Notes on Hurrian/Anatolian-Syrian vs semitic burial structure types AND the Syrian Nestorian influences in Central and East Asia

p. 248 Early urbanism on the Syrian Euphrates on the coexistence of ethnic populations distinguishable by the different grave burial types: Hurrian/Anatolian=cist burials vs Semitic shaft rockcut graves cut into slopes

Cist burial graves are likely associated with Anatolian-Hurrian populations — from the north and northeast of Akkad (northeastern Syria; along Euphrates river, south Syria) – ca late 3000 BC

Burials surrounded by shaft graves rock cut types – belong to Semitic populations (eg proto- and Amorites of Northern and Southern Syria) big bend of the Euphrates river; western Syria; Tell Bi’a; Levant and seen in Palestine and Transjordan – but are most numerous at Carchemish; Hurrian and semitic populations co-exist-with Hurrians in the northern areas at the same time, semitic rockcut graves can occasionally also be seen in the northern Anatolia – Early Bronze period, late 3,000 BC

Rockcut tombs of Naqsh-e Rustam (Persian: نقش رستم‎ Naqš-e Rostam) also referred to as Necropolis is an archaeological site located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, in Fars provinceIran. Naqsh-e Rustam lies a few hundred meters from Naqsh-e Rajab. The oldest relief at Naqsh-i Rustam is severely damaged and dates to c. 1000 BC. It depicts a faint image of a man with unusual head-gear and is thought to be Elamite in origin. Four tombs belonging to Achaemenid kings are carved out of the rock face. The tombs are known locally as the ‘Persian crosses’, after the shape of the facades of the tombs. The entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross, which opens onto to a small chamber, where the king lay in a sarcophagus.

20101229 Naqsh e Rostam Shiraz Iran more Panoramic.jpg

Changan, the upper capital, was the centre of imperial splendour. Caravans brought with them traders and jugglers, monks and pilgrims from Persia, Armenia and even from Antioch and Byzantium. Their strange appearances and outlandish clothes never failed to amuse the Chinese onlookers. Meanwhile Chinese had also been deported to Central Asia or sent there as soldier-peasants to garrison the fortifications across the steppes . Several Chinese leaders during the T’ang Dynasty were of foreign origin. The poet Li Po’s ancestral family had been exiled to the Western region in the 7th century. Li Po himself was born in AD 701, either on the way from Suyab to China or in Suyab , the modern Tokmak, in what is now the Soviet Republic of Turkestan.

Tang China had great confidence in her own cultural heritage. It was a period when China was most receptive to foreign influence and was ready to borrow from outside art forms and motifs and even to assimilate the faiths of her subject nations and friendly neighbors. Against such a setting, Nestorian Christianity first came to China.

Alopen, the Persian Bishop, began the Nestorian mission in Chang-an in AD 635, the same year when St. Aidan came to preach the Gospel in Northumbria

But why 635 ? In the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, the overland route between Persia and China had been barred by the people of Turkestan. The Eastern Turks challenged the authority of the Tang Emperor while the Western Turks held sway over the valley of the River Chu with Tokmak as their centre. However, in 630 the Eastern Turks were overwhelmed by Tang forces and the Western Turks without a fight surrendered to Tang power and influence. The route to Persia was therefore reopened. As we learn from Tangshu 唐書, “When the embassy from Bukhara came to the capital to offer tribute, Taizong 太宗 greeted the ambassador saying, ‘The Western Turks have surrendered. Now merchants are safe to travel.’ All the tribes welcomed the news with great joy.”

The semi-barbarian tribes in Central Asia agreed to honour the Tang Emperor by the title of “Tien-ko-han” (King of the Khans) recognizing him as the leader of the International Peace League. Prof. Shen Shih-min, author of a history of the Sui and Tang Dynasties, has reminded us that in the original Turkish tongue the term Tien-ko-han probably meant the Son of Heaven.

