Christian culture 基督教文化学刊

“Assyrian” or “Aramean”: The Ethnic Identity of Syriac Christians

Author: LIU Boyun, Lecturer at School of Translation and Interpreting, Beijing Language and Culture University



Syriac Christians have a unique history. They use Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, as their liturgical language. Although divided into different denominations, such as the Assyrian Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Chaldean Catholic Church, they still share the same linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage. In modern times, however, Syriac Christians have encountered an identity crisis. Their primary identity historically had been religious rather than ethnic. However, starting from the nineteenth century, the Anglican Mission has identified the Church of the East as Assyrians. The Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church accepted this nomenclature. The Syriac Orthodox Church followed suit, only to renounce it in the middle of the twentieth century, embracing an Aramean identity. This article will touch upon the history of the ancient Assyrians, ancient Arameans, Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church, arguing that the formation and acceptance of ethnic identity in the recent past may not purely be a result of shared custom or language, but a religiously motivated and intentionally designed social construct.



Syriac Christianity, Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, Assyrians, Arameans


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