Gabriel Sengo opens
the Gates of Aramaean Thought, Culture and Wisdom
At the same time,
Mr. G. Sengo castigates the unacceptable current situation of oppression
and confusion, and the persecution of the Aramaic Language and the
Aramaean Culture in numerous countries of the Middle East where the
Aramaeans are not even recognized as an ethnic – linguistic group.
By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin
In this third part of Mr. Gabriel Sengo’s interview’s, we focus on
issues related to Aramaean Wisdom, Science, Philosophy, Theology and
Literature. The Chairman of the Aram Nahrin Organization presents a
summarized outline of the Christian Aramaean contribution to the
formation of the world civilization.
At the same time, Mr. G. Sengo castigates the unacceptable current
situation of oppression and confusion, and the persecution of the
Aramaic Language and the Aramaean Culture in numerous countries of the
Middle East where the Aramaeans are not even recognized as an ethnic –
Understanding the Armaean Impact of the formation of Cultures and
Civilizations will be the key to Peace in the Middle East.
An Interview with the Great Aramaean Intellectual
and Activist, Gabriel Sengo, Chairman of the Aram Nahrin Organization
- What books are
today written in Aramaic?
- The books available in Aramaic deal with amongst other things
history, theology, exegeses, philosophy, music, medicine, language,
poetry, mathematics and astronomy.
When we talk about books written in Aramaic, it is necessary to talk
about the authors of these books, for they contributed to the wellbeing
of mankind. The Aramean scholars, excelled in their wisdom and knowledge
in comparison with their contemporaries, enlightened the world of their
time not only with theological science but also with regular science.
The Globally Unique
Impact of Aramean Erudite Scholars
The Aramean scholars were not only the teachers of Arabs, Armenians
and Georgians, but have also translated and further developed the
complete science of their era into Arabic which later was transferred to
the West. In the East it was the Aramean scholars who provided the
essential link between Greek and Arabic.
In the 7th century the scholarship in the Greek-speaking world
declined. However the momentum of scholarship and secular learning of
that time was kept up by brilliant Aramean scholars, for example:
Severus Sebokht, Athanasius of Balad (Eski Mosul), Jacob of Edessa and
The early Abbasid Caliphs were provided with basic intellectual tools,
the hall-mark of the Greek philosophical tradition, by the Aramean
scholars. The commentaries and compendia of Aramean scholars of later
date, like for example, Iwannis of Dara, Mushe Bar Kipho, Dionysios Bar
Salibi, Jacob Bar Shakko, and above all Bar Hebraeus, the library from
the 13th century, testify about the brilliancy of their predecessors.
The Arabs also adapted many of the Aramean melodies, tunes and
poetical metres which were invented by scholars like Bardaisan, Mor
Ephrem, Mor Balai, and Mor Jacob of Sarug.
Some of the theories which were well accepted by the West, for
example: the theory of Harder "The man is a small world" was treated by
Ahudemeh (6th century), the famous Catholicos of the East Syrian "Nestorian"
Church who became martyr. The theory of Galileo, the astronomer, has
already been treated by the bishop of Edessa (10th century) in his book
"The cause of all causes".
The Aramaic schools of Antioch, Edessa, Nisibis (the first university
in the world) and Seleucia – Ctesiphon - established by the brilliant
East - Aramean scholar Catholicos Aba I of the Church of the East in 541
AD (since 1976 falsely known as "the Assyrian Church") were the sources
which delivered giant scholars in their era and were the centres where
many disciplines of science were taught, developed and transferred to
When these schools eventually stopped, for various reasons not need
to discuss here, the scholarship continued in the monasteries. Three of
these famous Monasteries are:
- the Monastery of Eusebona (established second half of 4th century),
which is situated near Qal’at Simon in northern Syria,
- the Monastery of Tell Ada (established in the middle of the 4th
- the Monastery of Qennesrin, situated on the east bank of Euphrates,
opposite to Dura Europos (established in first half of the sixth century
by John Bar Aphtonia (d. 537 AD).
The Monastery of Eusebona was famous for its scholarship. Among the
brilliant scholars which it brought about were two Patriarchs of the 7th
century, namely Yuhannen II Abu Al Sadrat (d. 648 AD) and Athanaisus II
of Balad (Eski Mosul, d. 687 AD).
Below, a few of these revered scholars will be presented to the
reader. The scope of this questionnaire does not allow us to mention all
of them. Therefore we will restrict ourselves to only a few of the most
* Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373 AD). A pupil of the great ascetic St.
Jacob of Nisibis (d. 338 AD) was the most brilliant and the greatest of
all Aramean poets, plus a highly creative ideological thinker. He was so
famous that many of his works were translated amongst others into Greek,
Armenian and Arabic.
* The second brilliant scholar and poet after Ephrem was Jacob of
Sarug, also called "The Teacher". He was born in the middle of the fifth
century in Kurtam (Euphrates) and was educated at the famous Aramean
university of Nisibis. He was renowned for his verse homily. In 519 he
was appointed as the bishop of the region capital Batnan (in Sarug).* A
third scholar who can be mentioned is Balai of Qenesrin (early fifth
century) near Aleppo, a notable poet.