Thus, Alopen was able to make his historic journey to China. However, before 635 many merchants of Persian origin must have lived in Changan, and undoubtedly there were some Nestorians among them. Also, there must have been in the Tang Capital a number of Nestorians of Central Asian origin from Sogdiana or from Bukhara. The very fact that the Emperor sent the minister of state Fang Xuan-ling 方玄齡, to take an escort to the western outposts to meet Alopen suggests that elaborate preparations had been made for his conring. Again, as we learn from the Nestorian Monument, the Emperor granted Alopen permission to translate the Nestorian Sutras in the Imperial Library. This was in line with the Tang Dynasty’s broad policy of toleration and interest in fostering foreign religions. In 638 Alopen with the help of Chinese associates completed the first Christian book in Chinese The Sutra of Jesus the Messiah. It was not a translation but rather a free adaptation to meet the needs of the mission in Changan. Japanese scholars indicate that the original was likely to be in the Persian or Sogdian language rather than Syriac.

The term, “Uo-li-si-liam,” for instance, seems to be a transliteration of Jerusalem in the Persian tongue.

In this first Christian book in Chinese, Alopen took pains to show that Christianity contained nothing subversive to China’s ancient traditions . He pointed out that loyalty to the state and filial piety to one’s parents were not contrary to Christian teaching. The portrait of the Emperor Taizong (627-649), as we learn from the Nestorian Monument of 781, was in fact painted on the wall of the Nestorian monasti.c church, reminiscent of the portrait of the Emperor Justinian (483-565) in the Byzantine church in Ravenna.

But this early Chinese Christian classic was not only an apology. It was an introduction to the Christian faith. The life of our Lord from the Nativity to the Passion was presented for the first time to Chinese readers.

The Emperor was pleased with Alopen’s achievement. An imperial decree proclaimed the virtue of the Nestorian religion and ordered a Nestorian monastery to be built in the Yi-ning quarter by local officials . Now the Yi-ning quarter was in the extreme west of the city where the Persian and Central-Asian traders were concentrated. The site of the monastery was clearly indicated in the Chang-an Chi (AD 1076). “North of the east of the street is the foreign monastery of Persia. In the 12th Ching-Kuan year (AD 639), Taizong built it for Alopen, a foreign monk of Daqin 大秦.” The monastery, therefore, seems to have been located in the north-east angle of the cross formed by the two main streets in the Yi-ning quarter. The monastery began with 21 monks.

During the reign of Gaozong 高宗 (649-693), Nestorian Christianity was further favoured by the court. By Imperial decree, Alopen was promoted to be great Spiritual Lord, Protector of the Empire, ie. Metropolitan of Chang-an. No doubt the Nestorian Monument greatly exaggerated the importance of Nestorianism in Tang China. “The religion_ spread throughout the ten provinces … monasteries abound in hundred cities.” ‘Nevertheless, we have reason believe that there were several Nestorian monasteries outside Chang-an. In Loyang 洛陽 a Nestorian monastery was erected in the Shau-hsien quarter, and there must have been Nestorian monasteries also in Tuan-huang, Ling-wu and perhaps in Sichuan 泗川.

Nestorian Christianity witnessed a serious setback in the reign of the usurping Empress Wu 武則天, a woman of great energy and ability. In 690 she proclaimed herself the founder of a new dynasty -Chou 周- and wished to be remembered by posterity as an outstanding Empress. Accordingly her half brother, Wu San-Ssu, proposed to erect a gigantic column in her honor, to be located outside the Tuan gate of the Imperial city. A famous Indian sculptor and craftsman was commissioned to execute the intricate design. It was to be an octagonal column with a height of 105 feet built in a base with carved unicorns. On the pinnacle of the column was to be a dragon embracing a large orb representing the rising sun. The enormous task of financing and erecting the imposing column was entrusted to the Nestorian layman Abraham. It was a tribute to the skill of the Indian craftsman and to the administrative talent of Abraham that the immense project took only eight months to complete.

