Adiabene

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Adiabene (Syriac: ܚܕܝܐܒ‎, Ḥaḏy’aḇ or Ḥḏay’aḇ) was the last province of the Assyrian Empire. It was still existing in the first century A.D. It's capital was Arbel (modern "Irbil" in Iraq). In 70 A.D. Its queen Helena (ShlomZion HaMalka = Queen Peace of Zion", who had converted to Judaism with her son Izetas and leading people of the government, was buried in Jerusalem. Her magnificent tomb complex on Salah Iddin street in East Jerusalem was for long considered the Tomb of the Kings of Israel, until the right identification of "City of David" was made elsewhere (the hill on which is the Arab village of Silwan outside the Dung Gate). The Aramaic speaking province of Adiabene with its capital of Arbel (modern Irbil in Iraq) became the "sending station" of the Aramaic Church eastward eventually to reach southern India, where the "St. Thomas" Christians, yet using Aramaic as their liturgical language are still prominent today, and China with the message of Jesus Christ. Arbel and Adiabene of the Aramaic language (in the main) Parthian empire vie with Edessa capital of Osrhoene, the satellite kingdom within the Roman Empire sphere (but also primarily Aramaic in language) as the place in which the Aramaic Peshitta version of the Bible was begun and grew. The Jewish general and historian of the first century, Josephus, records that Adiabene was the only foreign country to send contingents to fight at the side of the Jews against the occupying Roman legions during the Jewish revolt of 66 AD. Among the first bishops of the Aramaic Church of the East, starting with Mar Pekidah, ordained by the Galilean Jewish Christian frpm Caesarea Phillipi, Addai, one of the Seventy (perhaps the same as Thaddeus, one of the Twelve), were the bishops of Adiabene. Adiabene together with nearby Edessa exhibit the early Church of the East's understanding that the Aramaic church was the continuation of the earliest Jewish Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans. This Jewish orientation of the early Church of the East can also be shown in its self understanding as to its founding and early leadership under its bishops. Aside from its understanding that its earliest founders were Jewish apostles and their disciples (Thomas, Addai-Thaddeus, Mari, Aggai-Haggai), three next bishops directing the church are also considered to be both Jewish and, what is more, in the blood line of the Messiah Himself (Abris = "Ivri = Hebrew", a relative of Jesus' mother Mary, Avraham, a relative of James, and Yaakob, a relative of Joseph). This physical descent from the family of Jesus, perpetuating the seed and dynasty of David in the Church's leadership, is startling different than the outworkings of the "Gentile Church" within the Roman Empire.

The Orthodox Jewish Aramaic scholar Jacob Neusner contends that if the Palestinian Jews had won the war against Rome, the newly converted to Judaism Adiabenian dynasty whould have become a strong candidate for inheriting the Jewish throne in Jerusalem. This enlightens the matrix of the understanding of the Church of the East as perpetuating the dynasty of David in the leadership of the Church. An example of the "easy" self identification of the Aramaic Church with the continuation of physical Israel, is evident in the "Chronicles of Arbela"* with its natural allusion to earthly Israel and its events and its phrasing. Speaking of the events of the episcopacy of Isaac (the bishop's name itself bespeaks continuity with Israel), we find in a description of an attack on a believing in Jesus high commander and ruler, "but God, who is good to Israel and to the simple of heart, did not allow the wicked arrows which they fixed upon the the string to harm...", "...and he fell, after delivering himself, like Judas Maccabeus, a sacrifice to the Lord for the salvation of his people.", and, describing his death, ".. they wept for him like David for Jonathan: 'How the mighty have fallen in battle. O Jonathan, upon your high places are the slain. I am distressed about you, O my brother Jonathan. You were greatly beloved by me'" In the understanding of the Adiabenian Christian thought as well as all the earliest Aramaic Church, there does not seem to be a distinct line between Physical Israel and the Church, between physical Israel and spiritual Israel. Peoplehood carries on. Bishop (Mar) Bawai Soro contends the reason that Jews and then Jewish Christians streamed into the Parthian Aramaic kingdoms and Empire after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was that it was evident that to have fled westward into Roman controlled territories would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The Parthian empire, until the Sassanids, and Babylon (which indeed became built up as the Jewish center) was more tolerant that persecuting Rome.

It is clear that the term, signifying the dynasty of David ("House of David") - Isaiah 7:13, and the rule of the this dynasty of David ("Throne of David") - Isaiah 9:7, perhaps had a concrete application to the times they were spoken and written, but also had a fulfillment for the future - to Messianic times. That is why Scripture speaks of David in present and future tense terms though he had long since died Ezekiel 37:24. And it is also clear that Jesus being the Son of David and the inheritor of David's throne, is an understanding prominent in both the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament. But these lively themes both in the beginning Church of the East in Adiabene, and in the Adiabene aristocracy and its relationship to Jerusalem, even to the extent that Jacob Neusner suggests (Adiabene ascending the throne of Jerusalem if the Jews - and they- would have won in the war against Rome) gives an authenticity and realism to these otherwise "religious" concepts.

  • The Chronicles, written or compiled in Syriac by Meshiha zekha ("Victory of the Messiah") to Pinkhas is from the 6th century. This is very illuminative showing that the Jewish orientation of the Church was still a fact after 500 years. Though it was written down hundreds of years after the event, it is accurate in much of the earlier centuries events and background. An example, is portaying, contrary to the times of its composition, the ordained clergy orders of Adiabene and the early Church of the East as bishops and deacons, rather than bishops, presbyters and deacons (presumably, the "elders" as a distinct order from the "overseers" was not well defined). This is like the Epistle to the Philippians - "Paul...to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons."

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