“Israel has stability, the ear of the world community, and the ability to be a modern state in the Middle East. Israel has withstood the test of time,” says Mar Awa Royel, the first American-born Assyrian bishop in history.
“We are the most Semitic of the churches,” says Bishop Royel. Jews and Assyrians in the region were bound by more than a common linguistic heritage. Royel describes the Targumim (the Aramaic translations/paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible and accompanying rabbinic teachings) as an influential text in Church doctrine. In fact, the Targumim are the antecedents of the version of the Old (and New) Testament of the Assyrian Church of the East. Queen Helena of Adiabene, an Assyrian who converted to Judaism in about 30 C.E., spent the latter part of her life in Jerusalem, where she gave gifts to the Second Temple of Jerusalem and was meticulous in her observance of the precepts of Judaism.
Assyrian churches themselves are a fusion of synagogue and Jerusalem Temple worship. “There are no examples like it in any churches that are found in North America,” says Royel. “Facing east, there is a Holy of Holies, and a bima in the middle of the church building where the Scriptural readings take place.” The Assyrian Church of the East also follows the Jewish practice of not pronouncing the holy name of God when the Bible is read in church. Readings from the Old Testament are also featured more prominently than in other church services.