Only two years previously, the Buddhists of Loyang had opened an attack upon the Nestorians. Now Abraham’s act of homage must have assured the Empress of the loyalty of the Nestorian congregation and thus averted the Buddhist attempt to uproot the young church from Chinese soil…..

Abraham came from a noble Persian family. Emperor Kao Tsung, noting his remarkable achievement and great fame, summoned him to his court and sent him on a mission to the countries east of Persia. The inscription on his tombstone stated that he brought the holy religion to the barbarian tribes who had since lived in peace and concord. Not least was the virtue of his leadership in summoning the kings of various countries to erect the heavenly column in the reign of Empress Wu. He died on the first day of the fourth month in the first year of Chun Yun (710) at his private residence in Loyang, aged 95.

If Abraham, the nobleman, helped the Nestorians to stand firm and weather the storm of Buddhist antagonism in Loyang. Abraham, the abbot, with Bishop Gabriel, succeeded in “supporting together the mystic cord and tying the broken knot” after the mocking and slandering of the Nestorians by the Daoists in Chang-an (712-713). In 713 the Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (712-757) ordered the Prince of Ning Kuo and four other princes to go to the Nestorian monastery to build and set up the altars again. In 744 he decreed that Abbot Abraham, together with Bishop George (Chi-ho), the monk Pu-lun and five other monks, should go to celebrate Holy Eucharist in the Hsing-ching Palace, the residence of the Emperor’s elder brother and four other brothers .

Of Bishop Gabriel (Chih-lieh) we obtain con-siderable information from Chinese sources. It is significant to note that Gabriel came to China by sea. Toward the end of the 7th century, Canton had become the chief seaport for foreign trade. In 8th century Canton, the merchants from abroad were allowed a large measure of self-government and the free exercise of their religion.

Bishop Gabriel arrived in. Canton in 713 or earlier. He worked among Persian merchants and craftsmen and acquired a knowledge of Chinese. The Nestorian Church. in Canton was, no doubt, blessed by the presence and guidance of the Bishop. Furthermore, while in Canton. Gabriel made the acquaintance of the Inspector of merchant shipping, Chou Ching-li. With the encouragement and help of Chou, he began to “carve quaint things and make wonderful objects.” Like Ricci after him, Gabriel cherished the hope that through the gifts of valuable curios, the Emperor might be induced to look more kindly upon the Nestorian mission. It aroused, however, the opposition of Liu Ze, the censor of the Province. He submitted a memorial to the Emperor. “Ching-Ii is seeking to beguile your sage understanding, to shake and subvert your lofty mind. Will your Majesty trust and allow it? This would be to spread decadence in the whole Empire!” Officially, the Emperor gave Liu Tse his approval. The Nestorian Monument, however sug-gests that Gabriel had won the favour of the Emperor. The truth is that, even though Hsuan Tsung may not have been greatly impressed by the wonderful objects, the ministry of Bishop Gabriel and of Abbot Abraham seemed to have created a new atmosphere in Chang-an.

According to the Cefu Yuanguei 冊府元龜, the second mission of Bishop Gabriel took place in October 732 when the King of Persia sent the chief P’an-na-mi with Bishop Cabriel on an embassy to Chang-an. The Emperor was pleased and gave Gabriel a purple kashaya and fifty pieces of silk.

Gabriel’s success must have encouraged the Nestorians in Persia to send more missions. In 744 Bishop George (Chi-ho) took the journey to the Far East. That he was permitted to celebrate the Eucharist in the Palace of the Emperor’s elder brother was a strong indication of the steady progress of the Nestorian Church in China. In addition, the Emperor’s brothers had already had their encounter with the Nestorian Church in 713 and this might prove to be fruitful in due course.

In October 745 an Imperial decree stated that since the cradle of Nestorianism was in Daqin 大秦, the Persian monasteries in the two capitals and in departments and districts of the Empire should be changed to Ta Ch’in monasteries.