Medicine: The famous Aramean physicians of Baghdad - the Abbasid capital
The historian of medicine, Guido Majno, tells in his book "The
Healing hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient World" about the Aramean
physicians of Jundishappur (= Beth Lapat): "They
were foremost among the crowd of unknown, unsung scholars who, during
the so-called Dark Ages, cared to transmit the knowledge of antiquity.
Without their labours, some of our roots would have withered- and much
of the story that I have shared with you in this book could not have
The quality of the Aramean scholars was indeed also noticed by the
Abbasid Khalifs, in particular Al - Mansur (754-775), Al- Mahdi
(775-785) and Al- Ma’mun (813-833) who set up a huge translation
movement to transfer the ancient knowledge into Arabic and thus to the
Islamic world. And who were more qualified and skilful for this giant
project? Of course, the Aramean scholars, for they were masters in
Aramaic, Greek, Arabic and in every field of the science.
That was the reason the Great Arab philosopher, Al - Farabi (d.
950-951 AD) said regarding the history of the philosophy of medicine:
starting with the ancient Greeks from Alexandria via Antioch (the
Arameans of course) to the Abbasid capital of Baghdad!
A historical – political commentary is imposed in this case! It is a
terrible irony indeed! In our days, the Arameans of Iraq are excluded
from the Iraqi constitution and they are treated with extermination by
fanatic Islamic groups!
One can ask the question: - For how long can the Lord be patient with
this world where so much injustice is happening?
* Hunayn Ibn Ishaq (809-873) and his son Ishaq Ibn Hunayn: the
masters of the translation craft. Thanks to the renowned Aramean
physicians in Baghdad and marvellous scholars like Hunayn, the medical
knowledge of the Greco-Roman world of Late antiquity was transferred to
Arabic and thus to the Islamic world of the Middle Ages. The work of
Hunayn Ibn Ishaq on medicine immensely influenced over many centuries
not only the Islamic world, but also Europe. The works of Hunayn
survived both in Arabic as well as in Aramaic. Once the Arabic version
was translated into Latin and reached Western Europe, the textbook of
Hunayn was treated as a standard introduction to medicine until the
* Physician Gabriel of Sinjar (7th century). He was well respected by
the Great Sassanid Shah Khusraw (Chosroes) II because of his skills in
* Sargius of Res’Aina (d. 536). A revered scholar and translator of
* Josef, the Catholicos of the Church of the East (551-567). He was a
physician and respected for his skills by Sha Khusro I.
Theology and Astronomy
* Bardaison. "The Aramean Philosopher" (154-222) was active at the
court of the Aramean king Abgar the Great of Edessa, and a central
figure of philosophical dialogue on the subject of fate, free will and
predestination, known under the title "The Book of The Laws of Countries".
* Rabbula of Edessa (411-435). Exceptional writer in Greek as well as
in Aramaic (Syriac).
*Aba I, the Catholicos of the Syrian Church of the East (540-552). He
was the founder of the famous Aramean school of Nisibis and his learning
impressed Cosmas Indicopleutes, the famous "Sailor of the Indian Ocean".
* Philoxenos of Mabbug (d. 523). A great theologian. He produced many
works. Theological Christological prose, biblical exegeses, other works
in the form of letters. He also wrote three anaphorae, a baptismal
* Daniel of Salah (Tur Abdin, Salah mid 6th century). Extensive
commentary work on the Psalms.
*Babai the Great (d. 628 AD). He was educated at the famous
university of Nisibis, and he became the main East -Aramean "Nestorian"
author on Christology. He was the superior of the Monastery of Abraham
of Kashkar (Mount Izlo, Tur Abdin).
*Severus Sebokht (667 AD). The famous master of St. Jacob of Sarug.
Severus was a top scholar of astronomy and philosophy. This includes
treatises on the Astrolabe and on the constellations. On logic include
his work on syllogisms.
* Isaac of Nineveh, or Isaac the Syrian (late 7th century). From Beth
Qatraya, he was the most widely read of all Aramean authors, his works
have been translated into Greek and today are available in more than 10
West - European languages.
* Patriarch Athanasius II of Balad (Eski Mosul, 683-687). Translator
of philosophical works, Prophyry’s to Aristotle’s logical works, and a
collection of letters of Severus.
* Jacob of Edessa (640 - 708). Prolific scholar and translator, pupil
of Severus Sebokht, became bishop of Edessa and later for 9 years the
bishop of the famous monastery of Tel Ada. Wrote amongst others a
learned commentary on the six days of Creation, philosophical handbook,
letters on specific topics, liturgical books, questions & answers on
canon law, biblical scholia on exegeses, grammar, chronicle, etc.
* Yohannan Bar Penkaye. East - Aramean writer (late 7th century),
whose most important work was a summary of World History in 15 books.
