Speaking Christian

I didn’t know it was a language. The taxi driver asked us, “Do you speak Christian.”

I don’t. Though I am a Christian, I try to avoid some of the jargon that has sprung up around the faith. In North America it is all too easy to live in a Christian sub-culture that bears absolutely no relation to the real world. It’s a safe place to be, but at times it can be a little bland (okay, a lot bland). So I try not to go there – especially since I think Jesus would be appalled at the idea of isolating yourself from those around you.

But that isn’t what our cab driver meant.


Hanging from the mirror is a cross, as our cab driver shows his religious allegiance.

He wanted to know if we spoke Syriac, an ancient language of the Chaldean people. I don’t know much about it, other than that parts of the Old Testament book of Daniel are in Syriac in the original text. (I am not enough of a scholar to know why that is, nor have I tried to find out.)

Somewhere though in the past 2,000 years the language has become associated with Christians, so much so that Syriac is commonly referred to as Christian by the locals in northern Iraq. It is spoken by the Chaldean population who have been Christians as long as there has been a church. Arabs and Muslims don’t speak the language.

My cab driver’s question is a reminder that Islam is a relatively new religion in the Middle East. Our news media, focused on the present, forgets that there is a long Christian history in an area now dominated by Muslims. We hear stories of ISIS beheading Christians and persecuting minorities, but Christians were the majority once. A sizable Christian population remains in Iraq, in Jordan, in Egypt, in Turkey, in Iran and elsewhere. Christians may be persecuted, the church may seem besieged, but the final story has yet to be told.

Tradition is important, especially ones held faithfully for centuries, even millennia. It is probable that Sunday in a Chaldean church bears little resemblance to the Baptist church of my childhood. Nor should it – different cultures express the Christian faith in different ways. What unites is the core beliefs.

I wonder how many decision makers in the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria truly understand what it means to have a Chaldean minority in those countries. It strikes me that labeling the language as Christian changes the discussion, takes us places western leaders are reluctant to go.

That’s because the conflict in Iraq and Syria is much more than a political struggle. It is a religious war. And that really makes the post-Christian west uncomfortable because anything to do with religion makes us uncomfortable. If the different Islamic factions have one thing in common it is a desire to get rid of Christians, but that gets little publicity. There’s a reason some Iraqi towns have become a haven for Christians, with armed soldiers patrolling to ensure Muslims don’t come into town.

Those who “speak Christian” are a remnant, a beleaguered minority. Not everyone has the opportunity to flee, to become one of the horde of refugees battering down the doors of Europe. Some have to stay behind.

Do we have any responsibility to them?


  1. Brad Darbyson · · Reply

    Islamic tradition identifies Shanliurfa, which is 24 miles (39 km) northwest of Haran, as Abraham’s original home. This city was refounded in the Hellenistic period as Edessa, and later became the center of the Syriac Christian community.

    There are two ancient cities called “Ur” that are known from archaeology. By far the most famous is a city in southeastern Mesopotamia that was a great center of early civilization. A second Ur, which was far less prominent, is called “Ur in Haran” by an ancient tablet from Ebla.

    There is no debate over where Haran is located, 10 miles north of the Syrian border in Turkey along the Balikh River, a tributary of the Euphrates River. Haran is an important Hurrian center, mentioned in the Nuzi tablets. The moon god, Sin was worshiped here.

    There are two cities not far from Haran; Ura and Urfa. Local tradition says that Abraham was born in Urfa. Northern Ur is mentioned in tablets at Ugarit, Nuzi, and Ebla, which refers to Ur, URA, and Urau.

    The names of several of Abraham’s relatives like Peleg, Serug, Nahor and Terah, appear as names of cities in the region of Haran. Abraham sent his servant back to the region of Haran to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:10).

    Gen 24:4 You must go back to the country where I was born (nativity) and get a wife for my son Isaac from among my relatives.”

    Gen 24:10 The servant, who was in charge of Abraham’s property, took ten of his master’s camels and went to the city where Nahor had lived in northern Mesopotamia (Aram Naharaim).

    After working for Laban, Jacob fled across the Euphrates River back to Canaan (Genesis 31:21). If Ur were the one in Southern Mesopotamia, then Jacob would not need to cross the Euphrates. Laban is said to live in Paddan-Aram, which is in the region of Haran (Genesis 28:5-7), which seems to be the same area as Aram-Naharaim, Abraham’s homeland (Genesis 24:10).

    All this evidence taken together seems to indicate that the Ur of Abraham was in the same region as Haran in Northern Mesopotamia, and NOT the famous Ur in Southern Mesopotamia.

  2. The Manang · · Reply

    Do we have any responsibility to them?

    The quick answer would be YES.

    But then this is the “ideal” answer.

    The reality is that people are scared to take responsibility. Can we blame them?

    I’d say NO.

    I was reading about Americans opposing the acceptance of refugees in the states.

    They said how can they accept refugees when it will put their loved ones at risk.

    It is indeed complicated.

    Authorities should find a solution that will not compromise the safety of their citizens.

    Bottom line is we all have responsibility.

    To be apathetic or to keep silent in these issues would be shameful.

  3. Complex issues raised here. Over the ages there have been many complex issues within religions and between them, leading to all manner of evil. There will continue to be until the fundamental problem is identified: religion itself… Must find ‘God’ without religion. It’s slowly but surely happening imo.

    1. You can argue that religion is a human construct, and certainly much evil has been done in its name, but I think a case could be made that there has been more good than bad – or maybe that is only for Christianity.

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