The rebellion of An Lu-shan 安綠山 in 755 was the turning point in Tang Dynasty history. It was a traditional policy of the Tang Emperors to employ foreign legions in the defence of the frontiers. An Lu-shan, born of an lranian-Turkic family, had won high favour from the Imperial Court and had a large army under his command. In the Autumn of 755 he led the rebellion against Xuanzong. Early in 756 he captured Loyang and soon his forces entered Chang-an. Shortly before the fall of the capital, Hsuan Tsung fled south to Chengtu and on the way he abdicated in favour of his third son who had his headquarters in Ling-wu.

Suzong (756-763) as Tien-ko-han summoned soldiers from the garrisons of various countries, Turkestan, Kashgar, Kucha and Khotan, to put down the revolt. Some of those foreign soldiers were Nestorians, others were Manichaeans. The military genius General Guo Zu-yi, with the help of these legions, succeeded in crushing the rebels. The General’s influence in the Court may well be the reason why the Nestorians enjoyed a measure of favour under Suzong and his successors. Due to the civil war, undoubtedly some Nestorian monasteries were damaged while others were left ruined and unoccupied. Suzong ordered the restoration of five monasteries in Ling-wu and other districts, as a gesture of Imperial favour.

One of the most outstanding commanders in the campaign was Issu (Yazdbazed), who came to China from Balkh, where his father Milis had been a priest, He was second-in-command to General Kuo and was richly rewarded after the rebellion had definitely been put down. – With his ascendency, the Nestorians experienced a marked revival. Every year Issu assembled the monks of four monasteries for divine service and meditation. The conference lasted the whole of 50 days. Moreover, the Nestorian Monument recorded that he had a deep concern for the welfare of the people.

Early Nestorian missionaries were well known for their medical knowledge and surgical skill We can thus appreciate the devotion and social concern of Issu. Suzong’s successors continued to shower Imperial favours upon the Nestorians. Taizong (763-780), for example, repaid merits with gifts of incense and gave a royal feast to honour the Nestorian congregations . In the reign of Dezong 德宗 the Monument (781), to which we owe so much for our knowledge of Nestorianism in the Tang Dynasty, was erected in Issu’s honour.

In general, the Tang Dynasty was an age of religious toleration and intellectual curiosity. However, when Wuzong ascended the throne, the Daoists came to control the Court. They were in-tensely jealous of the rapid growth of Buddhist, monasteries. In the reign of Xuanzong there were already 5,358 monasteries. In 749 it was estimated that there were 120,000 men and women who had taken the vow. The number continued to grow after the rebellion. But economic and political matters also contributed to Wuzong’s policy of persecution in 845. Monastic establishments withdrew men in great numbers from military and civil services and cut down the receipts of the imperial treasury through their immunity from taxation. In 845 Wuzong suppressed 4,600 monasteries and more than 40,000 private monastic establishments. Only historic Buddhist monasteries of great beauty in the large cities were to be preserved. He also ordered some 260,000 monks and nuns to return to secular lives. Monasteries of Central and Western Asian origins were also involved. A petition to the Court stated, “As for the Daqin (Nestorian) and Muhu (Zoroastrian) temples, these heretical religions must not alone be left when the Buddhists have been suppressed; they must all be compelled to re.turn to lay life and resume their original callings and pay taxes, or if they are foreign they shall be sent back to their native Places.” From this petition it is clear that there were Chinese Nestorian members as well as those of Persian or Central Asian origin. It followed that an Imperial decree “compelled the Daqin (Nestorianism) and Muhu, (Zoroastrianism) to the number of more than 3,000 persons to return to lay life and to cease to confound the customs of China.”

Meanwhile many Nestorians must have journeyed to Canton and made ready for their long voyage home. In Canton they would learn that the Imperial decree had been revoked by Wuzong’s successor and it was likely that some of them would remain in the southern city. The ninth century Arabic writer, Abu Zaid, edited a collection of travellers’ journals.

