By Pier Giorgio Borbone
Journal of Assyrain Academic Studies, Vol. 19, no. 2 (2005)
Introduction: The presence of Christians in Bactria, in present-day Northern Afghanistan, is documented already in the third century by one of the most ancient works in Syriac literature, the Book of the Laws of the Countries. Further expansion of Syriac Christianity in Central Asia and China was largely due to the initiative of the Church of the East – that is, the Christian Church of the territories once comprised in the Parthian and Sassanian empire and, later, in the Arab-Muslim one, rather inaccurately called “Nestorian.” Our purpose in the present paper is to bring to light some of the features of Turco-Mongol Christianity on the basis of primary sources, both literary (in Syriac and Arabic, composed in the “motherland” of the Church of the East – present-day Iraq and Iran), and epigraphic (in Syriac and Turkic, a product of Christian Turco-Mongol communities). Moreover, for first-hand information, we shall refer to the biographic work known as the Story of Mar Yahballaha and of Rabban Sauma, where the account of two Önggüt monks has been preserved, although somewhat filtered, by a Syriac author who later put it to writing.