (they want their own ethno-state in Northern Iraq).

  32. pconroy


    My father and I – 100% Irish – have matching segments in common with 2 Assyrian Christains from Iraq, identified on HIR Search – together with a Cretan and a few Greeks. I was baffled as to the connection, but think I may have found a clue, when I discovered that my father’s ancestral village happens to harbor the ruins of a monastery built by the Knights Hospitaler, and about 15 miles away there is a town built by the Knights Templar, both of which recruited Irish knights, which were assembled in the great Norman town of Kilkenny, before going to fight in the Holy Land. So my guess is that some Irish bloodlines intermingled with the local Christian communities in the areas they controlled in the Eastern Mediterranean, and later found their way to the other Christian communities further East.
    Now this may or may not explain some red hair in Northern Iraq, who knows.

  33. Paul Givargidze

    @ dire

    Only Dienekes, thus far, has compared Kurds (N Iraq) and Assyrians in the same analyses:
    West Eurasian MDS and MCLUST

    Of populations Y-DNA and mtDNA tested to any great degree, Assyrians appear to share a significant ancient relationship with Armenians. This, based on the results of the Assyrian, Aramaic, and Armenian DNA Projects. The tMRCAs, ordinarily, are counted in millennia. For most 67 marker haplotypes, at least 2000+ years. Most times even further removed. But, unfortunately, with tMRCAs, beyond a certain point, much uncertainty enters into the equation.

    I would also ask folks to refer to all of the available data, including the MDS, ADMIXTURE, ASD matrix, and Assyrian-Armenian Y-DNA and mtDNA summary (below) when assessing the data.

    Assyrian Armenian
    A 0% 1%
    E1b 5% 9%
    F 2% 1%
    G 10% 14%
    I2 0% 5%
    J1 18% 11%
    J2 17% 21%
    L 2% 2%
    Q1b 2% 1%
    R1a 3% 2%
    R1b 27% 27%
    R2a 2% 3%
    T 13% 5%

    Assyrian, Armenian
    Y-DNA n=60 n=265

    Assyrians Armenians
    23andMe 17
    FTDNA 38 265
    Leb Study 2
    SMGF 3

    J1 is exceedingly of type J1* w/DYS388=13
    R1b, likewise, is exceedingly of type R-L23* (opportunities for further refinement, thanks to a few new SNPs, very recently became possible)

    Assyrian Armenian
    H 24% 26%
    HV 12% 13%
    I 2% 4%
    J 18% 13%
    K 8% 5%
    N 2% 4%
    T 8% 7%
    U 20% 17%
    X 4% 3%
    W 0% 3%
    R 0% 2%
    F 0% 1%
    V 0% 2%

    Assyrian, Armenian
    mtDNA n=50 n=120

  34. onur

    I am pretty sure that none of the Assyrians tested by Dienekes has red or blond hair, as none of them has “North European” component (I also have serious doubts about light brown hair in any of them). Light hair might be a small minority trait among Assyrians and might be directly connected with relatively recent admixture from Anatolia and/or Europe (Crusaders come to mind).

  35. onur

    Blue and green eyes may too be small minority traits among Assyrians and they too may be directly connected with relatively recent admixture from Anatolia and/or Europe.

  36. onur

    Another possible source of “northern” traits among Assyrians is eastern Iranics (including eastern Iranians).

  37. onur

    The same rules apply to Armenians, Georgians, Arabs, Berbers and probably also western Iranians, who, it seems, all have very little “North European” component.

  38. Paul Givargidze

    @ onur

    I am Assyrian. I have green eyes (my brother, blue) and was born with blond hair. My hair is now a golden brown. These are my ADMIXTURE results, from Dienekes’ latest 23andMe run:
    West Asian Northwest African South European Northeast Asian Southwest Asian East Asian North European West African East African South Asian
    DOD134 52.2 0 21 0 22.7 0 0 0 0 4.1

    That said, you are correct, light features are certainly a minority trait among Assyrians. It should be noted that I have an Armenian 2nd great-grandparent. Though, Armenians also appear to lack the “North European” component (<1%).

  39. onur


    Maybe people with light features already existed as a small minority before the emergence of the “North European” component and only with the spread of the “North European” component they attained high numbers. Thus the spread of the “North European” component might be directly connected with the significant increase in the number of people with light features (probably a result of sexual selection and environment, as theorized by Peter Frost and others).

  40. Paul Givargidze

    @ onur

    That sounds like a very reasonable theory.

    Some additional data:
    Assyrian results from one of David’s past Eurogenes IBD runs. I do not believe this particular IBD run included the entire Behar dataset. The first four results of the Assyrian ASD matrix median values (~IBS) and Assyrian average IBD run values are identical: Assyrian, Armenian, Georgian, and Cypriot.