His readers were told that in the rebellion of Bansu (Huang Ch,ao), who captured Khanfu (Canton) in 877, many inhabitants were put to death. Persons well-informed about these affairs relate that, without counting the Chinese who were massacred, there perished six score thousand Mohammedans, Jews, Christians and Parsis who were living in the city and doing business there.” This was no doubt an incorrect figure. Yet the fact remains that the foreign population in Canton was large in the ninth century and among them there was a substanial number of Nestorian Christians.

Patriarch Theodosius (AD 852-868) in a list of Metropolitans of the Nestorian Church failed to mention that there was a metropolitan in China. This may be due to the fact that the church had not recovered after the violent persecution in 845.

With the fall of the Tang Dynasty, there was a rapid decline of Nestorianism in China. In 986 a monk from Najran who had been sent by the Nestorian Patriarch to China in 982 was reported to have said, “Christianity is extinct in China; the native Christians have perished in one way or another ; the church which they had has been destroyed and there is only one Christian left in the land.” No one would take this seriously as an accurate report for the whole Chinese Nestorian church. But we may feel sure that the fall of the Tang Dynasty also meant the eclipse of the Nestorian mission in China proper.


Identifying Nestorians:

Worship eastward seems to be the first rule in Nestorian teaching. ‘The Monument relates “Worshipping toward the east, they hasten on the way to life and glory.” In the Mongol period, in the history of Chin-kiang, we also read, “The worship towards the east is regarded as the principal thing in the religion.” William of Rubruck like-worse pointed out “Then on the octave of Holy Innocents (January 4th) we were taken to the court and some Nestorian priests came. I did not know they were Christians and they asked me in what direction we worshipped. I said, ‘Towards the East.'”

The veneration of the cross, as the instrument of redemption, became a Nestorian devotion. According to the Monument, “He set out the cross to define the four quarters,” North, South, East and West. William of Rubruck told us that women of the Imperial Mongol household adored the cross with great devotion as they were instructed in that respect by the Nestorian priests. The cross indeed occupied so prominent a place in Nestorian faith and life that in the Mongol period the Nestorian monasteries were known as the monasteries of the cross. However, the Nestorians venerated the cross but not the crucifix as William of Rubruck reminded the readers of his Journal.

In the Nestorian monasteries, seven hours of ritual praise were kept and prayers were offered for the living and the dead. Sunday worship was especially stressed as “washing the heart and restoring purity.”

The sacrament of baptism occupied a most important place in the Nestorian church. As the Monument stated, “The water and the Spirit of baptism wash away vain glory and cleanse one fine and white.” This was equally true in the Mongol period. As we learn from William of Rubruck, “On Easter Eve the Nestorians baptized in the most correct manner more than 60 people and there was great common joy among all Christians.” (Chap. xxx). This was a fine tribute from a Franciscan witness.

Of the Eucharist, we learn little from early Chinese Nestorian writing. But William of Rubruck’s Journal did throw some light on Nestorian liturgy. He wrote that in the church near Karakorum, the Nestorians celebrated Eucharist with a large silver chalice and paten. Again he recorded, “I said Mass on Maundy Thursday with their silver chalice and paten, which vessels were very large.”

According to The Book of the Honoured Ones, the Trinitarian formula was stressed in divine service. “We reverently worship the mysterious Person, God the Father; the responding Person, God the Son; and the witnessing Person, the Spirit of Holiness We worship the Holy Trinity-three Persons in one.”

We also have a Nestorian order of service dated 720, apparently for a special holy day. After the singing of a hymn, in this case the Hymn of Eternal Salvation, the congregation venerated St. John (probably reciting the collect of St. John’s Day). This was followed by the recitation of the Book of Heavenly Treasure Store (The Breviary), the Psalms and the Gospels.