*Catholicos Patriarch of the Syrian Church of the East, Tmotheus I
(of Arbil, d. 823). Timotheus was a great scholar who enjoyed the
respect of the Abbasid caliph because of his wisdom and knowledge.
* Anton of Tikrit (9th century). He wrote 5 books "On Science of
Rhetoric". Also on Providence, and on Myron.
*Job of Edessa (early 9th century). His book "The Book of Treasures"
deals with metaphysics, psychology, physiology, chemistry, physics,
mathematics, meteorology, and astronomy.
* Iwannis of Dara (first half of the 9th century). Author of many
important philosophical and theological works, including treaties On The
Soul, On Creation, On the Resurrection of the Body, etc.
*Mushe Bar Kipho (903 AD). A brilliant scholar and bishop of the area
between Mosul and Tikrit. Important and extensive works cover philosophy,
theology, exegesis and liturgy and many other profession of the science.
* Abu – l’ Hasan Bahlul. East - Aramean "Nestorian" of the 10th
century, compiler of one of the largest medieval Aramean lexicons.
* Emmanuel Bar Shhare (second half of the 10th century). Author of an
extensive verse commentary on the Six Days of Creation and other
*Isho Bar Ali (d. 1001). East - Aramean Physician and author of an
* Dionysis Bar Salibi (d. 1171). He was a renowned scholar, bishop of
Marash and Metroplitan of Diyarbakir (Amid), and was known by
contemporaries as "the eloquent doctor, the star of his generation, and
a lover of labour like Yacob of Edessa". His works include a commentary
on the entire Bible, liturgical commentaries, apologetic, commentary on
Porphyry’s Introduction to Aristotle’ s logical works, Organon, and
* Patriarch Michael the Great (1166-1199). He was a brilliant scholar,
born in Melitene (Malatya), and became Patriarch at the Monastery of Mor
Barsaumo (Malatya). His incredible World Chronicle extending from
Creation to his own days is a historical source of invaluable importance.
* Gregorios Abu ‘l Faraj, Bar Hebraeus. He was born in 1225/26 in
Melitene (Malatya, Turkey) and died 30 July 1286 in Maragha (NW Iran),
the city with the greatest number of observatories in the world. Because
of his immense knowledge on various fields of science, he is known as "Library
of the 13th century". His works include, history, theology, Aramaic
grammar, philosophy, astronomy, physics, poems, medicine treatises, etc.
* Yohannon Bar Zobi (late 12th century). He was one of the most
learned East - Aramean scholars of his time. His works include
philosophy, grammar and liturgy.
Late Medieval and Modern
Aramaean Erudite Scholars
* Israel of Alqosh. He lived in the 16th /17th century, East -
Aramean author of several poems in classical Aramaic, known as the first
poet who wrote in modern Syriac (Aramaic).
* Patriarch Joseph II of Diyarbekir. East - Aramean Chaldean (1667 -
1712) who was a prolific author and translator. Amongst his books: The
Polished Mirror, The Magnet, commentary on the Mysteries and Porphyry’s
Introduction to Aristotle’s Logic.
* Metropolitan Shemun Basileios of Tur Abdin (killed in 1740). He was
one of the most important Syriac (Aramaic) writers of 18th century, and
wrote both in verse and prose. Amongst his works: Book of Theology, The
Armour of Confession, Hope of Faith, Chariot of Mysteries, etc.
* Toma Audo (1855 - 1918), East - Aramean Chaldean bishop of Urmia,
who wrote the famous lexicographical Aramean - Aramean dictionary (Mosul
* Ignatius Afrem Barsauwm I (1887 - 1957). He is also known as the
"Star of the Middle-East"; he was a noted scholar and the writer of
amongst others important works on Aramean Literature and History,
including the History of Tur Abdin.
* Mor Philoxenos Yuhanon Dolabani (1885 - 1969). The Metropolitan of
Mardin, prolific scholar, poet, editor and translator.
* Gabriel Paulus (1912 - 1971). Professor of Aramaic at the Lebanese
University, who promoted the use of classical Syriac (Aramaic). Along
with Ghatas Maqdasis Elyas, he translated some French works into Syriac.
* Asmar Al - Koury (1916 - 1992). Born in Tur Abdin (Ainwardo), he
studied in Deir Zafaran (Mardin, Turkey) under the famous Yuhannen
Dolabani. He wrote extensively in Aramaic, both prose and verse; amongst
other works, two volumes on History of the Aramean people in Mesopotamia
were posthumously published in 1998 (Sweden).
Of course, there are many more Aramean authors; however, we believe
the aforementioned examples suffice to give readers an approximate
- How many million
people speak Aramaic today, and where do they live?
Rough estimates: 2-2.5 million. They live in the Middle-East, Europe,
United States, Australia and Canada.
- Where do they
In Churches, monasteries, and seminaries, like for example the Mor
Afrem Seminary in Lebanon, and since 2000 the Seminary in Syria.
- In what countries
is Aramaic taught in the Primary and Secondary education?
There is no country in the world where Aramaic is taught in the
Primary and Secondary education.