    Justin Loe was kind enough to prepare the chart linked to above, and provided the following additional notes:
    “[David’s] cM settings [were] low (below 3 cM). Atzmon (“Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era”) did their analyses at 3 cM, but that was because they were concerned about false positives from poorly phased genome data. ”

    Expanding upon the Assyrian ASD matrix values provided in post #29:

    Assyrians (23andMe samples)
    1 ASY 0.24430
    2 AM 0.24472
    3 GE 0.24509
    4 CY 0.24525
    5 IQJ 0.24587
    6 GJ 0.24597
    7 Tuscan 0.24625
    8 TR 0.24626
    9 SJ 0.24635
    10 UZJ 0.24637
    11 Adygei 0.24651
    12 AJ 0.24663
    13 No Ital 0.24679
    14 Lezgin 0.24683
    15 RO 0.24712
    16 IR 0.24713
    17 Druze 0.24724
    18 AZJ 0.24724
    19 Sardinian 0.24736
    20 IRJ 0.24737

  41. dire

    @ Paul

    Thank you for posting the additional data. I should also have mentioned before bthat I’m glad someone has finally done analyses of this population.

  42. Paul Givargidze

    Reviewing Dienekes’ MCLUST 46 cluster (4 dimension) results again, I noticed something that upon first inspection of the data, somehow, I failed to notice:

    Population Sample Size
    Adygei 17 ADY
    Armenian_D 7 ARD
    Ashkenazi_D 12 AJD
    Assyrian_D 8 ASD
    Azerbaijan_Jews 8 AZJ
    Bedouin 46 BED
    Cypriots 12 CYP
    Druze 42 DRZ
    Georgia_Jews 4 GEJ
    Georgians 20 GEO
    Iranian_Jews 4 IRJ
    Iranians 20 IRA
    Iraq_Jews 11 IQJ
    Jordanians 20 JOR
    N_Iraq_Kurds 24 KUR
    Lebanese 7 LEB
    Lezgins 18 LEZ
    Morocco_Jews 16 MOJ
    Palestinian 46 PAL
    Samaritans 3 SAM
    Saudis 20 SAU
    Sephardic_Jews 19 SEJ
    Stalskoe 5 STL
    Syrians 16 SYR
    Turks 19 TUR
    Urkarah 18 URK
    Uzbekistan_Jews 2 UZJ
    Yemen_Jews 15 YEJ

    Cluster 2: 1/19 SEJ
    Cluster 5: 12/12 AJD, 1/16 MOJ, 6/19 SEJ
    Cluster 8: 6/7 ARD, 7/8 ASD, 8/8 AZJ, 3/4 GEJ, 4/4 IRJ, 5/11 IQJ, 1/2 UZJ
    Cluster 9: 1/7 ARD, 16/20 GEO
    Cluster 10: 12/12 CYP, 2/19 SEJ
    Cluster 13: 11/17 ADY, 3/20 GEO, 1/18 LEZ, 2/19 TUR
    Cluster 15: 1/8 ASD, 31/42 DRZ, 6/11 IQJ, 3/3 SAM, 1/16 SYR
    Cluster 16: 1/17 ADY, 1/20 GEO
    Cluster 18: 11/46 BED, 1/4 GEJ, 15/20 JOR, 2/7 LEB, 39/46 PAL, 1/20 SAU, 5/16 SYR
    Cluster 19: 8/42 DRZ
    Cluster 20: 3/42 DRZ, 3/20 JOR, 4/7 LEB, 1/46 PAL, 1/20 SAU, 8/16 SYR
    Cluster 21: 1/7 LEB, 1/16 SYR, 14/19 TUR, 1/2 UZJ
    Cluster 23: 15/16 MOJ, 10/19 SEJ
    Cluster 24: 5/17 ADY, 17/18 LEZ, 5/5 STL, 1/19 TUR, 18/18 URK
    Cluster 25: 13/46 BED, 6/46 PAL, 4/20 SAU, 1/15 YEJ
    Cluster 26: 14/15 YEJ
    Cluster 27: 3/20 IRA, 1/20 JOR, 1/20 SAU, 1/16 SYR
    Cluster 29: 15/20 IRA, 24/24 KUR, 2/19 TUR
    Cluster 30: 2/46 BED, 11/20 SAU
    Cluster 31: 1/20 SAU
    Cluster 32: 2/20 IRA, 1/20 SAU
    Cluster 33: 1/20 JOR
    Cluster 34: 9/46 BED
    Cluster 35: 10/46 BED
    Cluster 36: 1/46 BED

    Rough Generalization of Inferred Clusters (simply an attempt)
    Cluster 5: Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish
    Cluster 8: Assyrian, Armenian, Mizrahim
    Cluster 9: Georgian
    Cluster 10: Cypriot
    Cluster 13: Adygei
    Cluster 15: Samaritan, Druze, Iraqi Jewish
    Cluster 18: Levantine-Arabian
    Cluster 19: Druze
    Cluster 20: Syro-Lebanese
    Cluster 21: Turkish
    Cluster 23: Moroccan and Sephardi Jewish
    Cluster 24: Caucasus (“North European” and “Northeast Asian”)
    Cluster 25: Bedouin
    Cluster 26: Yemeni Jewish
    Cluster 29: Iranian and Kurdish(N Iraq)
    Cluster 30: Saudi
    Cluster 34: Bedouin
    Cluster 35: Bedouin

    I found cluster 15 to be the most fascinating. The Samaritans, when strictly based on an analysis of the MDS, are distinct. At least with respect to certain Near Eastern endogamous populations. But, as can be seen, the MCLUST inferred cluster #15 contains 100% of Samaritans, ~75% of Druze, 55% of Iraqi Jews, 6% of Syrians, and ~13% of Assyrians!