The Nestorian monks kept the beard and shaved the crown. The clergy were divided into two kinds: the black, clergy were the religious while the white clergy were the percular priests. Issu, for example though married is described as a monk and given the purple kashaya. His father, Milis, as we have noted, had also been a secular priest.

The Nestorian clergy were well-known for their social concern. There was no slavery in the Nestorian household. Moreover, the Nestorian missionaries were known among non-Christians for their medical knowledge and skill. This was one of the reasons for their success during the greater part of the Tang Dynasty.

The eighth century also saw the beginning of Chinese hymnology. One of the oldest Chinese hymns – The Hymn to the Holy Trinity -was written at Chang-an around the year 800. It was probably the East Syriac form of the Gloria in Excelsis. Scholars are impressed with its rich imagery and its free adaptation of Buddhist terms. But it is not syncretism. As Prof. J. Foster of the University of Glasgow has reminded us, “Rather it is a borrowing of terminology, and a relation of doctrine to a familiar background of thought, as the only way of expressing Christian truth in its Far-eastern environment. ”

In any case, we have a sequel to this sutra in The Messiah’s Discourse on Charity which appeared in 642. Some of the terms adopted are quite ingenious. The Holy Spirit is the “Pure Wind;” the Resurrection is the “Holy Transformation.” The first half of this latter document was devoted to a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount. The second half resumed the narrative of the life of Christ. It began with a description of the events which occurred at the time of the death and resurrection of Christ the splitting of the rocks, the opening of the tombs of the saints and their appearance for a period of 44 days (Matthew 27:52). In the section on the Ascension, the document ended thus,” Take My words and preach to all peoples. Call them to come to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I shall be with you in all your ways until the end of the earth. “Again it is reminiscent of the last verse of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Indeed, St. Matthew is the Gospel par excellence for the Nestorians, and Alopen used it as the basis of his narrative both in the Sutra of Jesus the Messiah and in its sequel. The Book of the Honoured Ones (ninth century) gave a list of saints and scriptures. Among the saints or fa wongs (spiritual kings) one can recognize John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Moses, David, Paul, Azariah, Michael, Milis and George. The list of scriptures includes the titles of 35 books which were venerated by the church in China. One can easily identify the Gospels, the Acts, Epistles of St. Paul, the Psalms, parts of the Pentateuch, a Breviary, and at least two of the original Chinese Nestorian books – Sutra Proclaiming the Origin and Root of the Holy Religion and the Sutra of Mysterious Peace and Joy.

In addition to Christian books, some Manichaean and astrological books like The Book of Three Moments and The Book of Four Gates were also included. In putting down the An Lu-shan rebellion, Nestorian tribesmen were fighting side by side with Manichaean Uighurs. In the process, the Nestorians apparently were influenced by the latter’s beliefs. In the beginning and in the middle period of the Tang Dynasty, the Nestorians had freely borrowed Buddhist and Daoist terms and imagery to express Christian doctrine, as we have seen in The Sutra of Jesus the Messiah and in The Hymn to the Holy Trinity. Moreover free adaptation of Daoist terms in the Nestorian Monument is well known. Some of the sentences echoed closely the thoughts of Daodejing 道德經. For example, compare the phrases of the Monument, ” The true and eternal way is wonderful and hard to name; its merits and use are manifest and splendid, forcing us to call it the brilliant teaching;” with those of the Daodejing, “We do not know its real name (to classify it); that we may have it in writing we say, ‘Dao,’ ‘The Way.'”

Now it is evident that the Nestorian Christians freely used Daoist terms and phrases in order to call the attention of the Chinese literati and the Imperial courtiers who favored Daoism to the Syriac religion. Yet after the turn of the ninth century, it ‘ is obvious that Nestorian writings were increasingly becoming syncretic in nature. The way that Buddhist and Daoist thoughts were freely borrowed had gone much beyond Alopen or Adam, the author of the inscription on the Monument. In the Sutra of Mysterious Peace and Joy, the Christian elements had largely disappeared. As the Messiah was surrounded by His disciples, like the Buddha, He enlightened them with divine mystery and at the con-elusion of the discourse, the disciples were imbued with joy and with due ceremony withdrew. The setting bears little resemblance to that by the Sea of Galilee. But what was taught is even more astounding. It was not an adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount as we have seen in the early sutra of The Messiah’s Discourse on Charity. It was rather a discourse on the overcoming of desire and thereby attaining inner peace and joy. It was more akin to Buddhism or Gnosticism than to Christianity.

The question is often raised whether the ministry of the Nestorians in China was aimed at the Chinese people. Or was the main work of Alopen and his successors that of caring for the needs of Nestorians in China and across the frontiers who had been gravely neglected by the Mother Church in Persia and left without episcopal or pastoral care ? To begin with, the congregations of the Nestorian monastic churches in Chang-an and Loyang must have been largely Persian or Central Asian. But it is likely that missionary work among the Chinese also stood high on the list of Alopen’s purposes. The very fact that the liturgy was written in Chinese is sufficient to show that there must have been a number of Chinese in the Nestorian congregations. Moreover, in the persecution of foreign religions in 845 we learn that, besides foreign monks of Persian or Central Asian origin, there were a number of Chinese monks serving the Nestorian Church. These too must “be compelled to return to lay life and resume their original callings and pay taxes.”

Again, the missionary impulse was clearly stated in the Hymn of Eternal Salvation (720), “The Great Holy and Merciful Father will use His wisdom and strength to save the hundreds of millions of people … so that they could also return to the great truth.”

But when all is said, the fact remains that Nestorianism in China was largely. a foreign church, without deep roots in Chinese soil. It had not entered the hearts of the people and really made itself at home. There was no Hsuan-tsang in the Nestorian Church who could translate Christian Scripture into elegant and lucid Chinese. Even Adam, who did so much for Nestorian Christianity in China, was of Central Asian origin. The Nestorians in China relied on the support of the mother church ‘i~n Central Asia of Persia ‘or Baghdad. After the fall of the Tang Dynasty, it was exceedingly difficult to have communications with the Patriarch and no new missionaries could reach China in the time of turmoil. Moreover the Nestorian Church in China was largely dependent on Imperial patronage. The fall of the Dynasty, therefore, meant the eclipse of the mission.

Nevertheless, Nestorianism continued to exist in Central Asia and along the Chinese frontiers. As early as the latter half of the eighth century, Nestorianism began to flourish among the Turkic tribes. In 781, the Patriarch Timothy was requested by the King of the Turks to establish a Metropolitan See there. The Patriarch noted, “The King of the Turks and nearly all the inhabitants of the country left their ancient idolatry and became Christians. He has requested us in his letters to create a Metropolitan See for his country and this we have done.”

It was an age of Nestorian expansion. Central Asia was completely under Nestorian influence. The Patriarch was ruling a large church with 25 Metro-politans from Mesopotamia to the border of China. The Tokmak Cemetery alone contains over 600 gravestones, mostly with Syriac inscriptions dating from the middle of the 9th to the middle of the 14th Century. While in China, in a Nestorian monastery in San-pen Hill six or seven miles north-west of Fang-shan in Hebei Province 河北省, we find inscriptions on a tablet dated 960 and on another dated 1365. These were Syriac inscriptions which included carved crosses. In spite of the eclipse of the mission in Chang-an, Loyang and Canton, the Nestorian C

Church continued to flourish along the frontiers of China and sometimes even in a corner of China itself.

Syrian Nestorian Christians in Japan by the Keikyo Institute

“There is a wealth of information about the Hata clan; an early arrival of a group of Syrian Nestorian Christians in Japan. Contrary to common perception propagated by the Alexandrian faction within the Roman Church of the 320’s, Nestorians did believe in the trinity and the duality of Christ. Nevertheless they were under religious persecution, and many Syrian Christians fled east.