  43. Paul Givargidze

    @ dire

    And thank you very much for taking an interest.

  44. Birko


    Where did you get that this population prefers to call itself “Aramean”, for the record, all the people that provided their sample in this study prefer to call themselves Assyrian.

    To make things clear, there’s a religious division among 3 major churches:

    – Assyrian Church of the East
    – Chaldean Catholic Church
    – Syriac Orthodox Church

    Those who follow the Assyrian Church of the East call themselves “Assyrian”, those who follow the Chaldean Catholic Church call themselves “Chaldean” (This title was created 500 years ago when this branch broke off from the Church of the East), and those who follow the Syriac Orthodox Church call themselves “Syriac”, but a small minority among them use the “Aramean” title.

    With that said, there are people from the Syriac and Chaldean Churches that also call themselves Assyrian, so it’s the most accepted title, not to mention that all 3 groups call themselves “Suraya/Suroyo” in the native language, this literary means “Syrian” which essentially comes from “Assyrian”.

  45. Paul Givargidze

    Indeed, Birko. Although everyone is absolutely entitled to identify as they wish, it is a shame there remains an ambiguity regarding the nomenclature issue. From the 2006 JNES article by Rollinger, on the topic of the 8th century BCE Çineköy inscription:

    Luwian inscription:
    §VI And then, the/an Assyrian king (su+ra/i-wa/i-ni-sa(URBS)) and the whole Assyrian “House” (su+ra/i-wa/i-za-ha(URBS)) were made a fa[ther and a mo]ther for me,
    §VII and Hiyawa and Assyria (su+ra/i-wa/i-ia-sa-ha(URBS)) were made a single “House.”

    Phoenician inscription:
    And the king [of Aššur and (?)]
    the whole “House” of Aššur (’ŠR) were for me a father [and a]
    mother, and the DNNYM and the Assyrians (’ŠRYM)
    were a single “House.”

    “As demonstrated by Nöldeke and others, the Greek usage of “Assyria” and “Syria” was almost interchangeable. Furthermore, Simo Parpola has recently shown that in late seventh-century b.c. Aramaic documents from Assyria the name Assur (pronounced Assur and generally written ªsr) could also appear as “Sur” (written sr).”

    Robert Rollinger, Leopold-Franzens-Universität, Innsbruck

    Anyone wishing to read up on the nomenclature issue further is advised to take a glance at Assyriologist, Dr. Simo Parpola’s article, “Assyrian Identity In Ancient Times and Today.” In particular, “TABLE II. Terms for “Assyria” and “Syria” in Greek and Roman Literature (based on Noldeke 1871.)”

    Footnote 20, page 12, of Parpola’s “Assyrian Identity” paper: “The dropping of the initial vowel in [Assūr] → [Sūr] has a perfect parallel in the Neo-Assyrian variants of the divine name Ištar ([Iššār] → [Šār], see Zadok 1984, 4; the short form [Šār] is already attested in the inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, see PNA 2/1569 s.v. Issār-dūrī 4).”

  46. Paul Givargidze

    On The Role of Aramaic in the Assyrian Empire
    Hayim Tadmor

    “When the territories west of the Euphrates were conquered…Aramaic became the second language of the empire, alongside Akkadian. Assyrian reliefs beginning from the time of Tiglath-pileser III provide numerous portrayals of a scribe writing on a tablet or a board, side by side with another scribe writing on papyrus or a parchment scroll. Th[e] pictorial rendition…corresponds to the phrases “Assyrian scribe” (tupsharru Ashuraya) and “Aramaic scribe” (tupsharru Aramaya) that occur together in the various documents, referring to officials in the imperial service.”

    Assyrian Identity in Ancient Times and Today
    Simo Parpola

    “By about 700 BC, the Aramaic alphabet effectively replaced cuneiform as the [Assyrian] Empire’s everyday writing system.”
    Post Empire

    The “Melammu Project”

    Aramaic = Assyrian language

    5th century BCE
    Achaemenid Empire
    Greek philosophers and scholars

    Thucydides reports that the Persian Artaphernes, who was carrying a message from the Great King to Sparta, was taken prisoner, brought to Athens, and the letters he was carrying were translated from the Assyrian language.

    Thucydides 4.50.2:
    He was conducted to Athens, where the Athenians got his dispatches translated from the Assyrian character (Assuriôn grammatôn) and read them.

    “[T]he Hebrew alphabet that [Jews] use today is referred to as Assyrian Script (in Hebrew, K’tav Ashuri).”


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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