A French king once sent an envoy to central Asia urging the Mongol khan to convert to Roman Chritianity and to kneel before him; the khan roared in laughter ! “I AM Christian ! It is your king who should convert to my church, and kneel before me. The same goes for your pope, too !” I love this Mongol Nestorian khan for his wit surpassing the French bluntness.

The Hatas were a Nestorian tribe who lived originally under Persian domination in Khotan, now in Eastern Turkestan, but migrated to Japan via China and Korea in search of religious freedom. The landed at Sakoshi near the present city of Himeji in Kyogo prefecture some 1500 years ago and there erected the first Christian churches long before St. Francis Xavier arrived in 1549. Later they move to Uzumasa, now Kyoto City, where they erected many other churches. Although they were persecuted by Buddhists in China and Korea, they were granted freedom in everthing except using the Christian name from the time of their arrival to the days of Empress Suiko.

Under Shotoku 聖德太子, Prince Regent under the Empress Suiko in 7th c., the Hatas were happy indeed since the wise Prince Regent, though himself a Buddhist, granted them full liberty under the provisions of his famous Seventeen-Article Constitution. It might be noted that the English scholar, Prof. Lewis Bush, a high official of the Occupation Forces, declared in 1947 that “Shotoku Taishi 聖德太子 was essentially a democrat…Had it not been for the general indifference to this great man, the world would know more about him today.”

In the days of this great Prince Regent the Nestorian church grounds at Uzumasa had their own “Well of Israel” attached to a David’s Shrine, and on the well-spring stood a Sacred Tripod symbolizing the Trinity (cf. Rev. XXI,22,XXII 1,2) from which a limpid stream flowed. Visitors to Uzumasa can still see a tripod, built in the style of a triangular torii, which marks the exact spot where the original Nestorian tripod once stood.

These various Nestorian sites have been identified only recently by the author emplying evidence from stidies in archaelogy, philology, and folklore. The writer admits, however, that this would have been impossible without the suggestions and hypothesis advanced by the English author, Mrs. E. A. Gordon in her several published works. A study of some historical sources has convinced me that it was a Nestorian, Raca, who directed the first orphan asylum ever established in Japan.

Nestorianism in the days of Empress Suiko exerted great influence on Japanese culture. Shotoku may be regarded quite justly as the founder of social work in Japan. He established the Shitennoji Buddhist Temple in Osaka comprising four separate charitable institutions including the Kyoden-in (a sanctuary of religion, learning and music), The Ryobyo-in (a charitable hospital), the Seyaku-in (a charitable dispensary), and the Hiden-in (an asylum for the helpless). To him goes the credit for having been the first to carry on social work on a large scale in Japan, but I believe that it cannot be denied that this work was modeled on the charitable work of the Nestorian church at Uzumasa. I think this name is a variant of the Aramaic, “Ishoo M’shikha” meaning Jesus Christ.

Although Nestorian Christians in Japan went over completely to Conventional Taoism at one time after Prince Shotoku’s death, Emperor Shomu and his consort, Empress Komyo, gave an audience to a Nestorian missionary who came to Japan in 736 and was identified by Mrs. Gordon & Rev. Milis as s Bactrian physician. The emperor had a leper asylum built in the suburbs of Nara, the capital, and the empress worked there as a volunteer nurse. People must have been amazed to see how this young belle in purple went so far as to suck the lepers’ wounds as pious Christians were wont to do in the Middle ages in Europe. The historicity of this story is confirmed by the various data which have made it possible to identify the site of the lazaretto and it would appear that the Emperor and his beautiful consort took their inspiration for this work from Nestorianism preached by the Bactrian missionary.

While it is quite true that Chinese literature and Indian Buddhism conspired to make a cultural nation of the Japanese people before the Meiji Restoration, Nestorianism from the Near East also contributed much towards Japanese civilization long before the introduction of Roman Catholicism some 400 years ago.”


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